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.


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