Unofficial tech support returns home for the holidays

Whenever I go home to visit my parents, I always assume a handful of new roles — I become the after-dinner dishwasher, the family chauffeur, and appropriately, my parents' personal tech support. As I go home for the holidays this week, I'll likely be asked to help fix the webcam that "used to be there" or make the font size "so I can see it again." I'll also perform a few regular maintenance tasks that my parents don't even know to ask about, such as running a virus scan, uninstalling unused applications and upgrading their software to the latest versions.

I know this phenomenon isn't unique to just my family. If you're unofficial tech support for family this holiday season like I am, one of the things you'll want to consider is checking that your family is using the latest version of their browser. Why? For me, an up-to-date browser makes a huge difference: not only so that my parents can get to what they need when they're on the web, quickly and easily — whether they're writing email, viewing photo albums online, reading cross-stitching blogs or checking the weather in Chicago — but also so that I can rest assured that they'll be browsing the web more safely and securely with the latest version of the browser with security updates. (More selfishly, a new or up-to-date browser would also make their computer notably faster when I'm visiting home and using their machine!)

Most browsers have released major updates over the past year, and to ensure your family is getting the most speed and security out of their web experience, you can help your family upgrade to the latest version of Google Chrome, Firefox 3.5, Opera 10, Safari 4, or Internet Explorer 8 — just to name a few modern browsers. Moreover, teaching your family what a web browser is and how to update it can help your family keep themselves up-to-date throughout the year. The browser is perhaps the most important piece of software on our computers, as we depend on it to get to the websites and web applications we use every day.

You can also check out Google Pack, a collection of free Google and third-party software that's ready to use in just a few clicks. From anti-virus software to keep a computer more secure and voice applications like Skype to help you keep in touch once you leave, to Google applications like Google Earth (where you can track Santa over Christmas), Google Pack's applications help your family get the most out of their computer.

Happy holidays, one and all — and happy trails on the web!