Flu's not the only nasty virus.
If you had a computer for Christmas and it's already on the blink, David Williamson offers some advice on getting it back in business
ONLY young children can rival the powers of a computer to bring both delight and despair within seconds of each emotion.
If a computer entered your house this Christmas you may well be contemplating throwing it from a great height and regretting not purchasing a simple games console for a 10th of the price.
But the PC with its assorted wires and peripherals will in the greatest likelihood soon supersede a golden labrador in its ability to entertain and stimulate your household.
Yet getting your computer to connect to the internet, take pictures off your digital camera, and play the latest games in all their violent glory may initially be a frustrating business.
For a program to run properly default settings may have to be adjusted. Usually, in theory, this is a simple process of clicking with a mouse on a series of options displayed on the computer screen. In practice, finding the right menu can be difficult and choosing the right setting bewildering.
What provokes many people to anger in these moments is the feeling of helplessness and confusion. This has only intensified with the trend by suppliers to ship minimalist instruction manuals in the belief that people will be able to navigate through onscreen help menus.
Frustration may intensify if the company you bought your computer from is intent on making you pay for advice on how to get the product you bought to run in the way you expected it to.
The Dixons website informs customers, 'If you need help with your new computer, including installing and setting up factory-installed software, peripherals or upgrades, please call our PC Set-up Helpline . . . calls cost 75p a minute.'
With calls lasting up to 20 minutes, advice does not come cheap.
The website is linked to PC Servicecall which offers a pounds 1-per-minute helpline offering assistance on how to install games.
Companies are bound by law to provide goods which are of 'satisfactory quality', 'fit for their purpose' and 'as described'. If you feel that one of these criteria has not been met you should contact the supplier and demand the same standards of service you would when buying any other product.
If your computer is working but its performance is disappointing because the programs regularly 'crash' (inexplicably freeze) or are slow, you may be able to improve its performance by running software such as Norton Utilities.
Using such programs can be the equivalent of giving a car a service. Your hard disk can be more efficiently organised and lost data can be retrieved.
If you pay for an expert to come to your house to try to tackle a problem, or if you take the computer into a store to have it checked out, the technicians will probably use similar software.
Most problems with using a computer are swiftly resolved through trial-and-error experimentation. But there are serious threats to happy computer use, and the greatest of these is the computer virus.
There is a growing internet community of sceptics who believe that people are encouraged to have an irrational fear of their computer being infected by a malicious program. Websites such as www.vmyths.com suggest that such fears are fanned by the lucrative anti-virus software industry.
But the Computer Security Resource Center at Carnegie Mellon university is in no doubt that home users who connect to the internet are at risk from viruses and other programs and should protect their computer.
People may use your hard disk to store information without you realising, or you may find that when you go on the web unwanted websites persistently appear in your browser.
Your computer might have come with software designed to provide a 'firewall' designed to block viruses and intruders. If it has not, buy such software and install it before venturing onto the internet. Many providers will allow you to update your software throughout the year as more viruses are detected.
Once online, continue to exercise caution. Do not open attachments on e-mails from strangers and only use chatrooms on reputable websites.
But if you find that your computer is working more and more slowly, and the modem seems to be constantly sending and receiving information, you may well have a virus.
Anti-virus software might be able to isolate or eradicate it, but you may have to resort to erasing your hard disk and installing the software from scratch. And that would be the greatest possible headache.
Software snuffs out the computer invaders
More people are going online and this year computer systems, along with digital cameras and mobile telephones, were among the most popular Christmas gifts.
But how should 'rookie' computer users protect themselves from the big, bad interconnected world of viruses, worms and trojans?
Major producers suggest the first step is buying anti-virus equipment made by major players in the computer shield game such as McAfee, Norton and Symantec.
Good anti-virus systems plus scanners which hunt and kill the invaders can be bought for around pounds 40. Some anti-virus software can even be downloaded free via the internet though make sure it is from a recognised firm such as McAfee.
Avoid e-mail systems which automatically open e-mails. Some viruses spread by infecting address books so even an apparently friendly e-mail should be treated with caution.
But you have to receive and open an attachment on a virus-carrying e-mail for your computer to be damaged and a good anti-virus scanner should prevent or signal the presence of a virus before the e-mail is fully opened.
Avoid internet scams such as direct business offers, particularly from impressive looking Nigerian or Ugandan addressees. They are ruses to get personal bank details.
If viruses are installed it does not always mean your PC will stagger to its grave with all your data. Cleaning systems such as the Stinger can be downloaded quickly from reputable internet sites like Norton and McAfee.