Network: Are you in PC hell? Salvation is at hand

Yahoo! Santa has brought you a PC. The various bits are out of their boxes and all the cables seem to be connected to the right plug- ins. It's only now that you realise that a computer is not like other electrical gifts. By Gail Robinson
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So you got a computer for Christmas and the fact is slowly beginning to dawn on you that PCs are not like other consumer products. You might have thought it was tricky enough to plug in your new video recorder, but that was before you tried to hook up your new computer to a printer, a scanner and, most ambitiously, to the Internet. Right now this advice might be hard to take, but stay calm and resist the temptation to throw the thing out of the window. First, read through our tips on how to deal with some of the most common PC problems.

HELP! I can't move my mouse and nothing happens when I press keys on the keyboard.

This sounds hideous, but in fact it's not so tricky. Your PC has probably got a bit overloaded and it's simply said to itself: "OK, I can't cope so I'm going to do nothing at all." If you're running Windows, then the magic keys to press simultaneously are "Ctrl", "Alt" and "Delete". This pulls up a "Close Program" dialog box where you can close down the offending bit of software and hope that your computer regains its composure. Just look for the "Not Responding" error message next to a program name, select that program and then click on the "End Task" button. If that doesn't work, try shutting down that application by clicking on the "Shut Down" button.

If all else fails, press the "Ctrl", "Alt" and "Delete" keys again and that will restart your computer. It'll be a whole lot happier after a reboot.

Mac users should try pressing the "Escape" key; in some programs it cancels the last task you carried out. If that doesn't work try the "Command" key and the full stop simultaneously. The last resort is to hold down "Command" and the "Option" key and then press "Escape". This usually closes down the bit of software that's causing the problem.

HELP! My new printer won't print.

Check the obvious stuff first, make sure you've plugged the printer firmly into the back of your computer and that it is connected to the mains. Then check that the paper isn't jammed in the printer and make sure that you've fitted the appropriate ink or toner cartridges. If that's all looking fine, then try printing out a test page from your printer.

You'll have to check out your manual to find out how this is done with your specific printer - usually you press a combination of keys on the printer's control panel. If the test page looks alright then you know it's not a problem with the paper feed, or with the ink or toner.

The next step is to make sure your printer is talking to your computer properly. In some cases, reinstalling the software and printer driver can help. From the "Start" menu choose "Settings" and then "Printers". Get rid of the existing printer by selecting it with the mouse, clicking on the right mouse button and choosing "Delete". Then click on the "Add Printer" icon and run through the printer's set-up procedure again.

HELP! I can't get myself on to the Internet.

Now this is a really tricky one. Again start with the cables and make sure your modem is connected to the back of your computer at one end, to the phone line at the other, and to the mains. If that's all looking OK, you should also check that your phone line is working properly by plugging in a phone and making sure you can dial out.

If you can hear your modem dialling and you then hear a small squeaky voice on the line saying "hello, hello" you know you're dialling into the wrong number - you have a voice line rather than a computer line.

Check the dial-up number given to you by your Internet service provider (ISP) and make sure that's what you entered when you set up your Dial- Up Connection. If the modem is dialling and connecting but then drops the line, it could be that you have typed in your log-in name or password incorrectly. Check these details with your ISP and remember that they are case sensitive so type them exactly as they appear in the documentation.

HELP! I've plugged my speakers in but I can't hear a thing.

Speakers plug into connectors in your sound card, which you'll find at the back of your PC. It could be that you've plugged the speakers into the wrong hole - they should all be labelled so have another go.

If you're still getting no joy, check that your speakers do not need to be plugged into the mains as well or need batteries.

If you're still enjoying the sound of silence then it could be a software problem. From the "Start" menu in Windows select "Programs" followed by "Accessories". Then choose "Entertainment" and select "Volume Control". It could be that you have accidentally turned off the audio by selecting the "Mute" option.

If the "Mute" option is selected on any of the volume scales, then you must deselect that option by clicking in the box.

HELP! My PC is doing weird things, I'm losing files, and programs that were working yesterday, won't load anymore.

If you're using the Internet and downloading lots of files and receiving e-mails you should be aware that a computer virus could get on to your computer. The sole purpose of a virus is to wreak havoc on your PC, but some are nastier than others. If your computer is behaving strangely you should check it out for viruses. Hopefully, you will have some anti- virus software with your computer, find it and set the program up to scan all of your files. If the software recognises a virus it will then offer to disinfect your computer.

While you're at it, make sure you set your anti-virus software to automatically scan your computer for any nasties. If you haven't got any anti-virus software, you can download some excellent packages free from the Internet. Check out the shareware library (http:// Mac users can get hold of Symantec's SAM product, while Windows users should try McAfee's VirusScan.

HELP! I think I've accidentally got rid of a hugely important file.

You would think that when you delete files in Windows or put things in the trash bin on the Mac desktop that they've disappeared into the ether forever. In fact, they probably haven't been deleted yet and are just reclining in the wastebasket.

If you're running Windows, double click on the "Recycle Bin" icon on your desktop. You'll see all the files you had deleted sitting in there, you can then simply drag any file that you are after out of the bin and back into your work folder.

Just click on the "Trash" icon on the Mac desktop to see the files that are waiting to hit the bit bucket.

HELP! The symbols on my keyboard don't match what appears on-screen.

This could be because your keyboard is set up for the wrong language. Check this out by selecting "Settings" from the Windows "Start" menu then choose the "Control Panel" option. You'll see a "Keyboard" icon, click on it. Click on the tab marked "Language" and make sure the English (or British) option is selected.

The Mac also has a "Control Panels" option that you can use to make sure the keyboard is set up for the correct language.

HELP! The Internet seems so slow, what's the problem?

In theory, if you're using a fast modem you should be able to connect to the Internet at a speed of 56Kbps - which is pretty fast.

In practice, so many people are using the Internet that you'll seldom achieve such high connection speeds. The Net can be painfully slow - sometimes it's like wading through treacle. You could spend a fortune on a faster ISDN connection, but the best practical advice is to use the Net at times when it's least busy (not at 6pm when everybody gets home or when everybody in the US is awake and hogging the system).