How to help your PC help you


Yesterday, I looked up to see Kate, my next-door-cube neighbor, peering at me over the partition. "Don’t you need me anymore?"

"Whatever makes you think so?"

"You’ve stopped asking me for PC advice. Ever since … well, it’s been months now. Is there… someone else?"

Ah, yes, well. I got Windows 7 a while back, and before long, I had learned a few quick tips for getting reliable help—when things don’t go smoothly or I want to try something new.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. Kate’s ‘secret’ F1 key. I needed some help with my PC, so I called Kate on my Windows Phone while heading into the office—then arrived at her cube before she could answer. It was then I learned her secret.

As she peered at the Windows desktop, she pressed the F1 key. Up popped Windows Help and Support. She entered a few words into the Search box and briskly proceeded to tell me what I needed to know. So that’s where she gets all those smarts! So much brilliance in an unassuming little function key.

Windows Help and Support

2. Go to the source(s). I found the Online Help and How-to pages on Microsoft’s site are astoundingly easy to navigate, despite their considerable depth. It turns out the PC questions I encounter aren’t all that uncommon: More than once, the "Top Solutions" section has had the answer I needed. I also find the bottom section of the page—called "Explore Help & How-to"—to be especially useful at giving me the bigger picture around a specific problem or question.

I’ll bet Kate has this one marked as a Favorite.

3. Share the experience. When my system is acting up and I can’t solve the problem, I go to the professionals—at the help desk, which is located in Some Other Building around here. To make it easier on them and me, I learned to use the Windows 7 Problem Steps Recorder.

The recorder captures what’s happening on my PC, step-by-step, and lets me add comments. It all gets wrapped up and passed to the Help people in a Zip file. It really works, and I think it makes it easier for the support team, too. To try this, just run psr.exe from Explorer or find Record steps to reproduce a problem in the Control Panel.

So it’s true: these days, my PC puzzles me less and less, and getting help is easier than ever.

But please don’t tell Kate.

Jeff

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