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How to get help on the Web
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

How to get help on the Web

Bit Player for Jan. 17, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

When things go wrong with your computer, how do you get help? When a program you're trying to run won't behave, what do you do?

Go online. It's the best way to get help. Nothing else comes close.

When you go to a company's Web site for help, you're avoiding all the hassles of telephone support -- calls that don't go through, lines that are busy, return calls that are promised but never take place, all that kind of thing.

Even better in some cases are all the sites on the Web where you can get unofficial help. They're often run by enthusiasts and are sometimes more up-to-date than many of the official manufacturers' sites. As you might expect, these unofficial sites don't necessarily have the right answers -- sometimes, in fact, they'll have "help" that's just plain wrong -- but they're gold mines of useful information.

Then there is the Knowledge Base. Those who go there can easily get the impression that it's halfway between an official manufacturer's Web site and an unofficial site run by enthusiasts, so I usually set it aside as a special category.

The Knowledge Base is Microsoft's attempt to get on the good side of the world. In thousands upon thousands of documents, the Knowledge Base lists what Microsoft's engineers know about the buggy behavior of Windows and all other Microsoft products (Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, MS-DOS, Microsoft's mice, you name it). The Knowledge Base also lists page after page of tips that have nothing to do with bugs.

How do you get to those Web sites?

The manufacturers' sites are easy to find. If your computer is relatively new, the company's Web site will be right there in front of you -- in the manual that came with the PC, or maybe in the window that opens when you right click "My Computer" and choose "Properties." If you don't see it anywhere, run your Web browser and try an educated guess --,,, that kind of thing. (Put "www" in front of the address, of course.)

If that still doesn't work, here's a site that will have the address:

Finding unofficial sites is fun. There are new ones every day. I can't tell you the best way to find them because there is no "best" way. But here are some sites you should know about:

Frank Condron's site for manufacturers' updates:

The unofficial site for updated drivers:

Sue Mosher's extraordinary site for information about Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange

Tom's Hardware Guide (overrated but helpful site):

And a site you won't forget, for the name and the amount of help: Trish's Escape from Hardware Hell, at

Finally, you get to the Knowledge Base at this site: The Knowledge Base uses browser cookies (and uses them very effectively possibly the best example of good use of cookies I've seen yet), so don't turn off cookies when you go there.

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