Tech Support vs. Self-Support

As technology continues to permeate our lives, we inevitably encounter a variety of problems using most if not all of our desktop programs, smartphone apps, web browser extensions, and other chosen software, in addition to the platforms running that software, as well as peripheral devices, such as USB drives. When you run into such a snag, you could try to fix it yourself, ask your favorite nerd to do so, search online to see if some kind soul has discovered and posted a solution, or request help from the vendor of the software or hardware.

Which method — or combination thereof — you choose likely depends upon your experience in tackling the specific problem, or at least the category of similar problems. It also depends upon your general comfort level in modifying the settings of the software in question, or reinstalling it (at the risk of losing any current customizations), or even invoking the "nuclear option" of restoring your entire application image from backup — which may be required in the case of persistent malware that proves too elusive to be vanquished by your antivirus software (and I speak from experience).

Another factor is the level of support that you can expect from the given vendor of the misbehaving software or hardware. In general, Apple has always provided better support than Microsoft, and traditionally their user interfaces were more approachable for the inexperienced computer user. On the other hand, one advantage to starting off with Windows and never leaving that platform (despite years of frustration and cursing), is that we always knew that we were on our own and would have to support ourselves. That certainly does not speak well of the company's commitment to quality control, prerelease testing, and customer support (especially for their non-enterprise users), but it did encourage a greater level of self-reliance among Windows users.

Most of the major technology firms offer paid technical support services — as one of many revenue sources — on a periodic plan or even a per-case basis. But the cumulative costs of the services can grow rapidly, especially if the product has numerous or persistent flaws that impede your work — in which case it arguably would be better to simply replace it with a better product instead of trying to make the most of the current one.

In the case of open-source software, there is usually no company backing up the product, because the software was created by a community of programmers and other individuals (typically quite worthy of our praise). Researching problems and getting support for that type of software primarily involves searching for answers on one or more forums, posting questions and requests for assistance, and learning the protocol for doing so in a manner that will maximize the odds of other forum visitors providing thoughtful (and unpaid) attention to your quandary and suggesting methods of solving it, or at least running various tests to better determine the source of the problem and potential solutions. Depending upon what types of files, if any, can be attached to the forum's postings, you may be able to upload screenshots of error messages, command-line program output, and other images useful in the process of diagnosis and resolution.

Lastly, be sure to take notes as you explore and attempt to mitigate any technical problem, because such records will likely prove quite useful in the future if you — or someone else on a forum you frequent — encounters the same issue or one similar. Documentation may at first seem to be a nuisance not worthy of your time, but after one or more instances in the future in which it greatly helps you, you will see its value.

Copyright © 2024 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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