Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 125 / JANUARY 1991 / PAGE PC24

A little help from your friends. (column)
by George Campbell

If you occasionally have trouble with your hardware or software (and who doesn't?) and you're tired of being put on hold when you call a support line (and who isn't?). there's an answer as close as your modem. More and more companies are using online support to supplement the more traditional voice-support systems. You can also obtain quick and accurate support from other users on local BBSs and commercial online systems.

One of the best sources of help with any computer problem is as close as your local BBS. This is especially true if you have a hardware question or need help with a popular program. There's probably someone on the BBS who has solved a similar problem.

Just leave an open message describing your problem and asking for help. Most BBS users scan all new messages each time they log on, so your question will get the attention of almost every user. In most cases, you'll find an answer within 24 hours.

How accurate are the answers you get from BBS users? Many times, they're even better than the advice you'll get on a busy voice-support line. A BBS user who takes the time to help you solve a problem is an end-user who understands your situation.

Companies, both large and small, recognize the popularity of commercial online services, like CompuServe and GEnie. If you subscribe to one of these services, your online support options are many.

CompuServe offers the widest selection of official support forums, with companies like Microsoft, Borland, Ashton-Tate, Norton, Adobe, and many others offering customer support. The list grows almost weekly and even includes smaller companies like ButtonWare and DataStorm.

GEnie also offers a good assortment of support areas among its roundtables. Microsoft is there, along with Ashton-Tate, Borland, Hayes, WordPerfect, and more. You'll find direct and fast answers to your questions from all of them.

It's easy to discover if a company offers support. On CompuServe, enter GO INDEX at any prompt. If you're a GEnie user, just enter INDEX. You can then search for support areas by selecting the search feature from a menu.

Once you've found a support forum, use the service's normal message commands to ask your question. As with local BBSs, you'll usually find your answer within 24 hours.

You'll find more than just answers on official support forums. Each company maintains a library of files, including drivers for your favorite monitor or printer, program updates, and utilities designed to enhance your productivity.

Official support forums aren't your only options on these commercial services. As on a local BBS, you can ask for help from other users as well. All you need to do is check into your favorite forum and pose your question.

Naturally, you'll have to pay the normal charges when you call a commercial online service, but the solution is usually worth its cost.

Typically, you can pose your question in just a minute or two and read the answer in just as short a time. Since most companies no longer offer toll-free support lines, it could end up costing less than a voice call.

As companies discover the benefits of online user support, many have taken the next step: offering a dedicated BBS just for product support. This support method was pioneered by shareware programmers, but it's rapidly spreading to major corporations.

Microsoft, for example, recently put its support BBS online. You can call it at (206) 646-9145 to have questions answered or to download updated printer and display drivers. Other companies also offer dedicated BBS lines. Check your hardware and software manuals for these numbers or call the company's voice-support number and ask about BBS support.

It's often said that the only stupid question is the one that isn't asked. But how you pose your question often determines whether or not you get the answer you need. Whether you call a local BBS, a commercial service, or a dedicated support BBS, you need to ask the right question. Here's a list of the items you should include whenever you ask for help. * The name and version number of

your software. If you're asking about

a hardware problem, provide the

model number of the hardware in

question. * A detailed description of your

system, including CPU type, amount of

memory, DOS version, monitor

type, and any special hardware

involved in the problem. If you're

using memory-resident programs,

list them as well. * Details about the problem. The more

specific these are, the better.

Describe exactly what you were doing

when the problem occurred and

precisely what happened. * If an error message was displayed

when the problem occurred, quote it

exactly when asking your question.

If you always include the information above, you'll be assured of accurate and helpful advice.