An underused tool

My Mom’s computer had its printer failing to print with the problem “printer is in an error state.”

When I searched online, most of the information had four levels of suggestion: “Check that key is in the ignition,” “Replace the spark plugs,” then “Put in a new timing belt,” and sometimes “Take it to my buddy’s shop.” The vast majority of the help sites do not suggest “See what the operator manual suggests.”

“Check that the key is in the ignition” includes “Make sure that the printer is plugged in.” “Make sure that the printer is turned on.” “Make sure that there is paper in the printer.” “Make sure that the printer cable is connected.” These are all low-impact solutions. If any of these solve the problem, you don’t need to proceed to the next level. Performing them will not make things worse.

The missing level of “Check the operator’s manual” include running Windows troubleshooters and consulting printer manufacturer documentation.

“Replace the sparkplugs” include things such as make sure the printer is the default printer and clear the printer queue. Things that you can do with the menus and options available from the Windows interface. They’re not likely to cause damage, but may require more experience to follow the instructions.

“Put in a new timing” belt are things like “Uninstall drivers,” “Revert to an older version of Windows.” “Delete the files a folder,” and “Modify the registry.” They often require an extra confirmation step. Often they’re irreversible and may be pointing you toward the abyss.

“Take it to my buddy’s shop” include “Call our help line,” and “Install our software to repair it.”

The next thing one should do after “Check the key is in the ignition” is to “Check the operators manual.” With a PC, that means running the troubleshooter to diagnose and repair the problems automatically. Had I thought to suggest that first, Mom could have done it over the phone.

This is a general problem with online resources to help you solve a problem. They often want more that you would stay with their site longer, rather than of suggesting that you use existing tools to solve the problem.

Microsoft’s troubleshooters are not sexy. However they’re built in and maintained by the manufacturer. They can be more thorough by accessing the internal architecture of Windows. Many help pages that do suggest running the troubleshooter give it only a passing one or two sentence statement. Then go on to offer more extreme suggestions that seem plausible. Another non-sexy option is to go to the printer manufacturer’s site and see what their troubleshooting instructions are.

Any help site that includes “modify the registry” and install outside software shouldn’t be trusted with any of the rest of their suggestions.

For my Mom’s computer, the troubleshooter was all that her computer needed. Her computer got back on the road without needing an overhaul.

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