Any good support engineer’s library contains dozens of technical manuals. Unfortunately, there will always be problems that will stump us. Before formatting and starting again from scratch, here are a few good resources available on the Internet.

One resource that is often overlooked is Usenet newsgroups. No matter how strange your problem might seem, chances are someone out there in the world has experienced the same problem. If so, it is likely that someone has posted his/her experiences in a newsgroup.

To access newsgroups, you need a news reader, as well as a news server. Outlook Express is both a good and easy-to-use news reader. Your ISP should provide a news server. If not, ask your provider for one. Once you have downloaded the newsgroups available for the news server, simply search for one pertaining to the subject of your problem. Microsoft also has several newsgroups separate from Usenet that you may find helpful if you are dealing with a problem pertaining to a Microsoft product.

By the way, a quick word to the wise: newsgroups are a spammer’s haven. If you choose to post your problem in the hopes of getting a response, make sure to use a pseudo e-mail address, or some Hotmail or other free account where you wouldn’t be bothered if you get spammed.

IRC chat rooms are another good resource. (IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat.) Unfortunately, most corporate networks block IRC access. If you are one of the lucky ones to have IRC access, I recommend checking out the IRC network at Eris Free Network . There are chat rooms pertaining to every subject area imaginable. #Windows and #WindowsNT are good places to start.

Here are some tips for getting help in an IRC chat room:

  • Idle in the chat room a minute or two to get the feel of the way things work before asking your question. Asking a question immediately upon entry can make you seem a bit greedy.
  • Don’t repeat your question too often. If you repeat your question often it can get obnoxious, and you may end up getting yourself banned from the chat room. Wait at least five to ten minutes before repeating your question.
  • Remember that everyone in the chat room is a volunteer—they are there just because they like helping. Do not act as if they are obligated to answer any questions. This tip applies to newsgroups too.

The Microsoft Knowledge Database
If you are troubleshooting a Windows problem, a great place to look is the Microsoft Knowledge Database , which has information on just about any kind of problem or bug that you can encounter in Windows. Just enter keywords pertaining to your problem, and information will immediately come up. Tip: If you have a specific error number, try typing ERR [the number].
Perhaps the problem you are having pertains to an old or corrupt driver. If so, DriversHQ has a great utility to help you update the drivers on any computer. All you have to do is download’s utility, and it will look around your computer for whatever hardware you have. Then, it will suggest driver updates and take you to the appropriate Web site to look for those new drivers.

TechRepublic Peer-to-Peer Forums
In case you haven’t already noticed, Tech Republic has a large number of peer-to-peer forums for you to ask your fellow TechRepublic members for help. You simply offer up some Tech Points for anyone who provides a helpful answer, and your fellow members will be glad to assist. Follow this link to the TechRepublic Forum Center.
Whether your printer won’t print, or you can’t get your Linux box to connect to the Internet, there are dozens of resources on the Web where you can find help to fix the problems. If you’d like to share your favorite Web site for tech support, please post a comment below.

Kyle Harmon is the owner of UCANweb, Inc .