Microsoft's Fix It makes self-help a lot easier

If you're an IT person responsible for making sure PCs work for a legion of end users who make jokes about not being able to find the "any" key or ask how to get to the files in the Word account they use on their home machines, this isn't going to help you.

Microsoft finally did something useful to make it easier to find the fairly decent self-help tools that have been available for a while, but which are really hard to find because the Bing(tm) search at doesn't seem to understand any question you ask it about a Microsoft product.

Microsoft Fix It mini-apps are self help tools designed to fix annoying problems with configuration, driver or system-file corruption or a million other micro-glitches that do things like convince Excel it can't recognize the file it just created and currently has open, or make Outlook decide it's never met you before and has no idea why you'd expect it to retrieve your email.

A couple of years ago Microsoft started taking all the small utilities, scripts and configuration files it had floating around in various departments, where support techs and developers had figured out ways to automate repairs for common mistakes, and posted them in the fabulously rich, famously inscrutable Microsoft Support Knowledgebase.

Most were embedded in Knowledgebase articles, or linked to in non-intuitive ways through abstract-referential Microsoftian word-association logic that those who had not undergone the full Redmond brainwash were unable to track.

The result was that users like me, who were almost smart enough to fix our own machines but not smart enough to realize we're still well into the Idiot range on the IdiotProofing scale, could actually complete a repair if we found the right tool.

But finding the right tool took longer than it would take to fix everything by hand.

Even the user-friendly front page to the Fix It Solution Center didn't always make finding the right Fix-It tool easier.

It would run through troubleshooting processes that might have shot at trouble but never hit it, or gave us long lists of choices that never seemed to apply to the actual problem.

In my case, I'm sure that's because I'm a different type of idiot than the one Microsoft designed the idiotproof site for. I don't know if other kinds of idiots had an easier time finding solutions.

Thanks to the wonks at Windows Club, who actually posted this in January, but I just found it this week while trying to decode "critical" errors that didn't appear to be having any effect except to make Word stupider about finding its own Normal files, I have a single, explicable source for all the Fix It tools.

This page has the Microsoft Fix It files listed A to Zed, with the actual file names and big, friendly buttons to let you download them.

You don't have to register if you don't want to, don't have to download and run Silverlight, don't have to sign up for, download and then sign up again for a Windows Live account before you can see the tools – all of which I've had to do in the past.

You just have to pick the one you need, download it, run it and then try to figure out what the real problem was because the one the Fix It just fixed apparently wasn't broken in the first place.

Still. There's a page to go back to where you can try again, without trying to convince Bing that the product name you chose from a pull down menu really is a Microsoft product, or that you really are looking for the word you typed into the Search box, not whatever it brought up to show you instead.

Try the Fix It blog, which is more concrete and useful than the rest of Microsoft support, but though still inscrutably Microsoftian in both syntax and logic.

Don't tell your users. They'll run all the Fix Its, figuring it'll get their machines cruising like Ferraris, and probably break all the custom configurations you did to make sure they didn't have to do things like that.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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