15th February, 2013
“Have you restarted your computer?”
The phrase can make the most patient of computer users cringe, but it is the one that is used the most. In fact, a British sitcom called The IT Crowd was created in which one of the lines frequently used was "Have you tried turning it off and back on again?"
WE'RE HERE TO HELP: Alan Taylor says being asked to restart your computer is not as silly as it may sound. PICTURE: Johann Helgason/www.istockphoto.com
It added comedic value to the series, however, while working on a busy service desk, I heard it being used like clockwork; usually around one minute into the call. The caller had just explained their problem and with the regularity of a Swiss timepiece, the question would be asked: “Have you restarted your computer?”
And the conversation would continue: “No, no I haven’t.”
“Well if you could do that and call us back if the problem persists,” the call taker would say. For the inexperienced staff, you could hear the desperation in their voices that the caller would do exactly that. They’d hope the caller got someone else next time.
But hoping could be wishful thinking. Many a call taker had thought he was home free when he heard a colleague pick up the call. His hopes would be dashed when he’d hear something like “Ben, are you on the phone? No? I have Brian on the line. He’s asking for you. He said he was working with you on the issue and didn’t want to explain it again to me. Restarting the computer didn’t help.”
Regular callers would be ready. “I knew you were going to ask me that, so I beat you to it. Yes I have.” At which point most of the team would be baffled as to what to do next. A lot of deep thought on the call taker’s part would ensue.
And the deep thought is not out of line, because computers and software are complex and getting more so every day. Some software doesn’t play nice with other software, online knowledge bases need scrutiny and then there’s the hardware and peripherals that make up the modern PC. All hardware or devices need drivers (software) to ‘talk’ to the computer’s operating system, of which Microsoft’s Windows XP is an example.
For instance, you buy a new printer for your computer. You plug it in expecting it to work right away. Suddenly you get a message that new hardware has been found and the computer is asking you to choose the location of the files required. In that case you put in the disk that came with the printer. Once successfully installed, Windows will be aware of the device and you can start using it. Modern versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, such as Windows 7 or Windows 8, can download the required drivers from the internet removing the need to put in the disk. Depending on the files installed, the PC may need to be restarted.
Microsoft itself understands that computers running their operating systems need restarting. Microsoft Windows notifies users of updates seemingly every time they turn on their PC. And the updates can be intrusive, reminding the user to restart their PC after updating. With work deadlines approaching, people don’t have the time to restart when Windows tells them. They click the box that says “Restart later” and think nothing more of it. If they are a laptop user they just close the lid when they go home. The laptop goes into suspend or hibernation and it doesn’t get the restart it requires to put all those updated files into use.
So when you call your service desk and the call taker asks if you have restarted your computer, don’t grit your teeth, but have a think about the last time it was restarted, particularly if you own a laptop. Ask yourself if updates have been applied or whether you have installed new hardware, such as a printer, scanner or webcam. This information will help the call taker greatly and save you some frustration.
And if a restart doesn't solve your problem, just make sure you give the call taker time to investigate. Mention The IT Crowd and they are sure to have chuckle, because IT staff are always able to laugh at themselves.
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