By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
Getting help for computer problems is easier than ever before, thanks to the Internet.
All major manufacturers of computers, software and peripherals (items that work with your computer) have Web sites, and nearly all of those sites offer easy-to-use help systems. Type in the description of your problem and you're likely to get an answer in a few seconds.
Microsoft has the motherlode of help sites at its Knowledge Base, at http://www.microsoft.com/kb. (That address is always redirected toward a much more complicated one, but it should work the first time you go there. After you've been to the Knowledge Base, however, make a shortcut to the actual, long-format address and put it in your Favorites folder or in your Netscape bookmarks so you'll get there faster.)
Go to the Knowledge Base during the Internet's prime time (8 p.m. to midnight) and you'll probably have to slog through a lot of traffic; it's a very busy site. But you'll find it a delight to use during off-hours. Microsoft's search engine lets you type in a phrase or a keyword, as many others do, and also provides a so-called natural-language search. You could type "Where did my volume control go?" and get a response, for example.
At the Knowledge Base and other manufacturers' help sites, make things easy on yourself by zeroing in on the problem you are having. If you are getting a message at bootup saying "XYZ.DLL is missing," type in "XYZ.DLL is missing" in the search line, or just type the name of the DLL. If it's a common problem -- and nearly all problems users have with PCs and Macs are shared by many others -- major manufacturers probably have dealt with the problem and have posted a solution.
A few months ago I began to receive letters from readers asking for help with an odd conflict. It seemed to be related to their screen savers. When the screen savers kicked in, their PCs began to misbehave in odd ways.
Some of the readers mentioned an error message, and in every case the error message named a certain DLL. I went to the Knowledge Base and typed the name of that DLL and found the solution in less than three seconds -- a conflict between a specific model of scanner and the software that controls the power-saving mode in Windows.
An exceptionally useful function of such help sites is often overlooked. Even when you have just bought a new PC or installed a brand-new software program, you might find that the manufacturer has posted an upgrade or a bug fix at the company's Web site. Go there every week or so and check the listings.
IBM has been particularly good at doing this, partly because IBM has a long and honorable history of supplying upgrades to its corporate customers over the Internet and partly because IBM seems to take customer relations more seriously than many other manufacturers do. Dell does an excellent job, too. Microsoft has a dizzying selection of upgrades, patches, fixes and beta software at its sites, and until recently (when the sites were overhauled) you could have a hard time finding the wheat among the chaff.
Don't forget the regular search sites, too. They can often pick up help from unofficial sources. AltaVista (at http://www.altavista.digital.com) can return information very quickly, and remains my choice for important searches. Remember to use the semicolon between words you want to stick together, as in this example: windows;98.