It's a tough year for computer users.
Spyware, viruses and worms foul machines. The Windows XP Service Pack 2 seemingly raises more questions than it answers, and new Windows security problems pop up regularly. Tech support remains mostly a mirage.
Users scratch their heads and wonder, "Who ya gonna call?"
Help isn't that far away. In fact, one could say there's a safety Net. Beyond company Web sites that offer information, the Web has an abundance of independent sites with great tips, tricks and info from experts and volunteers.
So here are some sites to check out when a problem absolutely, positively won't go away. The sites are free, though some offer premium services and others try to sell products.
The dominant operating system draws the lion's share of problems, attacks, security issues and complaints.
WWW.WINDOWSREINSTALL.COM: A comprehensive site for all versions of Windows, and even a section for DOS users.
WWW.PROCESSLIBRARY.COM/: This one is new, but it's well organized and informative. If you don't know what's running on your PC, you should. This site gives detailed information on everything that is running in the background on Windows. Type in explorer.exe, for example, and it describes what it is and what it does. It also has a DLL, or dynamic link library, section.
WWW.DOUGKNOX.COM: Doug Knox is an engineer from Massachusetts and "the most prolific contributor in the Windows XP newsgroups," according to Microsoft. His site is full of helpful information.
WWW.TWEAKXP.COM: TweakXP.com says it has about 1,000 tweaks and tips for Windows XP.
WWW.ANNOYANCES.ORG: People who use Windows . . . get annoyed by Windows. This site collects the problems and offers help.
WWW.HELPONTHE.NET: You have to like a site whose slogan is "There's no such thing as a stupid question, but they're the easiest to answer!" Registration is free.
WWW.SUGGESTAFIX.COM: The category list is extensive at this site, which offers expert advice without the jargon on various versions of the Windows, Linux, Unix and BSD operating systems. It also offers hardware help.
WWW.PCPITSTOP.COM: With everything that can go wrong with a computer, plus the threat of spyware, viruses and other malware, a site that offers a free checkup and diagnostics is a must bookmark.
WWW.ANSWERSTHATWORK.COM: This site bills itself as "the ultimate online Help Desk," and its library and information are extensive.
Some popular programs have hidden features and occasional headaches for users.
INSIDEOE.TOMSTERDAM.COM: Inside Outlook Express includes tips, help and other information for the widely used e-mail program.
WWW.EXCELTIP.COM: Joseph Rubin is a CPA who started this site for the popular Excel spreadsheet program last year.
The big issue of 2004 is everyone's problem.
WWW.GRC.COM: This site lets you test the effectiveness of your firewall, and it's free.
The software that controls devices such as printers and scanners often can be the source of glitches.
DRIVERGUIDE.COM: If you're looking for a device driver, this site has more than 100,000 in its database.
WWW.DRIVERFILES.NET: Another free site to seek updated and missing drivers.
Apple's operating system is good, but help is sometimes needed.
WWW.MACFIXIT.COM: Here's a troubleshooting site for Mac users. Forums and some articles are free, but the premium service provides access to the archives and more columns.
WWW.MACOSXHINTS.COM: It's a clearinghouse to improve OS X. Experienced users help guide newcomers in the right direction.
Dave Gussow can be reached at (727) 771-4328 or gussowsptimes.com.
More good sites to come
We know the Web has more good sites to help computer users than we could publish here. We invite you to submit your favorites at the Times Talkback site (www.sptimes.com/talkback). We'll add the best to this list and keep it online for easy reference.