There's only one thing more frustrating than getting an error message on your PC: Not knowing what to do about it.
The trouble with error messages is that most of them seem to be written so that only computer programmers can understand them. Given that most of us do not work with a computer programmer looking over our shoulders, that leaves us on our own — or close to it.
But there are methods you can use to have a fighting chance at understanding errors messages and what to do about them.
While there's no central repository of error messages available — the messages are written by programmers working on specific applications, with few standards in place — there are tactics you can follow that will allow you to figure out what to do about most error messages.
Before you figure out what to do about an error message, you usually need to be able to answer one question: Which application gave the error?
The more you know about the source of the error message, the easier it will be to understand it. Look for obvious signs first. Is the name of an application listed anywhere in the dialog box that presents the error message? Often you'll see the name listed as a file rather than the official name of a program.
For example, an error message that mentions “outlook.exe” most likely came from the Outlook e-mail program. “Wpwin.exe” comes from WordPerfect for Windows. Sometimes you'll need to use your knowledge of what is installed on your computer and some educated guessing to figure out the source of the message.
Knowing the source of the error message equips you with most of what you need to learn more. The major software makers document all of the error messages found in their programs, and the best place to look for an explanation of those error messages is on the software maker's Web site itself — you won't find the information in software manuals.
So if you get the error message SMTP_REJECTED_SENDER from Microsoft's Outlook Express, log on to Microsoft's Web site, go to the support page, and use the search box to enter the message SMTP_REJECTED_SENDER.
That should lead you to a document of “Outlook Express Error Codes.” Use this document to locate the particular error, and read the description provided.
In this case, you would see “Unknown sender. This is caused by having the incorrect e-mail address in the Reply-To field.” The solution in that case would be to make sure you've set up your e-mail account properly, closely following the directions supplied by your e-mail account provider.
Another useful resource for locating more information about error messages is the error message database at SmartComputing.com's Tech Support page (www.smartcomputing.com/techsupport).
Once you've logged on to the page, locate the Error Messages section, and click either the link labeled Browse Error Messages Alphabetically or the one labeled Search By Error Message Text.
Not all error messages are contained in SmartComputing's database, as you might expect, but the ones you find there are accompanied by very helpful explanatory text and, more importantly, detailed instructions outlining possible solutions.
Of course, you can always use Google or another search engine to try to locate more information about error messages. When you use Google, don't forget to click the Groups link above the search bar to potential solutions that have been discussed in one of the Web's many newsgroups or chat boards.
Chances are good that if you've been troubled by an error message, someone else has been bothered before you — and online discussions about that error message may have ensued.
Error messages are a fact of life when living with computers. And those messages are unlikely to go away — or even get easier to understand — anytime soon.
But with a little know-how and access to the Internet, you can often figure out what to do about error messages without having to resort to a time-consuming — and expensive — call to tech support.
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