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December 2000, Week 2 -- Tech Support and Supporters

 

   Most of the reader mail we get asks for technical support. The computer is locked up, something isn't working right, the program is stupid and won't print, etc.

 

   This is a business where no one knows it all. No matter how knowledgeable you may be, there are tons of problems you can't solve, used to know about but forgot, haven't a clue, or don't even understand the question. Going to technical support at large companies is usually frustrating and fruitless. In a sampling of our own recent experiences, 11 or the last 12 technicians we contacted either could not solve our stated problem or provided us with a solution that made the problem worse. One guy was good: he solved a web site problem in one minute that had taken two other technicians a total of three fruitless hours. The best tech support we have ever received was from Microsoft FrontPage, which never failed to solve the problem.

 

   For the most part, though, company tech support is terrible. Sometimes it's best to skip the official help lines and go to the Worldwide Web. Here's a pretty good list of what's out there right now, some for fee, some for free. Good luck and good hunting.

  

-- www.askdrtech.com Looks excellent. The fee is $49 a year for regular service, or $79/yr for a response in three minutes or less.

-- www.answerexpress.com  This used to be "Intel Answer Express" and they were pretty good on software if your question dealt with one of the popular programs. They apparently sold it and it's now called "Sykes' Answer Express." The web address is the same as before.

 

-- www.myhelpdesk.com  Checks your software and provides clickable links to update sites if any programs need updating. That much is free. You can also use diagnostic tools and get a virus scan. For $150 a year you get round the clock support, every day of the year, from a human. You also get remote repair service; they can often fix the problem while you're online.

 

-- www.32bit.com Software downloads for virus detection, e-mail security, etc. Can download some games as well. Free.

 

-- www.computing.net  Oriented toward the individual user. Support forums let you ask a question or offer an answer to someone else's question. They have hundreds of drivers, plus a detect program that can help you find the kind of driver you need. There a special section for novice users. FAQ section ("frequently asked questions") has answers to the questions most often asked in the forums. Some are surprisingly technical. Free.

 

-- www.virtualdr.com  Has tutorials on how to clean up your Windows systems, how to install a network, software discussions, downloads, tips, etc. Free.

-- www.goofyguys.com  Lots of FAQs. Search on key words; your question may have already been answered. Free.

   For questions about specific hardware it's a good idea to go to the vendor's own site. In other words, if you have a question about your Compaq, go to www.compaq.com. Almost all vendor sites have an FAQ section for frequently asked questions. The only vendor's site I have ever found useful, however, is Dell's www.dell.com. Their phone tech support is also excellent; user support is probably their greatest strength.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.clickmarks.com  This is one of several sites that allows you to create a personal portal to the Internet. You select what sites you like to view most often and their home pages appear as thumbnail images on your screen. Click on one and you're there. Unlike other sites that permit you to do this or something similar, this one does not restrict your choices to a pre-approved group. This site was awarded "Best of Show" at the most recent Internet World trade conference.

 

-- www.random.com  For those of you who just enjoy browsing the Internet there may be nothing more entertaining than going "random." You can select a category, like "music," to confine the random searches, or you can go completely random.

-- www.frommers.com A full set of the popular "Frommer's Travel Guides" was recently put online here. They cover 800 destinations.

-- www.geezer.com  Hand crafted toys and other handicrafts made by senior citizens across the United States: hobby horses, wooden trains, sweaters, clocks, paintings, etc. Also has brief biographies of the artisans.

 

-- www.picsmart.com This site isn't ready yet but we thought it would be of interest to photographers who would like to make some money from candid or timely shots. Photo journalists will be able to post their photos here for pickup by news organizations around the world. There would be a fee for use, of course. Site is supposed to be up at the end of January.

 

-- www.myresearchmd.com  The best medical advice site we've found, Seems to be run as a private site by a doctor who is conscientious and dedicated to the profession.

 

The numbers report

 

   A recent report from www.emarketer.com  finds that 230 million people above the age of 14 are currently active Internet users. This would represent about five percent of the world's population 14 or older. The number of active users is expected to nearly triple in the next four years.

 

NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.