So, You Need Help?

Good help is hard to find—and that is especially true when it comes to mastering computers. Things eventually go wrong. Where should you turn to solve your problem? Corporations staff a Help Desk to field employee questions or troubleshoot breakdowns. If you work at home—or live in some out-of-the-way place like northern Maine—you probably don’t have that luxury. But you can create your own pseudo Help Desk for handling problems.

Most computer problems are user problems—and there are two basic categories: You don’t know how to make something work or the product is actually broken. Most of the time you simply won’t know what you’re doing—and experience is the only way to learn. Most people think that because computer hardware or software do not work the way they expect, something must be broken. Is it the auto dealer’s problem you bought a new car and don’t know how to drive? It’s not a computer company’s problem you can’t tell a computer from a television, either (though they sure make it hard when turning computers into family entertainment centers). When dealing with any problem, first you have to identify whether you have a real crisis or just don’t understand what you are doing. Most problems will be a lack of training. 

Like with any other new product, you should read the directions when working with a new computer or software. Windows 95 or NT 4, and software designed for them, come with sophisticated help systems that let you ask for assistance in your own words. Most products pack get-you-up-and-running tutorials, too. You should run these. Every program has a Help option on the far right of the menu bar. Use it. Microsoft Office 97 adds quirky animated characters to make the process less daunting and easier.

Since most problems you will encounter are really ignorance, it is a good idea to keep reference books on hand. You don’t need to read them cover to cover. The best training comes from using the programs. Just keep the books handy for those times when the software’s Help system isn’t enough. I recommend these titles:

  • Windows 95: Que’s Platinum Edition Using Windows 95 by Ron Pierson and IDG’s Windows 95 Secrets Gold by Brian Livingston and Davis Straub are superb references. Both volumes come with two CDs chock full of free software and shareware.
  • Windows NT 4: Special Edition Using Windows NT Workstation 4.0 by Paul Sanna, et al., and Windows Magazine Windows NT Workstation 4.0 Internet & Networking Handbook by Robert Bruce Thompson are top-notch support solutions; both are published by Que. Also, check out Microsoft Press titles Running Windows NT Workstation 4 by Craig Stinson and Carl Siechert and Windows NT Workstation Resource Kit. Server users will like SAMS’ Windows NT Server 4 Unleashed by Jason Garms, et al., and IDG’s Windows NT Server 4.0 Administrator’s Bible by Robert Cowart and Kenneth Gregg.
  • Web Browsers: Navigator users will benefit from the Official Netscape Navigator 3.0 Book by Phil James. Published by Netscape Press, this handy reference includes a copy of the Web browser on CD-ROM. Microsoft Press title the Official Microsoft Internet Explorer Book by Bryan Pfaffenberger also comes with a freebie-packed CD-ROM.
  • The Internet: Good electronic communication is as important as print writing. Check out Addision-Wesley’s the Elements of E-mail Style by David Angell and Brent Heslop or O’Reilly title Using Email Effectively by Linda Lamb and Jerry Peek to polish your electronic prose. A good title for learning the rules of the road is Bandits on the Information Superhighway by Daniel J. Barrett—another O’Reilly title. And if you’re not sure where to travel, check out New Riders’ Internet Yellow Pages and World Wide Web Yellow Pages.
  • Office Suites: IDG’s Microsoft Office for Windows 95 Bible Professional Edition by Edward Jones and Derek Sutton is the best reference for Office users. Those interested in Office 97 should consider Que titles Special Edition Using Microsoft Office 97 Professional by Rick Winter, Patty Winter, et al., and Microsoft Office 97 6-in-1. Que’s Special Edition Using WordPerfect 7 Suite by Bill Bruck and Brian Underahl is an excellent resource for mastering this new suite. SmartSuite users have to fend for themselves. Good titles are hard to come by.
  • PC Maintenance: Compaq Press title Optimizing Your Multimedia PC by L.J. Skibbe, Susan Hafeneister, and Angela M. Chesnut and New Riders’ Keeping Your PC Alive by Jim Boyce are excellent hands-on references for troubleshooting hardware problems.

The Internet is also a great resource. There are thousands of technical newsgroups with solutions to your problems or a place to post new ones. You will also find that many computer companies keep extensive up-to-date technical data on their Web sites. Microsoft Support is one of the best. Also, consider investing in Microsoft’s $299 subscription service, TechNet. The monthly, two-CD set contains everything the Redmond giant knows about its products and their interaction with third-party software and hardware. If you have a problem, TechNet likely has a solution. The CD set also packs up-to-date software drivers and patches.

Besides good reference material for troubleshooting, you should also take preemptive measures to protect your computer investment. The first line of defense is good anti-virus software. Something like 60 percent of breakdowns are virus related—especially for homes with kids. Highly recommended for ease of use and excellent detection: Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2.0 for Windows 95 and McAfee VirusScan 2.07 for Windows 95 (separate versions are available for NT 4). Best buy: McAfee’s new VirusScan Deluxe, which includes anti-virus software for all versions of Windows and OS/2 plus Internet and desktop backup.

You may also want to run software that helps you troubleshoot or prevent problems. Novice users should check out Symantec’s PC Handyman for Windows 95. When you have a crisis—say, your printer stops working—PC Handyman will help you troubleshoot and solve the problem. More experienced users should try Norton Utilities 2.0 for Windows 95. It monitors your system and warns you before disaster strikes. It also comes with a recovery program that can jumpstart your computer in case of total breakdown.

The Yankee tradition is one of independence. Why cry to technical support when you can solve problems yourself? You’ll learn more that way, too.

Editors Note: On July 28, 2017, this post was recovered, using Wayback Machine, from a snapshot of my first website, at strangely called: “Blue Sky, Business, and the Maine Outback”. What was I thinking?