Illustration by: Joe CiardielloI've got a family gathering coming up, which means that I'll be cornered by aunts, uncles, and cousins asking me about Registry keys and device drivers. I've been functioning as the unofficial Bass family help desk for years, and I'll bet many of you are in the same boat. I have a truckload of secret sources for all things IT, and some quick and easy tips for managing and dispensing pearls of PC wisdom.
Plenty of Web sites offer great tips on Windows and other PC-related subjects. Many have free message boards, some moderated by experts who answer specific questions. I've tried a number of them, but I look to these tech-help sites time and again for solid advice:
TweakXP.com: This Windows XP site's strengths are its Tweak Network Forum (which contains over 100,000 messages) and its Tweak & Tip Database, which has separate categories for usability, user interface, system performance, Internet, networking, and tons more.
Computing.net: Make the Support Forums your first stop at this site. Expert users offer help to techies--and novices--for 15 different operating systems, including all versions of Windows, as well as help for networking, security, and PDAs.
Tech Support Guy: This Web site has more than 15 very active forums, including ones for hardware, Microsoft Office, and Windows 98.
BriansBuzz.com: Brian Livingston, InfoWorld's Windows expert, provides WinFind, the Windows Tips Search Engine that lets you search 14 top-rated tech sites (including PCWorld.com) simultaneously.
Sites for IT types: For you technogeeks who salivate for stuff about deciphering hash codes in error messages and other binary challenges, there's The Elder Geek on Windows XP, which features a masterful array of Registry tweaks. Or browse to the WinGuides Network for more than 500 Registry adjustments that you can use immediately. For $30, you can download the site's Tweak Manager, which supplies over 1000 Registry alterations. Finally, go to BlackViper.com's Windows XP Services. The site's Windows XP Home and Professional Services Configurations page tells you which XP services you can safely disable to boost your PC's speed.
To manage, store, and retrieve all the nuggets of data I pick up from the Internet, I use AskSam 5.1, an expensive ($150) but multitalented research tool. Sometimes I type unstructured notes into AskSam, other times I enter information into one of the program's many forms. Usually I just drag and drop text from Web sites directly into a blank AskSam page. The program lets me import over 30 file formats, and its indexing makes finding what I've stored easy and nanosecond-fast. A 30-day trial version is available.Boilerplate Special
I receive tons of e-mail asking for advice. Answering the same questions over and over almost drove me nuts. What gave me a ride back from the brink of insanity? Boilerplates. Most of the questions fall into one of a dozen categories, so I created standard responses for each category that contain enough details to solve specific problems. For instance, I have one for when Mom suspects that she has a computer virus. (She never does; it's a ploy to get me to come over for dinner.) I also have some with tips for making a sluggish computer work faster, one for dealing with shutdown errors, and another for troubleshooting. You're welcome to use my boilerplates--I've zipped them into a single file.
Now let's trade: You send me a list of your favorite help sites, and I'll name more of my choice spots in upcoming online newsletters.AskSam 5.1Price when reviewed: $150Current prices (if available)Contributing Editor Steve Bass runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for more Home Office columns.