In every office, there's a person who always helps the other folks with computer problems.
Maybe the head accountant can't get her spreadsheet to print; maybe the marketing types can't split the screen in Word Perfect. There's always someone, it seems, who can handle such disasters. Usually, this technical expert mutters something like "I've never used this program before, but..." and then quickly sets things right.
The lucky few who can do this generally earn a nickname like "genius" or "office techie" and tend to be subjects of admiration and envy. In the case of the office techie, such treatment is hardly warranted.
In fact, almost everything you need to know to become the resident computer expert can be taught in a single column. So today's column is: "How to Solve Almost Any Computer Problem in Three Easy Lessons."
Lesson One is an often sure-fire solution to hardware problems: Check the cables. Anytime anybody installs, upgrades or moves a computer or peripheral, it's possible that the system won't work right when it is turned on again. With amazing frequency, the problem is a cable. The monitor cable may not be screwed in, or the modem cable may be connected to the wrong serial port, or something. Lots of "insurmountable" problems are solved by firmly connecting each cable to its proper location.
Lesson Two deals with software problems. The short-cut solution, no matter what the program or problem may be, is: "Find the Help screen."
Just about every piece of software on the market today comes with built-in help of some sort. Usually, the help function available is extensive enough that you can figure out how to give any command, whether you've used the program before or not.
Not long ago somebody in our office got deeply frustrated trying to run a new modem using ProComm Plus, the latest version of the ProComm communications software. No matter what the poor guy tried, the modem simply would not dial. Enter the humble office techie.
When a modem refuses to make a call, it's often because the communications software is talking to the wrong serial port. So our techie's s problem was how to switch PC Plus from port two to port one, where the modem was connected.
Fortunately, ProComm Plus has a message at the bottom of the screen reading "ALT-Z for Help." Pushing the ALT-key and Z at the same time, our techie got a screen full of hints, including a line reading "LinePort Setup -- Alt-P." The techie hit ALT-P, told ProComm to switch serial ports, and voila`! Within 90 seconds, the problem was solved.
Of course, the impatient guy using ProComm in the first place probably could have solved the problem himself had he just hit ALT-Z and gotten the Help screen. But many users don't understand how useful a Help screen can be. Many software users never call up the on-line help.
One reason may be that the software designers haven't hit on a single code for getting to Help. On some programs, you hit ALT-Z, on others, ALT-H or CTRL-H or F10 or you name it. Some programs, like ProComm and CrossTalk, leave a message on the screen telling you how to get Help. Others, like the infamous Word Perfect, just show you a blank screen. It's up to you to guess where the designers have hidden Help (on Word Perfect, you hit the F3 function key, which has neither logic nor mnemonic value and therefore makes no sense.)
There has been some effort in the DOS world to standardize the F1 function key as the Help key. We like this, partly because it seems somewhat intuitive and partly because so many good programs -- Quattro Pro, Quicken, SideKick, etc. -- have adopted it.
In the Macintosh world software commands are more standardized. Usually, you can find a Help command up on the menu bar and on-line help is just a mouse click away. Some programs, including some of the biggest names in Mac software, hide the Help button inside the "Get Info" box. Microsoft Windows also puts a Help command on the top menu. It would be great if all Windows application programs did the same.
Lesson Three of our instant-office-techie course concerns printer problems. If you can't get the printer to do anything, or if every line comes out in expanded 26-point italic bold, you could spend hours digging through the manual. Or you could use the simple solution: Turn the printer off, then on again.
Doing that tends to clear the machine's memory, which wipes out whatever stray command code had sent the printer into its weird or nonoperating mode. This simple trick will fix about 80 percent of all printer problems.
Of course, you may not want to let the other folks in your office know this. Just say, "I've never used this model before, but..." and then hit the switch when nobody's looking. That way, you'll preserve the mystique of expertise for office techies everywhere.