New stuff on the Net for nix

You're most likely to find the right answer at a forum site such as 32bit.com, About.com, Computing. net, NoWonder.com, or VirtualDr. com. You'll likely get a variety of opinions and more than one way to solve a problem, and good advice from one person will correct bad advice from someone else.

You don't get that kind of give-and-take experience from an expert advice site, where only one person reads your question and only you read his or her answer. The quality of these sites - About.com, GoofyGuys.com, NoWonder.com and PCSupport.com - depends entirely on the quality of professionals hired or, in some cases, of the volunteers selected to answer your questions. One caveat about expert advice sites: their usefulness hinges on their having enough experts for the traffic. If a site becomes popular quickly, the quality of its service could plummet as it scrambles to muster staff.

Waiting is also part of the game with forum and expert sites. Overall in our testing, forums proved more responsive than experts, usually providing at least one answer within an hour of our posting a question. By contrast, experts often took a day or more to answer a question. This variation in response time is hardly surprising: when you ask many people, someone is bound to answer quickly; when you ask only one, he or she may take some time to get back to you.

The two exceptions are NoWonder.com and PCSupport.com, both of which offer a chat-based feature on their sites. (By the time you read this, MyHelpDesk.com should also offer live chat.) Live chat potentially can provide a speedier give-and-take dialogue than e-mail allows. You ask a question, an expert asks for additional details, you supply those details and so forth. But you may have to wait for five or 10 minutes while the expert looks up something. At NoWonder.com, some experts charge for the information they provide. You can decide whether you want to accept it and pay their fee.

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