Microsoft Corp. has begun rolling out a series of Troubleshooting Wizards on its World Wide Web site to help users walk through specific problems with Microsoft operating systems and other products.
The troubleshooters resemble those included in Windows 95 but are based on a new inference engine, which chooses the most likely reasons for user problems.
Currently, there are about 20 troubleshooters. "Ultimately, our vision is to have a troubleshooter for every major task that people would do on a regular basis," said Denise Rundle, group program manager for Microsoft Technical Support online.
The troubleshooting wizards walk users through a series of questions in an attempt to isolate and solve a problem.
"The next step is to be able to let users just type in the symptoms of their problem, and the system will select the appropriate troubleshooter," Rundle said.
Unlike other decision-tree help systems, she added, the troubleshooters can walk through options without knowing all the facts. A user with multimedia problems, for example, would not need to know which sound card was being used.
Along with the troubleshooters, Microsoft also created a new interface to help users explore the content of the online support database. This support-page Wizard is not as interactive as the troubleshooters; it is only an aid to finding articles in the database that talk about specific problems.
Other changes to the support page let users file incident reports online. Most of these are fee-based and require a credit card number or existing account. However, some consumer online services such as Expedia feature free support.
Microsoft is at www.microsoft.com.