Learn how to troubleshoot Windows like an IT Professional

You might have come across a situation where your computer is giving you some major problem and you are just unable to reach or hire any computer professional to help you out. Well, here are a few tips, that will help you to troubleshoot and fix computer issues on your own. I’ll try to explain in layman terms as possible. This article is explained using on Windows 7.

Looking for Clues:

When a program crashes or freezes it will log somewhere what went wrong. So the first step is to find out the logs. The best place to start is to check the Event Viewer. In most cases, when a program crashes it will record it under Event Viewer if the programmer has designed his program to do so.

To access the Event Viewer go to the Start Menu and under search type in “Event Viewer” and click on it. There will be few different types of logs under there. “Windows Logs” is what we are looking for. When you expand Windows Logs it will give four different logs:

  • Application
  • Security
  • Setup
  • System

First, start off with Application Log. Select Application Log and looks in the right side panel there you might see hundreds of logs sorted by the date and time. You have to look for the ones that were logs the same date and time when your application crashes. You’ll be looking for Errors which are marked in Red. You can ignore Information and Warnings.

Most of the times, for application crashes then Level will be “Error” and source will be “App crash” or “Application crash”. You have to double click on it open the log. There you’ll find lot of information.

Here is an example:

First of all, read the error in General section carefully looks for keywords such as your application name and specific dll’s or exe’s. Capture that information because those are the clues that would lead you to the answer.

For example in this Event Log the Source is “Side by Side” it doesn’t point to any specific program in title but the log is the same time by Movie Maker crashed. So I opened it up and went through the error in general log.

Activation context generation failed for “c:\program files (x86)\windows live\photo gallery\MovieMaker.Exe“.Error in manifest or policy file c:\program files (x86)\windows live\photo gallery\WLMFDS.DLL” on line 8. Component identity found in manifest does not match the identity of the component requested. Reference is WLMFDS,processorArchitecture=”AMD64″,type=”win32″,version=”″. Definition is WLMFDS,processorArchitecture=”x86″,type=”win32″,version=”″. Please use sxstrace.exe for detailed diagnosis.

Now it shows that Movie Maker has crashed because MovieMaker.exe belongs to Movie Maker and is also referring to Window Photo because for the location of that dll.  So something is causing the whole Windows Live package components to crash.

The next step is to search for the error online because it’s for sure that you’re not the only person who got this error message. Either you could go to Microsoft Events and Errors Message Center and search for the Event ID i.e. in this case Event ID: 35 (See in the picture) or you could search for this error message on the Internet using your favorite search engine.

Note: One important thing you have to remember is choose the best site when you search for your answers because there will be few sites that will ask you to download “Registry Cleaners” to fix the error which you need to pay for. Trust me most of them are scams don’t fall for it. And in any case a Registry Cleaner does not fix such errors.

Instead look for answers on quality websites or forums like Microsoft Help, Microsoft Answers, etc. You may also find some articles in the Microsoft KB center. So in my scenario I searched in TechNet Event and Error message center which took me to Microsoft KB976229, which talks of ‘SideBySide Event ID 35 is logged in the Application log when you start Windows Live Movie Maker on a 64-bit Windows operating system’.

Environment Specific vs. Program Specific:

A program can crash due to different reasons. We have to find out if it’s specific to your environment i.e. OS or Windows Profile. Or is it the program itself. The best way to test it first enable the Build-in administrator on Windows 7.

Because built-in administrators have full privileges and no restrictions whatsoever. Also testing in other user profile is of no help,because some programs would have preferences (User settings) saved into the Application data folder – so if those preferences are corrupted Programs can act weird.

So test your application in a new Windows Profile i.e. built-in administrator and see if it works fine. If it works, then you could either create a new Windows Profile and move you settings or remove the User settings folder when would be located under Application data folder.

To access application data folder go to Start Menu and under search type in %appdata% and look for the folder there, it would mostly have the application name on it. Sometime the preference folder also might be under Program Data folder. To access that type in %programdata%. It’s a good idea to just rename the folder instead of deleting them because if that’s not the issue, you could always revert back.

If it fails there as well then we know not the user setting that’s causing the problem.  Next step would be to reinstall the application. There are few things you have to remember when you reinstall, always reboot the system after un-installation. Then try to download an updated version from the software’s website and install it and test it.

Third party application:

Sometime some other application might interfere in your application’s working. So in order to rule that out you could always reboot the system in Selective Startup or Clean Boot State. That could rule out that possibility.

Make sure you also disable your security software. Because it’s very common to hear that Internet Security software may be blocking that particular application itself or one of the dependency.

Support Website:

Always check the support website of that program. Because you might never know the issue your experiencing might be reported and the application developers might have already posted a way to fix it. Most of the commercial software will have a Knowledge base. Most of times if you visit their official website under the support section you might find a FAQ or Knowledge base articles.

Search for the keyboard instead of just searching for the entire error. For example of the error is specifying any dlls or specific error code search for those in their support article.

Is it Windows itself?

It’s also very likely the Windows itself is the culprit. Because the software completely depend on the OS to run if the one of the System file or Dependency is failing then your application will crash.

For example if the Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable 2008 version is corrupted you might get SidebySide errors all over the Event Viewer. Or if your .NET Frameworks is corrupted you might see .NET run time errors in Event Viewer and the application will crash. So it’s best to run System File Checker or SFC /SCANNOW. With it, you check the integrity of your Windows 7. You could also consider repairing your Windows OS.

Advanced users could also use a great application called Process Explorer to find most of the advance troubleshooting steps. You could check this tutorial by me on our TWC forum, if you’re not familiar with it.

There are few tips that would get you started. If you find difficulty in following feel free to visit our TWC Support forums. We’ll be glad to assist you. 

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Shyam aka “Captain Jack” is a Microsoft MVP alumnus and a Windows Enthusiast with an interest in Advanced Windows troubleshooting. Suggestions made and opinions expressed by him here are his personal one's and not of his current employers. He blogs at captaindbg.com.

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