17.4. Searching for Clues with Google
When you see an error message pop up on your screen, or you're faced with a question about some obscure part on your PC, you're not alone. These same problems appear on hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of other PCs.
The Internet's loaded with places for people to complain about their computer problems; many techies love to prove their mettle by answering them, so it's a perfect match. Google provides an index to just about every one of those conversations, and your challenge is to extract the one that answers your current problem.
To narrow down your search results, search for these specific items:
Error messages . Error messages always use the same wording on every PC, making them easy search targets. You must post the exact wording, in quotes, to find an answer. To limit your searches to your own operating systemWindows XP, for instanceadd the term "XP" after your search phrase, like so:
"Error Does Not Compute" XP
File names . When a particular file name keeps appear within an error message, search for that file's exact name , including its three-letter extension, followed by the letters XP. If Windows XP isn't displaying the file's extension, open any folder and choose Tools Folder Options. From the View tab, turn off, "Hide extensions for known file types."
Part numbers . Some parts come with a number stamped on their circuit board. Sometimes searching for the part number reveals the part's manufacturer and version number, which is valuable when tracking down drivers (see Section 16.5.4), the software that lets various devices communicate with Windows XP.
Part names . Searching for "Epson 1280" narrows down the information to include that particular printer model.
Software name . Be sure to include the version number of your troublesome software, which you can find in just about any program by clicking Help About.
FAQ . Short for Frequently Asked Questions. Tossing this acronym into your search finds answers to the most common questions about that particular item. It's a quick way to find easy answers.
Try stringing together several short quoted phrases in Google's search box. The more specific you are in describing your problem, the better your chances of finding a solution. When you click the Google Search button, shown in Figure 17-7, the search engine whips through Web sites, looking for matches.
Figure 17-7. Place your exact error message in quotes when searching Google for possible answers. Start your search on the Web, but also be sure to search "Groups" as well. That tells Google to search the Internet's newsgroups, a huge collection of forums where people discuss nearly everythingincluding solutions to error messages and other computer problems. Google Groups contains more than 3 billion messages spanning the past 20 years .
As you search, add newly encountered words to your search that may be helpful in leading to a clue. You'll notice that the following sites frequently pop up when you search for answers to computer problems.
Doug's Windows Tweaks and Tips (www.dougknox.com). Many fixes involve editing a specific area of Windows XP's backbone called the Registry. Since not everybody wants to become a Windows surgeon to fix their problems, a visit to Doug Knox's site brings a quick solution: little programs that edit the specific registry entry you need to solve your problem. Doug has created downloadable mini-programs that fix some of the most common registry problems.
Kelly 's Korner (www.kellys-korner-xp.com). Like Doug's site, Kelly's site also offers a wide variety of tweaks and mini-programs for fixing specific portions of the Registry. Replies to questions often include a link to a specific program, saving you from Kelly's "sea of text" approach to Web page layout.
Microsoft Knowledge Base Article number . Microsoft lists solutions to problems on its Knowledge Base, explained on Section 17.6. Armed with an article number, you can head straight to the section of the Knowledge Base containing an answer.