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Chapter 5 Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support

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					Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                         Chapter 5



Chapter 5

Common Support Problems


Objectives
                 The types of common end-user computer problems
                 How problem-solving processes are applied to several typical support problems


Technical Notes
Note: Students should have a good understanding of how to use Web browsers as well as an understanding
of how to download files. They should also be able to search effectively and find quality resources on the
Internet. Basic word processing and spreadsheet skills are also required to complete chapter assignments
efficiently.


Lecture Notes

Common End-User Problems

Computer problems can come in a variety of forms, however, most problems fall into one of six categories.
Common problem categories include hardware problems, software problems, user problems, documentation
problems, vendor problems and facilities problems.
Hardware problems generally stem from one of three sources. Hardware installation and compatibility
problems tend to occur when a user purchases new hardware or upgrades an old hardware product.
Incompatible computer components are those that cannot operate together on a system. Hardware
configuration problems are difficulties that occur when hardware (or software) settings are incorrect for the
computer environment in which a component must operate.
The adoption of Plug and Play standards, which are industry-wide agreements among hardware and
operating system vendors about hardware installation and configuration options, has helped to greatly
minimize hardware configuration problems. In addition to incompatibility and configuration problems, a
small percentage of hardware problems result from components that either have never worked or no longer
work.
In an attempt to avoid future hardware problems once a system is installed, support staff either at the vendor
or the worksite burn-in a machine prior to the user receiving the system. Burn-in is a 48- to 72-hour period
during which a new computer or component is operated nonstop in an attempt to discover obvious problems
and identify any marginal or temperature-sensitive components. Vendors also generally include hardware
diagnostic tools with a new system that can help a user support specialist detect common hardware
malfunctions.




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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                            Chapter 5


Common Software Problems Users Encounter

Software installation and upgrades are easier today than in the past. Problems with software occur most often
during installation. Installation software is special-purpose utility software that aids in the installation of
other software packages. The installation software can automatically create all of the subdirectories with
correct path names, examine the hardware configuration to determine whether the software and hardware are
compatible, and set configuration options in the software and the operating system to match the hardware.
User support specialists are often called upon to deal with installation problems or they are asked to install
older software that does not install automatically. The example on pages 121 and 122 of your book is a good
example of a problematic installation that a support specialist might be asked to complete.
Another source of compatibility problems can be shareware. Shareware is commercial software that users
can try out with the vendor’s permission during an evaluation period (usually 30 days) prior to making a
purchase decision. Some shareware can cause conflicts because of the way that it is written. A conflict is a
state in which a computer component uses systems resources (CPU, memory, or peripheral devices) in a way
that is incompatible with another component.
Some software problems are related to the way that software is configured to run on a system. When software
options are not set up properly it can result in configuration problems. The example on page 122 in your
books shows what can happen when a user installs a new program that changes system settings. Starting with
Windows 95, software and hardware configuration information is saved in a large system file called the
Registry. It is possible to edit the Registry with a software utility called REGEDIT.EXE. Users and support
specialists should not edit the registry unless they are familiar with registry entries and how to modify them.
Bugs are errors in a computer program that occur when a programmer writes incorrectly coded instructions
during program development. Bugs are more frequently found in custom developed software rather than
mass-market programs. Many bugs are eliminated during the testing phase, however, there are updates and
bug fixes for software sometimes several years after the initial public release.
There are different ways that software publisher classify software. A new version of a software package
contains significant, new features and is usually the result of a substantially rewritten program. An upgrade
is a new version of an existing program that is sold at a reduced cost to owners of a previous version of the
program. A new release of a program is a distribution that contains some new features not found in the
original program. An update is a bug-fix distribution that repairs known problems in a previous version or
release of a software package. A patch is a replacement for one or a few modules in a software package to
fix one or more known bugs. A service pack (or service release) contains both updates and patches to fix
documentation
Before a user installs a patch they should check with a support specialist. They should remember to keep a
copy of the patch installation file so that they can reinstall the patch or patches if they need to reinstall the
software from the original media. Some vendors incorporate prior patches into the next patch release. Others
require you to install prior patches before installing the new patch. In some cases where patches are not
available, a support specialist or vendor might suggest a workaround. A workaround is a procedure or
feature that accomplishes the same result as a feature that does not work due to a bug or other malfunction.
Performance problems are a category of computer problems whereby a system is operational, but does not
operate as efficiently as it can or should. Performance problems can be an indication of hardware problems,
however, before a hardware component is replaced the software problems should be explored. For example, a
slow hard drive could be an indication that the hard drive is about to fail, however, there are other problems
that should be explored first including checking how full the hard drive is, defragmenting the hard drive,
scanning for lost space or there might not be enough RAM to run software efficiently.




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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                        Chapter 5


Quick Quiz

1. Computer components that cannot work operate together in the same system as known as __________.
Answer: incompatible
2. A 48- to 72-house period during which a new computer or component is operated nonstop in an attempt to
discover obvious operational problems and to identify any marginal or temperature-sensitive components is
known as __________. Answer: burn-in
3. Vendor that sell hardware components often include a(n) __________ utility to help users and support
agents detect possible problem components. Answer: diagnostic
4. Match the following:

__1. A new_____________ of a software package contains significant, new           a. patch
features and is usually the result of a substantially rewritten program.
__2. A(n) ___________ is a new version of an existing program that is sold at a   b. release
reduced cost to owners of a previous version of the program.
__3. A new ____________ of a program is a distribution that contains some         c. update
new features not found in the original program.
__4. A(n) ___________ is a bug-fix distribution that repairs known problems in    d. upgrade
a previous version or release of a software package.
__5. A(n) ________ is a replacement for one or a few modules in a software        e. version
package to fix one or more known bugs.
Answer: e, d, b, c, a


User Problems

Users can unintentionally cause many support problems. All users, including professional support staff, make
mistakes. Despite the best efforts of software developers, users occasionally press a wrong key and end up in
part of a program that they did not intend to load. Some key sequences are invalid and have no effect on the
project that the user is working with. Other key sequences can have drastic consequences. Even when a user
is at faculty, a support specialist needs to be very careful to tactfully guide a user toward training
opportunities rather than assigning blame.
Users frequently purchase an incorrect product either due to a misunderstanding about product features or
limitations. Sometimes users will purchase the wrong product to accomplish a task. It is common for
someone that owns an older model PC system to purchase a software package that requires a later model
processor or a user may purchase the wrong version such as a Macintosh version.
Many computer problems arise because users are poorly trained or they do not read the documentation for the
software or hardware. Quick start behavior is a tendency among computer users to forego reading the
installation manual and attempt to get new hardware or software installed and operational as rapidly as
possible. Lack of adequate training and understanding of the software can translate into waste and lost user
productivity. Even when training has been adequate, users tend to forget how to perform tasks or information
such as passwords. Reference sheets (formal or informal notes) and scripts are an effective aid to help users
recall how to perform infrequent tasks that are difficult to remember.
Documentation can also cause a problem. In recent years vendor documentation has improved, however,
poorly organized and inaccurate documentation causes many frustrated users and generates volumes of user
support calls. The best user documentation includes a quick start tutorial.
Many calls to help desks or hotlines are often related to a vendor overselling a product. Vendors often
promise features to customers during development that are not actually in the final product. Also, vendors
may release products that have bugs due to time constraints. Vaporware refers to hardware or software
products that appear in ads or press releases but that are not yet available for sale.




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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                           Chapter 5


Facility problems include support calls about such things as viruses, back up media, security, and ergonomic
issues. Most support problems can be grouped into the six categories mentioned above. Networks are also a
frequent source of problems and are among the problems that are most difficult to solve because they involve
the interaction of hardware and software components. On page 130 in the book you will find a guide to
online resources for user support. These are an excellent place to start looking for information.


The Problem-solving Process Applied to Typical End-user Problems

User support staff use the problems that they solve as a bank of knowledge to solve new problems. The more
of a variety of problems that user support specialists solve, the more knowledge and experience they will
have when working on new or more complex problems. The book has six problem examples that are
accounts from support specialists about how they resolved some typical support problems. Below is a
summery of the support cases. Please refer to your book for the examples.
In the first problem a user reported a problem with her sound card. The support representative suggested that
the user first try some of the obvious fixes such as resetting the sound card in the expansion slot and checking
the connections and cables to the sound card. After trying several more suggestions from his support
colleagues, he asked the user if she had made any changes to the system around the time that the problem
started. He suggested that she download the latest driver for her sound card. The reinstallation of the sound
card software solved the problem. The user specialist used communication skills and critical questions to
open up a different avenue of investigation. He also used troubleshooting strategies including looking for a
quick fix, obvious fix, some hypothesis testing and module replacement.
In problem two, a user had problems accessing the Internet. The modem usually dialed the ISP’s computer
successfully, but occasionally it would report that it could not get a dial tone. The technical support
representative checked the modem and asked the user if she had any special features on her phone line. The
user reported that it was a standard line. The modem checked out and the support specialist decided to plug a
handset into the line to make sure that there were no problems with the phone line. The phone line had voice
mail waiting. Once the voice mail was cleared, the modem dialed in without a problem. The support
representative suggested that the user clear the voice mail on her line before she tried to connect to her ISP.
The support representative said that he learned that users do not always know the answers to the questions.
The user’s answers threw him off track. He used his personal experience, eliminated variables and hypothesis
testing to solve this problem.
Problem three involves credit card process software. The software vendor said the problem was likely on the
credit card processor’s end and the credit card processor pointed a finger at the software. The support
representative installed the software on his own machine and uses the documentation to learn how to operate
the software. The resolution was that the operator had entered corrupt data that caused the report not to run
properly. The support representative used trial and error as well as hypothesis testing. He also tried to
replicate the problem.
Problem four involves a possible hard drive crash. The user started the machine and received an error
message “Non system disk or disk error.” When it was determined that there was not a disk in drive A: and
rebooting the system did not solve the problem, the user wanted to jump ahead to talking about data
recovery. The support person booted from the A: drive and looked at the hard drive. After looking at the
system files it was discovered that the MSDOS.SYS file had 0 bytes. By copying this file from another
machine, the support representative was able to fix the problem. The support person used a variety of
troubleshooting strategies including looking for a quick, obvious fix, prior knowledge, help from colleagues
and a process of elimination to find the solution.
Problem five concerns a user that deleted the drive mappings for a network software package while doing
some system housekeeping. After looking at the path settings for the icon and determining that the .exe file
was not deleted, the support representative had the user reboot the machine. By rebooting the machine the
drive settings were remapped and the user was able to access the software once again. The user support
specialist used communication skills to listen to the user’s definition of a problem, paraphrasing, and asking
critical questions to formulate a hypothesis.


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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                            Chapter 5


Problem six involves a slow network connection. When the support specialist checked the network server, he
found that the server light was on but the monitor was blank. He tried switching out several components to
see if the video card or monitor was the problem. When a known working monitor and video card were
installed in the server and it still did not function properly, the support representative switched the server
hard drive into a backup server. It booted without a problem. The motherboard was determined to be the
problem and the repair shop confirmed this. The support representative relied heavily on a module
replacement strategy as well as a knowledge of how the subsystems in a computer a linked.
The final problem, problem seven, involves a computer that keeps losing time. It is important to the user that
the computer clock stay accurate because of posting that she does in the accounting program. The user
reports that she changes the clock manually. The problem-solving strategy used is first ask the user when her
computer is off. The support person explained to the user that the BIOS keeps track of the time when the
computer is turned off and the operating system keeps track of the time when the system is running. The
support representative asked the user to keep track of when time lapse occurred. When the user reported that
the time slippage occurred more often when the computer was turned on for long periods of time, the user
support representative eliminated the BIOS battery as the cause. Because things such as office temperature
can cause problems with the clock, the support representative suggested installing a program that would
automatically update the time from the Internet. This solution worked and the user was happy.


Quick Quiz

1. True or False: Quick start behavior is when a user goes to the quick start manual first. Answer: False
2. Hardware or software products that appear in ads or press releases but that are not yet available for sale are
known as __________. Answer: vaporware


Discussion Topics
    1.   All computer software evolves over time, discuss the impact of patch management on a support
         desk when a company pushes software fixes, both patches and service packs, out to end-user
         computers. What aspects of a help desk will change when switching from user management of fixes
         to central management?
    2.   Discuss the effects of poor documentation and training on the volume and types of calls to a help
         center. Explain ways that improved documentation and end user training can benefit both the user
         and a help desk.


Additional Cases
    1.   Brian Mitchell is a professor in the Sociology department at Arkansas State University. He sent you
         an e-mail asking for advice about purchasing a new machine. Below you will find his e-mail.
         Identify what type of system would be best for this user. ASU has a contract with Dell Computers
         and Gateway Computers. Go to both sites and spec out the machine you intend to recommend to Dr.
         Mitchell. Write a return e-mail with the specifications and price for the system you would
         recommend.

         To: helpdesk@asu.edu
         From: mitchellb@asu.edu
         Date: 1-Oct-04
         Re: Computer Purchase

         I currently have a Pentium III 1.0 GHz desktop on my desk. I am interested in purchasing a new
         machine to compliment my office. I primarily use word processing programs, spreadsheets, Web
         browsers and e-mail. I will also be on sabbatical next semester and traveling to do research.

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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                            Chapter 5


         I only have enough funds to purchase one machine. Should I purchase a laptop for my office or a
         desktop system? I am interested in spending about $1500. What system would you recommend?

         Thank you!
         Brian Mitchell

    2.   Your institution uses the same server for personal file storage and Web hosting. The help desk has
         noticed an increase in complaints concerning users being unable to save important documents to
         their network storage. It is your job to make recommendations to the user community about ways to
         help users manage the shared space. What recommendations would you make?


Key terms
        automatic update – A feature of operating systems and applications software that periodically
         checks a vendor’s Web site for updates that the vendor recommends be downloaded and installed to
         bring the version of the software up to current specifications.
        bug – An error in a computer program that occur when a programmer writes incorrectly coded
         instructions during program development.
        burn-in - A 48- to 72-hour period during which a new computer or component is operated nonstop
         in an attempt to discover obvious problems and identify any marginal or temperature-sensitive
         components.
        configuration problem – A difficulties that occur when the hardware or software settings are
         incorrect for the computer environment in which a component must operate.
        conflict - A state in which a computer component uses systems resources (CPU, memory, or
         peripheral devices) in a way that is incompatible with another component.
        freeware – Computer software for which on purchase price or licensing fee is charged.
        incompatible - Describes computer components that cannot operate together successfully in the
         same system. See also conflict.
        installation software - Special-purpose utility software that aids in the installation of other software
         packages; often able to detect and correctly configure software for most operating environments.
        patch - A replacement for one or a few modules in a software package to fix one or more known
         bugs.
        performance problem - A category of computer problems whereby a system is operational, but does
         not operate as efficiently as it can or should; often involves the interaction between hardware and
         software.
        Plug and Play standards - Computer industry-wide agreements among hardware and operating
         system vendors about hardware installation and configuration options; specify the communication
         methods an operating system uses to recognize and incorporate hardware components into an
         operational system.
        quick start behavior - A tendency among computer users to forego reading the installation manual
         and attempt to get new hardware or software installed and operational as rapidly as possible.
        release - A distribution of a software program that contains some new features not found in the
         original program.
        service pack (or service release) – A software revision that contains both updates and patches to fix
         documented problems with a version of a program.
        shareware - Commercial software that users can try out with the vendor's permission during an
         evaluation period (usually 30 days) prior to making a purchase decision.
        update - A bug-fix distribution that repairs known problems in a previous version or release of a
         software package.
        upgrade - A new version of an existing program that is sold at a reduced cost to owners of a
         previous version of the program.
        vaporware - Hardware or software products that appear in ads or press releases but that are not yet
         available for sale.
        version - A software package that contains significant new features and is usually the result of a
         substantially rewritten program.

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Guide to Computer User Support for Help Desk and Support Specialists, 3/e                    Chapter 5


       workaround - A procedure or feature that accomplishes the same result as a feature that does not
        work due to a bug or other malfunction.




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