Q: I'm writing to see if you can give out a list of recommended computer help, meaning people you know or people who know people that can...

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Q: I’m writing to see if you can give out a list of recommended computer help, meaning people you know or people who know people that can come to the aid of a computer virgin and help sort out what needs to be done to help my computer to perform better. Yes, I could take it to a computer store, but I would like to hire someone to come to my home and sort out things and physically show me. I want to upgrade my operating system, but I don’t know how or which one would be good. I would like to see if anyone can show me how I can do my own Web site. (My Webmaster passed away and I’m stuck without knowing how to do it on my own.)

Adriene Harris

A: There are computer consultants you can hire to come to your house or place of business. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any reliable, independent service that rates such consultants or checks on consumer complaints.

You can find consultants easily by searching on the Internet, and you’ll also find a number of listing services that purport to include consumer reviews. Be aware, however, that many of these services are businesses that may not follow through on posting critical reviews. (I ran into this new Internet phenomenon when I was trying to give a critical review regarding an electrician. Somehow, the listing service never seemed to get the review posted. Turns out the review board is a business-sponsored form of advertising rather than a real consumer site.)

It would be a good idea to research any business you’re considering on the Better Business Bureau site. That organization does actually follow up and report on consumer complaints.

As for myself, I don’t recommend specific consultants. If I were to do so, I’d then be responsible for regularly reviewing their performance, adding listings and investigating consumer complaints. I wish somebody provided that service, but it’s not what I do.

Q: Recently my mother turned on her computer to do her daily e-mail. After the usual boot up, there was an error message. The arrow cursor was present and movable with the mouse but the error message read, “Explorer.exe Unable to locate component. This application has failed to start because Browseui.dll was not found. Reinstalling the application may fix problem.” Clicking the mouse resulted in a momentary hourglass that turned 180 degrees once, then disappeared.

Why, after normal use with absolutely no problems for a long period of time, does this error occur? Please let me know what I need to do to get her back on task.

Larry O’Neil

A: Browseui.dll is a critical Windows system file. The two most likely ways for this file to be corrupted or missing are a virus or a hard disk corruption.

If you’ve checked the hard drive — using either the Windows utility or a third-party utility — and it tested clean, the culprit is more likely to be a virus. I say “more likely” because it’s possible to have spot corruption on a drive from a power surge — without the drive itself necessarily being bad. But if a drive is failing, you should replace it before taking any other steps.

If you’re not running an anti-virus program, you should be. Have the program perform a detailed scan of your drive and see if anything turns up. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, you may need to reinstall Windows.

Q: I keep getting the pop-up telling me “COM Surrogate” has stopped working. Apparently this is a widespread, well-known problem with Vista. I Googled “COM Surrogate” and got a number of hits. I tried three of the posted solutions but none solved the problem. Do you know of a solution?

Tom Westman, Issaquah

A: The error message you’re encountering results from media files that aren’t fully compatible with Vista. The solution is to make sure you’ve updated all of your applications, particularly media-related applications, to Vista-compatible versions.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.