Getting Online Support

Ronn Wallace

There is no better place to get support for hardware or software than online, and an obvious place to start looking for assistance is with the manufacturer’s website.

If you are having problems with a Microsoft product, they have a massive knowledge base, which can prove to be an invaluable tool for home users and IT professionals. Many developers, whether it is for hardware or software, have an online resource for the consumer to visit for answers.

Not all are as thorough as Microsoft or Cisco Systems, but they can usually shed some light on common problems. Where do you turn if a manufacturer’s website isn’t giving you the information you need?

USENET or newsgroups are a great source of information for many topics, including technical support questions. With millions of people online worldwide, odds are someone else has encountered the same issues you are inquiring about. Before you post a question, thoroughly go through the board and check to see if someone else has already answered your question. Leave a message on the most appropriate message board relating to your product, and other users will begin coming to your rescue. A good place to start browsing newsgroups is, which is a Web-based newsgroup system. Google allows you to search relevant newsgroups according to the keywords you supply. Multiple search filters are available, including date ranges, exclusions, specify certain groups to search, and even the number of results to display.

Offline Support—Still Can’t Find What You Need? Hit the Books - If you are looking to acquire support in a more traditional form, which book do you choose? The users manual accompanying the purchased product is always a good place to start looking for help, but if you need something more in depth it’s usually best to visit the local bookstore, especially since many manufacturers are using websites for support/faq’s. The popular series of books for “dummies” really appeals to the intended audience, beginners. If you’re looking for a thorough overview, the “dummies” books shine like nothing else.

Asking for Help: What’s Important? The way you ask for assistance can be just as important as where you request it. Key tips to remember when asking for help are: include your operating system and version; only supply relevant information; do not go overboard; do not sound demanding in your request; and most importantly, include the exact error message if applicable.

Try The Association of Support Professionals - For a $60 yearly membership fee, you can secure the assistance of over 1,000 support professionals. Membership to ASPonline gives you access to forums, job postings, reports, and a monthly newsletter of new technical support data. Ten websites every year get the distinct honor in being named the “Best Support Website,” so you know who is going to supply you with the most accurate information quickly.

I hope these tips help make your computing experience more enjoyable!