Microsoft Unveils Comprehensive New Support Site
This week, Microsoft launched a new Web site that centralizes resources and contact information for all Microsoft support services. In the new incarnation, Knowledge Base searches rightly occupy the top position. You can either click a link and go to the Knowledge Base search page or select a search category and enter a search string in the left pane, which remains visible regardless of where you navigate to after that. Because the Knowledge Base search pane is always available, you can locate the latest service pack for Microsoft Exchange Server and search the Knowledge Base for known post-service pack issues without having to page forward and backward through several pages. Hooray!

To use the left pane to conduct searches, click Show Options below the search category and string fields to display the familiar controls for the search engine’s behavior. You can then perform a full-text search, a title search, or a search for a specific article number. You can also specify how far back the search looks (30 days, 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, any). I looked into the impact of Microsoft's removal of the 3- and 7-day search options and, based on input and feedback from Microsoft Partners, the support team plans to reinstate these search options soon. You can also set the maximum number of matches, but the limit of 150 is a bit restrictive considering that the number of Windows 2000 post-Service Pack 2 (SP2) bug fixes is approaching 500. If we’re to stay informed, Microsoft had better keep the post-SP2 and all subsequent post-service-pack lists current!

When you search the Knowledge Base, you can order the list by date, relevance, or title. The ability to sort by date is essential for keeping up with the most recent information. However, when you order the list chronologically, the search engine doesn't display the date associated with each article. For maximum utility, the search engine needs to display the date before the title. I determined that the search sorts articles by modification date, not original posting date, which makes it difficult to identify new problems and issues. Keep this feature in mind as you use the new search engine.

When you click a Knowledge Base article, a new window opens to display the article contents. If you read as many articles as I do, you’ll have to remember to close windows periodically to cut down on screen clutter—a fair tradeoff given that we no longer have to follow links back and forth. Another nice feature is that the original posting date, in addition to the familiar modification date, now appears at the bottom of each article. The original posting date is the only way that you can tell whether the problem you’re reading about is old or new. Amazingly, the fancy online Knowledge Base articles now contain the same information as the articles Microsoft published at its FTP site back in 1995.

The Download link connects you to four important locations: Windows Update, Office Update, service packs, and Internet Explorer (IE). The service pack page contains download links to many common enterprise server and desktop products, including Win2K, Windows NT 4.0, Exchange Server, IE, and Microsoft Office. I located SP6a for NT 4.0 and SP4 for Exchange Server 5.5 with just a couple of mouse clicks.

The Newsgroup link serves up many newsgroups where you can read, publish, and respond to postings. When I scanned the Win2K Security newsgroup, I found just a few postings, but I expect that the content will grow rapidly.

Finally, the most visible improvements are links to US and international telephone-based and online support services. As I mentioned last week, you can pay $195, submit a problem online, and expect a response from a support professional by the next business day.

US Win2K Server Support
Last week, I described Microsoft’s per-incident support model and provided a set of toll-free phone numbers that you can use from within the United States to contact the support organization for Windows 2000 Professional assistance. Although Microsoft includes two complimentary support incidents when you purchase Win2K Pro from a retail store, the company doesn't include any support incidents for Win2K Server, regardless of where or how you acquire the server software.

When I started my treasure hunt, I figured that each product would have a different set of telephone numbers. However, after digging through the new support pages, I discovered that you call the same number for nearly all Microsoft Enterprise products. These telephone numbers are the same as the ones I reported last week, but I'm repeating them here for your convenience. You can track down telephone numbers for a specific product by clicking the Contact Microsoft Link in the left pane of the new support site. Microsoft charges the same price for Win2K Server support as it does for Win2K Pro support ($245 for each telephone-based support incident, regardless of the number of calls it takes to resolve the problem).


Your Job Title Number to Call
IT Professionals (800) 936-4900
Developers (800) 936-5800
Partners (Resellers and Consultants) (888) 456-5570
Microsoft Certified Partners (888) 677-9444
System Builders (888) 456-5570
TTY users (800) 892-5234

International Win2K Server Support
Last week, several readers requested that I provide Microsoft Support Services (MSS) telephone numbers for international users. Happily, the new support site includes a comprehensive list of countries, support services, and phone numbers (in most cases). International readers can simply click the International link in the lower-left pane of the US support page, select a country, and click Continue to display the services, resources, and telephone numbers available for that country. When you select a country from the drop-down list, the site places a cookie on your system that determines the display language the page uses for the current and subsequent sessions. If you’re exploring support options for more than one country, you’ll need to change the language cookie that records your preferred language. For more information, see the Microsoft Web site.