An automated networking troubleshooter online offers help with some of the most likely things that can go wrong, writes Patrick Marshall. He also has some thoughts on choosing a printer, and says malware could be what’s frustrating a reader unable to open Firefox.

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Q: Why can’t I automatically wirelessly connect my Dell laptop running Windows 8.1 (64-bit) to the homegroup created on my Dell desktop PC running 32-bit Windows 7 Professional?

The desktop has an Ethernet connection to a Technicolor TC8305C router/modem provided by Comcast. When I boot the laptop and access the homegroup, I get the message that the PC is unavailable. The workaround is to go to homegroup on the Control Panel, leave the homegroup, then rejoin the homegroup. The stored homegroup password is always automatically verified.

— Dave Cooke

A: Networking is complicated and, as a result, there are a lot of possible reasons for the problem you’re encountering.

Because of this, Microsoft has developed an automated-troubleshooting utility to help users fix some of the most likely problems. You can access the troubleshooter at

If the troubleshooter doesn’t solve your problem, scroll down and you’ll find a listing of other potential problems and solutions.

Q: I know you’re not in the business of recommending one product over another, but I wondered if you had an idea/suggestion that would help us choose a printer that does the trick. The last three we bought from Costco seem to work for a while and then just die.

We just want a printer that scans and prints. Nothing fancy.

— Maggie M.

A: You’re right that I don’t recommend specific products unless I have very recently done comparison testing. So my first recommendation is to search the Internet for a recent product comparison from a reputable publication.

Beyond that, my general advice is to stick with the major manufacturers. And be aware that, in general, you get what you pay for. Most consumer-printer manufacturers offer very inexpensive printers that are not very good at conserving ink. And depending on how much printing you do, you could easily pay more for ink in a matter of weeks than the cost of the printer.

In short, if you do more than occasional printing, I’d suggest you consider moving up to a more expensive, office-level printer. Generally, these printers cost more because they are made to be more durable and they are more efficient.

By the way, while I used to avoid buying third-party ink-cartridge refills, I have changed my tune. I’ve been using third-party inks in my consumer-level printer for several years now with no problem. I still use the manufacturer’s ink cartridges, however, for my higher-end photo printing.

Q: I have lost Firefox and have been using Chrome, which is a second-rate cousin of Firefox in my opinion.

Firefox will not open or do anything. I uninstalled Firefox and reinstalled several times with the same results. Nothing happens when I click on the icon.

I’ve tried Firefox troubleshooting to no avail. I am a user of technology and not one who “understands it.” I’ve tried outside help, a neighbor in the software business, to no avail.

Hello, I want my Firefox back!

— Paul Webber, Redmond

A: It sounds like you have acquired some malware. The first step I’d recommend is to run a full anti-virus scan and then scan with an anti-malware program.

If that doesn’t find the culprit, Mozilla offers further diagnostic and repair steps at