Microsoft says customers can now avoid the hassle of phoning the company’s support lines by requesting a hot fix by email.

Hot fixes are patches that Microsoft writes for specific, documented problems but doesn't release to everyone via one of its update services, such as Microsoft Update. Typically, Microsoft support recommends that only users who have experienced the problem install a hot fix. Most of the time, Microsoft does not make these fixes available for download; instead, it demands that users call in and explain their situation to support before it releases the patch.

However, Steve Patrick, who works in a Microsoft group within support services, has provided a link to an online form where customers can enter their email address and the desired hot fix by referencing its associated Knowledge Base article number. Microsoft's support will email a download link for the hot fix within eight business hours, the form notes.

A Windows Vista bug that locks up a PC when it's brought out of hibernation is a good example of a hit fix. In the May 7 Knowledge Base article, Microsoft said: "It is intended to correct only the problem that is described in this article. Apply it only to systems that are experiencing this specific problem. This hot fix may receive additional testing. Therefore, if you are not severely affected by this problem, we recommend that you wait for the next service pack that contains this hot fix. To resolve this problem immediately, contact Microsoft Customer Support Services to obtain the hot fix."

"Man - this makes life SOOOO much easier for a lot of folks," said Patrick, who credited the change to "the Big Brainers" at Microsoft.

The hot fix request form is available online.