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Why can't computers just do their jobs?

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 25, 2000
(Issue 1834, Troubleshooter's Guidebook)

If you use a computer, sooner or later you're going to need help.. It's been true since the very beginning, when Adm. Grace Hopper was pulling a dead moth out from between the two contacts on a electromechanical switch in the Mark I computer that prevented a connection from occurring. (Yes, that moth was the first computer "bug.")

Of course, things are considerably easier now. When Hopper was helping the Navy use its first computers, the computer manufacturers didn't generally supply an operating system – you wrote your own as well as any applications you wanted to run on it – and if it didn't work right, you fixed it.

Still, today computers are also exponentially more powerful, and thus complicated; your average Mac G-4 or Pentium III has far more computing power than those massive mainframes that Hopper and her generation had.

So, yes, if you use a computer, at some point something will go wrong or not work right or you'll want to either fix it or upgrade – and when you do, you'll have questions.


c|net is a pretty comprehensive one-stop help desk. They have sections on hardware, on the Internet, software (including operating systems, applications and games), and building web pages.

Under the operating systems section, contains pages about Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, OS/2, BeOS, PalmOS – even DOS and NeXT. (And their Windows section includes subsections on Windows 3.x, 95, 98, Millennium, NT, 2000 and CE.) You'll also find pages on various applications – from word processors to photo editors to a whole section on games. The hardware section includes printers, scanners, modems, motherboards, disk drives and more.

Each individual page includes how-to guides, Q&A, online courses, and interactive help desks where you can type in a question and wait for professionals to submit bids on answering your question and/or fixing your problem. There is also a list of recommended books on each topic (whether printers or building Web pages), links to other useful Web pages, and a selection of Usenet FAQs about that particular topic.

Whatever help you're looking for, this is as good a starting point as any.
This is another all-in-one help desk, with support for both Windows and Mac, as well as peripherals like motherboards, sound cards, video cards, modems, etc. It's not as well organized as (all the software is lumped together in one massive alphabetical file, which means you have to sort through Aces Over Europe to get to Adobe PhotoShop).

Still, it can be a good starting point for finding answers to your questions.


Windows 95 Tips and Tweaks
Joe Sharit runs this how-to site as a hobby, but there's a ton of info available here, as well as some pretty useful utilities on his affiliated ftp site. Perhaps most useful is his list of links to other Win95 sites where you can find additional support and help.

Windows98 Megasite
CMP runs this free online help desk for Win 98 stocked full of advice, how-to guides, FAQs, guided tours, and even links to other Win98 resources.

Windows 2000 FAQ
This is a pretty technical site for folks who use Windows 2000 (they latest version of NT, the server version of Windows). Visually, it's bare-bones, but there seems to be quite a bit of depth here – probably because it's published by Windows 2000 Magazine.


MacFixit is what it says. You'll find patches and upgrades and Q&As and forums and a site search engine in case you get lost. And there is what every good help site has – a list of other sites if you can't find what you want here.

MacInTouch is neither as comprehensive nor as easy to navigate as MacFixit, but still has a pretty hefty amount of help resources for Mac owners.


Yahoo!'s Personal Computers page
Have an older computer that is no longer supported by its manufacturer? A NeXT or Amiga or Atari or Sinclair? If help can still be found for it, you'll likely find that help off of this page.