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What consultants don't want you to know about TechNet

Would you like to search Microsoft's TechNet Knowledge Base and get the answers you need without ripping out your hair?

Many administrators and IT students do not like searching TechNet. This isn't because of a lack of answers available at the site. Instead, they get too many answers to their questions, and they're not sure which articles can help them. Their frustration frequently causes them not to use an excellent resource.

Instead, they turn to experts like myself. When I respond with an answer, they say, "Wow! Where do you learn all of this stuff?" It would be nice to say: "Hey, it's just native talent." If I did, however, a lightning bolt would probably strike my PC. The truth is that I find answers by performing search operations on Microsoft's TechNet Knowledge Base (KB).

TechNet is of the handiest tools around for any administrator. It encompasses much more than the KB, including forums, online discussions, white pages and job listings. You won't get the full benefits of TechNet without a subscription, but you don't have to buy a subscription to search the free Knowledge Base.

The Knowledge Base contains, among other things, a wide variety of white papers, descriptions of common problems for various Microsoft products and their solutions, error messages and their meanings and locations of various patches.

For the new user, the KB can be intimidating, especially when you first start to search for answers. These hints might help you to narrow down your search results.

Limiting query results
By default, you will receive the first 100 results your query produces. You can reduce that to a manageable number. Just look on the right hand side of the TechNet home page under Shortcuts and use the "search the KB" option there to choose from 25 to 150 results per query. This shortcut takes you to the advanced search page for the Knowledge Base. Henceforward, we'll be discussing advanced search options.

Searching for a Microsoft product
To get product information, you can use a default search of all Microsoft products. Or you could search for answers within any Microsoft product category individually. This is handy if you're just looking for something that pertains to SQL 7.0, for example.

Filling in the blank
Knowing how to fill in the blank field following the words "search for…" is a critical skill. You need to be precise about describing the problem or information you are seeking. You are limited to 255 characters, but that should be enough for almost any search. Don't bother with words like "the" or "how," since they're filtered out. Here's a search example: I started with a very specific phrase like "poisoning DNS records." I received a negative answer on this query, so I tried "DNS poisoning" and received several answers.

If rephrasing your question doesn't work, try simplifying your request. For instance, use "DNS records" or "DNS security" as keywords. You'll get more answers this way, but you may find the information you need.

Another handy option is the "Search within results" box that displays on the right side of your screen when your results are listed. Once you've received results, you can use this option to narrow those search results further.

About 'Search for - using'
In the "search for - using" option, there are four basic choices: all words entered, exact phrase entered, any words entered and Boolean. Let's look at each option.

Obviously, using the "all words" option will return results for any article that contains all of the words or phrases you may have searched for. Note that it doesn't say that those words will be in order, just that this article contains all of the words in your request. You can enclose a phrase in quotes if you wish to search for an exact phrase or use the "exact phrase" option discussed below. Be aware that using "all words" will usually return the most results and can be the most frustrating option to use.

The "exact phrase" option is useful for searching for an exact phrase, such as an error message or specific subject. Unlike "all words," the search results will contain your phrase as entered. Here is where you want to get specific on your search. Just searching for a phrase like Active Directory can yield a hundred results. Again, don't bother words like "a" or "the," since they are filtered out.

I usually start with "exact phrase" and hope to strike it lucky the first time. Remember, you can always go back and be less specific or try another phrase. Often, you have to get used to Microsoft's way of phrasing things. This is probably the most frustrating thing for many of my new administrators.

Using "any words entered" will yield results for any of the words in your phrase. It differs from "all words" in that "all words" requires all of your words to be in the article. The "any words" option will give results for every article that contains any one of the words in your search phrase. One of my favorite IT insults is, "He once read a magazine with the letters PC in it. Not necessarily together, mind you, it just used the letters P and C somewhere." Well, that's what this option does.

You can use Boolean operators like these words: "and," "or," and "and not." If you choose this option and don't use any Boolean phrase, you will get the "exact phrase" option. You can search for Active Directory and groups for any articles that discuss both AD and groups, for example. The phrase, "and not," will give you all articles that do not mention your phrase. I've never really used this, so I'd be interested if anyone has found a good use for it.

What type of search?
You'll be asked to select an option under the "Search Type" category. Here are definitions of the three types of searches.

1. Full text: This option will search both titles and text and is probably the most commonly used.
2. Title only: This option searches only article titles.
3. Article ID: This choice searches for the ID number. Remember, Microsoft recently dropped the alphabetical characters from the front of KB articles and changed some article numbers, so your old search may not work.

Finding error messages
On the help page, there are some very good tips on searching for error messages. If you get an error message, write it down and type it in the search box. Here's a tip: Write the exact error message. Don't even leave out a comma on this one. The most common problem users have in searching for error message definitions is failure to write the message down exactly and completely.

Creating shortcuts to favorite results
When I find a useful article in TechNet, I usually put a shortcut to it in a special "KB" folder in Internet Explorer. Every now and then, I'll weed some of the older ones out, but I keep quite a few of them. Six months down the road you may need it again, and you'll be happy not to have to search again. Also, using favorites is better than saving it on your hard drive.

Searching the TechNet Knowledge Base can be frustrating at first but, if you keep at it, you'll find that persistence pays off, and you'll be locating answers to questions that used to cause you to tear out your hair. Good luck!

About the author: Douglas Paddock is an IT instructor at Louisville Technical Institute in Louisville, Ky. He holds CIW Security Analyst, MCSE, MCT, MCSA, A+ and N+ certifications.

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