Windows 7 rolls out new help features

Microsoft adds online and social-networking options to product support

Microsoft this week described some new help tools for Windows 7 users, adding to its many product support resources.

The newer resources are targeted toward consumers, but a company spokesperson also clarified help details for organizations migrating to Windows 7. Information technology pros typically will continue to use the long-established MSDN and TechNet portals to get help.

Consumer help for Windows 7 includes online and social-networking options, in addition to phone and e-mail support. A new online help forum, called Microsoft Answers, was launched in conjunction with Window 7's release last month. A new Twitter feed, providing help for Windows 7, can be accessed via the @MicrosoftHelps link.

Microsoft has another relatively new online help tool called "Fix it." This tool is an offspring of the Windows Action Center, which is a library of diagnostic and repair tools built into Windows 7. Windows Action Center contains more than 20 automated troubleshooters that will automatically resolve problems such as setup, hardware defects and driver compatibility issues, according to Microsoft.

A Fix it dialog box will pop up automatically in Windows 7 when an error is detected. The Fix it tool represents an attempt by Microsoft to slim down procedures from Microsoft's knowledgebase articles, making it easier for users to click and solve problems rather than copying steps in the knowledgebase article.

Traditional phone support for technical issues will still play a major role in the Windows 7 support arsenal. However, how much support you get from Microsoft depends on how Windows 7 was purchased, as well as the support agreements that organizations opt to use. Microsoft has three product support phases — mainstream, extended and custom — each typically lasting five years . Support options thus also vary depending on the product's phase.

Currently, Windows 7 is in its early mainstream support phase, lasting five years.

"Windows 7 will remain in the Mainstream Support phase through January 13, 2015," noted a Microsoft spokesperson by e-mail. "During this time, customers will be able to contact Microsoft for technical support and receive no-charge security updates. Customers who purchase Windows 7 through the retail channel will receive free phone support for 90 days after their activation of Windows 7."

The price for phone support during the mainstream, extended and custom support phases will vary, depending on the specific support issue, as well as the type of support agreement organizations have with Microsoft. Consumers purchasing Windows 7 installed on new PCs get support from the original equipment manufacturer. Organizations buying Windows 7 directly from Microsoft have the option of accessing support services through Microsoft or its partners.

Organizations can set up these support options through Microsoft Services. The Premier support option offered by Microsoft Services allows customers to choose the level of support, depending on the organization's size, needs and IT complexity.

Organizations with existing support agreements in place can get more than just phone support. Additional help options include "access to designated technical account managers, problem resolution support that covers systems 24/7, training and workshops to keep IT staff up-to-date on the latest technologies and proactive support solutions," according to Microsoft. The 24/7 support requires opting into the Software Assurance licensing option.

Microsoft Services also provides a number of offerings to facilitate Windows 7 deployments. The offerings, described at the Microsoft Services Web page, include Desktop Planning and Deployment, Microsoft Services Desktop Application Compatibility, Desktop Image Engineering and Desktop Deployment Jumpstart.

Driver support was a big concern when Windows Vista was launched. With Windows 7, one of Microsoft's primary goals was to ensure that compatibility with all Vista drivers would be in place at launch, according to the spokesperson.

"Compared with Windows Vista, we placed much more emphasis on validating the driver platform and verifying legacy devices, along with their associated drivers throughout the engineering process," the spokesperson explained.

Should customers and IT professionals need to submit reports of possible bugs in Windows 7, they can use the Windows Error Report feature built into product, or use this Microsoft forum. For application compatibility help with Windows 7, Microsoft has set up a Web portal on TechNet that provides various resources, which can be accessed here.

About the Author

Herb Torrens is a freelance writer based in Southern California.


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