Updated: Aug 13, 2021
Quite often I get calls from customers telling me their computer is suddenly misbehaving badly.
There can be a bazillion reasons for this.
I will give them reams of advice and then a day or two later I get a call telling me that it "magically fixed itself, thanks but no thanks. I don't need your help".
That's fine, but there's a bit more you need to know...
Some of these things can "fix" themselves e.g. automatic updates slow or misbehaving, a failing hard disk compensating for errors it has found, a full virus scan, misbehaving software requiring a reboot etc.
Some of these things are transient in nature.
So, has your computer magically fixed itself? Statistically, unlikely.
Have you simply got a reprieve? Probably.
The creators of your computer's operating system, be they Apple, Microsoft or another, will periodically release both minor and major updates to that operating system.
It is these updates that most often cause this apparently magically result.
NOTE: much of the other software on your computer will also want and try to update itself on varying terms and timetables. This too can be part of what you are seeing but that's for another time.
The computer's operating system is the foundation, software-wise, upon which everything else your computer does resides and depends.
The creators of these operating systems usually go to great lengths to protect you without interfering with your use of the system.
As a result these updates are often forced on us without our knowledge. They "happen" in the background and depending on the state of your computer this can be a truly transparent activity or something that punishes you with incredibly poor behaviour.
A lot of what updates do happens before and after the message you see about "Reboot your machine to install/complete updates". So you may not see that particular message during certain phases and types of updates.
If you can ride out this behaviour then often your computer will get back to somewhere near normal behaviour.
But most people don't wait, and why should they?
You are right to consider that something major and bad is happening, and take some action, so...
If you have decided to reboot your machine I am going to surprise you now with a revelation...
...that may fix it but it may not.
Your operating system will have some fail safes that are designed to cater for the update process being interrupted or problematic.
So when updates are interrupted they may simply roll back to a pre-update state, they may try again or they may give up.
If the updates have given up you should know that that may only be a temporary state of affairs. Most updates will "try again" later in some shape or form. It may be tomorrow, next week or when your computer next attempts a major update.
If you don't do updates regularly then, and certainly at this apparently "magical time", you should check what version of your operating system you have and what the status is for recently attempted updates and pending updates.
IMPORTANT: You should know that these operating system updates can, in themselves, be the things that bring about total failure and doom for your computer. Particularly older computers. It is not without precedent that the "latest update/s" are incompatible with your machine and kill it. It is not without precedent that we have no option but to upgrade but the upgrade itself kills the computer. Welcome to my world. What fun 🙄
As you can imagine the sheer number of operating systems, version and updates available to them means I can't even begin to explain how to do that for your operating system here.
But here's a couple of places to start:
Mac/Apple OS version:
Once you've wrapped your head around the probability that this is what may have happened to you then you can breath a slight sigh of relief...
...and then take this as a wakeup call.
It is my bet that this sort of event caused you some degree of panic and dread.
I am betting you were quite worried about what you had lost or what you may lose and if things would ever be normal again.
As I said right at the start, there can be a bazillion reasons for this sort of "magical" behaviour.
The fact is most of them aren't good and most often what you've seen isn't actually a fix.
If you were driving your car with a warning light or a grinding sound coming from somewhere...and the both "went away" you wouldn't think the car has fixed itself would you?
Oh crap. Some of you would. 😲
OK, well, I'll wave to you as I drive past your smoking wreck parked at the side of the road. 😂
Otherwise, you may want to heed the warning your computer has given and get prepared for when, not if, you computer runs out of wishes.
David Moore - Computer (not) Wizard.