Help desk meant for trouble-shooting

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 1995, 12:00am

ON several occasions I have pointed out that CompuServe is ideal for business people who need world-wide access and are not worried about paying.

That is, in fact, only partly true.

I was recently involved in another useful application of CompuServe's services. It was quite enlightening.

CompuServe has various support services that allow you to contact the maker of the software you use and ask questions.

In my case, I was working with someone else on the development of a CD-ROM. He did the design and some of the coding and I was the main programmer. We were using Macromedia's Director version 4.0.4 on the Macintosh platform.

Director is more of an environment for producing multimedia projects than a programming environment as such, but it does allow both a designer and a programmer to work together on multimedia projects.

There is a programming language of sorts called Lingo that is really a scripting language, but it can be extended with extra commands written in a lower-level language such as C.

As with any other form of fooling with computers, the best results are achieved by those who are knowledgeable and also have access to help.

Help in our case came via CompuServe.

Macromedia has a forum on CompuServe that allows you to ask all sorts of questions about writing scripts in Lingo or simply putting together an entire project. The people who take part in this are others creating projects with Director and those from Macromedia's technical support team.

After you join a CompuServe forum such as Macromedia's - it could just as well have been Borland or Lotus (or should I say IBM?) or any other vendor's forum - you can post a burning question you may have about what you are doing.

A word of warning. Be familiar with the manual and have a look at what kind of questions others are asking.

This comes under the general heading of etiquette, simply because to jump in without first reading the manual or seeing if your problem has already been dealt with is considered bad form.

In fact, if you do jump in and ask a question that could easily have been answered by reading the first chapter of the manual, you will almost certainly get a short reply.

The reply will be a variation of 'Hey, RTFM, guy!' This is a way of suggesting that you may wish to have a look at the manual before posting silly questions. (I should hope the phrase does not need spelling out.) Once you are aware what others had sought to know, then, you can ask your own questions.

If somebody puts up a problem and you know how to solve it, that is your chance to jump in.

It will establish you as someone willing to help and that is what it is all about. Another thing you must be careful about is describing your problem. Be specific. Again, you may find that you get a few abrupt answers if you simply say: 'When I run the program my machine hangs up.' This is not a helpful thing to say.

You must explain as concisely and in as much detail as possible how you created what you created and what exactly happens when your program does not run.

You should also explain what kind of machine you are using, how much RAM you have, what other programs are running, what other hardware is installed, and anything else that could affect the way your machine performs.

It is not always easy explaining what your problem may be, but unless you are doing something unusual, there will almost certainly be someone out there who has had the same problem.

Both the people at CompuServe and those at Macromedia must be complimented because the particular service I used was quite useful.

One rather nice touch by the folk at Macromedia was that they refused to answer anyone with private E-mail - everything had to be done publicly.

This makes the service useful to a lot of people and it also makes most people think twice before publicly airing their problems.

Now if only the rest of the world worked like that.