Send Your End Users for help from Microsoft Answers

The new site, currently in beta, offers step-by-step instructions in a simple question and answer format.

Some users aren't comfortable diagnosing computer problems on their own. Microsoft's support pages offer a ton of information, but much of it is targeted at IT pros and power users. Plenty of other pages offer computer help for the less technically inclined, but finding such information can be difficult and unreliable. Microsoft's answer is Microsoft Answers, a help site aimed at inexperienced computer users.

In its beta form at least, Answers only provides help for Windows Vista and only answers questions a home user might have. The answers are simple and leave out many details that could confuse the less experienced. Users can submit questions and answers, but Answers has been stocked with what I assume are the most frequent questions to Microsoft support—there are many posts with a Microsoft support engineer asking a question then providing the answer.

The information in Answers is clear and to the point. For example, consider a user having trouble attaching pictures to email sent from home. Typing that kind of question into a search engine is likely to get you something like Microsoft's help and support page "Troubleshooting error messages that you receive when you try to send and receive e-mail in Outlook and Outlook Express," which is about 2,500 words long. The Answers response to the problem is about 100 words long and includes step-by-step instructions for compressing a file, in case it's too big to be sent as an attachment.

Pointing your users toward Answers could provide your IT department some relief for simple problems, but remember that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A user could follow the instructions to prevent programs from running at startup and stop their antivirus program from running. Of course, they could get the same information on many sites; at least Answers' instructions are simple and come from a Microsoft-sanctioned source, reducing the chances of mistakes. Another possible criticism of Answers is that the site's search bar searches Microsoft Help and Support instead of Answers, so inexperienced users who try to search from Answers aren't much better off than those who use a search engine.

IT Pros looking for in-depth answers should probably avoid Answers. The Windows IT Pro forums are a great resource for professionals seeking information.

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TAGS: Windows 8
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