Help for an annoyed nation

SAN FRANCISCO (09/22/2003) - Computers in the twenty-first century were supposed to make us more productive, simplify our lives, and keep us entertained. And in countless ways, they have. But even the most visionary of sci-fi flicks never prophesied one aspect of PCs circa 2003: They're...annoying.

A year ago, we at PC World found ourselves devoting ever-increasing time to spam, pesky Web ads, poorly designed hardware, and software that seemed intent on ignoring our wishes. Gremlins like these made it tough to get work done--and they seemed to be multiplying. We asked Contributing Editor Steve Bass to find solutions for as many nuisances as possible; the resulting article, October 2002's "How to Fix the Biggest PC Annoyances," became the cover story of our best-selling issue in two years.

Today, tech hassles seem only more aggravating. So we partnered author Bass with Senior Associate Editor Dennis O'Reilly and Senior Editor Michael Lasky--the team behind last year's article and Bass's monthly Home Office column--and requested a sequel.

That article, in this issue, is "50 Fixes for the Biggest PC Annoyances." Rounding up dozens of new irritations, sad to say, wasn't much of a challenge. But just as he did last year, Bass eradicates them in a manner that's both relentlessly practical and genuinely amusing.

Asking Bass to return to the topic was an easy call--he's been a PC World mainstay since the day when a typical irritation involved Windows 2.0 running on a 286 system. "Rather than just throwing up his hands at problems, Steve takes them as a challenge," says O'Reilly. "He sees the point of why we put up with annoyances, and why it's worth looking for solutions."

This year, Bass didn't stop at solving 50 tech headaches; in October, O'Reilly and Associates (no relation to Dennis) will release his first book, PC Annoyances, with more fixes than we could ever stuff into one magazine article. O'Reilly already publishes the popular Annoyances computer books, so it's no wonder the company signed Bass up.

How We Do How-To

Simply acknowledging that technology hassles exist can be cathartic in itself. But what's really important about our two articles and Bass's book are the fixes they offer. And tracking down solutions for everything from minor snafus to full-tilt disasters is in PC World's DNA.

Every month, our Here's How section--also edited by O'Reilly and Lasky, along with Associate Editor Eric Dahl--is devoted to problem-solving tips on PCs and related technologies. Its columns, and our meaty features on topics such as troubleshooting hardware and customizing Windows, are as key to this magazine's mission as product reviews, buying advice, and news analysis.

Every how-to article we publish gets a thorough reality check by our senior technical editors, Karl Koessel and Rex Farrance--who, with 36 years of tenure between them, are by far PC World's longest-serving editors. Though Koessel and Farrance provide an important quality-control function for the entire magazine, their contributions to how-to articles are particularly vital. "With multiple versions of Windows, we need to be careful that we notice where the versions differ, and that we don't leave readers behind or lead them astray," says Koessel, who spends his workday surrounded by four PCs loaded with multiple operating systems and applications.

These tips articles may not be the most glamorous stories we produce, but surveys consistently show that they're among the most valuable to readers. And they're pretty special to us, too: "We'll hear from readers who say a tip solved a problem, and I can sense how delighted they are--because I've been in that same boat," explains O'Reilly. "We all have. And it's nice to be reminded that what we do here is to help people get more out of the technology in their life."

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