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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.

11 comments
md.jasim711
md.jasim711

How will I keep my computer safe from virus??

keith.rosenberg
keith.rosenberg

This is fine as far as it goes. What if Vista gives no indication that anything is wrong? We are having an issue with two Vista (Biz & Ult) computers networked together. Every so often something happens on the desktop where our files are located and the other computer cannot access the share. It is still visible and there is no indication that it has gone off line, but it is not accessible. Rebooting the desktop fixes the problem though it always stops in the middle of the shut down and we have to turn off the power to shut it down. So far there has been no indication in any of the event logs or anywhere else that anything actually happened. So this problem, as far as Vista and Microsoft is concerned, does not exist. When I used my one free support MS eventually suggested that I uninstall Antivirus and see if that helps. But since it can be days between these events, that was an insane suggestion.

Major Payne
Major Payne

After 1 yr with XP and now 1 yr with Vista, I have seen the "Report Problems" box often(4-6 x per mo) and ignored it because it never helped me in XP. I am getting gaming problems in Vista and just paid near $500 to have dual boot with Vista and XP. Thanks for the info and I will now follow up on this utility on my Vista side. I have several hardware issues on Vista, more than I ever had on XP.

Craig_B
Craig_B

This came up on a new install before I had a chance to install some drivers, it showed me which items I needed with links to the mfg sites for the drivers. Even though I had the drivers on CD it was nice to be reminded of which ones I needed to update. I think this is a good feature, every bit of information helps.

fatoyeus
fatoyeus

I have in a way experienced this feature before,what actually happened was that my laptop was taking longer time to boot I looked for the cause on the perfomance/advanced tools but to no avail. later on I connected the system to the internet and the first thing that appeared was this problem reports and solution icon on my task bar,I ignored it to attend to it later.when I checked it again it was gone,but on the next boot the system started booting normally. There is also the issue of many logging feature that draws back the performance of my system which caused me to disable most of them,though the performance improved alot,and reduced the use of physical memory and also reduced paging,I couldnt use the "generate a system health report" feature which is also useful.What I want to know now is, will the disabled logging features also affect the problem reports and solution feature on my vista?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you encountered the Problem Reports and Solutions dialog box on your Windows Vista system? Did it help you find a solution? What do you think of this new system?

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

such as Avira, Avast, AVG...all have free versions that work really well. On a side note, you should have posted this as a new question instead of digging up an old zombie post. Most folks will bypass a post this old and may miss your question.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

yes? How could uninstall av be called help, that's trick number one in a social attack, closely followd by turn firewall off and uninstall anti-spyware. Stops in the middle of shutdown is a big clue, something is looping waiting for an acknowledgement of some kind. Going to be hard to track though. Short of a complete re-install, all you can do is isolate. Do you get the shutdown failure only when you have the problem. Does unplugging the network cable get rid of it. Do you have other machines that do this OK, can you see anything different? Can you access the share from somewhere else, when you have the problem?

digitalb
digitalb

This is a great feature. I really like the way Vista built in the extra solution recommendation features. So far it has detected and prompted me to update drivers for several devices. I never had to go to the Vendor Website or anything. Vista just downloaded and installed them for me once I selected to do so. I was a hardcore XP fan and avid user for years. I just recently built a Vista PC and although there have been some shortcomings.....so far it has been very solid and an enjoyable experience.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

the weakness of this feature. It's not trouble shooting, it's an error code look up. Any troubleshooting is built into whatever generated the error code. None = no help. False identification is of course going to be even worse. Software vendors making use of it (can 3rd parties easily plug into the mechanism?, or perhaps make use of it with their own solutions suggestions. That would be good.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I think it's about 1 for 10. I used to love it when I was developing and it would want to search for a solution for what I'd coded incorrectly. The joke got stale after try number 5 though.