System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Problem Reports and Solutions

Vista's Problem Reports and Solutions tool provides a client with an error report log on unexpected program failures. Learn how to interpret and access this data and how to understand Corporate Error Reporting in this chapter excerpt from "Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters."

Service provider takeaway: Learn how to use Vista's new Problem Reports and Solutions tool located in the Control Panel. Find out how to view a log of errors for unexpected program problems at customer sites in this section of the chapter excerpt titled "System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks." The chapter excerpt is taken from the book Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters.

Download the .pdf of the "System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks" chapter here.

Found in the Control Panel (or by typing wercon.exe in the Search pane), this is a new tool in Vista to help you find solutions to your problems (as the name implies). So, when a program closes down unexpectedly it is recorded into a log that you can then request additional information about.

When you open the tool you see a list of tasks you can perform, including the following:

  • Check for New Solutions -- Sometimes (many times) your problem doesn't have a solution, so you can wait until a later time to try again. This will recheck all the problems you have listed in the log and see whether an update to the solutions is offered.

  • See Problems to Check -- Shown in Figure 8.5, you can see all the problems your system has had, the date, and any additional details that might be available. This option enables you to select check boxes for the solutions you want checked as opposed to checking for solutions to all the problems in the log of problems.

  • View Problem History -- Shows you a list of problems Windows has detected up to that point.
  • Change Settings -- You can have Windows automatically check for solutions to problems, or it can prompt you first. You have a variety of "consent levels" from which to choose. You can configure advanced settings, such as the ability to block reports being sent regarding certain applications.
  • Clear Solution and Problem History -- This is a quick way to erase all the recorded problems. After you've made the necessary changes or fixes, you might want a clean slate to start from.

TIP
One consent level you cannot configure through the Control Panel interface is the Send All Data option, which can be configured only through Group Policy settings. If this setting is configured within Group Policy, all the data is sent without prompts. You can also use Group Policy to completely disable sending these reports from your network systems. Or you can use Corporate Error Reporting.

The Problem Reports and Solutions tool uses a web browser control to help users control information sent back and forth between their systems and Microsoft, but Windows Error Reporting does the underlying work to request solutions. Those solutions can include instructions for fixing the problem, or a workaround; it could also include a link to the Windows Update website or to a Microsoft Knowledge Base article.

What Is Corporate Error Reporting?

Consider a scenario larger than just one system (for home users), such as an office with hundreds of systems with which you want to use the Windows Error Reporting (WER). The interface from Control Panel is great for a couple of systems, but analyzing data one system at a time would take forever. Event Viewer is helpful, and you can compile multiple logs, but Corporate Error Reporting is a better way to see the application errors on your network.

FIGURE 8.5
See which problems you want to check with Microsoft about solutions.

To set this up, you use Group Policy to redirect your error reports to an intranet server using the Corporate Windows Error Reporting GP setting. Then you need to get the analysis programs from Microsoft so you can gather and filter through the many errors you will receive before sending it to Microsoft.

To learn more about Corporate Error Reporting, check out the website http:// www.microsoft.com/resources/satech/cer/.

Microsoft organized the error reports into bucket categories. With user-mode crashes, these buckets are defined by the name and version of the application, along with the module name and version. With kernel-mode crashes, the bucket includes the stop codes and associated parameters. You can discover the bucket associated with your particular application problem by going through Event Viewer, opening the application logs, and then finding the application crash that relates to your problem. The event includes the bucket number, which Microsoft keeps track of.

Microsoft keeps track of the buckets. Chris Pratley (Microsoft program manager; http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley) discusses how this works on his blog site.

Chris Pratley, Microsoft Program Manager for the Office Team
http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley
When you report the crash, if that is a crash that someone else has already had, we increment the count on that "bucket." After a while, we'll start to get a "crash curve" histogram. On the left will be the bucket with the most "hits." On the far right will be a long list of "buckets" so rare that only one person in all those millions had that particular crash and cared to report it. This curve will then give you a "top N" for crashes. You can literally count what percentage of people would be happier if we fixed just the top 10 crashes.

An article was posted in the October 9, 2006 issue of the New York Times by John Markoff called "After a Debugging Race, Will Vista Measure Up?" In it he described the concepts of the 80/20 rule, which basically says that fixing 20% of the coding problems Microsoft gets eliminate 80% of the problems users are exposed to. The point is clear, though, that Error Reporting has assisted in significantly reducing the number of bugs in Vista and Office 2007 software. So, this is one set of features to be thankful for.

Keep in mind that error reporting is a submission tool that should be used in order to help fix existing problems and to create service packs and other updates. Although users may not get a personal response, the information they submit is included in a database for fixes and updates.


Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Backup and Restore Center
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: The System Rating
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Windows System Assessment Tool
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Problem Reports and Solutions
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Reliability and Performance Monitor
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Memory Diagnostics Tool
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: ReadyBoost and SuperFetch
  System Recovery and Diagnostic Tricks: Vista Recovery: Advanced Boot Options, WinRE, and WinPE

About the author
J. Peter Bruzzese is an independent consultant and trainer for a variety of clients, including New Horizons and ONLC.com. Over the past 10 years, Peter has worked for and with Goldman Sachs, CommVault Systems and Microsoft, among other companies. He focuses on corporate training. Peter is the author of Tricks of the Microsoft Windows Vista Masters and writes for Redmond Magazine. He travels frequently to speak at conferences and has been an MCT since 1998.

This was first published in July 2008

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