Desktop support is an interesting pastime.
In many ways computers, and networks, have their own personalities. A large portion of a tech’s job is to develop an understanding of that personality, and work with it to optimize a user’s experience. Part of that involves observation and interacting with the network, another facet involves analysis of reported problems.
The psychology of a user and tech’s relationship is a special one that requires nurturing and trust. Not unlike dating. However, unlike dating, productivity and efficiency take a central role in this relationship.
A call for support is made after a user makes a decision based upon the perceived need of the moment, their own ability to provide a solution for a problem, and their perception of a tech’s availability and/or willingness to help.
The timeline between when a user experiences a problem, and when a tech is made aware of the issue can vary. However, knowing when an issue occurred is a critical component of the troubleshooting process.
Planned software updates are a great example of a typical information technology (IT) process that can effect a user’s experience; and can be traced back to a specified date and time. They can also introduce unexpected changes to the way a user interacts with a piece of software.
My most recent run-in with this type of issue had to do with a reported inefficiency in the way Microsoft Word documents were being converted to PDF documents on a network.
To begin my troubleshooting process I first asked the user to walk me through the steps they typically followed to convert a document. As I observed the action taking place the user indicated the process the machine followed to convert the document appeared too had changed. I noted this and decided to investigate the matter further.
Personally, I believe that it’s difficult to determine if a process (or a piece of technology) is behaving properly without first establishing what normal looks like. This can sometimes be challenging because of the nature of computing.
Personal Computers (PCs) are customizable in a seemingly endless variety of ways. In fact, the name Personal Computer is in many ways derivative of that fact. The earliest PCs required a high degree of technical skill to operate efficiently. Modern machines are much more robust, but suppliers have worked hard to make human interaction with them much more intuitive. This comes at a cost.
Although computers are easier to use, they are much more complex; and therefore more challenging to troubleshoot and repair. In layman’s terms they are an enigma.
Users can sometimes become frustrated because (despite the fact that a PC is functioning properly) it can appear that the output being delivered is incorrect. This may be because a user’s expectations don’t match the current configuration of the machine, or that the user asked the machine to perform an incorrect function. Or, of course, that the machine is in fact broke. At any rate I find it challenging to evaluate an issue without first coming to an understanding of what right looks like.
In the case of this issue I had to determine how the base documents software (Microsoft Word) was interacting with the software that was converting the document (Adobe Acrobat). I quickly googled the issue; hoping to come to a quick conclusion on the matter. I wasn’t able to determine anything concrete-other than Adobe Acrobat included an add-in that allowed users to convert Word documents to PDF documents from within a directory.
So I decided to run a few test and see if the process became apparent.
For ease of reference I saved a Word document to the desktop, and created a test folder to save the PDF documents I would be saving to.
After testing the process, and recording my findings it was becoming apparent that the software was doing what it was supposed to do.
By right-clicking on the Word document the user could then tell the computer to convert the file to a PDF. The Adobe software would then prompt the user to enter the location the PDF document should be saved. After browsing to, and selecting the location, the software would then call on Word to access the document. Word’s splash screen would then appear. The file would then be converted. Following this the user would be prompted to confirm the location, and save the file. Hence the cause for the user’s concern.
The machine required twice the manual effort to complete the task as it had in the past. Which didn’t make it wrong, but it did make it inefficient. A little observation, mixed with some technical know-how led me to the conclusion that the machine was operating properly. I reported my findings to the user and through our conversation was informed that the issue had actually crept up nearly 6 months prior.
I decided to look a little deeper into the update history to determine what could have caused the change. I started at Adobe’s website and discovered an Adobe Planned Update, 11.0.11, that was released on May 12, 2015.
Not quite 6 months, but still within the approximate time frame.
There are technical limitations to any solution, and in this case it would seem the buck stopped at the update.