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Windows on the Web

Third-party sites can offer Windows wisdom unavailable elsewhere.

Where do you go when you need help with Windows? More than likely, you probably check out Microsoft’s Windows help site, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. There’s so much sheer volume on Microsoft’s site–product information, free downloads, customer support–it’s sometimes hard to sift through everything and find exactly what you need.

Add to that the fact that Microsoft’s support knowledge base is, at best, arcane and difficult to navigate, and it’s very easy to throw up your hands in frustration and forget what you were looking for in the first place.

Thankfully, there are other avenues for Windows users seeking problem fixes, driver updates, or just plain information. There are many different third-party sites on the Web devoted to Microsoft’s operating systems, and a few of those are even more comprehensive (and easier to access) than Microsoft’s own offerings.

Paul Thurrott’s supersite for Windows

One of the best (if not the best) third-party Windows Web site is Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows The site is so comprehensive that I could devote an entire column to it and not even scratch the surface. It’s that good, and it’s also an essential page to visit if you want to keep up with the future of Windows.

While the site doesn’t offer fixes for problems, many problems can be fixed by reading the extensive and thorough Windows FAQs on the site. There are FAQs on Windows Me, Windows 2000, and Windows XP (Microsoft’s upcoming new version of Windows, formerly code-named Whistler) with more promised soon. The FAQs are very extensive, and cover areas that you might not even think to wonder about, such as whether or not Windows XP will be based on 32- or 64-bit technology. (Answer: 32-bit, and based on the NT kernel.)

In addition to the FAQs, the site offers extensive reviews of Windows and other Microsoft products, current Microsoft-related news, and Technology Showcase, a section that concentrates on everything from getting scanners to work with Windows Me to interviews with other Windows experts. The how-to articles in this section are of particular interest in that they give real-world examples along with tips and instructions that are both detailed and understandable to the average user.

Woody’s Watch

Renowned computer guru Woody Leonhard is the Woody behind Woody’s Watch He’s also the author of countless computer books, including several on Windows and Microsoft Office, and his expertise shows in his newsletters, which his Web site helps to promote.

The site is basically a way station for signing up to his various free newsletters, which discuss Palm computers, Microsoft Access, and Microsoft Office, as well as Windows. The Windows newsletter is titled, appropriately enough, “Woody’s Windows Watch,” and is one of the most respected electronic publications on the Net.

Each issue of Woody’s Windows Watch offers all sorts of tips, tricks, and advice for the curious Windows user. A recent issue, for example, covered Windows multiple file extensions, and gave lots of advice on how to create and take advantage of them under all the various flavors of Windows.

The long-running newsletter (it just entered its fourth year) is published biweekly. In addition to the usual tips and advice, each issue usually contains at least one or two other articles about the world of Windows, and often highlights new shareware and software available for the OS or the PC in general. If you want to stay current on news about Windows, this is one piece of e-mail you’ll want to actually read before deleting.

World o’ Windows

While Frank Condron’s World o’ Windows Web site isn’t the best in terms of design or eye candy, it’s the top of the line when it comes to good, solid information. The site is broken down into several areas, including sections on each brand of the Windows OS, book reviews, driver support, discussion groups, and more. Everything is organized in a straightforward, no-bells-and-whistles kind of way, making the site easy to navigate and understand.

The Windows Me section offers up links to driver updates and known issues you might need to know about when upgrading to the newer OS, as well as requirements for running the software and various other articles. Each of the sections for the other versions of Windows is similar, with the Windows 98 area offering the most in terms of extra articles, tips, and advice on getting the most out of your system.

One of the most interesting sections on the site is the Windows timeline. Condron has worked up a list of just about every important event in the history of Windows, from Microsoft’s formation in 1975 to the retail release of Windows Me last fall. While there isn’t much to be gleaned here in terms of fixes and helps, it’s interesting to see just how far the company that everyone loves to hate has come in 25 years.

Absolute Wininfo

Absolute WinInfo is a huge collection of relevant Windows links, with a few original articles thrown in for good measure. The Web site offers FAQs, news, reviews, and tips on the Windows OS, but does so mostly by linking to outside sources. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting; on the contrary, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Sure, almost all of the information found on this site can be found elsewhere on the Web, but it’s handy to have everything listed and catalogued under one roof. Many of the Windows Me reviews, for instance, come from C|net, ZDNet, and PC World (via links,) but are collected here for side-by-side reading and comparison.

The Tips area is where Absolute WinInfo really shines. All of the various fixes and hints are really just links to articles elsewhere on the Web, but it’s helpful to be able to access them all in one area. There are dozens of tips in each of the various areas (some of which you might never have found in their original incarnation) just waiting for you to take advantage of them.

The answers you seek

In many cases, you’ll be able to find the answers you seek–whether they be fixes or just news–on Microsoft’s Web site. But if you can’t, try one of these sites. You might even find some news that Microsoft doesn’t want you to read. And don’t forget to sign up for Woody’s Window Watch while you’re at it, because a tip or two every couple weeks never hurt anyone.

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