Manufacturers now including electronic manuals

A friend stopped me the other day with a really good question. She had purchased a computer that came with Microsoft Word 2000, a popular word processing program.

She had taken a class that used Microsoft Word 97 and she knew that there were new features in version 2000 and she wanted to know where she could find help in using them.

This is a common dilemma. New computers come out and newer versions of software appear. Old class notes don't help. Where do you go for help?

I thought that a few columns might be devoted to the various methods that are available to get computer help, whether for hardware or software.

Let me share with you some of the steps that I go through to find help. Here is a brief summary that I will expand upon in future columns.

First I start with the "help" menus that come with the programs. If I can't find a solution there, my next step is to see if I can find a book with the answer. If this doesn't work, off to the numerous "knowledge bases," special help programs that usually are available on the web. No luck there, then I post a question to a Newsgroup. Next to the last resort is to call "technical service." When all else fails and the problem is hardware, the device goes to Con Tran at Universal Computing Service.

Let's look at the first of these methods in some detail.

In the last few years, manufacturers and software developers discovered that it was much more economical to include "help" menus on the computer or on the web in place of the traditional printed manuals. This got them out of the publishing business. Today, manuals are almost a thing of the past.

For this reason, "help" menus seem to become better and better with each new version. In Microsoft Word 2000, for instance, the help menu, which is called "Microsoft Word Help," is found on the menu bar under "Help." It contains three options: "Content" which contains topics in tutorial form; "Answer Wizard" which allows you to type in a question; and "Index" which allows a search by subject or keyword. If you find the regular help menus confusing, there also is "Office Assistant," which is a cute, clever icon driven screen that you can use to guide you through the help process in place of the regular help menus.

As an example, typing the word "margins" in the Index section of the help menu brings up twenty individual topics having to do with margins. Clicking on any one brings up a detailed explanation. If I find my solution here, I print it simply by clicking on the "print" icon on the button bar. Then I keep the printed copy in front of me as I work my way through things. Very easy.

Not all programs have such good help systems, but they are improving.

Computer manufacturers also are offering help systems. Dell Computer at (no www) offers "Ask Dudley," an on-line help menu where you can input a question and get an answer. This also allows them to sell computers without manuals and hopefully cuts down on expensive calls to customer service. This form of on-line help is becoming common with computer manufacturers.

If you haven't explored the "help" menus, try them. They are quite good and offer answers to many common problems. Of course, you can bring your questions to "Coffee and Computers" any Friday morning for more detailed assistance, plus coffee and sweets.

I plan on continuing this discussion of help in future columns. In the meantime, remember, keep the neurons happy, the synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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