By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
If you own a Windows or DOS PC but have never heard of Microsoft's Knowledge Base, you're in for a pleasant surprise. The Knowledge Base has answers to thousands of questions and solutions to hundreds of problems in just about every category relating to Windows, DOS and Microsoft programs.
Long-time software sleuths have been lurking around the Knowledge Base for years. I use it many times a week. Yet most PC owners — and even many computer system managers — have no idea that Microsoft maintains this free library of online help. They're wasting their time trying to reach Microsoft support engineers by phone or hunting for help through an Internet search.
As we saw last week, the first place to look for help with Windows 95 is on your own hard drive, after you install the free Windows 95 Resource Kit. (For a complete explanation of how to install it, go to http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/texts/tec022298.html.) The second place should always be the Knowledge Base.
Getting to the Knowledge Base can be frustrating if you are trying to log onto Microsoft's site during prime time. It can get very busy in the evening, and the traffic doesn't slow down until the West Coast is asleep. So try to get to it in the morning, before you go to work or to school.
Making sense out of the Web address can be disconcerting, too. The Knowledge Base uses an automated script processing (ASP) system that automatically takes your browser to a specialized address that does not match the address you entered to get there. Furthermore, Microsoft added confusion by switching the easy-to-remember address of the Knowledge Base to one that leaves me dizzy. The old address still works, however, as a pointer to the new one.
Here is that address: http://www.microsoft.com/kb/. If you have a modern browser, that address will take you to the new one. If you have an older browser, just click on the link that appears to go to the new address.
The first time you log onto the Knowledge Base, you'll have to fill out a form that asks for basic information. I sympathize with users who are worried about putting personal information onto a remote Web site, but I find nothing threatening about Microsoft's technique at the Knowledge Base. If you want to be extra cautious, you're always free to enter a fake name and address.
The main Knowledge Base page uses a search engine. It works in a familiar way if you've done Internet searching using Yahoo! or AltaVista. Be sure to narrow down your search to a particular program, if possible, then type a phrase that describes what you are looking for. Be sensible: If you are getting an error message in Windows or a Microsoft program, type in the exact error message. Don't type a general phrase.
After you've been to the KB once, return visits should go a lot easier. The Knowledge Base site should recognize you and bring you right to the search screen when you log on. If this does not happen, check to see if you have inadvertently turned off the cookie function, or if you haven't set up your browser to handle password requests. (You should have a choice of typing passwords yourself or letting the browser send them out for you. The automatic method is safe enough for the kind of operation we're talking about here.)