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 Travel Tech 101

WHEN PCS 'BREAK,'
A SANE WAY TO FIX THEM


BY PHIL BAKER

January 18, 2007 -- Our personal computers routinely perform wondrous tasks, but, when something goes wrong, most of us are ill-equipped to fix the problem.

Few of us even know where to begin when a problem occurs. We restart the computer or reinstall the software and hope for the best.

The obvious choice for getting help is to call the computer company or the software maker or the firm that produces the operating system. But that's often a lost cause. According to industry surveys, a satisfactory resolution using the computer and software companies' phone support occurs less than 50 percent of the time. If you work for a company with a tech-support department, you're better off, of course, but even corporate tech-support operations leave much to be desired.

But now there may be a better way thanks to a company called Your Tech Online.

I recently ran into a problem with my Microsoft Outlook: It wouldn't send E-mail in some situations and the mail would just sit in the outbox. So I called Microsoft's tech-support line. After they determined that my software was under warranty, I explained the problem to an agent in India and she asked permission to take control of my PC. (For security reasons, I was asked to provide permission and I could terminate the connection whenever I chose.)

For two hours, she tried all sorts of potential fixes, including checking E-mail settings and creating new Outlook profiles. But she couldn't solve the problem and she left my Outlook settings in disarray. She said she would "escalate" the issue and someone would call me the next day and undo her changes.

The next day, I got a call from a Microsoft senior tech, who also tried to help. But after another two hours, he couldn't find a solution, either. He told me he would need to research the problem and call me back. He undid the changes the first agent had made. But never called back. (By the way, I'm not picking on Microsoft. Based on my experience, they're better than most, which is why the four-hour, two-hour Outlook debacle is so depressing.)

That's when I decided to try Your Tech Online, which provides 24-hour help for PC-related problems by phone and Internet. Like Microsoft, Your Tech Online uses software that takes control of your computer to diagnose and fix problems from its remote location. The company is located in British Columbia and has 20 off-site engineers. The company charges by the minute. Blocks of time are sold in 30-minute ($49), 90-minute ($109) and 180-minute ($179) increments.

I called Your Tech Online and arranged for help. A few minutes later, my tech, John H., located in Oregon, called me back. After describing my issues, he said that it should only take 30 minutes to 45 minutes. I was naturally skeptical after spending four hours with Microsoft.

John took control of my computer, just like the Microsoft techs did. But his approach was markedly different. Rather than trying a wide range of hit-or-miss fixes like Microsoft did, John was much more methodical. He seemed to have a clear roadmap in mind. After seeing the problem for himself, he restarted my computer in safe mode and found that the issue was still there. That logically and quickly ruled out a conflict with many startup modules that are loaded during a normal start-up.

John then installed a special diagnostic program on my computer that let him observe everything that was happening when Outlook opened. He was able to detect that one application was linking itself to Outlook.

He disabled the link and that immediately solved the problem. My E-mail now could be sent without a problem. Total time to find and fix the problem: 30 minutes, at a cost of $49.

What's the lesson to be learned here?

It is possible to get very competent help to solve your computer problems without going through the tedious and time-consuming procedures that the product companies require. In this case, it was by using a small company with experience, the tools and knowledgeable employees. And considering the time I spent with Microsoft, using Your Tech Online was the most economical solution. Next time, that will be my first call.

GADGET NIRVANA
By now you know that two of the most exciting and important shows for the PC and consumer electronics community were held this month: the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and MacWorld in San Francisco. Needless to say, I was impressed with the iPhone, but I'll have a full review when the product is actually available for testing.

At CES, one of the niftiest products I tried was the new OQO Model 02 pocket computer. It's a fully functional PC that weighs just one pound and runs Windows Vista or XP. Unlike OQO's first model, the Model 02 has a sleeker design, better keyboard, longer battery life, faster processor and built-in radios for Sprint's EVDO and Wi-Fi systems. Depending on configuration, it costs between $1,500 and $2,000.

Another notable CES introduction: the Autonet Mobile hardware and service that turns your car into a wireless hotspot even while you're cruising at 70 miles per hour. It's not for use by the driver at that speed, but for entertaining back-seat passengers and delivering all sorts of services to your car, including Internet radio, traffic reports and music. It will soon be available from Avis for $11 per day.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

Copyright 2007 by San Diego Transcript. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.