April 1996 Features

Instant Answers: Get It on the Web

Questions about Win95? Fire up your modem
and find all the tech support you need online.

By Alan Smithee

Note: All links were verified at press time.

Getting tech support by phone is a great deal-if the vendor has an 800 number, answers your call quickly and has knowledgeable representatives who can solve your problems. Those are pretty big ifs. While a few companies still provide such exemplary support, particularly for big-ticket hardware, it's all too common to find yourself stuck on hold or wading through voice-mail menus, only to be connected with someone who's never used the product. And all on your dime.

Luckily, there's an alternative. Hang up the phone, fire up the modem and get help online. It's usually cheaper-just a local call, plus at most 5 cents a minute for connect charges. Because there's no waiting on hold, you don't have to listen to any annoying music or ads. And in most cases, online support staffers are more knowledgeable than their phone-bank counterparts.

In this article we'll tell you how to get the most out of each of the major venues for online-support-the World Wide Web, CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy and the Microsoft Network. We'll also talk about general strategies for getting the help you need as quickly and cheaply as possible. We'll focus mostly on Windows 95, since that's number-one on the tech support charts right now, but the tips and tricks apply to any product or problem.

Get Ready

Before you go online for support, check the resources you already have. Search the program's online help; skim the manual's table of contents and index; check any readme, .txt, .wri or .doc files in the program's directory. Many Windows 95 questions I see online are answered in Faq.txt or one of the many other text files in the \Windows directory, or in the Windows 95 Resource Kit, which comes in Windows Help format on the CD (\Admin\Reskit\ Helpfile\Win95rk.hlp).

You should also pull together all the details about your problem to save the amount of time it takes to get your questions answered. Describe it in as much detail as you can, if possible with step-by-step instructions for duplicating it.

Include all basic information that might be relevant: PC brand and model; CPU model and speed; RAM and hard drive specs; video board (if any) and settings; version numbers for operating system, network and relevant applications; printer model and driver information for printing problems; network board model (if any) and settings for network snafus.

If you get an error message, report the program name from the error dialog's title bar, plus the full and exact text of the message. Explain clearly exactly what you were doing before the error appeared.

Save everyone time and effort: Your first response from a support staffer may be a pointer to FAQs or other references that might cover your problem. If you mention the places you've already looked without success, you may get a more substantive initial response.

How's That Hardware?

This would also be a good time to upgrade your modem. If you're still using a 2400bps modem, you'll probably recover the cost of upgrading to a 14.4 or 28.8Kbps model within a few months through reduced connect charges. Downloading Wintune, for example, takes an hour and a half at 2400, while at 14.4 it takes only 15 minutes and at 28.8 half that again. You can pick up good brand-name 14.4 units (also known as V.32bis) for around $100 and 28.8 modems (V.34) for under $200.

A 33.6Kbps extension to the V.34 standard is in the works. Modems offering that speed prior to the standard's approval may have trouble connecting to other manufacturers' 33.6 modems unless they've got an upgradable flash ROM. In any case, it's not worth paying a lot extra for 33.6. You won't get the extra speed unless line conditions are optimal, you're dialing into another 33.6 and there are no server or network delays-and even then it's 15 percent faster at most.

The Web and the Internet

Time to get online. Clearly, the World Wide Web is the future of online support. I bet not a single company remotely related to the computer industry is without a Web site. The scramble to get on the Web was even satirized in Doonesbury.

Since all the online services now have Web browsers built into their access software, it makes a lot more sense from a vendor's perspective to put up a single Web site, rather than building and maintaining separate forums on each service. (We did that to some extent ourselves: WINDOWS Magazine used to maintain two separate back-issue libraries, but we've replaced the one on America Online with a Web link to http://www.winmag.com.) Another plus is that vendors have full control over their Web sites, with no interference or "sorry-no-can-do's" from online service bureaucracies.

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The single most useful Windows resource anywhere, online or off, is Microsoft Support Online (http://www.microsoft.com/support). The main page has two pop-up lists that let you quickly bring up files of frequently asked questions (FAQs) or general info about the product of your choice. Did your CD-ROM stop working after you upgraded to Windows 95? The FAQs cover that common problem vendor by vendor, model by model. As far as I can tell, this Web site is the only place to get the latest Windows 95 FAQs. I could not find equivalent files anywhere on CompuServe or Microsoft Network.

Naturally, Microsoft isn't the only vendor with a Web site offering tech support. Lotus and Novell, among others, have equally ambitious projects under way. (For pointers to some of the most useful sites, see Vendor Sites)

Another worthwhile Web-only resource is Creative Element's Windows 95 Annoyances (http://www.creativelement.com/win95ann). Despite the peevish-sounding name, it's actually a first-rate FAQ with solutions and workarounds for most of the OS's bugs and design defects, particularly those most irksome to sophisticated, experienced users. I look here first for solutions when Microsoft says "That's not a bug; it's a feature," or "We're working on it" or "We've added your request to the wish list for future updates." Want to get rid of all the icons on your desktop? Make double-clicking on My Computer open an Explorer window? Create a shortcut to Device Manager? Stop Win95 from forgetting your dial-up networking passwords? You'll find directions at this site.

Search engines are the easiest way to track down sites relevant to a particular problem. I use Yahoo, the most popular. In the unlikely event Yahoo doesn't have a link to the site you want, it will bring up a menu that can automatically run the same search in any of a half-dozen other Web search engines.

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Yahoo is also a great place for finding third-party resources. Its Windows 95 list, for example, serves as sort of a top 100 for Win95 Internet resources. The URL is quite a mouthful: http://www.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Operating_Systems/

But there's no need to type all that. Just do a Yahoo search for "Win95" and it'll top the results list. (For pointers to some of the best such sites, see The Win95 Address Book)

The biggest complaint about Web support sites, as with the Web in general, is performance. When traffic is heavy or a server is busy with other tasks, response can be much slower than with an online service. Internet task forces are working on ways to ease the performance bottlenecks (through compression, caching and replication, for instance), but it may be years before the problems are finally resolved.

In the meantime, you can maximize Web performance by sticking to text mode as much as possible. When a site has an alternate text-only interface, save that URL rather than the full graphics version in your bookmark or favorite places file. (For instance, for Yahoo use http://www.yahoo.com/text, not http://www.yahoo.com). The unique Images button on Netscape Navigator's toolbar is a big help when working in text mode, as you can quickly load graphics for the current page if you can't navigate without them.

To minimize delays, do your Web surfing outside of business hours, and avoid the Internet "rush hours" when half the world checks its e-mail (9 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.).

In the long run, it seems likely that the Web will replace online services or turn them into Internet service providers. But there's still one big sticking point: The Web currently doesn't offer any one-on-one help. Most of what you'll find on vendor home pages are product announcements, bug fixes, policy announcements and the like. You won't be able to get individual support from vendors or discuss problems with other users of the same products.

That could change over the next few years as Web BBSes and billing software mature. Until then, your best bets for individual support and user feedback are Internet Usenet newsgroups or the online services.

What About Newsgroups?

Usenet newsgroups are treasure troves of technical support for some things, but Windows 95 isn't necessarily one of them. As a general rule, the more popular the topic, the more useless stuff you'll find in its newsgroup. The two Win95 comp.os newsgroups (news.comp.os.ms-windows.win95.setup for initial installation questions, news.comp.os.ms-windows.win95.misc for everything else) are no exception. (Newsgroup subscriptions vary depending on the online service or browser you are using.)

Post a serious question not handled in the online help or FAQs, and one or more sophisticated users will probably post a solution. Unfortunately, your response and their replies will be mixed in with hundreds of idiotic postings on topics like "Is Bill Gates the Antichrist?" and "Free Money Now!!' If you don't mind wading through all the muck, you can get some good advice.


CompuServe, which originated the concept and spearheaded the development of online tech support, is the leader in this area in my book. More than 1,100 hardware and software companies currently support their products through CompuServe's BBS-style forums, and it's still the only service with an offline reader that can handle BBS messages as well as e-mail and Usenet newsgroups. (AOL's FlashSessions can handle only the latter two.)

In addition to vendor forums, there are scores of other topics run by user groups, independent entrepreneurs and magazines like this one. In these forums, you can talk with experts and exchange tips with other users. The gurus here often know more about products than the vendors' support staff, and they're frank about defects and limitations. Vendor forums, on the other hand, usually have access to bug reports and other support data not available to outsiders. They may be able to provide customer support services, like replacing defective products or mailing an upgrade to fix a bug.

One of the truly outstanding forums on CompuServe is Microsoft's Windows 95 Setup Forum (SETUP95), which provides support for initial installation of the OS. Almost every posting gets a detailed, to-the-point response from knowledgeable Microsoft employees, who will follow up as long as necessary to resolve the problem. You'll generally get an answer in one working day or less, though a new or unusual problem that requires research may take several days. Postings that don't belong in the forum (for example, about applications or post-install problems) may sit for weeks or even scroll off unanswered.

The only bad news here is that some postings are handled by participants in Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program, in which end users field online support questions in barter for MS products and services. While these volunteers mean well and can be helpful, they're no substitute for the company's reliable and painstaking paid staff.

Microsoft's main Windows 95 forum (MSWIN95), which focuses on post-installation problems, warns you right up front that it "should not be thought of as a formal means of support." Some questions are handled by Microsoft employees, others by MVP volunteers. Either way, the responses are often limited to what you could find in the Windows 95 Resource Kit, FAQs and Knowledge Base. The quality varies from one message section to another. For instance, the Video/Display section responses are pretty much by the book, while in the Dial-Up Networking section they're often quite insightful. Bottom line: It won't hurt to ask in this forum, but it's a good idea to back it up by cross-posting elsewhere.

CompuServe itself runs several Windows 95-related forums under its WUGNet umbrella, but the MS Windows News Forum (WINNEWS) is the only one that of-fers much support. Though its sysops are frequently stumped by users' problems, when they do have a solution it's often easier or more straightforward than Microsoft's. Unfortunately, WUGNet's other forums aren't as useful. The Windows Users Forum (WUGNET) isn't strictly focused on Win95. In addition, many of the Windows Connectivity Forum (WINCON) postings go unanswered, while the Windows Business Software (WINBIZ) forum gets so little traffic it feels like a ghost town.

For help with Windows 95 application problems, you'll fare best in CompuServe's vendor forums. Microsoft application forums like MSWORD, MSEXCEL, MSACCESS and MSOFORUM (Office Setup) offer high-quality support similar to that in SETUP95. The same is true for most if not all other major vendors, including (from personal experience) Adobe, Claris, Corel, Datastorm, Intuit, Lotus, Novell, Quark and Symantec. (If you're looking for help with WordPerfect, check out both the official WPWIN and the independent WPUSER forum.)

Among small companies, quality varies more. While some are every bit as good as the majors, others tack online support onto the job descriptions of people with higher priorities. Skim the messages on your first visit: If there are a lot of one-message topics and most of them are unanswered questions posted a week or more ago, don't expect to find much help there.

Hardware vendors' forums vary even more greatly. While the best are as good as on the software side, the worst are so bad you wonder why the vendor even bothers. Some forums are so filled with unanswered questions and flames from upset customers that they'd discourage you from dealing with the company. In fact, it would be wise to check out these forums before spending any money on a company's products. If your hardware vendor gives you the runaround, a good backup is CompuServe's PC Hardware and PC Communications forums (PCHW and PCCOM), where you'll find a high level of expertise.

HP's forums on CompuServe are a special case. Though sponsored by the company, which manages the file libraries, the sysops are volunteer users. If you want direct support from HP, you're better off picking up the phone.

Making the Most of CompuServe

Finding a particular vendor's forum is usually painless, since most are listed in WinCIM's online help. Choose CompuServe Directory from the Help menu, then search for the vendor's name. Larger vendors have multiple forums (Microsoft has more than 60), while smaller ones share forums with vendors of similar products. When you find what you're looking for, click the Service jump text and WinCIM will log on and take you directly to that forum. While most vendor-sponsored forums are operated by the companies' tech support employees, some-including Microsoft's Windows 95 forums-are user-to-user forums run by volunteers. You have to join the extra-cost Plus service to access Microsoft staff.

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If your vendor isn't listed, or you want to find an independent forum, use the Services/Find command, which will log on, search a database of keywords defined by forum sysops and display a list of matches. For example, the Quark Online Users Forum (QUARK) is the official forum for support for QuarkXPress, but search for "Quark" and you'll see it's also a topic in the Desktop Publishing Forum (DTPFOR) and a couple of other DTP-related places. It's always a good idea to search for the vendor's name as well as the product's name-in this case, "Xpress" and "QuarkXPress" turn up considerably fewer hits than a search for "Quark."

If you still haven't found what you're looking for, try the Support Directory (SUPPORT). This contains basically the same information as the Find database, but it's compiled separately and updated on a different schedule, so you'll find that it often turns up other possibilities.

The first time you join a forum, read the sysop's notices (Special/Notices) to see if there are any special policies you should respect. For example, some forums ask you to address your messages to "Sysop," others prefer "All," still others a different user ID for each message section. Then browse or search the messages to see if any existing topics discuss your problems. (WinCIM's scroll boxes don't work correctly in Win95. They grow to fill almost the whole scroll bar, which makes scrolling down difficult. As a workaround, press End to jump to the bottom of the list, and the scroll box will behave normally.) If you find some relevant topics, you can minimize connect charges by marking them (or whole message sections) and downloading them with Messages/Retrieve Marked. Then log off (File/Disconnect), open the Filing Cabinet and read the topics offline.

If you still haven't found a solution to your problem, it's time to post your own message. Often it's a good idea to post in several forums. For example, when my laptop wouldn't go into standby after upgrading to Windows 95, I posted in both Microsoft's Win95 forum and Compaq's forum. When hyphens started disappearing somewhere along the conversion trail from WordPerfect to MS Word to QuarkXPress, I posted in the forums for all three products, as well as in a DTP user group.

To minimize connect costs, compose your support requests offline with Message/Create Forum Message. Be sure to select not only the correct forum but also an appropriate message section within the forum. Save each message to the Outbox as you complete it. Then open the Outbox, select each message in turn and click Send. (Send All only works with mail, not with forum messages.) In each forum, after you post your message click the Add button in the Favorite Places list, so it'll be easy to return.

While you may get a response to your post within a few hours, it's more likely to take one or two working days, especially in a vendor forum. To check, use Favorite Places (or Service/Go) to return to the forum and use Messages/Get Waiting to read any replies. If that command is grayed out, there are none. In a busy forum, replies may "scroll off" before you get a chance to read them. If a forum's users post only a few messages a day, they may stay online for months; if hundreds, the forum may "roll over" a couple of times a week.

There are only two times you need to worry about scroll rates. First, when traffic takes a sudden jump (for example, the Word forum the week after 8.0 is released), or if there's a disruption at the vendor's end (like a flu epidemic in the tech support department), messages can scroll off before sysops have a chance to answer them. It's pretty obvious when this happens, as you end up with a section filled with one-message topics-that is, unanswered questions. In such cases, try to find another forum that will give better results.

Second, if you post a message in a high-traffic forum and don't check back for a few days, it's possible for responses to scroll off without your having read them. Many forums are set up to automatically forward unread messages to your e-mail box when they scroll off the forum-the sysop can tell you whether that option has been enabled. The usual rule in such cases is to respond in a new message in the forum, rather than a reply to the e-mail. If this option is not enabled, just check back more frequently.

(CompuServe's monthly fee is $9.95, which includes 5 free hours. Each additional hour is $2.95. Call 800-848-8199 to get connected.)

America Online

America Online is CompuServe's most serious challenger for the online support crown, but it's not a close race. As I write this, there are only about 165 companies listed in the tech support menu of AOL's Computing Company Connection (Keyword: CCC). Some major companies with support forums on CompuServe-including Creative Labs, Datastorm, Lotus, Packard Bell and Toshiba-aren't on AOL at all. A few other big names-like Digital, IBM, Intel, Gateway 2000 and Microsoft-have a token presence on AOL. But they provide only reference materials, file libraries and links to Web sites, not the one-on-one personal support they offer through CompuServe.

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Get Around AOL

One reason AOL doesn't have so many vendors is that its bulletin board interface isn't well-suited to online support. There are two basic kinds of message boards on AOL, unthreaded and threaded. Unthreaded boards don't have a link between your posting and any replies. Messages are just dumped into a folder in the order they're created. To find replies, you have to scroll through manually looking for messages with matching subject headers. In threaded boards, there's a Post Response button that links replies to the original message. Scroll down to your message and, if the sysop has posted a response, it will be flagged with an asterisk. But if you use the Add Message button that sometimes appears as well, your message will simply be dumped into the folder, just as on an unthreaded board.

Here's an extra tip: You can browse a forum much faster if you use a List view instead of a Read view.

You can easily get top-quality support on AOL from those vendors with threaded message boards. The biggest names on that list are Acer, Claris, Compaq, Dell, Intuit, Symantec and Zeos. While unthreaded support boards are awkward to deal with, they're no bar to good advice, as you can see on those operated by Adobe, NEC, Novell, Quark and Texas Instruments. (Note that NEC is not on CompuServe, and Texas Instruments doesn't have any direct support there either-only a user group forum.)

Either way, it can be difficult to find replies to your posting, and there are no search or sort tools to help you out. While America Online's FlashSession software can download e-mail and Internet Usenet newsgroups, it can't handle board messages in the same way. As a result, you waste time and rack up connect charges reading and composing messages online. These are problems for vendors as well as users. For example, in handling tech support for Wintune, WINDOWS Magazine's test and tune-up software, I've found that it often takes twice as long to handle the same number of messages on AOL as it does on CompuServe.

Two shareware add-ons let you read messages offline: Way To Go and Whale Express. (Find them with AOL's File Search.) Unfortunately, they're fairly difficult to set up and use, especially in contrast with the simplicity of AOL's software.

AOL's main Windows 95 forum (WIN95) has some useful Web links, but its message board isn't a good place for tech support. Like Microsoft's MVPs, the volunteer sysops mean well and are often helpful, but they can't match the quality of support you can get direct from Microsoft via phone or CompuServe.

(America Online's monthly fee is $9.95 for 5 hours, plus $2.95 for each additional hour. Call 800-827-3338 to get connected.)

The Microsoft Network

The Microsoft Network has a long way to go, even to catch up with second-place AOL. MSN's Computer Companies and Organizations (ComputerCompanies) section includes folders for about 45 software and 15 hardware vendors. However, many of those folders contain only files and Web links. MSN BBS sections are easier to navigate than AOL's message boards, but have the same defects-no message search, no command to view replies to your earlier messages and no offline reader for board downloads (though Microsoft has promised one). Surprisingly, you can't access Microsoft tech support through MSN the way you can through CompuServe. The Microsoft Network bulletin boards for all Microsoft products are staffed entirely by volunteers, resulting in the same low-level service you'll find in the MSWIN95 forum on CompuServe.

(Connect to Microsoft Network by double-clicking its icon on your desktop. Monthly fee is $4.95 for 3 hours, plus $2.50 for each additional hour.)


IBM's Prodigy service has a scant 30 or so vendors, among which there are only a handful of big names: six system vendors (Acer, AST, Compaq, Dell, Gateway and IBM) and one software company (Intuit). The software uses a weird proprietary interface, small fixed-size windows and extra-large fonts. In fact, it feels like a DOS program that's been crudely ported to Windows.

(Prodigy's monthly fee is $9.95 for 5 hours, plus $2.95 for each additional hour. Call 800-PRODIGY, x1139 to get connected.)

What's Ahead

Neither MSN nor Prodigy is a great source of online support-at least not yet. In fact, it's doubtful that either will continue to exist in its present incarnation. Both Microsoft and IBM seem to be moving toward converting their online services into high-end Internet service providers, and if that trend continues they may well dump the proprietary stuff entirely.

It's likely we'll be seeing some major changes in the online support scene over the next couple of years. Inevitably, the trend away from proprietary online services toward Web sites will continue. Given user complaints about runarounds and unhelpful support staff, let's hope we'll also see vendors pay less attention to keeping support costs down and more to improving quality.

Alan Smithee is a San Francisco-based computer journalist. Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.

The Win95 Address Book

In researching this article, I checked out hundreds of Web sites that touched on Windows 95. Here's a list of the FAQs, file libraries and other resources that had the most useful information, along with other sites mentioned in this article:

Clueless Inkorporated's Windows 95:

Data Soft:

Global Computing (huge list of Win95 links):

House of November:

Infowest Windows 95 Software Archive:

Microsoft Knowledge Base:
http://www.microsoft.com/kb (also accessible on AOL, CIS or MSN as MSKB and on the Internet at gopher.microsoft.com.)

Microsoft Reference Tools: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/bam/www/numbers.html

Microsoft Software Library:
http://www.microsoft.com/kb/softlib (also accessible on CIS at MSL; on MSN at mswindows_sl; and on the Internet at ftp.microsoft.com/Softlib.)

Microsoft Support Online:

Microsoft WinNews Electronic Newsletter:
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/news.htm (also accessible at WINNEWS on CIS, AOL, Prodigy or MSN and on the Internet at ftp.microsoft.com/PerOpSys/Win_News. To subscribe, send an e-mail message with a blank subject line and only SUBSCRIBEWINNEWS in the body to enews99@microsoft.nwnet.com.)

WINDOWS Magazine Win95 Home Page:

My Virtual Reference Desk:


The Cavern's Windows 95 Page:

The One-Stop Windows 95 Site:

WINDOWS Magazine:

Win95 Comp.os Newsgroups: news://comp.os.ms-windows.win95.setup for initial installation questions; news://comp.os.ms-windows.win95.misc for everything else

Windows 95 Annoyances:

http://www.windows95.com/apps (shareware);
http://www.windows95.com/usability (new users);
http://www.windows95.com/connect (Internet, Winsock, TCP/IP)

Windows 95 Home Page:

Windows 95 Networking FAQ:http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~llurch/win95netbugs/faq.html

(software vendors); http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Companies/
(PCvendors); http://www.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Operating_Systems
(Windows 95 info)

Optimize for Speed

By Mike Elgan

The shortest distance between two sites

Win95 links take you straight to whatever information you need-even if that information is on the Net. The Microsoft Network online service and Internet Explorer software support drag-and-drop links to your desktop. Soon other Net software packages for Win95 will do the same. This feature puts any Web site literally just a double-click away.

If you visit a site regularly, simply drag the link from your browser or area from your online service, and drop it on your Start button or desktop. Double-clicking on the link launches your software and takes you to that site. It's that simple.

You can make it even faster by associating each link with a unique shortcut key. For shortcuts on the Start menu, just right-click on the Start button and select Open. Once the Start folder is open, handling shortcuts on the Start menu is just like dealing with shortcuts on the desktop. In both cases, right-click on a shortcut icon and select Properties from the context menu, then click on the Internet Shortcut tab. Find the Shortcut Key box and click once inside it. To associate a shortcut key, just do the key combination. For example, press Ctrl+Alt+N. If the shortcut key isn't already taken, you'll see the keystroke sequence spelled out in the box. Click on OK. Next time you do this set of keystrokes, you'll go straight to the online site.

If you jump onto the Web first thing every morning, you can place your favorite Web sites into the StartUp folder.

Remember: You can assign unique and meaningful icons to these shortcuts just as you can with any other.

Stay online

Some Internet aficionados pay an hourly rate for connect time. Others work in companies with dedicated lines where there is no added cost for additional browsing. If you fit into the latter category, fire up your browser first thing in the morning and stay online all day. You'll save time.

Sorta like an online newspaper

You know the MSN as an online service that doesn't have a lot of content. But it's also a Web site (http://www.msn.com/), and a cool one at that. You can customize the site so it lists updated links you specify. You can set the colors and so on as well. It's a great place to use as your default home page, bringing you news, weather, comics and so on-all from one page.

And for you do-it-yourselfers...

If you own or have access to a Web server, you can build your own Web site that contains all your favorite links. You don't have to publish the address or have it linked from anywhere. It can be your own personal launching pad.

Man your script

Depending on how you connect to the Internet, you may be able to save time by using log-on scripts to automate the process. If you're on a LAN, or are using an integrated software suite, chances are you can just fire up your browser and your PC will take care of the rest. But not everyone has it so easy; many dial-up access providers require you to manually enter your user name, password or other information before you can launch any of your Internet clients. You may encounter similar hassles when using a Windows 95 dial-up networking connection to get online, and you're interrupted by dialog boxes and prompts for input.

Fortunately, many shareware authors have taken up the slack by creating scripting programs specifically for dial-up connections. To find such programs, you can search on the various online services or on the Web for topics such as "Dial-up," "Dial-up Script" or "Dial-Up Networking."

Best Windows 95 Sites

By Donna Tapellini

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Mike Elgan's Win95 Home Page

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Windows 95.com 32-bit Shareware

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Microsoft Knowlegde Base

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Windows 95 Home Page

Mike Elgan's Win95 Home Page
Getting Windows 95 to work just the way you want it to is an ongoing process. To help you along, WINDOWS Magazine editor Mike Elgan provides a new Win95 tip daily. Learn how to reach your desktop if you're going mouseless, or how to get a file onto a diskette using the Send To command. Follow Mike's lead and he'll also point you to loads of free software, including the latest, greatest shareware downloads, WinMag's own Wintune tune-up kit, a fix for Win95's shoddy security, Microsoft's PowerToys, Hot Java for Win95 and more. When you're ready to browse on, use Mike's list of favorite sites as your starting point. You can get serious with links to the Computer Almanac or Microsoft's Knowledge Base, or you can have fun at the Windows 95 Games Launch haunted house.

Techfile: Windows 95
WINDOWS Magazine's parent company, CMP Publications, brings you all the Win95 news that's fit to surf from WinMag and sister publications Information Week, Home PC, Computer Reseller News and others. At this site you'll also find a hyperlinked Win95 visual tour, and Techfile's own Win95 Hot List. Visit the WinMag site for hot news, hot sites and some of the best Win95 info on the Web.

InfoWest Windows 95 Software Archive
Have a hankering to embellish your desktop? Shop here for interior decorating essentials like Doom and Hitchhiker's Guide animated cursors, cursors designed especially for backpackers and horror fans, and more. The archive also provides downloads for Windows 95 games, graphics applications, Internet apps and utilities.

The Cavern's Windows 95 Page
Downloads, downloads and more downloads. You'll find programs in several categories at this site, including Internet software-e-mail client E-Mail Connection, HTML editors and handy utilities like Grab-a-Dial for scheduling a Win95 dial-up session. Plus, you get all the expected players-Netscape, NCSA Mosaic and Hot Java. And that's just the Internet sections. There are also downloads for utilities, graphics, games, desktop themes, driver updates and more.

Windows 95.com 32-Bit Shareware
You say you never tire of downloading shareware and demo programs? We dare you to tell us that after you've checked out this page. You'll find hundreds of shareware programs and demos in 25 categories, from desktop themes (Toy Story, Coca-Cola, Jim Carrey) to applications (Quarterdeck CleanSweep, Avalan Technologies' Remotely Possible), from multimedia and graphics to patches and updates. Any room left on your hard disk now? http://www.windows95.com/apps/

Windows 95 Annoyances
Does the Microsoft Network logo on your desktop get your goat? Do you cringe at the sight of that blue sky every time you start up and shut down your system? Eradicate those built-in irritants-and learn some really useful tips and tricks-at this site. Get a list of items you can safely delete from your directories. Learn how to hide desktop icons and customize your context menus. If you find Win95 botherations of your own, submit them. At the end of the list of annoyances, you'll find a linked bibliography of "required" reading for Win95 cynics and would-be stand-up comics, including classics like "Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church" and "Bill Gates in After Life."

Clueless Inkorporated's Windows 95
Optimize Win95 for the Internet with these step-by-step guides to getting connected. You'll learn how to add SLIP and dial-up scripting to Win95, install the TCP/IP protocol, and create and configure a network dialer connection. A file of FAQs helps you troubleshoot.

Microsoft sites:

Microsoft Knowledge Base
The Microsoft Knowledge Base is an amazing amalgamation of more than 50,000 text files, including FAQs, bug reports and fixes, technical and application notes, and corrections to product documentation. The MSKB is the primary reference for Microsoft's phone support staff. Answers to the questions they hear most often, like "How do I get my CD-ROM to work with Windows 95?" are quickly added. Why pay for a long-distance call and wait on hold when you can look it up yourself?
http://www.microsoft.com/kb/ (Also accessible on AOL, CIS or MSN as MSKB and on the Internet at gopher.microsoft.com.)

Microsoft Software Library
You'll find hundreds of drivers, updates, utilities and file-format converters for Windows and MS applications here. If a Knowledge Base solution requires a file, like an updated driver or a bug-fix patch, it will point you to the relevant software library file. This is also a good source for drivers for popular hardware.
http://www.microsoft.com/kb/softlib (Also accessible on CIS at MSL; on MSN at mswindows_sl; and on the Internet at ftp.microsoft.com/softlib.)

Microsoft WinNews Electronic Newsletter
Keep up-to-date on the latest bugs, fixes and product updates. You can download the newsletter from any service, but, better yet, sign up for a free e-mail subscription, so you'll find out about important issues like the Word macro virus and the security hole in Win95's password cache before they cause trouble. http://www.microsoft.com/windows/news.htm (Also accessible at WINNEWS on CIS, AOL, Prodigy or MSN and on the Internet at ftp.microsoft.com/PerOpSys/Win_News. Send e-mail with a blank subject line and SUBSCRIBE WINNEWS in the body to enews99@microsoft.nwnet.com.)

Windows 95 Home Page
Read a series of corporate migration studies, check out Microsoft's evaluation and migration planning kit, run a system check to see if your system is Win95-ready, and download white papers on Windows 95, graphics architecture and mobile computing. You can also obtain Win95-compatible software lists, check programs out of the Win95 software library and get Microsoft Internet product information.

Microsoft Reference Tools
If you like browsing library shelves, you've come to the right site. Computing reference tools include the statistics-intensive Computer Almanac (how many home computers are out there? what did consumers spend on software in 1994?), a directory of high-tech vendors' phone numbers, and the Jargon File (where you'll learn to speak and write like a hacker, among other things). When you've had your fill of computer-related information, general links take you to Department of Commerce economic data, the World Factbook 1994, a listing of AT&T 800 numbers, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Roget's Thesaurus and more.

Rev Up Your Search Engine

By Lori L. Bloomer

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Open Text

Finding information on the World Wide Web without guidance is something like finding a friend's house simply by pointing your car in the correct compass direction. You might get there... someday.

To find information quickly, however, you'll need a search engine to do the dirty work. Whether online or off, a good search facility will make finding your destination a much less troublesome task.

Possibly the simplest way to find Web locations is to use the search facility built into Yahoo, a hierarchical Web "menu" of sites. Point your browser to http://www.yahoo.com and click on the Search button, or click on Options to see the full search facility. Yahoo's search engine is fairly simple, so it's best used as a starting point or when you have a very specific topic (Windows 95 graphics utilities, for instance).

If you come up empty-handed, Yahoo also provides links to other, more powerful search facilities: Digital's new Alta Vista, DejaNews, the new and aptly named Excite, the old favorite Lycos, Open Text and the popular WebCrawler. There are many, many more, but these are among the most notable.

When you think of Web search engines, the first one to come to mind should be Lycos (http://www.lycos.com). The granddaddy of WWW search tools, Lycos allows you the most customization options. It also indexes more pages than any other Web search facility except OpenText, claiming to have cataloged some 92 percent of the Web, as well as online resources containing graphics, sounds, full-motion video and programs.

The Lycos (the Latinate name for the wolf spider) engine was originally designed at Carnegie Mellon University and became a corporate entity last summer. Its thorough, diverse search results have made it the most popular Web search engine.

With Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.digital.com/), you can search either the Web or Usenet. It accesses more than 16 million Web pages and over 13,000 Usenet newsgroups (as of press time), and new sites and sources are added continually. It is frequently busy with an overload of users, so try it during off hours if possible (between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. is best.) The heaviest traffic is during regular business hours.

DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com/) is a special search engine just for archive material from thousands of Usenet newsgroups. If you want to find anything relating to Windows 95 printer sharing that's been posted to Usenet, just enter "Windows 95 printer sharing" in the search field and send DejaNews to do the deed. DejaNews keeps a month's worth of Usenet archives active at a time-that's 4 gigabytes of posts for you to search through.

Excite (http://www.excite.com) lives up to its name, from its sleek Netscape 2.0 framed interface to an intuitive tab-paged metaphor that should be quite familiar to Windows users. It indexes 1.5 million Web documents and 10,000 Usenet newsgroups, and also contains capsule reviews of more than 50,000

Web sites. Excite's NetDirectory is a fairly straightforward categorical list, but its search engine is where it really shines. You can either choose to enter the keywords that any other engine will take, or you can describe a concept and Excite will search for related items. A concept search on the phrase "Windows 95," for example, gave us a top 10 pages list that included Win95-related site lists, a series of news articles on the OS and a college's campus upgrade policy.

InfoSeek (http://guide.infoseek.com/) offers 10,000 Usenet newsgroups, millions of Web pages, and articles from wire services in its index. Corporate users pay $9.95 per month for access to business databases like Hoover's Company Profiles, the Corporate Information Collection, Cambridge Scientific Abstract's Worldwide Market Research Database. All of these services have additional hourly and seek fees, as well.

Open Text (http://www.opentext.com/), based on the Open Text 5 search engine, retrieves pages from the Web based on the exact text strings you enter. Perhaps you want to see how many pages use the phrase, "This page under construction." Type it into the text box, and watch Open Text find matches (we found 408) based on the full text, rather than various combinations of the words you entered. Of all the search engines, it has the largest number of Web documents indexed: 27 million documents at press time.

WebCrawler (http://www.webcrawler.com/) is the AOL-owned Web search engine. While it is simple and intuitive, it's not nearly as thorough as Lycos. At press time, it contained indexes to more than 2 million Web documents. Like all the search engines mentioned here, it is constantly growing in scope and size.

Companies are slowly beginning to see a profitable market in offline Web searches, which allow you to do preliminary searches on your PC, then use the information found to scan the Web. Some, such as Quarterdeck's WebCompass (800-354-3222), even serve as "search managers," handling probes through multiple resources and facilities to maximize your online research time.

Another offline product worth checking out is Frontier Technologies' CyberSearch (800-879-0075), which contains a Web site organizer, a Lycos-based search facility and a CD-ROM-based index to 500,000 Web sites. The company will sell monthly updates to the database.

Vendor Sites

Here are pointers to some of the vendor-operated Web sites that offer substantial Windows 95-related tech support resources.

Adobe: http://www.adobe.com

Claris: http://www.claris.com/

Compaq: http://www.compaq.com/support/

Dell: http://www.us.dell.com/

Gateway 2000: http://www.gw2k.com/

IBM PC Co.: http://www.pc.ibm.com/support.html

Lotus: http://www.support.lotus.com

Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/support/

Novell: http://corp.novell.com/mulform.htm

Packard Bell: http://www.packardbell.com/gfx/support/support.html