A wealth of information about Microsoft applications and OSs is available from users of these products. Aside from the obvious need to separate the wheat from the chaff, you need to develop the ability to find this information. Microsoft product newsgroups are excellent sources for a huge amount of user-provided information.

Although Microsoft provides the news servers, the company is pretty good about letting conversations go where they may, removing only unrelated spam messages (if you've used unmoderated newsgroups, you know how much of a problem spam can be).

You can get to the Microsoft product newsgroups either through a Web-based connection or a Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) newsreader. Significantly more information is available if you configure a newsreader to talk directly to the Microsoft news server. For example, if you access the Windows XP newsgroups through the TechNet Web link, two newsgroups are available to read. If you access the newsgroup directly from the news server, 37 newsgroups are available, broken down into detailed areas of interest.

To access the news server, configure your NNTP client (Outlook Express works fine; go to Accounts and add a new News account) to point to the address news.microsoft.com. You don't need a password; the servers are publicly available. If you have a fast link, you might want to configure automatic updating for the groups that you choose to subscribe to. Some groups have a lot of traffic, but not an unmanageable amount.

Keeping up with these newsgroups will give you a realtime view of the problems and experiences that dedicated product users are experiencing. Many users will happily share their experiences with you, and lend a hand to solving your problems. And you can't beat the price (free), so the newsgroups are worth a look.