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Don’t just curse your PC – find out how to solve those frustrating online problems, and figure out what’s going wrong where and whose fault it is
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PC problems are always frustrating and it’s even worse when they’re Internet-related. When a Web site won’t load it’s hard to know if it’s the site itself at fault or whether it’s a problem with your ISP, your modem, some new software or just that the Net is busy.
If you can’t find a Web page, we’ll show you how to tell if it’s your browser, your settings or the Web server that’s at fault. Some problems you can’t do much about – like telecom failures or missing pages on Web sites. We’ll help you spot the difference.
Not being able to get online is one problem that can be blamed on your system or your ISP. We’ll walk you through what you need to check before you phone for help. And whenever you consult technical support, they’ll tell you to try using your backups: so make sure you make copies of your important files and settings now, while they’re still working. They could come in handy!
No Dial Tone
If your modem can’t detect a dial tone, check that the cable is plugged into the socket, the phone is on the hook and no-one else is making a call. If you are using BT’s Call Minder service, it uses a different dial tone to tell you about new messages. You’ll need to clear all your messages before you begin.
Never a dial tone
If you often get this error, try putting two commas in front of the phone number so that your modem waits a little longer for the dial tone.
Call Waiting services can also create problems – they beep your line to tell you there’s another call, which can knock you offline. Ask your phone provider for the code to turn it off and add it to your dialling properties.
Failed to Initialise Serial Port
Another program is using your modem. Perhaps you’re running fax software or you’re online with another ISP already.
Nine or not?
If you use a laptop to log on from both home and work, click the Dial Properties button on the Connect dialog to create two separate locations. Add an extra 9 to whichever requires an outside line.
Check the garden.
No, seriously! It may sound crazy, but tree branches dragging on the phone line and ivy pulling it off the wall can interfere with your connection. Do some pruning!
Stop Outlook dialling
Some versions of Outlook dial up to get images for HTML mail. Don’t hit Cancel: switch off the Preview panel at View, Layout, then uncheck Show Preview Pane.
Stop Outlook dialling (2)
You can also choose File, Work Offline to stop Outlook dialling up. Alternatively, you can tell Outlook you use a Local Area Network (LAN) connection instead of a dial-up connection – you’ll have to dial up and log off by hand though.
If you keep losing your connection to the Net, use a modem initialisation string to help your modem stay connected, even when it loses the signal briefly. Click on Start, Settings, Control Panel, Modems. Now click on your modem to highlight it and choose Properties, Connection tab, Advanced. Type s10=250 into the Extra Settings box and your problem should be solved.
Always knocked offline
If you’ve always had a great connection, but you suddenly find that you’re getting knocked offline a lot, there may be a problem with noise on the phone line. Push all your connections into their sockets firmly and ask the phone company to run a test on the line.
Offline at once
If you keep losing the connection almost immediately after you dial up, check how long the modem is waiting for a carrier tone (this is controlled by the setting in the S7 register). In the Connection dialog set the value for Cancel the call if not connected within to at least 60 seconds.
Unplug the phones
If your phone has a memory, it charges up via the phone line. This can generate a pulse on the line which interferes with the signal. If you’re being disconnected at regular intervals, try unplugging any other phones.
If you see speeds like 115,200 displayed but Web pages don’t seem to load any faster, your modem is telling you the speed it’s talking to your serial port, not the speed it’s talking to the Net.
If you see messages like ‘An error occurred while establishing the Dial-Up Networking Connection’ when you click Send/Receive, make sure the program is dialling up automatically. Choose Tools, Accounts and change the Connection tab settings for your email to Connect using my phone.
If that doesn’t help, open the Modem Control Panel and select your modem on the Diagnostics tab. Click More Info and Windows will test the modem for you. If it’s working, you need to check other settings.
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Connection timed out
Essentially, this means that the Web page is ‘stuck in traffic’ on the way to your PC – either your ISP has a slow connection to the rest of the Internet or there’s a lot of traffic on the networks between the Web server and your ISP. If you keep getting the message try logging on at a quieter time of day and question your ISP.
Is it slow?
If you want to know how fast your connection is, try www.testmyspeed.com. That way you know if your connection is as fast as it ought to be.
Slow speeds: 28.8
If you’ve got a 56K modem and it never goes faster than 28.8Kb/s, ask your phone supplier if there is a ‘concentrator’ on your line. These gadgets share one phone line between several houses or flats, limiting your Net connection to a meagre 28.8K.
Slow speeds: 44,000
If you’ve got a 56K modem, speeds of 44,000 or 48,000b/s don’t seem all that great, but it’s the typical speed for a ‘56K’ modem. The phone system can’t actually send data much faster than 49,000b/s.
Slow speeds: UPLOADING
If sending files by email or FTP seems slower than downloading, that’s because it is. You only get a 33.6K connection for uploads.
Slow speeds: IS IT THE ISP?
If you think it may be your ISP slowing you down, ask a friend to try their account on your system. This will show whether it’s worth changing providers.
404 Not found
Depending on the site, you may get a browser error saying ‘404 page not found’ or a friendlier message from the site itself. They both mean the URL you’ve typed doesn’t link to a page. Check your typing and try .htm instead of .html. If you followed a link there, go back and see if you can find another way in. If all links give you ‘not found’ there’s an error on the site and you might want to email them about it. If you followed a link from another site, try deleting the page name from the URL to see if you can find a way in.
The Domain Name Server is a computer that turns the name of a Web site into the IP address numbers used by the Internet. If you see a message saying that there’s no DNS entry for the page you’re trying to load, it may mean that the Web server isn’t working properly – or just that either the Web server or the DNS is busy. It can also mean that you’ve lost your Internet connection, so check if you’re still online and click Refresh.
401 Unauthorised /403 forbidden
This error means you’re trying to get into a Web site that’s password protected – or the Web server is blocking users from your domain. Some institutional sites only allow access to official users, or it may be a subscription-only site.
File contains no data
If you get this error, you’re probably trying to look at a Web page at the same time as the page’s Webmaster is busy uploading a new version! All you need to do is wait a few minutes and try again. If it still doesn’t work, it probably means there’s a problem on the Web site. Server refuses your Network connection
If the page you want is very popular, its server can’t cope with all the people trying to access it at once. Some servers have limits on the number of requests they can handle at once. If clicking Refresh doesn’t bring the page up, wait a few minutes and try again.
When is it busy?
The best time to surf the Web is in the morning, because American users are still in bed. If you’re trying to access a site that’s popular in the US, try not to visit between 6-9pm US time (which is five to eight hours behind UK time, so you should really be in bed anyway. Check www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/.
Stay up to date
Another way to get updates for IE and other Internet software is to run a utility like BigFix (www.bigfix.com). This will warn you about security problems and tell you when there’s a newer version of your software.
There are often security patches for IE. Check at www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/downloads/critical/ or access them via Windows Update.
If IE keeps crashing and giving errors that are nothing to do with the pages you visit, try the repair tools. Choose Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Tools, Repair Internet Explorer.
Delete OLD AutoComplete entries
Get rid of out-of-date AutoComplete entries, such as old email addresses, without losing other AutoComplete details. Double-click in a field where the old entry shows up to see a list of options. Select one you don’t need any more and press Delete.
Not the site I want
If the site you arrive at doesn’t look like the site you expected, check your spelling. If the URL is correct, the site may have closed down and another company then taken over the domain.
I can’t get away from the site
Some sites pop up as many as five or six additional browser windows containing ads or related sites. The best thing to do is close them all. Some sites keep opening up a new window every time you close one – if you can’t keep up press and hold [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [Del] together, and shut down your browser.
I can’t get away from the frame
Some sites direct you to others. Place a frame across the top of the screen so you can find your way back. If there isn’t a button to close that frame, right-click the link back to the main page and choose Open in New Window. Also, if two URLs are stuck together, delete the first one and anything between. Otherwise right-click the page, choose Properties and copy and paste the real URL into the address bar.
I can’t get away from the ring
Web rings are collections of related sites, all with a navigation tool to take you to the other sites in the ring. You should be able to navigate from one to another but if not, click the link for the list of sites and visit them individually.
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You can’t remove attachments that easily in Outlook Express without deleting the whole message. Either forward yourself a copy of the message, deleting the attachment before you send it, or make a copy and remove the file. Do this by dragging the message into the desktop, saving it as a .eml file and dragging it back into the Inbox. Either way, delete the original mail.
The wrong mail
If you’ve got more than one email package, decide which one you want to use when you click email links on Web pages: that’s your default email client. In Internet Explorer choose Tools, Internet Options, Programs and pick the program you want from the list. When you launch Outlook Express or Outlook, if they’re not your default mail client you’ll see a dialog asking if you want them to be. Tick the box if you don’t want Windows to keep checking.
Repair damaged Personal Folders
Outlook keeps your messages in .pst files. If one gets corrupted and you lose your mail, run the Inbox Repair Tool (Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools) to test your files. Take a backup and try to fix the problems. If the file is badly corrupted run ScanDisk first, then the Repair Tool. Keep running them one after another until the errors disappear.
451 Unresolvable Domain
If you get this error when you try to send mail, you may have put in a fake reply address to fool spammers and change the domain. Try changing the username instead.
2Gb of Outlook
You can’t have a .pst file larger than 2Gb. That’s big, but so are most hard drives these days. Keep an eye on file size – once you hit 2Gb you won’t be able to use Outlook. If you’ve reached 2Gb, ask Microsoft technical support for the Oversized PST and OST Crop Tool (article Q296088 at http://support.microsoft.com), which will trim the file – but you’ll lose the deleted messages. Alternatively try using a hex editor to remove a few characters from the middle of the file to bring the size under 2Gb. Once you can open the file again use Tools, Mailbox Cleanup to archive some messages to a different file.
Prevent huge files
There’s a hot fix for Outlook 2002 that stops your .pst file reaching the 2Gb limit. When it hits 1.82Gb you won’t get any new mail, you’ll just see a warning about the file size. You’ll find it in the October 2001 update at http://office.microsoft.com.
Reading CD backups If you back up Outlook .pst files to CD, you’ll need to copy them back onto your PC. Outlook needs to have read/write access to open a .pst file: once you’ve copied the file, right-click it and choose Properties. Uncheck the read-only attribute and Outlook will read the file.
Outlook shuts down slowly
If Outlook takes an age to shut down, it might be looking for more mail. Choose Tools, Send/Receive Settings, Define Send/Receive Groups and uncheck Perform an automatic send/receive when exiting.
Replied from an old account
When you reply to an email in Outlook, the program always tries to send the reply from the account that received the original message. This function can cause problems – the address of the recipient could now be outdated, which means the reply won’t go anywhere. Create a new message and copy the details from your reply – Outlook will use your default account and you can delete the stuck reply.
Can’t delete mail
If you’re deleting mail and not seeing any more free hard disk space, check the Deleted Items folder. This fills up with hundreds of deleted emails. Right-click and choose Empty Deleted Items Folder or use Tools, Mailbox Cleanup, Empty and check for large messages in other folders too.
If you hold down the [Shift] key when you press [Delete], Outlook will completely get rid of the messages, bypassing the Deleted Items folder.
Choose Tools, Options, Other and tick Empty the Deleted Items folder upon exiting to clear the folder automatically when you close Outlook.
Backing Up .PST files
Whether you’re getting near 2Gb of email or not, make regular back-ups of your Outlook files. Choose File, Import and Export to start the Import And Export Wizard, select Export to a file, Next, Personal Folder File, Next. Now export the Personal Folders file. That gives you a file with all the information.
Backing up Outlook folders
To back up individual folders like Calendar or Tasks, run the Import And Export Wizard, but when you reach Select the folder to export from choose just one Outlook folder.
Backing up Outlook Express
Don’t use the obvious File, Export command. Instead choose Tools, Options, Maintenance, Store Folder to check where the files you need are kept and copy them to a back up folder. You need the .DBX files like INBOX.DBX and SENT ITEMS.DBX.
Back up the Outlook Express address book
Click on File, Export, Address Book and save a copy of the address book as a Text File (Comma Separated Values).
Back up Outlook Express accounts
Make a copy of the details for your email accounts: choose Tools, Accounts, Mail and export the details to your back-up folder – use Tools, Accounts, News for backing up newsgroup details.
Stuck in the outbox
After you send a message, Outlook moves it from Outbox into the Sent Items folder. If you open and close a message while it’s still in your Outbox, you change the status of the message and it won’t get sent – you can tell because the title loses its italics. Re-open the message and click the Send button, and it should go next time you connect to the server.
Still Stuck in the outbox
Some emails get stuck in the Outbox and sent again and again; this can mean you’re running out of disk space, so your email can’t move it to the Sent folder. You can try moving it or deleting it, but check whether you’re low on space and delete some old emails. Alternatively use Start, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup to get more space.
Invalid Message Rules
If Outlook crashes complaining that ‘MSIMN caused an Invalid Page Fault’, check your message rules: you may have an illogical rule. For example, you can’t ask Outlook not to download messages that contain certain words. This is because Outlook needs to download the body of the message before it can check it. If you choose to check for secure messages, messages with attachments or specific words in the message body, don’t choose ‘Do Not Download’ or ‘Delete From Server’ in the same rule.
If some of your messages are being duplicated, check whether you’re using two rules to process them: Outlook and Outlook Express will give you an extra copy if two rules match the same message.
If you keep getting the same email message again and again, check whether you’ve set your mail software to delete retrieved mail. If that doesn’t help you may have a corrupt message: ask your ISP to delete it for you.
No Sender Specified
If you haven’t given Outlook your name and email address, it won’t send your mails. If you have, they can still get corrupted. Choose Tools, Accounts, highlight the active account and select Properties, then re-type your details, even if they look right.
Not an attachment
If Outlook Express insists the message you’re writing has an attachment, though you haven’t added one, check whether your message starts with the word ‘begin’ followed by two blank spaces – that’s how OE embeds an attachment. Outlook Express tries to turn these characters into the attachment – read it by pressing [Ctrl] + [F3] to view the source.
Running two email clients
When you install Outlook 2000, it installs its own version of MAPI32.DLL. Eudora Pro needs a different version, so run the FIXMAPI.EXE utility in the \WINDOWS\SYSTEM folder to ensure each version is in the right folder.
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If you see this when you’re downloading email, the mail server isn’t responding. Increase the timeout for your email account to one minute. If that fails, ask your ISP why it’s so busy.
Delete an old ISP
If you change providers, open Add/Remove Programs to delete any special software installed with your old ISP. Then, from the Control Panel, click Dial-Up Networking and delete the old ISP’s icon. Check in your email browser to make sure the new ISP is selected as your default connection.
550 – Relaying not allowed
Error 550 means the outgoing mail server doesn’t recognise you as a user. Most ISPs will only allow you to send mail while you’re logged on with them, in order to stop servers being used by spammers. Change the SMTP server to the one that matches the ISP you’re connected with.
ISP proxies and VPN
Some ISPs use transparent proxy servers to speed up your Web browsing, but if you need to connect securely to your work network via a Virtual Private Network, this can interfere with the VPN software. Ask your company system administrator if you can connect on a different IP port.
ISP overwrites my configuration
Some ISPs give you software that can reset your Web and email settings, overriding your own specifications. Make a note of your settings before you install any ISP software, then reset everything after installation.
Stay online overnight
If you’re trying to download a really large file and you’re paying a flat-rate monthly fee, it’s tempting to leave the download running overnight, but even connection utilities may not keep working for that long. Instead, look for an FTP site (it’s a faster transfer and some FTP servers let you resume interrupted downloads), or try a download manager like Star Downloader.
If the newsgroup you want isn’t on your ISP’s NNTP server, you can request to add it to the list, or try one of the free news servers listed at www.newzbot.com or www.newsservers.net. If the server you try is down or you don’t have a legitimate account, you’ll get an NNTP error.
Now some top tips for you to try…
BT’s Call Divert changes your dialling tone but don’t turn it off while you’re online, because it sends calls elsewhere when the phone’s engaged. Go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, Modems, select your modem and choose Properties, Connection. Uncheck Wait for a dial tone before dialling. Have the modem wait at least 60 seconds, and fine-tune error connection in Advanced options for the best connection without getting knocked offline by phone noise.
If you use several ISPs but you usually only dial into one of them, make that one your default connection. Choose Start, Settings, Control Panel, Dial-Up Networking, right-click on your favourite connection and choose Set as Default. If that option is greyed out, that means it’s already the default connection. You can set a specific dial-up for individual email accounts in your mail software, but this is the default for any Internet application without extra settings.
Download times change
When you start downloading a file your browser estimates how long it will take. This time changes because the network can get busier as you’re downloading. As the file downloads your browser receives more information about the speed of both the server and the connection and revises the time with a new estimate; usually less optimistic than the first, but more accurate.
If you’re using an FTP client, the window that shows messages from the server can be tiny. If nothing seems to be happening, or you want to look back at the welcome message for further instructions, make the window bigger.
I need what?
Your browser can handle text and images, but anything else needs extra software. Plug-ins, helps or ActiveX controls let you open .ZIPs, documents, movies and sound files. If you see a dialog asking you to install software like Acrobat, it’s perfectly safe. If you’ve never heard of the program, go to its Web site to find out more.
When you set up the details for an FTP site in WS_FTP and some other FTP programs, you’ll need to tell the software to save any changes you make to settings by ticking Save Password and Auto Save Config or Save Account, depending on your FTP software.
If the date or the news on a Web site look out of date, you may be looking at a copy from your browser’s cache; click Refresh to update it. You can clear the cache to make sure you always get the latest pages. In IE choose Tools, Internet Options, General, Delete Files. If Refreshing doesn’t help, your ISP may have the page cached on a proxy server. Hold [Alt] and click Refresh to get a new copy.
Don’t print URLs
If you don’t want the page title, URL or number of pages on printouts, edit headers and footers in IE6’s Print Preview by clicking Settings on the toolbar. &w is the page title, &u is the URL, &d is the date, &p is the current page, &P is the number of pages, and &b inserts a blank space.
This material is the copyright material of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited
(http://www.futurenet.co.uk/), a Future Network plc group company, UK 2004. All rights reserved.
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