Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to ask for help (if you ever expect to get any)


By David Gewirtz

We get a lot of email messages from desperate people here at OutlookPower. Sometimes, they're heart-breaking, like the story of a parent's last message before she died being lost in a system crash, or where a student lost all of her research contacts, because he'd never done a backup.

Unfortunately, we can only answer two or three of these desperate pleas each month. That's all the space we have for them in the magazine and, since we're not the provider of your software, we're not really equipped to provide real-time technical support. We've got just about all we can handle in simply meeting our editorial obligations.

And, so, out of the hundred or so help requests we get each week, we can usually pick only one. We generally ignore the 30 or so "my reminders won't show" support requests since we've written about that regularly and thre's even a section on troubleshooting reminders that readers can simply read.

In fact, we have a lot of trouble-shooting articles, and you can find them right off OutlookPower's home page.

There's another class of help requests we get that's the subject of this article. We got a bunch of them this week, but messages from Louise and Karen really showcase what I'm talking about. Louise asked:

I had just turned my computer on and received todays's emails (14 altogether) when my son accidentally unplugged the computer -- he meant to unplug something else! When I turned my computer back on, those 14 emails were missing from my inbox. Is there a way to get them back?

Karen asked:

My PC died yesterday and although I have opened my email account on another PC my emails are not there! I cannot access them through webmail either. Is there anyway I can retrieve these emails?

Notice anything? Nope, me neither. We get a lot of requests of this type, email messages asking for help, but providing us with absolutely no detail about the problem. And, with no details, we couldn't begin to help.

For example, what email client or program are you using? I know this is OutlookPower, so you'd assume readers are using Outlook, but that's not always the case. We've gotten sob stories from users of Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook Express, and even AOL mail.

Each of these programs and services behaves entirely differently and we can't begin to help if we don't know what you're using. Gmail, for example, is a Web-based mail service, with all your messages stored in Google's cloud. Outlook, on the other hand, stores messages locally in PST files and OST files, but they might also live on the server.

Next, we need to know the sort of server you're using. If you're using Exchange, that's going to be a different story than if you're using POP and all your messages are downloaded and stored on your computer. But even there, there might be some variability, because some people set up their mail client to delete messages off their server as they download them, while others keep them on the server.