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It’s late at night. The tech staff has gone home. And your computer freezes. Or maybe you’re a solo practitioner, and you handle all your own computer problems. Where can you turn when a virus destroys your hard drive? As long as you can get online, there’s plenty of help on the Web. Most software developers offer support on their Web sites, and some third-party sites provide helpful sources for free advice. Discussion groups — where you can post questions and wait for someone to provide an answer — are other good places to turn. The best discussion groups share several characteristics: Users can read messages without registering, the discussion group is well-categorized, someone competent actively manages the give-and-take, and there’s a good search engine. Here’s a selection of Web sites that offer free computer advice: AnandTech forums.anandtech.com This forum — with a distinctive leaning toward hardware issues — categorizes its discussion groups to an extraordinary degree, offering links to general hardware, operating systems, cases and cooling, processors, distributed computing, motherboards, networking, peripherals, software, video and more. And each category is divided into individual topics. The general hardware category, for example, has more than 3,700 topics, and some topics have dozens of questions and comments. CompInfo www.compinfo-center.com This site is a good portal to almost everything technical. It offers 22 main topics, ranging from applications to Web site development. In between are such topics as electronic publishing, artificial intelligence and computer security. Geek.com www.geek.com Any geek can find some useful information at Geek.com. Tabs divide the site into sections covering such topics as microchips, personal digital assistants, wireless devices and Macs. In the PDA section, a user can find equipment reviews, tips and techniques, shopping information and a discussion group. The discussion about the Palm PDA has more than 600 messages. A typical question is “My Palm Vx got wet. Should I trash it?” (The answer is no, as long as the user opened it and dried it quickly.) Microsoft support.microsoft.com Microsoft has an extensive support site with a good search engine that can limit queries to a specific product. The knowledge base is a good place to find answers to questions about the vast array of Microsoft products, ranging from Outlook to Windows. This site also is the place to go to find updates, service packs, drivers and other valuable software add-ons.

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