Let’s face it. Owning a computer, no matter what Operating System it happens to run, can be a love/hate relationship. You love all the productivity, games, entertainment and socializing to be had, but loathe the headaches, hassles and troubleshooting that too often piggyback on malware, incompatibilities and the inevitable hiccups – along with those uncanny personality quirks that every computer seems to possess.
Of course, not all computing setups are equal, and perhaps even more disparate are the skill and comfort levels of the humans who attempt to operate them. Do computers work for us or is it the other way around? Ponder this, and then consider how much time & energy we pour into keeping our computing environments running versus the amount of productivity we get in return. I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect (or perfectly stable) computing environment and, frankly, anyone who tries to achieve and maintain such a state is setting themselves up for heartbreak. My own philosophy has been shaped over the years by a simple premise: that no matter how hard you try, no matter how careful and meticulous you carry on, there will always be (at least) one small thing going on at any given time that simply refuses to work exactly the way it should. Better I say to accept this truism and aim instead for a comfortable 99% stability providing 95% productivity. That is to say if the computer is mostly functioning the way it should be, feels pretty much free of malware, and lets you accomplish most of the tasks you need to…then you’re in a stable-enough zone to leave well enough alone.
And then there’s the rest of the time.
What to do then? Well, there’s always calling up the family techie/local computer guru/pricy Geek Squad/‘chuck it all and just purchase a new computer’ responses. Or, there’s the alternative option. I’m referring to a style of ‘self help’ in the form of computer Tech Support Forums. Perhaps you’re familiar with these “message boards” (as they were once commonly referred to). Or, maybe the concept is totally new. Whatever the case it remains true that the potential knowledge base of a good support forum is vast, and that users at every level can benefit from the collective wisdom of the crowd.
The thing about Support Forums is that each one has its own style, special-i-ties and nuances, all the way down to the unique look and feel of the site. The basic idea is the same, you log in, post a question, and let others contribute their advice/wisdom. But that’s not the whole picture either. It is usually best to familiarize yourself with a Forum before jumping in with questions. Because quite often the question has already been addressed and you’ll be expected to conduct a search for the ‘message thread’ containing the answer first, before posting a duplicate. The safest route is to always read the Board Guidelines AND search for a posted solution before posting a question.
I’ve lost track of how much useful advice I’ve gleaned from quality Tech Support Forums. And one of the greatest things about these communities of knowledgeable experts is that they are willing to freely lend of their time and expertise, merely for the satisfaction of helping others. So the next time you’re stifled by a computer snafu, assuming you can find a way onto the internet, a solution may be but a few clicks away.
Presented here is a collection of Support Forums I’ve run across over the years, along with my best attempt at characterizing the overall theme and tone of each. In most cases my experience has resulted from finding answers to questions through [anonymously] searching the knowledge base, or (in rarer cases) posting a question and receiving direct advice. Listed in no particular order:
SuperUser – One of the focused meta boards built with the StackExchange engine. Rather than the community focused, topic sorted style of traditional message boards the style here is more quick posting/exchange of information, where the best answers are voted up or down based on relevance and quality.
MajorGeeks – A solid ‘we cover just about everything’ tech support forum. Newcomers are welcome, though they may find the environment somewhat intimidating. More likely to fit in are those already comfortable with computers and troubleshooting. I’m guessing if you have a problem, the regulars at MajorGeeks can help you resolve it. Oh, and despite the theming, this site isn’t actually affiliated with the military.
Techie7 – Heavily geared to newcomers or, those with average computer skills. Everything here is clean and straightforward, giving the impression that they are here to do one thing and one thing only…help you resolve your computer troubles.
CyberTechHelp – Another one that’s straightforward all about computer troubleshooting. I’m not terribly fond of the design/layout of this one, but as any experienced user can tell you when it comes to tech support forums it’s not about looks, but the quality of the user base.
Ask Leo! – The format here is less that of a traditional message board, and more like a ‘letter to the editor’ news column. You can search for questions in the repository, or ask Leo a question directly. If he does respond the answer will usually be posted publicly for the benefit of the crowd. As the tagline says, ‘Helping people with computers…one answer at a time.’
Protonic.com – While there is a traditional message board (forums) built into the site the approach here is more geared toward direct Q&A with seasoned experts. With a free registered account you can ask a question directly through the site and wait for one of the volunteers to respond via email. A community of generous tech support advice that’s been around for many years.
Ask Dave Taylor! – Dave answers questions on just about any tech-related topic, but where he stands apart is in his HTML expertise. Needless to say, the atmosphere can range from super basic to really technical. Once again, not a traditional message board like the others, but still a potential source of valuable help.
5 Star Support – Heavily geared toward novice computer users who run Windows Operating System, although they do have a few sub-forums dedicated to more advanced topics. I like the clean layout and style of this one and the general vibe of the community. As stated previously, every forum has its own atmosphere and you just have to find the ones that suit you.
Windows Secrets Lounge – As the name suggests this forum is all about Windows and other Microsoft products. Of course, there are boards dedicated to non-Microsoft stuff too. This is one community that has been around for a long time. Friendly and well established. If all this computer stuff is really intimidating to you, the Windows Secrets Lounge is a great place to start.
Elder Geek Forums – Another well established community. The main Elder Geek website has been around for a long time, offering tips & advice on working with Windows Operating Systems. That remains the focus here and I dare say the collective expertise is second to none.
TechSupportGuy – This is one of those tech forums that starts off dealing with computer troubleshooting, but easily segues into off-topic areas. If you’re looking for a more open-ended, social oriented atmosphere this one may be worth checking out.
Scot’s Newsletter readers have a place to go for heady discussions on all three of the major operating systems: Windows, Mac and Linux. If you’re OS neutral and/or an above average user this might fill just the right niche.
Note: All of the above listed Tech Support Forums are 100% free to join and use. They are most often supported by advertising or donations or, in many cases, by the passionate people who run them. Please be sure to show appreciation whenever possible.