Fun with computers

A few LSW acquaintances picked this up this morning. A colleague at work, and a colleague at my future place of work, heard about it later this morning: I might be off the air for several days.

Why? Yesterday, when I turned on the home PC (a five-year-old Gateway, 2.2GHz. P4, “only” 80GB but I’m only using half that, XP/SP2, and it generally still “feels new), it basically didn’t respond. Oh, Windows came up, as did ZoneAlarm and the other tray items–but if you clicked on anything, it might respond a minute later, it might respond two minutes later, it might not respond at all. Tried a couple of things, including trying to bring up Windows in safe mode. Nada.

Arggh. Panic. Well, it is a five-year-old PC, and that is pushing my luck, but still…

So: Came home early today (hey, I’d been working extra-long days), tried some futzing around, no help. Went to Office Depot and Best Buy looking at possible replacement computers (which still might make sense)…but could I even retrieve non-backed-up data (e.g., settings, typefaces)?

Came back and had an Aha moment: Maybe I couldn’t get into safe mode because I use a wireless keyboard–and the “F lock” key wouldn’t be recognized until Windows was operating. To the garage to retrieve the “wired” keyboard. F8 at the right time, Safe Mode…and everything runs like a champ.

Hmm. Disabled Zone Alarm autostart (and unplugged the network cable). Restarted Windows. Everything runs beautifully. But, of course, without internet access–just fine for writing, spreadsheets, photo work, not so hot for email and blog reading and blogging and checking book sales…

Our local big-newspaper tech columnist asserts that you don’t need security software anymore, that your router’s firewall and the virus scanning built into most email systems is enough. I wonder whether his PC is being used as a bot… let’s say I’m doubtful of that theory, Pollyanna though I may be.

So, just for fun, I re-enabled Zone Alarm autostart…but turned off the automatic weekly scanning. I had noted that it was trying to start an incomplete scan–and most of virus software protection should come from real-time scanning, anyway, not the full-disk scans.

And it works just fine. For now, cross fingers.

Best guess: Zone Alarm Suite does separate virus and spyware scans. If you set both autoscans for the same starting date and time, the spyware automatically follows the virus. I’m guessing that the incomplete state caused them both to start simultaneously, and that the two scans went into deadlock (just as you can rarely use two virus programs simultaneously, as they’ll go into deadlock). My wife’s new Toshiba uses McAfee, which manages to combine both kinds of scanning into a single scan…

If I start scans manually once a month, it’s really unlikely that I’ll be idiot enough to start a spyware scan while a virus scan is running.

Comments involving Apple will be cheerfully ignored. In fact, if I do get a new computer, there’s a good chance it will have the same odd boxy logo on its front as this five-year-old beast does.

5 Responses to “Fun with computers”


    That thing will kill any computer. After I tried installing it, figuring I would save time and money by combining all my security purchases/renewals into one, my computer instantly hit a dead stop. It took me five or six boots (same trip hunting for a wired keyboard) to finally get that thing turned off.

    If you are looking for virus scan, I highly recommend the open source and free ClamWin online at

    And don’t be so fast to ignore Apple. I am loving my switch to Apple with Windows accessed via virtual machine.

  2. walt says:

    Christopher: There’s nothing wrong with ZoneAlarm AV. There’s nothing wrong with ZoneAlarm anti-spyware. And ZoneAlarm’s firewall is still the best on the market.

    What is wrong, badly, is ZoneAlarm’s integration of AV and anti-spyware into a single product, when used on a computer that isn’t on 24 hours a day. Once that’s known, the fix is easy: disable automatic scans. I’ve been using Zone Alarm for months now. When it comes time to renew, I’ll probably switch to McAfee.

    As for the last paragraph: What part of “Comments involving Apple will be cheerfully ignored” wasn’t clear? I have no desire whatsoever to switch platforms, and find Mac enthusiast evangelism, well, tiresome.

  3. Hazel says:

    Nothing wrong with ZoneAlarm — I do SOOOO agree with you but I allowed my technician friend (he sorts computers for a living) to set me up with the paid-for version of AVG “all in one” and it runs like a dream on my third-hand eight-year old computer still running on Windows ’98 as well as on the newer machine. And you can set it scan on start-up anything from once a week to once a day. I like it. Worth a thought maybe and saves money into the bargain.

  4. walt says:

    I’ve heard good things about AVG. Thanks for the suggestion. (For us, McAfee has the advantage that my wife’s using it and finds it workable. I used Norton for years and years, but no more.)

  5. Francesco says:

    Hi Walt,
    I am a librarian in a small documentation centre in Rome (Italy). In our office we use Nod32 ( as antivirus and are very happy with it (we have win2000 and winxp pc’s). It works in background without any slowing of the machines.
    (Sorry my bad english).