Ultimate Microsoft “How to” Self-Help Guide & Resource List

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my original Microsoft Self Help Guide — and it’s time for an upgdate!

As a Microsoft consultant I’m pleased that practically every resource is available freely on Microsoft’s website. They provide many useful downloads & fun “goodies”, as well as their support information.

Locating the proper Microsoft Support information however isn’t always so easy; and with the additional pressure of finding information DURING troubleshooting – you’ll have to agree it can sometimes be quite frustrating! I’ve gathered all of Microsoft’s disparate support resources here all in one location.


GENERAL INFORMATION: To locate a product’s home page type:

http://www.microsoft.com/"Whatever you’re looking for"

Example 1: /windows, /security, /mom, /sms, /xbox (or most anything really)

Example 2: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange 

NOTE: Used in MSN’s Advanced "Partial" Serach


SUPPORT CENTER: For general troubleshooting 

Events and Errors Message Center Enter one or more of the following parameters: Event Id, event source, message text, file name (found in the Event Viewer logs (Windows 2000, XP, &  2003)

NET HELPMSG The net command returns a description of the error. From the command prompt type:

C:>net helpmsg <decimal code>

For example: if COM returns the error 8007054B, convert the 054B to decimal (1355). Then type the following:

C:>net helpmsg 1355

returns the error message: The specified domain did not exist. 

    • Bootvis – Microsoft states this tool is no longer available, but they still “support it”.  This program “was” a performance tracing and visualization tool designed to help identify performance issues for boot/resume timing while developing new PC products or supporting software. (Alternate Site: MajorGeeks)
    • Change Analysis Diagnostic Tool simplifies the identification of recent changes to computers running Windows XP.
    • COMDisable tool, can view a list of available COM ports on your computer. You can also disable or enable the COM ports on your computer without manually editing the registry.
    • DebugView lets you monitor debug output on your local system, or any computer on the network that you can reach via TCP/IP. It is capable of displaying both kernel-mode and Win32 debug output, so you don’t need a debugger to catch the debug output your applications or device drivers generate, nor do you need to modify your applications or drivers to use non-standard debug output APIs.
    • Desktop Heap Monitor tool examines usage of a WIN32 subsystem that has an internal heap area known as "desktop heap". When you run a large number of Windows-based programs, "Out Of Memory" error messages appear when you attempt to start new programs or try to use programs that are already running, even though you still have plenty of physical and pagefile memory available. (Support Document: KB126952 – "Out of Memory" Error Message Appears When You Have a Large Number of Programs Running)
    • DiskMon logs and displays all hard disk activity on a Windows system. You can also minimize DiskMon to your system tray where it acts as a disk light, presenting a green icon when there is disk-read activity and a red icon when there is disk-write activity.
    • DLL Help Database – helps identify DLL version conflicts
    • Exchange Server Error Code Look-up determines error values from decimal and hexadecimal error codes.
    • Fiddler is an HTTP Debugging Proxy which logs all HTTP traffic between your computer and the Internet. Fiddler allows you to inspect all HTTP Traffic, set breakpoints, and "fiddle" with incoming or outgoing data. (Support Document: HTTP Debugging)
    • Guided Help (depending on the problem) can automatically guide you through various steps to perform some diagnostic tasks yourself. (Support Document: How to . . .)
    • IIS Diagnostics Toolkit (x86ia64, & amd64) is a compiled set of tools aimed at reducing the overall time to resolve problems with Internet Information Services (IIS) products. These tools include tools aimed at resolving problems related to Secure Socket Layer (SSL) issues, permission or security problems, gathering data for your SMTP server included with IIS, as well as the famous Log Parser utility used to sift through hundreds or thousands of log files very quickly.
    • Kernel Memory Space Analyzer  helps expert debugging engineers analyze crash dump files.
    • Log Parser is a command-line tool that lets you run SQL queries against a variety of log files and other system data sources, and get the results out to an array of destinations, from SQL tables to CSV files. (Log Parser Support Website)
    • Malicious Software Removal Tool checks your computer for infection by specific, prevalent malicious software (including Blaster, Sasser, and Mydoom) and helps to remove the infection if it is found. (Updated on the second Tuesday of each month.)
    • The MDAC Component Checker tool is designed to help you determine installed version information and diagnose installation issues with the Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC Support Website)
    • Memory Diagnostic tests the Random Access Memory (RAM) on your computer for errors.
    • Network Diagnostics for Windows XP tool (xpnetdiag) analyzes information about your network connectivity to help troubleshoot some of the most common connection problems encountered in a home networking environment. (Support Document: KB914440)
    • Portmon monitors and displays all serial and parallel port activity on a system. It has advanced filtering and search capabilities that make it a powerful tool for exploring the way Windows works, seeing how applications use ports, or tracking down problems in system or application configurations.
    • PortQry Command Line Port Scanner is a command-line utility that you can use to help troubleshoot TCP/IP connectivity issues. The utility reports the port status of TCP and UDP ports on a computer you choose. For details, see KB310099 and description. (Description of Microsoft Port Numbers & All Port Numbers)
    • Port Reporter logs TCP and UDP port activity on a local Windows system. Port Reporter is a small application that runs as a service logging which ports are used, which process is using the port, if the process is a service, which modules the process has loaded and which user account is running the process. (Description of Microsoft Port Numbers & All Port Numbers)
        • Port Reporter Parser Tool is a log parser for Port Reporter log files. Port Reporter Parser has many features that can help you analyze Port Reporter log files.
    • Process Explorer – Ever wondered which program has a particular file or directory open? Now you can find out. Process Explorer shows you information about which handles and DLLs processes have opened or loaded.
    • Process Monitor is an advanced monitoring tool for Windows that shows real-time file system, Registry and process/thread activity.
    • Promqry and PromqryUI are two tools that enable you to detect a network sniffer that is running on a computer that is running Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, or Windows 2000. If a system has network interfaces in promiscuous mode, it may indicate the presence of a network sniffer running on the system.
        • PromqryUI is a tool with a Windows graphical interface that can be used to detect network interfaces that are running in promiscuous mode.
        • Promqry is a command line tool that can be used to detect network interfaces that are running in promiscuous mode.
    • Product Support’s Reporting Tools & Premier Services Reporting Utility (Alliance version) facilitates the gathering of critical system and logging information used in troubleshooting support issues. There are 8 specialty versions, one for each of the following support scenario categories: Alliance, Directory Services (not for NT 4.0), Networking, Clustering, SQL, Software Update Services, MDAC and Base / Setup / Storage / Print / Performance. (Support Document Support Blog Article)
    • PSSDIAG Data Collection Utility is a diagnostic data collector for Microsoft SQL Server. It simultaneously collects Perfmon/Sysmon logs, Profiler traces, event logs, SQLDIAG reports, and detailed blocking information.
    • System Configuration Utility (msconfig.exe) for Windows XP has been updated with a Tools TabThe System Configuration utility automates the routine troubleshooting steps used when diagnosing system configuration issues. (Support Document: How to troubleshoot using MSCONFIG) 
    • SQL Server Express Utility (SSEUtil) lets you easily interact with SQL Server to handle connections, execute scripts, perform maintenance tasks, and more.
    • User Mode Process Dumper (userdump) dumps any running Win32 processes memory image (including system processes such as csrss.exe, winlogon.exe, services.exe, etc) on the fly, without attaching a debugger, or terminating target processes. Generated dump file can be analyzed or debugged by using the standard debugging tools.
    • User Profile Hive Cleanup is a service to help with slow log off and unreconciled profile problems ensuring that user sessions are completely terminated when a user logs off when using Roaming Profiles or locked profiles as implemented through the Shared Computer Toolkit.
    • Video Decoder Checkup Utility helps determine if an MPEG-2 DVD video decoder is installed, and whether it’s compatible with Windows Media Player 10 or Windows XP Media Center Edition.
    • Windows Installer CleanUp Utility can remove a program’s Windows Installer configuration information if experiencing installation (Setup) problems.
    • Windows XP Support Tools are intended for use by Microsoft support personnel and experienced users to assist in diagnosing and resolving computer problems.  
SEARCH THE KNOWLEDGE BASE: With the Standard Knowledge Base Search, it can be difficult to locate the article your need, so I recommend using the Advanced  Knowledge Base Search – this can help you quickly isolate your question to a specific product and published date.   

1) Pick your Product – The Advanced  Knowledge Base Search allows you to easily choose the product you’re troubleshooting. (Which is easier than remembering "kbWinOS2000” is the keyword for Windows 2000.)


2) “Guess” keywords that describe your problem – Error messages can go through a great deal of editing. We had an Outlook problem of the username field coming up blank (not saved) on some computers. We tried searching for everything (blank field, empty field etc.) – ultimately we discovered that the proper "Microsoft" word for a “blank field” is “unpopulated!

Microsoft only prints a fraction of their keywords list, as well as keywords used for programmers. Some keywords are too specific (as with these Windows 2000 keywords), while others keywords are based upon an acronym. I hope Microsoft expands the list of keywords available to the public. 

NOTE1: Remember to think like the game show Jeopardy. You’re looking for an “answer” not your “question”; so ask your question in the form of an answer. Articles will probably not have a question like “How do I change the system clock?” it will more likely have the answer “To change the system clock” 

NOTE2: Wildcards (*), “Quotes”, AND, OR, NOT commands can be used just like any other search engine. 

NOTE3: Read Microsoft’s  How to ask a question.


3) Pick an “Article Type” Keyword (optional) – Helps pinpoint the specific type of support you need.

BUG – Known problem (may have a FIX)
DOC – If your printed docs are wrong
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
FILE – Downloadable support files
filename.ext – Search for a specific file
FIX – Shows fixes for known “BUGs”
HOWTO – “How To” Articles
INFO – Product Info & Specs
PRB – End-user Perceived Problems
QFE – Quick Fix Engineering Patch
SAMPLE – Sample Program Code

NOTE:  Microsoft also provides short concise support documents called cards or value cards — and Posters & Overview Posters.


4) Modified Date  – You can refine your search results to see the most recent articles, or broaden your results if you do not know when the article was written/modified.


5) Categories – Unless you know which specific category to search, start by selecting all of the categories, as well as the “Community Solutions Content” which include solutions from knowledgeable non-Microsoft employees. 

How To Articles displays KB articles describing a feature or how to perform a task.

Downloads displays KB articles contain content that links to a Download. It also includes hotfix or security bulletin information.

Troubleshooting displays KB articles describing how to fix a problem or that have information about a virus.

MSDN Content provides in-depth technical content, including references, technical articles, downloads, and code samples, for all developer-related Microsoft products and technologies.

TechNet Content provides content that is geared toward information technology professionals. It provides information about technology issues, security and virus information, information technology solutions, and community resources.

Community Solutions Content displays articles written by customers and also by Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs)


6) Rinse, Lather & Repeat – It’s doubtful that you’ll find your answer on the first search. So go back to Step # 2 and try fewer keywords, more keywords, or “entire phrases within quotation marks.”

There simply is no single method to “divine” an answer within Microsoft’s Knowledge Base – but trust me your answer is indeed in there. . .”somewhere”  🙂 




NEWSGROUPS: This information is “informally” organized, but there are indeed many support gems hiding here.


MICROSOFT TEAM BLOGS: Not always a source of immediate help, but these blogs are a must read. Be sure to note the additional employees links on each of the team blogs.

–> Click Here fo All Microsoft Team Bloggers <– 


MICROSOFT WIKIS: Micosoft’s “user maintained” wiki reference sites are new – but worth bookmarking.


MSDN Product Feedback Center

Updated advanced search for existing bugs and suggestions, review their status, validate bugs, vote on the importance of bugs and suggestions, join discussions, and view published workarounds (Support Documents: Help & FAQTeam Blog)


ROAD TO KNOW WHERE:  I’ve prepared additional articles detailing troubleshooting tips and free Microsoft  software available for download. 

About blakehandler

BLAKE was a Microsoft MVP and award winning programmer with over 20+ years experience providing complete Windows and networking support for small to medium sized businesses. BLAKE is also Jazz Musician and Instructor for residential clients on the Los Angeles West Side.
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