Microsoft

Troubleshoot with the Problem Reports and Solutions feature in Windows Vista

The Problem Reports and Solutions feature in Microsoft Windows Vista keeps a record of all system and application errors and problems and reports them to Microsoft. Greg Shultz explores how this utility works.

Sure Microsoft Windows Vista has its share of problems, but what operating system doesn't? With the many different types of hardware and software that Vista has to contend with, there are sure to be all sorts of problems, both big and small. We really shouldn't try to measure Vista's success, or lack thereof, by the number of problems people are reporting. Just the opposite, we should really be measuring Vista by the way that it handles the problems that it does encounter. And the best way to do that is by taking a look at Vista's Problem Reports and Solutions feature.

In this issue of the Windows Vista Report, I'll do just that.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Some history

When Windows XP encounters a severe error that has the potential to crash the operating system, it immediately halts the offending program and displays an error message that says the application has encountered a problem and needs to close. Then, the operating system prompts you to send an error report to Microsoft. The goal for Microsoft was to be able to quickly examine the most commonly occurring problems, determine the cause, create a fix, and then distribute a patch via Windows Update.

While this Error Reporting system was extremely useful to Microsoft, and ultimately to the end user, the turnaround time between the problem and the solution in this system wasn't as quick as many of us would have liked. When encountering a problem in Windows, most of us want to find a solution immediately.

The solutions

Taking a cue from the frustrations expressed by many folks using Windows XP's Error Reporting feature, Microsoft built on to the Error Reporting technology and added the solution part of the equation in Vista. Like its predecessor, the Problem Reports and Solutions feature keeps a record of all system and application errors and problems and reports them to Microsoft. However, it also presents potential solutions to problems it finds.

Taking a look

Of course the Problem Reports and Solutions feature will appear anytime that the operating system encounters a situation that causes a problem. However, you can access the Problem Reports and Solutions feature from within the Control Panel as well as by using the Start Search feature. It's also accessible in the Help system.

Using the Start Search feature, just click the Start button and begin typing the word "Problem." As you do, you should see the Problem Reports and Solutions shortcut bubble to the top of the results area. When it does, just press [Enter].

Now, I have several Windows Vista test systems in my lab and one of these systems started occasionally displaying the Problem Reports and Solutions dialog box some time ago. Being that it was a test system and I was intending to write an article on the topic some time in the future, I just closed the dialog box and moved on.

When the Problem Reports and Solutions dialog box appeared the other day, it looked like the one shown in Figure A. As I mulled over the list of problems, I decided that it was time to investigate.

Figure A

When a problem occurs, Vista displays the Problem Reports and Solutions dialog box.
When I clicked the Check For Solutions button, I encountered the dialog box shown in Figure B, which prompts you to send information to Microsoft about the unsolved problems. As you can see, the recommended option is to send the information automatically. I clicked Yes.

Figure B

The recommended option is to send the information about problems automatically.
Almost instantly, I saw the dialog box shown in Figure C, which as you can see is reporting all the problems that have occurred on this system.

Figure C

Problems are reported, and solutions are downloaded.
As soon as the problem-reporting phase of the operation was complete, I saw the dialog box shown in Figure D. As you can see, no major solutions were found, which makes sense since I haven't had any major problems with this system. However, displayed under the Information About Other Problems heading were links to information on solutions to smaller problems. Several of these solutions were flagged as being New, and the updates for the NVIDIA nForce SATA Driver immediately caught my eye.

Figure D

Once the problems are reported, you'll see a list of possible solutions.
When I clicked that link, the dialog box shown in Figure E appeared and informed me that one of the problems encountered on my test system and reported to Microsoft was a known problem and that a solution, in the guise of a NVIDIA SATA Driver update, was available.

Figure E

In this case, the problem is recognized as being caused by a driver, and the solution is to download a new driver.

After clicking the link and downloading the updated drivers, I installed them. While I didn't notice any immediate improvement, I'm keeping a close watch.

I then investigated the other links in the Information About Other Problems section and followed the instructions for those that offered fixes. I also discovered that even if Microsoft can't determine an exact cause of the problem, they will at least give you some guidance. For example, the dialog box shown in Figure F suggests a visit to Windows Update.

Figure F

Even if the reported problem doesn't have a specific solution, Microsoft at least offers some guidance.

What your take?

Have you encountered the Problem Reports and Solutions dialog box on your Windows Vista system? Did you find a solution? What do you think of this new system? Please drop by the Discussion Area and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

Editor's Picks