Introducing Automated Help And Support in Vista

9/5/2010 9:40:30 AM

Windows Vista includes an extensive diagnostics and problem resolution architecture. These automated features are the next generation Automated Help System. Although earlier releases of Windows include some help and diagnostics features, those features are, for the most part, not self-correcting or self-diagnosing. Windows Vista, on the other hand, can detect many types of hardware, memory, and performance issues and either resolve them automatically or help users through the process of resolving them.

Windows Vista includes more reliable and better performing device drivers to prevent many common causes of hangs and crashes. Improved input/output (I/O) cancellation for device drivers ensures that the operating system can recover gracefully from blocking calls and that there are fewer blocking disk I/O operations.

To reduce downtime and restarts required for application installations and updates, Windows Vista can use the update process to mark in-use files for update and then automatically replace the files the next time the application is started. In some cases, Windows Vista can save the application's data, close the application, update the in-use files, and then restart the application. To improve overall system performance and responsiveness, Windows Vista uses memory more efficiently, provides ordered execution for groups of threads, and provides new process scheduling mechanisms. By optimizing memory and process usage, Windows Vista ensures that background processes have less performance impact on system performance.

Windows Vista provides improved guidance on the causes of unresponsive conditions. By including additional error reporting details in the event logs, Windows Vista makes it easier to identify and resolve issues. To automatically recover from service failures, Windows Vista uses service recovery policies more extensively than its predecessors do. When recovering a failed service, Windows Vista automatically handles both service and nonservice dependencies as well. Any necessary dependent services and system components are started prior to starting the failed service.

In earlier releases of Windows, an application crash or hang is marked as not responding, and it is up to the user to exit and then restart the application. Windows Vista attempts to resolve the issue of unresponsive applications by using Restart Manager. Restart Manager can shut down and restart unresponsive applications automatically. Thanks to Restart Manager, you might not have to intervene to try to resolve issues with frozen applications.

Failed installation and nonresponsive conditions of applications and drivers are also tracked through Problem Reports And Solutions. Should this occur, the built-in diagnostics displays a "Check For Solutions" balloon message. If you click the balloon, Windows Vista opens the Problem Reports And Solutions dialog box, which enables you to check on the Internet for solutions to selected problems. You can view a list of current problems at any time by following these steps:

  1. Click Start and then click Control Panel.

  2. In Control Panel, click System And Maintenance and then click Problem Reports And Solutions.

  3. In the Problem Reports And Solutions console, click See Problems To Check in the left pane.

  4. A list of known problems is displayed, similar to what is shown in Figure 1. Select the check box for a problem and then click Check For Solutions to search the Microsoft Web site for possible solutions.

Image from book
Figure 1: Check for known problems using the Problem Reports And Solutions dialog box.

Windows Vista attempts to resolve issues related to running out of virtual memory by providing Resource Exhaustion Detection And Recovery. This feature monitors the system-wide virtual memory commit limit and alerts you if the computer is running low on virtual memory. To enable you to correct this issue, it also identifies the processes consuming the largest amount of memory, allowing you to close any or all of these highly resource-consuming applications directly from the Close Programs To Prevent Information Loss dialog box provided. The resource exhaustion alert is also logged in the System event log.

In earlier releases of Windows, corrupted system files are one of the most common causes of startup failure. Windows Vista includes built-in diagnostics to automatically detect corrupted system files during startup and guide you through automated or manual recovery. To resolve startup problems, Windows Vista includes the Startup Repair Tool (StR). Once started, StR attempts to determine the cause of the startup failure by analyzing startup logs and error reports. Then StR attempts to fix the problem automatically. If StR is unable to resolve the problem, it restores the system to the last known working state and then provides diagnostic information and support options for further troubleshooting.

StR is included on the Windows Vista installation disc and can be preinstalled on computers. By preinstalling StR, you make it available as an option on the Windows Advanced Startup Options menu. If you don't preinstall StR and the system fails to start up, you can run it from the Windows Vista installation disc by following these steps:

  1. Insert the Windows Vista installation disc and then restart the computer.

  2. Click View System Recovery Options (Advanced).

  3. Type the name and password for an account on the computer.

  4. Click Startup Repair in the list of recovery tools.

  5. Follow the Startup Repair prompts to recover the system.

Hardware problems addressed by built-in diagnostics include error detection and disk failure detection. If a device is having problems, hardware diagnostics can detect error conditions and either repair the problem automatically or guide the user through a recovery process. With disk drives, hardware diagnostics can use fault reports provided by disk drives to detect potential failure and alert you before this happens. Hardware diagnostics can also help guide you through the backup process after alerting you that a disk might be failing.

Performance problems addressed by built-in diagnostics include slow application startup, slow boot, slow standby/resume, and slow shutdown. If a computer is experiencing degraded performance, performance diagnostics can detect the problem and provide possible solutions for resolving the problem. For advanced performance issues, you can track related performance and reliability data in the Performance Diagnostics console, which includes a performance monitor and a reliability monitor.

Memory problems addressed by built-in diagnostics include both memory leaks and failing memory. A memory leak occurs if an application or system component doesn't completely free areas of physical memory after it is done with them. If you suspect that a computer has a memory problem that is not being automatically detected, you can run Windows Memory Diagnostics manually by completing the following steps:

  1. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories.

  2. Right-click Command Prompt and then select Run As Administrator.

  3. At the command prompt, type mdsched.exe.

  4. Choose whether to restart the computer and run the tool immediately or schedule the tool to run at the next restart.

  5. Windows Memory Diagnostics runs automatically after the computer restart, enabling you to choose the type of testing to perform. Three different levels of memory testing can be performed, from basic to exhaustive.

To detect system crashes possibly caused by failing memory, memory diagnostics works with the Microsoft Online Crash Analysis tool (OCA). If a computer crashes due to failing memory, and memory diagnostics detect this, you are prompted to schedule a memory test the next time the computer is restarted.

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