Ever feel like the Windows error messages you see are in a different language than the one you speak? Even if you understand the words, you're often left trying to determine the next step. Although some Windows programs provide very good error messages, others leave you wanting more information. Instead of bypassing the error, try using some of these resources for troubleshooting help.
Many Windows programs classify error messages so you can tell the severity by the icon that accompanies the text. The red X icons tend to get your attention more than the informational messages with the capital Is. I have my own classification of error messages that fall into 3 groups: the good, the bad and the ugly. Odds are you'll hit the bad and ugly ones when technical support is closed.
The first group is where the messages make sense. There is no guessing what happened or what you should do next. Those messages fall into the good group and you don't need other resources. On other occasions, the error message is of little value. These items fall into my bad group. For these items, I tend to review Smart Computing magazine's tech support center.
Smart Computing Error Listings
Smart Computing magazines tag line of "in plain English" sums up their approach. Rather than repeating the error, they break it down in small chunks and offer suggested steps. The help topics also provide links to related material.
While some websites only offer Microsoft Windows or browser error messages, Smart Computing's site lists error messages from different applications such as Word, Excel, Install Shield and so on. You can search for errors by entering the text or use the alphabetical listing. Once you find your error, you can print the details or send an email with a link back to the error page. This is useful is you're helping someone else research a problem.
Google Topic Specific Searches
On occasion, you might not find your error on Smart Computing. When this happens, you can try Google's topic specific searches. This is a feature that sits at the bottom of Google's Advanced Search page. Google has predefined searches and one of them is for Microsoft.
The Microsoft topic specific search page is similar to the Google search page. The main difference is rather than searching the entire web, Google limits the results to sites that carry Microsoft content. This includes, but is not limited to Microsoft support pages.
If the search engine results display too many hits and you want to pare it down to pages from Microsoft, you can edit your query. Press your browser's back button and add site:microsoft.com to the end of your query.
For example, if you typed your initial query as:
1628 Failed To Complete Installation
Change it to read:
1628 Failed To Complete Installation site:microsoft.com
Built-in Windows Help and Support
Also in my bad group are the missing or minimal error messages. As example, Windows or my hardware is not working, but I don't get an error message or it is vague. I tend to run into these scenarios with printing or network issues. When these issues arise, I use the built in Help and Support on my Windows Start menu.
I think the built in support, which is customized by your PC manufacturer, offers some great help. Of particular note are the built-in troubleshooters.
The troubleshooter topics are a special type of help topic that asks you a series of questions or present items for your review. Based on your answer, the troubleshooter will guide you through to the next step.
To find the built-in troubleshooters
1. From your Start menu, select Help and Support.
2. Look for the search text box. This is usually toward the top of the page.
3. In the Search text box, enter troubleshoot without the quotes.
4. Press return or whatever button starts the search.
Depending on your PC manufacturer and Windows operating system, you should see a series of topics listed when you search for troubleshoot. Usually, the first set lists topics that reside on your computer. Another set may display links to pages on Microsoft's support site.
Microsoft Error Reporting in WinXP
The final group consists of error messages that Microsoft catches and asks if you would like to send an error report. These are the ugly errors. These are ugly because your program has done something bad and you may have to wade through lots of ugly data to get a fix. A small dialog pops over your application and gives you the bad news.
Some people refuse this option as they're afraid of Microsoft seeing confidential data. If you read Microsofts page on crash analysis you see the following text.
When collecting information, it is possible for personal or confidential information to be present in the report. For instance, a snapshot of memory may include your name, part of a document you were working on, or data you recently submitted to a Web site. It is also possible for personal information to be included in a log file, a portion of the registry, or other product specific files needed to determine the cause of the problem. If you are concerned that the report may contain personal or confidential information, please do not send the report.
After reading this text, you might decide not to send an error report. You might also work in an environment which continually has client records open such as a financial planner or doctor's office and forbids sending error reports. The downside is you might miss out on a solution. Microsoft and participating software vendors appreciate the data that is sent as it helps them quantify and prioritize problems. These reports often lead to fixes in service packs.
When I get these error dialogs, I try to make an assessment of the error.
- What information might be in the error report?
- Is this the first time I've seen this error?
- Can I repeat the error?
- Have I opened an application that contains personal or confidential data?
- What other support options do I have for this problem?
Perhaps, the hardest question is finding out if any information will be sent that would bother you. This is one of the reasons the default option is set to not send reports. Microsoft requires you to opt-in and explicitly give your permission. They also take extra precautions to protect the data including encrypting during transmission and restricting access to the Windows Error Reporting database. The intent of Microsoft and other software companies is to fix the problem since these items tend to have higher support costs.
Each dialog provides a line stating to see what data this error report contains, click here. This can give you an indication of what files may have been involved with the error such as Microsoft Word documents or temp files. You should review these files to make sure nothing of a personal or confidential matter is sent.
If you click the link circled above, you'll get another dialog providing a summary of the problem application. Toward the bottom, there will be another link which will open a snapshot viewer containing your data. The amount of data you need to view depends on the type of error.
Last week, I sent a report based on a recurring error I was having with Apple iTunes. I had just turned the PC on and was trying to download new podcasts. After submitting the error report, Microsoft indicated more information was available. I was offered a link to an Apple page that solved the problem.
One overlooked feature about Microsoft's error reporting is you can customize the application. For example, you could turn the function off so you don't see the error reporting dialog. You can also specify which programs you want to exclude such as financial programs, email programs and so on.
To customize Microsoft Error reporting
1. Simultaneously press the Windows logo key and your Pause key. This is a shortcut to opening System Properties.
2. Click the Advanced tab
3. Click the Error Reporting button toward the bottom.
4. In the Error Reporting dialog, select the radio button for your options.
To exclude or include programs from error reporting,
5. In the Error Reporting dialog, click the Choose Programs button.
6. Click either Add button depending on whether you want to include or exclude programs from reporting.
7. Click the Browse button and navigate to the program you wish to add.
8. Click the OK button four times to exit.
No one likes error messages, especially programmers. Instead of fretting about the situation or thinking there isn't a solution, learn what resources exist before the next problem occurs. Many times these resources will show a solution to your problem.
Last Updated (Saturday, 29 September 2012 13:18)