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Roadside Service
Pull over on the information highway for some quick repairs.
by Cynthia Morgan

The next time you're tooling along online, you might want to make a pit stop--pick up a patch or two, make a couple of repairs and hit the road again, all without spending a penny.

All-encompassing diagnostic and repair Web sites such as TuneUp.com (http://www.tuneup.com) and Cybermedia's Oil Change ( http://www.cybermedia.com/products/oilchange/ochome.html) offer free trial services, then charge a small fee after an introductory period. For $3.95 per month, Windows 95-only TuneUp.com will check your PC's software for version numbers, inject the latest antivirus measure and optimize/defragment your hard disk. Then it checks its database of bugs, patches and updates, and installs the latest fixes with your approval. The service will store 5MB of data for you for $4.95 a month (additional megabytes cost 75 cents per transfer) or build a data archive for you on CD-ROM for $25. Oil Change searches the Internet for updates of your software, notifies you of the updates and installs them for you.

But you can find many such services for free. Dan Kegel's ISDN Page (http://www.cerf.net/dank/isdn) is one of the best sources of information on ordering, installing and using ISDN service. It's a great example of technology-specific collections presented by expert enthusiasts. Stephen Jenkins' Windows95.com can tell you if a new BIOS is available for your older machine, help you find a 32-bit driver for hardware Microsoft doesn't yet support and offer excellent TCP/IP connection advice. Frank Condron's World of Windows (http://www.conitech.com/windows) includes a new touch--a Windows CE page--plus collections of advice, bug notifications, patches and updates about virtually any flavor of Windows.

TechWeb's TechHelper (http://www.techweb.com/helper) offers a wide range of free advice, from a massive FAQ troubleshooting database to WINDOWS Magazine's Tips issues. Microsoft's Trouble-shooting Wizards (http://www.microsoft.com/support/tshooters.htm) page and its Knowledge Base (http://www.microsoft.com/KB) technical database are invaluable Web resources for Windows information.

Scott Wainner's System Optimization Information Page (http://www.sysopt.com) offers tune-up tips, performance-enhancing utilities, BIOS update advice and more. One of the more useful free PC tech shops, it will go as deeply into chip technology as you care to ... and then some.

McAfee's new SecureCast (http://www.mcafee.com/securecast) uses the BackWeb news broadcast service to send out the latest computer vandalism notices and antivirus updates.

Don't Get Burned

Before you pull in to the nearest pit stop, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Beware of firewalls. Broadcast-oriented services, such as McAfee SecureCast, can't get past the firewalls of corporate networks.

  • Watch for the hard sell. Most of these sites support themselves with advertising or provide these services to support their customers. But some are really interested in selling consulting services or diag-nostic products. Make sure you're not obligating yourself before you subscribe.

  • Take precautions. You wouldn't let a stranger under the hood of your car, and the same should apply to online tune-ups. Make sure you have virus protection running and back up important files before you begin.

  • Be choosy. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Use discretion when downloading or installing updates. Don't accept an upgrade automatically; check the fine print.

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Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.