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Now that you have that new computer, you need help!
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Now that you have that new computer, you need help! 

Bit Player for Jan. 4, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

I'm extending my best wishes to all new computer owners. Congratulations!

Now that THAT'S out of the way, I'd like to offer my sympathies. Sooner or later you're going to wish your brother-in-law ran a PC repair shop or your neighbor taught Computing 101 in the local adult education class. You'll need help, and you'll need it bad.

Where do you find it?

Always try the usual places first—by calling the manufacturer, by going back to the store where you bought the computer and, of course, by looking in the owners manual and the program's help menu. (Studies have shown that most users don't use those last two sources except as a last resort. They should be the first choice.)

Sadly, the usual sources for help usually don't help much when you have complicated problems. That's why you need to know what I am about to tell you: I know where you can get free, unlimited help with a PC or Mac.

It's the Internet. Help by the truckload is available on the World Wide Web and on Usenet newsgroups. I'll leave out any pointers on using newsgroups for now—mostly because combing them for genuine assistance can be an enormous waste of time—and I'll concentrate on how to get help on the Web.

First, you need to know that most computer manufacturers offer a lot of support on their Web sites. (They all have one.) Computer companies love this kind of support, because it's very cheap and extremely effective. Look in the stuff that came with your computer for the address of the manufacturer's site. Or go to for a complete list of more than 900 company sites.

Next, try to avoid the "dear me'' syndrome. It's the feeling that no one can help you because your problem is unique. Let me tell you something: A bazillion other users have had just about all the problems you're likely to have, and there will be a lot of answers on the Web.

Finally, use one of the Web search sites to look for specific help. By "specific'' I mean REALLY specific. Let's say you're having a problem with something called RXOVL32.DLL when you're running Super Duper Print Master. You could then go to the AltaVista site (at—and if you're really smart you'll make the text version of the page your main search page, because it's much faster) and type in the exact name of that "something'' and the exact name of the program. Put each one in quotation marks and put a plus sign in front of the second one.

There are many other search sites. Use the one you are comfortable with. (AltaVista is the fastest, but there are sites that offer other interesting features that make good alternatives to AltaVista.)

In about half of the questions sent my way, I am able to find immediate answers on the Web though AltaVista. The secret is to be as specific as possible. You'll save yourself a lot of aimless browsing, and you'll get your computer back in working condition faster.

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