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Sometimes what people tell you they need, isn’t always what they really need. Sometimes, you just have to know better.
This is especially the case in the world of IT, or in face any field where you have a certain degree of technical expertise on a topic, and you need to help someone who doesn’t. It isn’t easy.
Whether you work at an IT help desk, work the phones at a technology company, or are part of the tech support crew at a college or major corporation – the following are some of the most frequently stated problems from Windows users, and ways that you can help them cure their problem with the least amount of effort.
“My Program is Missing!”
The more humorous call is usually the one that comes from the users with the least amount of exposure to the Windows desktop environment.
Problem: The user is convinced that all of the applications they use have disappeared from the computer.
These are typically users who may work on the same computer every day and usually don’t even touch the start menu. Everything they use is configured as shortcuts on their desktop.
When those desktop shortcuts disappear, panic ensues.
Cause: User is logged into a different user account.
Usually, the cause of this event is someone else logging into the PC under a different account. Different accounts have individualized desktops on Windows, so while the computer is logged into that alternate account, all of the desktop shortcuts the user is accustomed to seeing is gone.
Solution: Educate the user about multiple accounts and desktop shortcuts.
This is a good educational opportunity to teach the user how to check to see who is currently logged into the computer, as well as the difference between desktop shortcuts, and actual applications.
Make sure they understand that their own desktop icons will disappear whenever someone else logs into the computer.
“I Can’t Get To My Website!”
This issue is most common among older users who are not accustomed to the fact that their web browser has been “remembering” their login details for websites like Gmail and Facebook. Inevitably, the grandchildren come over, use the computer, and log grandma or grandpa out of their favorite websites. The kids leave, and suddenly they can’t log into the sites that used to log in automatically.
Problem: Poor user credential management.
This is a problem for even veteran computer users. The problem is that now browsers and password management applications let us forget our passwords, things go wrong. The password management software gets uninstalled, or a fresh install of Windows erases the history of sites – and all of a sudden you “can’t get to your website” anymore.
Whatever the reason, it’s easy to get into a situation where you depend on technology too much for remembering your passwords.
Cause: User was logged out.
This kind of thing can happen in a corporate environment just as easily as at home. People at work may have internal web pages that auto-log in based on their network ID and password. Every few months, when the user is required to change that network password, sometimes other related services break. When the user can’t access those websites, it isn’t always obvious that it’s related to the account password change.
Solution: Fix auto-login software (e.g. LastPass, 1Password) and educate user about password management.
Obviously, fixing the immediate problem – updating the password in whatever is auto-logging in – is the first priority. However, educating the user about keeping track of where and how their passwords are being used is just as important. A little bit of user education today will avoid countless similar phone calls tomorrow.
“I Can’t Access My Files!”
One common issue in a corporate environment is when a certain shortcut to a common data file no longer works. This is often connected to the inability for the user to access a specific shared drive. Most corporate environments have many of these shared drives, causing many shared drive problems.
Problem: User can’t access a file or shortcut path.
Many computer users are very routine-oriented. They come to work, click on the same link on their desktop day after day, which opens a document into which they enter data. Imagine you have routinely done this for 10 to 15 years. When that shortcut no longer works, it’s a complete disaster – or at least, it feels like one.
Cause: Too many to name.
There could be a wide variety of reasons for a broken link to a mounted shared drive. The most common are the following:
- They’re logged into someone else’s account, so the mounted drives are different.
- They’ve lost authentication to access the shared drive, usually due to their domain account expiring.
- They are logged in through VPN at home, and the drive may have a long delay before being fully accessible.
- They accidentally deleted the mounted share.
Regardless of the reason behind it, a broken path to a shared drive can wreak havoc on the workflow for many office workers, so you would do well to react quickly and fix the problem before the panic gets out of hand.
Solution: Remount the drive.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but if you don’t know the path of the deleted link, then you might be out of luck. You might be able to find a coworker who accesses the same file on the user, and then look at their shortcut to see which shared drive it accesses. If the shortcut still exists on the user’s desktop, just right click on it and look at the “Target:” field in the properties.
The standard is to place a “$” at the end of the share name, so in the above example, all you have to do is re-mount the share drive \\server4038\production$, and the link will work again. If the path has a letter instead of a server name, then you’ll have to find another co-worker who accesses the same file, and check their share path to see what server/share is actually mounted.
Once you’ve discovered the name of the share, it’s just a matter of re-mounting it from File Explorer. Just right click on “Computer” and select “Map network drive…”
Then just map the correct path to match the path of the shortcut on the user’s desktop.
Mounting a missing or broken share would be one of the easiest fixes here. You may run into difficulties when it comes to permission issues, where the user no longer has access to the share. In that case, you’ll have to follow whatever your company policies are for requesting access (or re-requesting access) to a company shared drive. However, if the user is complaining about not being able to access some files, the lost or missing network share is a good first place to look.
“I Can’t Access Anything!!!”
There is nothing worse than getting that phonecall in the middle of the night from someone who claims that every single server in the company is down. Once you get over the panic, start thinking logically. How likely is that scenario?
Problem: The key phrase from the user here is “I can’t access anything.”
Even more telling is if they say they can’t access the Internet. In fact, if they can’t get to any of their network shares, trying to visit a website with the browser is a good quick test to check if they’re having an overall network problem on the computer side of things, and not a problem with the company’s servers.
Cause: Nine times out of ten, it’ll be a network issue.
And what’s the first thing to check when that happens? You guessed it, the network cable.
Solution: Plug the network cable back in.
It sounds insanely simple, but after spending several decades in the tech field, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many times the phrase, “I can’t access anything!” ended with the user slapping themselves upside the head after they realized they accidentally kicked the network cable out of the computer.
Thankfully, as more of the world migrates over to wireless devices, this is becoming less of a problem. Of course, now there’s the issue where the user accidentally knocks the laptop “wireless” switch into the “off” position…
“My Screen Is All Blue!”
Problem: Blue Screen of Death.
Hearing a user say “my screen is all blue” is a nightmare scenario for an IT technician. You may hope against all odds that maybe someone visited fakeBSOD.com and pressed F11, but the odds aren’t good.
Cause: Surprisingly not just a Windows XP or a Windows 7 thing.
The blue screen of death can strike Windows 8 users as well, but have no fear, it’s not as scary as it appears. If you’re a seasoned IT technician, then you know that there’s often a recently installed driver or application that led to this issue. Interrogating… I mean “nicely” asking the user what was recently installed on the computer will turn up a treasure trove of information that should help you find the culprit.
Solution: At the very least, ask the user for the error code that’s displayed on the screen then check recently installed software, drivers or updates.
You may consider making use of Chris’s Windows 8 blue screen troubleshooting guide, or any of our other articles on troubleshooting the blue screen of death. The odds are good that you can reboot the PC into safe mode, uninstall the offending driver or app, and all will be right with the world again.
Do you have some experience in the world of IT? Any favorite “user lingo” that always sets off red flags? Let’s discuss and reminisce in the comments section below!