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Issue #639: October 20-26, 2019

Q: I see many more computers and other electronics are “refurbished” than ever before, some being offered at deep discounts while others are almost priced at the new price. What are your thoughts on refurbished electronics? I would assume refurbished could be as little as a good cleaning or as extensive as replacing several boards. I guess there is really no way to find out what was actually refurbished?

– Barry B.
Niceville, Florida

A: I am all for things that save people money – within limits. As long as you can enter into your relationship with your new, refurbished device well informed, and with your eyes wide open to exactly how the vendor defines refurbished, I say go for it.

There are many reasons why electronics get refurbished. One example is a design flaw discovered after the units are shipped. The vendor recalls them, fixes the problem, but can no longer sell them as new. Another is customer returns, which can get dicey. People return things for all kinds of reasons, ranging from the unit being damaged or broken to them just not being able to figure out how to use it. Because of this, one would hope that the vendor puts some effort into the refurb process, rather than just wipe off fingerprints, slap on a “refurbished” sticker, and put it back into the box. As a consumer, I expect them to fully test the item, and ensure all functions are working. The box should contain everything that came with it when it was new. Depending on the type of item, that can include discs, cables, remote controls, and at a minimum, a user manual. They should also provide a warranty at least as good as the original, to protect those who dare to take a chance on other-than-new electronics.

I agree with you that there is no real way to know what was actually refurbished, so be sure and ask questions until you’re comfortable. I have a personal horror story about a refurbished laptop that is too long to share here. If anyone is interested, ask me on my Facebook page or via a comment on my website, and I’ll share all the sordid details.

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Q: We currently have a Dell I-3 computer with windows 7. We know that Microsoft is ending their support for Win 7 early next year. We would like to keep this computer with Win 7 as we did not like the Win 10 setup we tried. We use Microsoft Security Essentials as the anti-virus program. My question is, will we be as secure say using McAfee or Norton as we are now using MSE once they quit the support? We do some on-line banking and on-line purchases, e-mail, and web surfing and no gaming. Thank you.

– John S.
Niceville, Florida

A: I sense that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means for Microsoft to end support for a product. You are concentrating on anti-malware software that is external to Windows, but that is not really the support that’s ending.

In saying that they’re ending support, Microsoft is saying that they will no longer provide patches when flaws are discovered in the software. That means if things go wrong (and things always go wrong – thanks, Bill!) you will have no reason to expect Microsoft to fix the problem, because you were warned.

Your question of whether one or another anti-malware package will keep you “as secure” as another is really non-sequitur in a discussion of Microsoft withdrawing support for a product. The most dangerous threats out there, that is to say, the ones with the most potential to cause catastrophic results to a computer, are those that exploit flaws found within the operating system itself. These are patched as quickly as possible, so there’s a constant tug-o-war between the hackers and software vendors. Once the vendor stops pulling their end of the rope, it doesn’t take a computer scientist to understand the likely result.

Windows 7 will continue to operate exactly as it always has after the end-of-life date. However, the more time that passes, the greater the risk of running into security flaws that could affect you and your personal data. If you’re a gambling person, you can try and keep it running as long as you like. However, in doing so, you’re on your own for security.

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