“Have You Tried Turning It Off and On Again?”

Television comedy shows like ‘The IT Crowd” make fun of the classic IT Support question “have you tried turning it on and off again?”. 

We can all think of many occasions though where this basic first attempt at solving some computer (and other device e.g. wireless routers, iPads / iPods, Android phones) problems has worked but have you ever wondered how and why this can be so effective? There are some simple and more complicated explanations out there on the Web (Lifehacker.com and howtogeek.com) so here is a basic summary of what makes this classic IT Support question so relevant.

Very Few People Are Really Experts

Like so many things in our modern world we know how to use it but we know very little about how it actually works. From our cars to our microwaves, phones and TVs we can operate them and use them effectively without having to know the finer details of how they work.

Starting From Square One

It shouldn’t be hard for many of us to remember that sinking feeling as we were faced with the Microsoft Windows blank blue screen where everything seems to have frozen and stopped. Even though it could have been caused by something small like a hardware failure it always seems to happen at just the wrong moment. The reason why nothing we try to do to revive it works and why the operating system can’t help itself to work at this point is because the underlying code has stopped working completely so it cannot help itself. A restart / reboot simply allows that code to start working from the beginning again, therefore giving you a fresh start. 

The good old a restart therefore clears the current state of the software and any code that isn’t behaving as it should is swept away - giving you a clean start and a sigh of relief.

Some Windows Improvements - Graphics Driver Re-Starts

In Windows Vista and newer versions of Windows some re-starts take place but in the background and in a less noticeable way. If a graphics drives crashes for example, the graphical effects on screen disappear for just a short while the operating system automatically re-starts the graphics driver in the background. Nevertheless, it’s still a re-start that is needed to get things moving again.

Browsers - Same Principle

Browsers like Firefox as well as operating systems respond to this process for similar reasons. Firefox has famously suffered from problems like 'memory leak' where it uses up more and more memory until it slows right down. Closing Firefox will cause it to relinquish all of its memory, and re-opening Firefox should therefore bring things back to normal and allow you to carry on working.

What About Internet or WiFi Problems?

Once again it could be that the code in the software in your router has stopped working and a simple re-set or unplugging from the power source will wipe away the current state of the software and bring your connection back.

Mobile Devices

You guessed it. Many of us have been forced to deliberately crash our iPads / iPods etc (a soft reset) and restart them to wipe things clean. 

Simple is Often Best

So there you have it. Looking for the complex solution, searching through running processes seem clever and logical but often the good old ‘turn of and on again’ is the overlooked but correct course of action.

Not Always

This is of course a first course of action and not a cure all. Where there is malware for example on your computer the software code has been corrupted so re-starting will not solve the problem.

The Moral - Ask Your IT Support Company!

If you encounter a problem with your computer that looks bad, check with your IT Support company but don’t be surprised or disappointed in the ask you THAT question - it could solve your problem quickly and effectively.