How-to: Trouble-shoot Windows Crashes – Software

Windows Blue Screen of DeathThere it goes again: a Blue Screen of Death or a “program is not responding” message box. Either you’re stopped dead or inconvenienced; seriously so if you’re running applications don’t save or recover whatever files you were working on.

Being realistic, as a colleague of mine reminds me, it’s a wonder that Windows works at all. Think about it; more than twenty years of layered standards for hardware, programming, api’s, protocols and individual manufacturers interpretations of all of those (not all in perfect English). I regard every successful boot to the desktop as a minor triumph.

Then it all stops… From the cryptic Blue Screen error messages – often no more than a memory address and segmentation fault code – to the completely unhelpful “program is not responding” message – no S***, Sherlock – there are few clues as to what’s gone wrong.

So here are a few clues.

Windows Registry
The Windows Registry isn’t as fragile as it was, but it is a vast collection of keys, values and data. A corrupted registry file, in which data, values or whole keys go missing or unreadable is still possible. A corrupt registry can cause Blue Screen halts, application failures or boot failures. Certain badly behaved or cavalier software installers can be at fault and the problem gets worse if you frequently install and uninstall demoware, trialware or different versions of the same application.

If the computer will not boot properly, try to run Windows in Safe Mode and see if the problem persists. Next, a quality registry utility program can diagnose and fix a lot (but not all) registry problems. They are good at structural fixes, but can’t reset and restore all esoteric settings for every program you have installed.

Incorrect Or Corrupt Drivers
Drivers are the software component that allows Windows to talk to your hardware; everything from the motherboard to the mouse.

A poor driver or mis-matched driver version will cause,  including BSODs, even if the hardware itself is in perfect condition.

Driver problems usually come with a standard error message, error code and may even name the offending hardware (doesn’t mean the device is broken, probably just the drivers). You can try a web search on the error code and the hardware to find a solution to the problem. Checking the driver version and getting updated drivers for the device is usually my first stop.

By experience, I’ve learned to completely uninstall the current driver and then re-installing from scratch. This forces a clean-up of the Windows registry relating to drivers (see above)

Applications are much more reliable than they used to be thanks to better programming standards and error checking. You will still get lock-ups under certain conditions with some programs; sometimes you get to know the common conditions – like what graphics you could use and format in Microsoft Word 3.x for example. Certain types of object linking and embedding still cause problems. If you can spot a pattern with an application then you can search the web for common causes and solutions.

It becomes less obvious with software running continually in the background; startup programs and add-ins. A more scientific diagnostic approach may be needed here. Browser add-ins can be disabled for testing. Anything in your startup group can be disabled by booting into safe mode and using the  msconfig to disable programs in the startup group. Either take them all out and add them one by one or stop one at a time and check for the problem.

Ensuring program compatibility remains a black art. Windows 7 and 8 can effectively sand-box applications with Compatibility Mode, but that doesn’t stop two programs making a grab for the same resources – memory, disk space, files, hardware – and one or both getting knocked out in an error condition. Again, spot the patterns of crashes; what’s running; what were you doing when it crashed?

Virus Or Trojan
Security is a constant concern. This is why you should always use an antivirus program, run a firewall and frequently back up your data. Pick up any malware, it can corrupt or remove drivers, delete important system files or change administrative settings. The result? Sudden, mysterious and lasting crashes, freezing and lock-outs.

The problem with malware – once you notice it, it’s already embedded and most methods of recovery are circumvented. You will need two things; a bootable CD or USB stick to boot from, to avoid running the infected Windows installation; then a good Anti-virus program to scan and identify the culprit.

The worst case scenario is reset to factory condition – wipe everything and restore a known good system image; your Windows recovery partition or recovery disks or your own system backup. That means restoring your personal data and re-installing any programs you put on the machine since that back-up was taken.

Of course, it is possible that your hardware has a fault somewhere; we’ll look at that in part two. AJS

Related: How-to: Prevent Windows Blue Screen Restarts

3 thoughts on “How-to: Trouble-shoot Windows Crashes – Software

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s