or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/15

   January 10th, 2015

restart dialog boxA patron came up to the desk and asked for me specifically (I was in the office at the time). She said she needs help with her computer, and hoped that I could fix it for her.

The abbreviated version of the story is that her laptop was having problems, so she took it "to the shop" to have them fix it. They said they did, and she never tried it to make sure - she just put it on a shelf and didn't use the computer.

For a year.

Now, a year later, she wanted to use her computer again, but can't remember the password. And can I help?

At least she knew that she had Windows XP, which is something. She didn't have the computer with her, so she said she'd come back the next day.

Which gave me a day to research how to reset or bypass a Windows XP user password, because I had no idea - and it sounded like something that should not be an easy thing to do. However, I found all kinds of websites with all kinds of complicated methods of discovering or resetting the password, including putting password recovery software on a boot disk. Then I found this kid's video:

That seemed easy and straightforward, so I figured I'd try it first - too easy in fact, but, as much as I wanted to help the patron, I didn't think we could really offer support beyond this. Downloading hacking software to a boot disk seemed a bit drastic.

So she came in the next day, and I was shocked that the kid's technique worked flawlessly. Partly because I didn't expect it to be so easy, and partly because it doesn't seem at all safe that it is that easy. But then, this was on a very old laptop with XP.

At any rate, the patron was happy she had access to her computer again - and of course thought I was a genius. I gave her a little talk about updating the anti-virus and getting a year's worth a security updates before she use it normally online, and also told her that XP is no longer supported and maybe think about getting a new computer. She said she got along for a year without a computer at all, so she'll see how it goes.

With a little luck, she may still enjoy XP for years to come.

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One Response to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/4/15”

  1. Oren Beck Says:

    Good job on solving “One Aspect” of your patron’s situation. Replacing XP itself is the next step and we can do it with Free/Open Software. I’ve been converting folks to Puppy Linux as an Operating System that Just Simply Works. Here’s why I am commenting:

    My wife is the Librarian for a 50 student K-8 school and they abandoned the Library’s desktop computers simply from the prohibitive costs of Microsoft.
    Oh- there’s a few learning curves… After one gets Patrons to the point where they’re in a familiar Firefox or Chrome Browser, 99% of Patrons likely will not notice that it’s Linux.

    Her Circulation Software is the old Winnebago Spectrum5- which does not run on anything later than XP. I’ve been using the WINE tool that enables MS software to run under Linux and it’s looking promising. That alone might be a stand alone victory.

    Now- the game changer for Library Kiosks in my estimation will be running Puppy from either a read-only CD/DVD or a PXE server. If there is NO HARD DRIVEconected= Puppy runs as “Ramdisk” which means= No hiding place for persistent Malware/no real need for malware concerns beyond “in-session* exploits.