Have you ever said: "Technical support is useless - all they did was tell me to..."

When you request support for your software you may be asked by your support technician to do things that appear on first glance to be...well, frankly, not very useful.

Apply the latest service pack

One of the first things a support person will usually do when you contact them is find out what version of the software you are using. If it isn't the latest version then they will usually ask you to download and apply the latest service pack. This is especially true if you are contacting support with a runtime error.

You should consider that software is in a state of modification - Once the initial release of the software (sometimes known as a point release or point version) has been complete, the development team behind will still be working on that software; adding new features, resolving issues that may have shown up after release, adding new content databases or to allow for the inclusion of new guidelines are all examples of what may be happening 'behind the scenes'

However, it would be time consuming and costly to release a brand new full build of the software everytime this happens - not to mention annoying and tedious for users who would need to do a full install -  so service packs (or updates) are produced that allow you to update your point release to the latest version.

If we find that the software that is being run has not been udpated to the latest service pack then until the latest service pack/update is applied there is no real reason to examine the issue further. One of the service packs that have bean released may just have resolved that run time error, or added that content that your require, or modified the software so it now does that thing that you want it to.

Turn it off and on again

While this turned into a bit of joke in recent years, there are many valid reason's why your tech support person will ask you to do this. A hard reboot can resolve many evils that may be plaguing your system.

1] Installation

Modern software can be quite complicated; It may include - for example - external components such as C++ Libraries, or .Net, or it may have a reporting program that is required, or any number of other items such as COM objects, ActiveX components or Dynamic Link Libraries.

While the operating system and the Installer program have developed over the years to try and make this as painless as possible there still may be conflicts when you install new software.

Rebooting the computer BEFORE installing ensures that all unnecassary components are shut down - this can help avoid conflicts with components that more than one program may use.

Rebooting the computer AFTER installing lets the Installer program finish its operations safely - You have no doubt seen this in opperation when Microsoft updates Windows, and you wait while shutting down and while starting up for Windows to update - this is a visible representation of what most Installater programs would like to do, but rarely get the chance too.

2] UAC settings.

UAC has been touched on in an earlier blog  ( here ) - I only mention it here again as this is one of the settings in Windows that requires you to restart your Windows session to ensure that any changes are registered.

3] Updating your software

While being quite a rare issue, you may notice on occasion that while applying a software update to your computer, that certain components may generate an error when you try and overwrite them. If you're software is running at the same time you are triyng to update it, then at the very least close down your software before applying an update. However, you may still have problems overwriting items. This is usually due to the component being locked in the computers memory (especially the case if the component you are trying to update is a process that is still running) - Rebooting your computer will free these components from memory and should allow the update process to complete succesfully.

4] Computer is running more slowly than normal

While modern operating systems attempt to housekeep themselves as they are running, if you have a number of processes running and your computer has been switched on for a long time, temporary folders in the oparting system can start to get full, paging files can run out of room - all of this adds extra data to your hard drive, and all this has an impact on the speed of your computer. A timely reboot can help clear this up and get your computer running back at its normal speed.  Even better, unless you need to update your computer overnight, or need remote access to it, then why not just turn it off when you leave the office for the night?

So there we have it. Two very common things that technical support may request that you do that at first glance you may not see the benefit of. While they have turned into joke or cliche responses, they are still very important weapons in the arsenel of a technical support operative.

Before I leave this one however, there is just one further important note about rebooting your computer. In all instances, wherever possible, you should reboot your computer through the start menu. Same goes with shutting down. Do not - unless as an absolute last resort - shut your computer down by holding in the power button on the front of your computer.

If you tap and let go the button, that should force the operating system to go through its normal shut process.

If you press and hold the button it will turn the computer off without shutting the operating system down correctly. This will lose any unsaved work you have, potentially interrupt the installation of updates, and could conceivable crash any projects you have open. Only use the power button to shut down your computer in this way as a last resort.