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As covered elsewhere in this book, obtaining assistance is crucial to effective and timely repair. There are two categories of assistance sources: manufacturers and information sharing groups.
This includes hardware manufacturers, software developers, ISPs, and any organization that provides a product or service that you are troubleshooting. Help can be available in any form, including telephone support, live chat, e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, Web page form submission that leads to various types of responses, and others. Manufacturers prefer that their customers use self-service help such as FAQ pages and knowledge base searches, and often, this provides the information you need. A knowledge base is a collection of articles providing all information made available by a manufacturer. Many businesses force you to try self-service support before they supply contact information. This is usually reasonable, because some people will ask questions the answers to which are easily found in the product's documentation. With some other companies, however, important information is nowhere to be found; self-service support pages contain nothing but a rehash of the product's inadequate help files; and even if you can locate contact information, getting personalized support is about as easy as having your teeth pulled. Some other companies are easy to contact but often provide useless or incorrect information, and still others give you the runaround either because of incompetence or because they apparently hope you'll just go away. Fortunately, there are enough businesses that make good quality products and provide good or excellent support, that there is usually no need to buy from the bad ones.
When visiting a Web page, you'll almost always find assistance under the "Support" heading.
Some support is free of charge, especially under warranty, but some requires payment. Charges can be prohibitive. For example, one company charges $25 to troubleshoot an out-of-warranty inkjet printer, and there is no guarantee that the printer will work when you're done. With the cost of these printers so low today, you're usually better off buying a new printer, even if that means you've just wasted $60 on new ink cartridges. We discuss printer troubleshooting later in this chapter.
The best way to search a knowledge base, and for that matter, the Internet, is to use few keywords to start with. Do not use "and," "or," "the," and so forth. If you get too many responses, you can narrow the search with exact phrases. (Here you can use the aforementioned small words.) If you get too few responses, or none at all, broaden the search with fewer keywords. Also realize that many sites' search engines don't work well. Sometimes you won't get anything no matter how you search.
To reach Microsoft's Knowledge Base, go to support.microsoft.com Advanced searches can be very helpful. Click Advanced Search in the upper left-hand corner. You'll have options such as specifying the Microsoft product, searching for any of the words, all of the words, or the exact phrase, among others. Despite the fact that Microsoft's Knowledge Base has literally hundreds of thousands of articles, there will still be situations in which you can't find what you're looking for.
Microsoft numbers its Knowledge Base articles with six-digit numbers. To search for a specific article, go to http://support.microsoft.com, click the Knowledge Base Article ID Number Search link under the Search the Knowledge Base link, and enter the article number in the box. In case this page changes, you should be able to find instructions on the support page.
Microsoft's Knowledge Base as well as other companies' knowledge bases are full of articles about hardware devices identified by brand and model number, or by chipsets, that have problems when used with certain versions of Windows or programs. If the problem could be related to hardware, it is a good idea to identify the device in the search dialog.
Perhaps the most important category of items to search for is the error message. Often, error messages are identified by numbers, but provide either cryptic descriptions or no descriptions at all. Therefore, the only way to find out what they mean is by searching the Internet or a particular site's knowledge base. Try searching on the manufacturer's Web site first, and try in different ways until you get a useful response. For example, if you get the message "Internal error 46," you could try searching for the full message text or just the number. You could also try searching for "error" or "error messages," and hopefully you'll get a list of error messages or a place to search for the specific message. Sometimes you won't find any information, but often you will. If you find nothing, search for the full text of the message on a search engine such as Google. It is usually helpful to use the search engine's advanced search function and select to search for the exact phrase. If you do, however, it is crucial not to make any typos; if you make even one typo, you might not get any hits.
To make it easier to copy the exact text of error messages, as long as the computer is booted to Windows and is still running, you can use the <Print Screen> key. This key does not print directly; see Chapter 9 for instructions on its use.
To search for Microsoft error messages, go to support.microsoft.com, click Advanced Search and Help, select the product, or select All Microsoft products if you're not sure, enter the message verbatim (unfortunately, you probably won't be able to copy and paste the message), select the exact phrase search type, and then click the arrow. Also follow these guidelines if you get a "blue screen of death," officially known as a stop error. For more information on stop errors, see Chapter 2.
It will be extremely helpful to follow these simple guidelines to get effective assistance.
Before you seek assistance, write down everything you want to ask.
Call the support desk if you can. Although fewer and fewer companies offer free telephone support, especially out of warranty, some companies still do. However, it is rarely a good idea to pay for telephone support because the rates are often between $35 and $200 per problem.
Have access to the system when you call.
Be polite. Whether or not you think support personnel know what they're talking about, let them think you think they do. They will be more willing to help and escalate problem to supervisors if necessary.
Always provide as much information as possible, especially when e-mailing. For example, writing "My sound doesn't work" isn't particularly helpful. Identify your exact OS version, your hardware (such as computer or motherboard model number, processor speed, amount of memory, and model of hardware that pertains to your question), and any other piece of information you think might be pertinent. Also include information about what happened when the problem first occurred, what changes you made, if any, before the problem occurred, the steps you have taken to resolve the problem, and so forth. Many times, you'll have to fill out a Web form with this information. Even if the form asks for information that you're sure couldn't possibly pertain to your problem, answer these anyway, because leaving out the information will only delay the answer.
Expect to answer questions you've already answered. Support personnel always seem to ask you for information that you provided earlier. Just tell them again. Don't make an issue about it; doing so will only delay assistance.
These often take the form of Usenet newsgroups, or other similar forums on Web pages. Some, such as Microsoft's public newsgroups, are monitored by experts, and some aren't. There is no guarantee that anyone will respond to a particular post, and there is also no guarantee that information provided will be accurate or useful. Despite these limitations, however, you can often get the help you need from these groups.
There are many Web pages with articles and forums that are searchable from Web search pages such as Google (google.com). Frame your topic as succinctly as possible and click the Search button. Very often, you'll find some useful information.
On the CD See the Industry Contacts document on the accompanying CD-ROM.
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