Googling Computer Errors
Article by Rick Leinecker, September 6, 2006

Here's my favorite... A friend calls and is frantic. "Oh my gosh, my computer just locked up after it displayed the message Application Error at 453dkfi3294324. What happened?" Then I think, yeah I have that one memorized along with the other ten billion errors. It would be impossible for me to know what most error messages mean.

I can, however, just about guarantee that someone else has gotten the same error and knows what it means. When you need an answer to something that seems obscure, the beauty of the Internet becomes obvious. It is rare that I can't find an error message by searching on Google. And I usually get a lot more including what the message means, how it is usually generated, and how to fix or avoid the problem. It would surprise me if any error I encounter hasn't been encountered by someone else and documented somewhere on the Internet.

Let me say a few words about Internet searches. How you do them will dramatically affect the results you get. Remember that search engines are literal - they look for what you type in. So that means you'll need to be accurate. A misspelling may prevent you from getting the results you need. You should also put the error message within quote marks, too. That's because a search engine will try to find the exact set of text within the quote marks. Without quote marks, a search engine will simply find Web pages that have all of the words that you have typed regardless of their order.

For instance, if you're looking for an error message that says Failure to turn the screen blue and you type that into a search engine without using quote marks, you might get the following text from a Web page (matched words in italic):

This is to notify you of a screen failure. Make sure you press the blue knob and turn it to the right.

The rule of thumb with search engines is to use quote marks when you are looking for an exact phrase or sentence. Don't use quote marks if you are just looking for several words.

If you don't find an answer, there are other options. There are discussion groups online where you can post your questions. The response time is a mixed bag. You might have to wait several days, or you might get an answer within several hours. Check the groups first, they are well organized and usually well managed. If it's a particular piece of software that is perplexing you, go to their Web site. They probably have an email address to which you can send questions.

If a general search doesn't yield results, I usually go to I have gotten answers to some of my most gnarly problems at this Web site. It gives you a free trial period, but costs money after that. I have found it to be well worth the money. Even a single answer that you get can save you hundreds of dollars.

Before I wrap up, I want to give a disclaimer. Anyone can post information on the Internet and it's not all accurate. That doesn't mean I haven't found answers to my questions, but I urge you to use discretion when you look for answers.

That's how I figure out most of the errors that I get.