In technical support circles, there's a saying:
RTFM. This acronym stands for Read The F*&^%
(Fine!) Manual. If there's one thing computer
professionals know, it's that you can save hours of frustration
by actually reading the manual. And don't tell me
you don't have a manual because in any software
program you can access the on-line manual by
pressing the F1 key. I also hear people say "I don't have
time to read manuals!" (But they apparently have lots
of time to spend being frustrated.) So the first tip
for learning how to help yourself is, yes…RTFM!
So maybe you have read the manual, but you
still need help. Where do you turn for help when
the manual isn't enough? Well, you could find
someone who knows more about the subject than you do
and beg for training, or try accessing many of the free
resources available on-line.
Newsgroups are communities on the Internet that
are used by people with similar interests. For example,
if you want to find out more about photography,
you could start hanging out in a newsgroup related
to photography and talk about it with other
enthusiasts. There are thousands of technical newsgroups, for
everyone from newbies to gurus. To access these groups, you generally need a news reader
program. Just as you need an Internet browser to access
Web sites or an e-mail program to read your mail,
you need a news reader to access newsgroups. Many people use Outlook Express to read their
e-mail. (Yes, Outlook Express is also a news reader!) If
you use Netscape Navigator as your browser, you'll find
a built in news reader in that program as well. If
you need a news reader, you can find many by
searching the Internet. I use and recommend one called
Free Agent. You can download a copy at: http://www.forteinc.com/agent/freagent.htm. Once
you have the software installed, get the server address
of the newsgroup(s) you want to access and create
a newsgroup account using that address. Microsoft sponsors newsgroups which support all their
products. You can access those by setting your
newsgroup server to: msnews.microsoft.com.
If you want more details on all type of newsreaders, as well as lot of
additional information about using newsgroups, rules for behavior
(Netiquette) and the like, check out this site: http://www.newsreaders.info/.
However, because many people need technical support while at work and most businesses have
security in place that doesn't allow their employees
to use news readers, many groups are now available through your Web browser. Microsoft provides
a mirror version of their newsgroups which you can
access with just your browser at: http://support.microsoft.com/newsgroups.
Another way to connect with folks who can help
you with support issues is to join a support mailing
list. There are thousands of these lists too. You join
a group and set your preferences to indicate
whether you want to receive a copy of all e-mails sent to
the group, a weekly digest, or no e-mails (because
you want to go to the group's Web site to read them
later when you have time).
Once you join one of these groups, you get a
central group e-mail address where you send your
questions. Everyone in the group receives a copy of
your question. Then if people can answer your
question, they reply back to the group so everyone can
learn. Like newsgroups, it's a great way to quietly sit
back and learn by reading questions and answers. The
difference is that the replies come right to your e-mail
in box. With a newsgroup, you have to go back and
locate your thread (conversation). Try going to
http://groups.yahoo.com/, select a category of interest,
and join a group that fits your particular interest.
Find More Groups
You can also search the Internet for "support
mailing lists" to find other groups. Note, however, that
these groups generally have specific guidelines or "netiquette" that explain how to post questions
and determine general group behavior. Some groups
only send out info and don't accept individual
questions. So be sure to RTFM about the group before
you start participating. You can also search the
Internet for more information on standard rules of "netiquette."
Or you can just go to my Resources page on MouseTrax.com to find a list of user
groups I support and endorse.
Searching the Internet
I keep telling you to search the Internet, because
you can find just about anything there. But what if
you don't know how to search? Sure, it sounds easy enough. But there are many techniques to help
you narrow your search and get the best results. For
starters, find a good search engine. For example, try
out www.yahoo.com or www.google.com. You can even search a search engine to find more search engines.
If you're looking for a site that provides search tips,
http://www.searchenginewatch.com/facts/index.html. You can search for "tips on searching the
Internet" to find links to a lot more tip sites.
Search Multiple Engines
There are also search engines like Dog Pile
(http://www.dogpile.com) or Search Thingy (http://www.searchthingy.com/search.asp) that include
multiple search engines, so you can search for a
term across multiple engines. They often let you
specify whether you want to search for Web sites,
pictures, sound files, or newsgroup conversations on a
specific subject. (Okay, now you know the truth:
whatever you post to newsgroups stays out there
Another basic search tip is to use quotes. If
you're just searching for one word, such as Microsoft,
for example, you don't need to put the word in
quotes. But if you were searching for Microsoft Word,
you'd want to put the term in quotes so those words
stay together as one term. Using the quotes helps
ensure your search returns links to sites related to
Microsoft Word and not ones that simply contain the
word Microsoft and the word "word" (which would
include a whole lot of irrelevant sites).
If a specific technical term is giving you
headaches because you don't understand what it means, try
going to a site like http://www.webopedia.com to
find the definition. Or search out that term to find
sites that deal with those issues. Sometimes if I'm in
a hurry, I even use my search engine as a spell
checker to see if I'm spelling a word correctly or using
the proper terminology.
Most companies include free product tutorials
on their Web sites. There are also a lot of people
who are passionate about the technologies they use,
so they create sites related to those topics. For example, if you want to learn how to use Microsoft Word better, my web site, www.mousetrax.com , specializes in providing support for this and many other Microsoft technologies.
can search the Internet and find tons of sites that
offer free additional instructions. They may just provide the
perspective you need to solve your problems or make
the learning easier.
Microsoft provides several specialized support sites. If you're a computer/networking support
professional, you can find help at the TechNet
site (http://technet.microsoft.com). If you're a
developer, there's the Microsoft Developers Network
(MSDN) site (http://msdn.microsoft.com).
So after you RTFM, go out and learn some more!
The Web version of the Microsoft support newsgroups.