Sooner or later everyone needs help with a computer problem. Some ways to get assistance are discussed.
They may not be as certain as death or taxes but computer problems are something we are all likely to encounter sooner or later. I have previously discussed things that PC users should do to forestall trouble as much as possible in the following articles:
Although following the suggestions in the articles above can help you to prevent or to take care of your problems, there may come a time when you have a situation where you have no idea what to do next. Where do you turn for help? Before you go for assistance from some precocious 12 year old kid that you know, you might consider a little additional research. There is an enormous amount of support on the Internet and in this article I will suggest some places to find information or people that can help. In this discussion, I am assuming that you still have a working computer. The case where the computer won't boot at all requires a separate discussion.
If you have Windows XP and you haven’t already looked in the Help function, go there. It includes an Internet search and can actually be useful. Otherwise, try tapping into the Microsoft resources on the Internet. The Microsoft Knowledge Base is an enormous collection, containing much useful information. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find things, and when you do find it, you have to wade through the Microsoft-speak that is often used for writing the articles. Nonetheless, this is the ultimate source for answers about many problems. To search the Knowledge Base go to this Microsoft link. Another useful Microsoft site is the Windows XP support center. Yet another possibility is the Microsoft Windows Expert Zone. Windows Vista help can be found here.
Search the Internet
Searching the Microsoft Knowledge Base can be frustrating because things are not always easy to find there. I have had the experience of knowing that an article existed but the Microsoft search function just wouldn't find it. Sometimes, in fact, it is easier to use Google or other major search engine. Go to the Google Advanced Search, enter your search criteria and add “site:microsoft.com” at the end. For example, to search “registry editor” use “registry editor” site:microsoft.com. Another way is go to the “Domain” line and specify “Only return results from the site or domain microsoft.com”. Google can also be a great way to find information about computer problems on the Internet in general, but you need to know how to narrow down your search. Otherwise, you will be overwhelmed with the number of links that turn up. Some basic tips on searching Google are at this link and some more advanced methods are described here.
Another way to search for answers to your problem is to use the “WinFind" search provided by Brian Livingston. This facility allows you to simultaneously search some of the best sources on the Web. The listed sources are Annoyances.org, JSI, Inc., Langa List, Lockergnome, PC Magazine, PCWorld.com, Tom's Hardware, Windows IT Pro, WinSupersite, Woody's Watch, and various columns by Livingston.
They are not as popular as they once were and have more spam but Newsgroups are still a source of considerable information. I have found the Microsoft Newsgroups to be very useful, and here too, Google is the way to find things. Use the Advanced Groups Search and specify “Return only messages from the newsgroup microsoft.public.* The wildcard asterisk will allow a search of all the Microsoft groups. If you can narrow the search even more, that will simplify the search. For example, for Windows XP questions try just the groups microsoft.public.winxp.* For Windows Vista questions try microsoft.public.windows.vista.* If you know how to use a Newsgroup reader, you can submit your question to a particular group and see if one of the many experts who frequent the groups will answer. Many of the active Microsoft groups are also accessible at the Windows Expert Zone mentioned previously. There are also online groups at MSN although I find them a little erratic.
There are large numbers of help forums on the Web. These are of varying quality but many have knowledgeable regulars who will try to answer questions that you submit. Most require some sort of registration and sign-in but are generally free. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet so make sure of the credentials of anyone before acting on their advice. Those who are regular writers for major publications or who have received the designation MVP from Microsoft are among the most reliable. Here is a sample of some sites you might try (in no particular order):
If you are willing to pay, a well-rated site is Experts Exchange.
Some of the bigger vendors maintain sites where questions can be asked about problems relating to their products. Most require a password. Some are more useful than others. Unfortunately, many vendors only offer generalized FAQs and don’t pay much attention to individual questions. The general trend is to cut down on customer support. For example, Symantec used to have some good newsgroups but not any more. Sometimes the FAQs or canned answers do help to solve problems due to documented bugs, so it may be worth trying. Some software companies have support forums where users can exchange experiences and these can be worthwhile.
To conclude, let me make an editorial comment (also known as an opinionated remark). You may note that I have not suggested phoning vendor tech support lines. Personally, I would rather go to the dentist before calling up any vendor for what passes as tech support these days. The industry as a whole has seen a marked decline in the quality of customer help and support. This decline in customer support has been documented in many places. In my opinion, talking to vendor tech support is the last desperate resort and is to be avoided if at all possible. Remember that the first person you talk to is very likely poorly paid, barely trained, and likely not a native speaker of English. Be aware that all too often there is a substantial charge. If you must call, be sure to have all the facts about your problem lined up beforehand. You will really waste your time (and the tech’s) if you are vague about what your problem is.
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