Getting help online

Over the last few months I have been using MS Word 2010 as my wordprocessor and I’m getting to like it very much indeed.

The bit that I don’t like is its ribbon interface which has brought me no benefit and has had me searching through the Help facility on many occasions, looking for features which have been moved from where I was used to finding them.

This has brought me to realise that, no matter how good Word is, the search facility within its Help feature is pretty bad. To borrow a phrase from the panellists on the ZA Tech Show podcast, it’s ‘full of suck’, meaning it hardly ever manages to find the particular part of Help I need.

You’d imagined that searching for the phrase ‘insert file’, would bring forth the details about how to insert a file into a Word document. But no, instead, you get instructed how to write, insert or change an equation, and other similarly irrelevant bits of information.

Similarly, if you typed in ‘bold text, you’d assume that the thing would tell you how to make your text bold. It doesn’t, of course, and you have to wonder what the programmers were smoking the day they discussed implementing Word’s Help search feature.

Word is not the only program that I’ve had troubles with in recent memory but I have luckily found a decent substitute. The answer is to use a conventional Internet search engine, like Google, and ask it what you need to know.

I thought I’d give it a try for my Word query and went to Google and typed in the phrase ‘insert file’ and, because it wouldn’t know that I was asking about MS Word, I added the words ‘MS Word 2010’, and then I hit Enter.

Bingo!

The first web page listed by Google had the details about how to insert a text file into an existing Word document. Mind you, I don’t know why I’m surprised, because I have found that Google comes up with the answer is surprisingly often, when you ask a question.

To test it, I asked the question ‘how many Rand equal one dollar’, and the first link it found was a page containing a graph showing the exchange rate between the two currencies for the last six months.

It likewise had no trouble with the question ‘distance from St Petersburg to Moscow’ which, if you didn’t know, is about 438-442 miles by road. I was amused by a link on the page to a related article which posed the question about the distance from St Petersburg to Leningrad; it’s zero, of course, because St Petersburg became Leningrad became St Petersburg again.

So take my tip and ask your favourite search engine if you need to know something you can’t find in your program’s help feature. Ironically, the search engine will often direct you to the right page on the software manufacturer’s own website or, failing that, one of the many helpful private ‘how to do it’ ones.

Talking of Google, I see that they have brought out a free electronic booklet for novices on how the Internet works. It’s called 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web (20thingsilearned.com) and should be required reading for anyone venturing out into the Internet wilderness.

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It contains just enough information for anyone to understand what the World Wide Web is, how it works, and where it is possibly going in the future. You might be tempted to think that this information is not necessary for you, but the Web can be a dangerous place for the uninitiated.

For example, a lot of Internet scams rely on decoying you to a fake website, which may look exactly like your bank’s, and recording any personal information that you type into it. The book makes the point that it is easy to copy a website but less so for a scammer to have the correct address on his fake site.

Knowing the structure of Internet addresses will help you to spot anomalies that give the game away. Just for example, your bank’s address might be yourbank.com while the scamming website might have a superficially similar address like yourbank.xyz.com; easy to spot if you know what to look for.

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