In the August 2005 issue of Windows IT Pro magazine, Karen Forster wrote an article “Windows Error Reporting: Elementary, My Dear Watson” that described how Windows Error Reporting (WER) is more than just a black box component designed to annoy you every time something goes wrong on your Windows system. This article is in response to an earlier survey and includes an interview with Microsoft’s Ben Canning, who gives some great examples of how feedback from WER has directly contributed to fixes as well as giving more information about how the data is collected and transmitted to Microsoft.
This past weekend, I had my own positive encounter with WER. For the past week or so, performance on my trusty IBM T-30 Thinkpad laptop has been going down the tubes. I’m pretty careful with what software I add and remove, but as a consultant, I still have to do a lot of product evaluation, so over time, my laptop registry and file system can get pretty thrashed. At first, I was thinking that I’d merely hit the limit and was going to spend some time over the holidays re-installing the OS and software. Then, last Thursday, I got a BSOD, and the error message was one of the nice non-informational errors. On Saturday, I’d had three more BSODs and was starting to suspect that a fan had failed, causing heat-related failures.
Before I phoned IBM support, though, I wanted to take one last stab at eliminating other hardware issues. Sunday afternoon, I took out all my peripherals, unplugged my USB mouse, and turned the laptop back on. Once I logged in, WER popped up and asked to send the report to Microsoft. I shrugged my shoulders — what did I have to lose? — and clicked the button. A few seconds later, I got a very nice Web page on my screen that explained that an analysis of my data indicated faulty memory. It included a link to a small, free memory testing utility I could download from Microsoft. I downloaded the utility and burned it to CD (the util includes the .ISO image, or can make a boot floppy), then rebooted. Sure enough, a couple hours later I’d isolated the faulty RAM module and eliminated the possibility of a motherboard hardware fault.
I’ll certainly make a point of sending WER reports on from now on. In this case, I was able to solve my problem conclusively because other people sent their reports in. I’d like to pass on the karma.