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When something goes wrong: how to report a bug

Posted on Friday, May 21st, 2010 by Richard

We don’t really do much tech support here, but we always try to be helpful to our clients when they’re experiencing problems.

Whatever the problem is, and whether it’s with hardware, software or a website, there are a few things you can do to help the techies of this world help you.

The golden rule, of course, is: don’t panic! And before you turn-it-off-and-on-again -

1. Grab that error message!
When something goes wrong, make a note of what it says. That error report may not mean anything to you but it will to someone. If it’s on a web page, chances are you’ll be able to copy-and-paste it into an email. A half-remembered error report can confuse the issue no end.

2. What’s going on?
A clear, step-by-step description of what you were doing when you got the error helps enormously. If you got the error on a webpage, let us know exactly which one it was – copy the contents of the address bar into an email. If you were uploading a file, send us the file. If it was something on your computer, remember all the programs you had open at the time, and tell us the last thing you did before the error showed up.

3. Your machine
It’s vital to know what you’re using – which browser, which operating system. Is it Windows, Linux, or Mac? Are you using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Opera? The first thing a techie will try to do is replicate the error. Chances are it’s not something that happened when they tested it, so what’s the difference between your machine and theirs?

Here’s a great resource to get all this info quickly: www.supportdetails.com from Imulus, who earn serious brownie points for this site. It gives you all the details about your own system and lets you download them as a CSV or PDF, or just send it all in an email straight to your local techies.

4. Even better: show us!
The best you can do: as soon as anything goes wrong, grab that screen! On a Windows machine, pressing Print Screen (often labelled “PrtScn”) actually does just that – it grabs the current screen and puts it in the Windows clipboard. You can then paste it into an image file and save it using MS Paint (under ‘Accessories ‘) or – your favourite and mine – IrfanView, the free image viewer. In Mac OS X, I’m reliably informed, Command-Shift-3 will take a screenshot and save it as a file on your desktop.

Send this screenshot to your helpful techie friends and it’ll help them no end.

This has the added benefit of showing us what you’ve got open and what operating system you’re using. It’ll tell us – roughly – what version of what browser you’re using, and which operating system. They tell a thousand words, you know!

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