Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

10 Ways to Drive Computer Support Crazy

March 2004

By Mike Gould

Whenever geeks gather, there is always much talk and joking about the foibles of the users they support. Given the minimal amount of training most computer users have received, it is not surprising that bad habits abound. To avoid becoming the butt of jokes down in the server room, here are some practices to avoid in dealing with those who are trying to help you:

1. Call It a Hard Drive
That box with all the wires coming out of it sitting under your desk or beside your monitor is called a "Computer". A hard drive is a smaller box sitting inside that box that contains all your data. If you call to say "I have a problem with my hard drive", your support person will either:

a) be confused, b) snort derisively, c) offer to tear your computer apart to show you what a hard drive is.

2. Call a Software Program by its Manufacturer
I don't know how many times I've gotten a call because "my Adobe is broken". The usual response to this is "Your Adobe what?" Adobe is a company that makes software such as Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator, and the like. When you call in a problem, the correct plea is: "Acrobat isn't making PDFs for me" or "Photoshop won't open this cute picture I took of my dog" or "Illustrator won't print my party invite".

3. Ignore updates and patches
Your supporter has hopefully explained to you the importance of doing regular updates and installing patches on your PC. (Mac users need to update their systems as well, but the need is not as great as Macs are unaffected by the current crop of malware). It is vitally important that you do this to prevent your computer from becoming a zombie droid for the Russian mafia. I'm not kidding about this; see my previous article at: This was written in August of 2003, but the problem is more severe now than it was then.

4. Forget to Write Down Error Messages
When your support person arrives to fix whatever ails your computer, he or she needs all the help they can get from you. A big help is a clue to what blew up - this is often accompanied by an error message such as "Internet Explorer just quit with an error message of #4454". The numbers are not always immediately helpful to the supporter, but they will be invaluable if he or she cannot replicate the problem and/or needs to call support for that program. If you are unable to write down the error message, at least note which program you were in when it quit and the last thing you did.

5. Ask for Installation of Unsupported Hardware or Software
Most businesses specify what can be hooked into company computers. Asking your supporter to install something else puts both of you in a bad situation. The rules are there for a reason: support personnel are busy people and installing unfamiliar equipment can take a lot of time, especially on Windows boxes. Installing software can cause cascading problems with conflicting drivers and IRQs (don't ask), and may involve inadvertent installation of adware, viruses or other Bad Things. Especially don't ask for installation of Kazaa (a software theft ring); this is asking for trouble.

6. Don't Take Notes
In fixing something, your supporter should be giving you a running commentary on what the cause of the problem was - WRITE THIS DOWN! I recommend that everyone keep a small notebook handy to note problems, configurations, and solutions relating to their computer. This can be handy in fixing problems in the future, and may empower you to fix the problem yourself, should it occur again.

7. Remain as Ignorant as Possible as Long as Possible
One thing never to say to a support person is "I don't know anything about computers". My response would be "Then how do you justify having your job?" If you have a computer on your desk, your boss expects you to know how to use it. Basic computer literacy is a given in the workplace in the 21st Century - if you don't know anything about computers, you don't belong there. If you find yourself in this position, sign up for some courses at your friendly local community college. The job you save could be your own.

8. Fail to Ask Questions
I don't know about others, but as a support person, I love to answer questions about users' systems. This tells me the person is engaged with his or her environment and eager to improve their skills. And skilled users require less support than unskilled ones, so I am all for more information dispersion. In a field as complex as computers, there are no stupid questions, so don't be afraid to speak up.

9. Spill Coffee on Things
Accidents will happen, but this one is a sure-fire snicker-inducer down at the network office. If you are prone to this, get a plastic keyboard protector. And if you do spill, fess up and ask for a replacement keyboard. I make my users take the damaged one home and run it through the dishwasher (no soap, top rack, no heat dry - take the keyboard out at the end of the rinse cycle and leave it upside down for a couple of days). This often brings them back to life. Whatever you do, don't try to dry it out with a desk lamp - you'll melt the keys.

10. Keep your Desktop as Messy as Possible
There's nothing an overworked geek likes less than a call from someone whose desktop is awash with files, cutesy desk sculptures or peanut shells. As repairs often require crawling around behind the computer, having to shovel off a desktop as part of the process is a real pain. And then there is the desktop of the computer itself - files scattered willy-nilly from taskbar to "My Computer". This makes saving your files a real challenge if a computer mind-wipe is called for. Learn to make folders and keep files in your documents folder.

So do yourself and your in-house geek a favor and get your computer act together - it will save you time and money in the long run.

Mike Gould is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of, and welcomes comments addressed to

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