Windows 98 is spawning a cottage industry of troubleshooting and installation guides.
Although Microsoft is reporting that calls to its tech support number have decreased by at least one-third compared to the period that followed the launch of Windows 95, PC makers are clearly picking up some of that slack. Companies like Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, and IBM have expanded their online support in the wake of widely reported Windows 98 upgrade problems.
Other PC makers are taking a different approach to bolstering their online support. Packard Bell NEC, Toshiba, and Hewlett-Packard have quietly begun bringing online help to their users' desktops through a product called SystemWizard from established vendor SystemSoft.
Separately, Gateway has launched HelpSpot, an interactive Web-based guide for PC users.
SystemSoft aims to reduce the PC maker tech support calls that naturally spike after the release of a major product like Windows 98 by exploiting the company's expertise, said John Ambrose, vice president of marketing. SystemSoft has a strong reputation as a vendor of system software, such as power management software, and of BIOS software that configures a PC when it starts up.
"We leverage our under-the-hood technology so when an end user has a problem and launches SystemWizard, it is done transparently to the end user," Ambrose said.
Gateway's HelpSpot uses CyberMedia's FirstAid application to troubleshoot and solve PC problems. Offering an HTML interface, users can surf HelpSpot much as they do the Web. "It's envisioned as place to go receive computer help and assistance of any kind," said John Love, program director for HelpSpot.