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Tech Lab

There’s a fix for that glitch, even on Christmas

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / December 24, 2009

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Tomorrow’s the big day and, chances are, something will go wrong. You’ll overcook the turkey, perhaps, or discover that the sweater you bought for your wife is the wrong color.

Or you’ll unpack that new computer, cellphone, or digital camera, hit the On switch and - nothing. It doesn’t work, and you don’t know why.

Well, somebody does, and you can always find help, even on Christmas Day. Industry titans like Apple Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are keeping their tech support hotlines up and running during the day. Some companies also offer free live online chat, so you can type questions to a human being through your Internet browser. Check the product’s user manual for the company’s phone number and website.

Maybe you’ll end up spending an hour on hold or waiting for a chat room tech. You can get faster results if you are willing to pay. PlumChoice Inc. of Billerica sells an array of online support services at plumchoice.com or 888-758-6435. For $49.95, a PlumChoice tech will walk you through the setup process for a computer, or they’ll troubleshoot a malfunctioning machine for a hefty $99.95.

Electronics retailer Best Buy offers its Geek Squad tech support service at geeksquad.com or 800-433-5778. Expect to pay $49.95 for help with setting up a computer or $79.95 to attach a new gadget to a home data network.

I’m allergic to paying for technical support, so I was happy to hear about My Computer Buddy Online, a new Bridgewater-based outfit that uses technicians based in the Philippines.

The company generally charges for its services, but during the holidays it’s offering free over-the-phone assistance in setting up a personal computer. You can check it out at www.mycomputerbuddyonline.com or by calling 877-778-0037.

There’s a boundless supply of free tech support on the Internet, if you know where to look. Twitter, for instance. A number of companies including Microsoft Corp. and cable TV provider Comcast Corp., have dedicated Twitter support feeds. Post a question in 140 characters or less. and an employee will ping you back. For problems with holiday gifts, the most useful of the Twitter feeds is Best Buy’s Twelpforce, where hundreds of employees field questions about pretty much everything electronic. Just sign up for a free Twitter account, if you haven’t already, and go to twitter.com/twelpforce to start asking questions.

Whatever your problem, someone else has probably solved it already, and written about it. You can find a lot of advice on specialized online forums devoted to particular products, such as Hewlett-Packard digital cameras or Apple iPods. Many of these forums are run by the manufacturers and can be searched by visiting the company website. Others are independently operated and harder to find. Still, they will generally turn up in a Google search. Make the query as specific as possible; include the brand name and model number of the product that’s giving you trouble. There’s a decent chance you’ll find an answer in a few minutes, without spending a dime.

Then there are sites that assist on every conceivable topic, from rebooting a computer to rebuilding a transmission. One of the biggest such outfits is eHow.com. Here you will find not only written how-to guides for solving technical problems, but also thousands of videos on subjects like how to use photo editing software or setting up a wireless router. For the heck of it, I typed in “digital camera’’ and got over 29,000 related videos.

For more tech support viewing, visit YouTube.com and search under the “Howto & Style’’ category for thousands more instructional videos.

You can even find technology advice in the palm of your hand, if your hand has an iPhone in it. Software entrepreneur and author Dave Taylor runs a website with about 2,000 free tech support articles at askdavetaylor.com. Now he’s created a 99-cent iPhone app that allows users to search those articles for answers. You can even use the app to submit a new question. Buy the app by logging onto Apple’s iTunes Store.

With so many rescue options, you’re likely to find a fix when some digital gift goes wrong. Too bad you can’t reboot an ugly sweater.

Help for the holidays
My Computer Buddy Online
www.mycomputerbuddyonline.com or 877-778-0037: Offers free help with setting up a new personal computer.

Best Buy's Twelpforce
www.twitter.com/twelpforce: A Twitter-based tech support service offers quick responses to simple problems.

eHow
www.ehow.com: Site features thousands of how-to articles and videos.

Ask Dave Taylor iPhone app
99 cents from Apple's iTunes Store: Easy access to 2,000 tech support articles from the AskDaveTaylor.com website.