(updated 12/16/2012)

Software problems...

When thinking about software problems of all kinds, this story comes to mind...

A software engineer, a hardware engineer, and a departmental manager are on their way to a meeting. Driving down a mountain road, the brakes on their car suddenly fail. The car careens out of control until it miraculously grinds to a halt. The car's occupants now have a problem: they're stuck halfway down a mountain in a car with no brakes. What do they do?

"I know," says the departmental manager. "Let's have a meeting, propose a vision, formulate a mission statement, define some goals, and by a process of continuous improvement find a solution to the critical problems, and we can be on our way."

"No, no," says the hardware engineer, "That will take far too long, and besides, that method has never worked before. I've got my Swiss Army knife with me, and I can strip down the car's braking system, isolate the fault, fix it, and we can be on our way."

"Well," says the software engineer, "Before we do anything, I think we should push the car back up the road, come down and see if it happens again."

If no data is at risk, your first step in resolving a surmised software problem on a previously-working machine is to restart the program, restart Windows and/or restart the computer from a "power-off" condition. "See if it happens again." You may find that your error was simply caused by a shortage of memory or other resource, or the mishandling of some resource by some program or Windows itself.

If it does happen again, and you are sure that you are using the correct procedure to perform a given task...

1) Make note of the condition of the machine, and the sequence of events that led up to the error, and carefully jot down any error messages you see.

2) Call a friend. Whatever has happened has probably happened to others just like you. The solution to your situation is probably well known by others working with the same programs.

3) If necessary, search through the help files provided with the program, and with Windows itself for a solution.

4) If you still have not resolved the problem, try the Internet. Go to the website of the company providing the troublesome software, and look in their tech support area for FAQ's (frequently asked questions) on the topic. You can generally do a keyword search through a tech support database as well. Lastly, you can e-mail a question and receive possible solutions in a day or two.

5) If you still don't have a solution, try doing a keyword search with a search engine like Google. You may find others have posted solutions to your problem already (or simply others who have the exact same unsolved problem).

It is important that you know what kind of machine you have, and what components are installed inside it. Software problems can be caused by incorrectly-installed hardware or hardware conflicts (although these kinds of hardware problems don't usually affect single programs - they usually manifest themselves in the overall performance of your machine).

Typically, tech support people will want to know things like what kind of machine you have, how much memory, what version of Windows you are using and what version of the troublesome program it is you have. What kind of video card, sound card, modem, etc. may also be relevant.

And if you still cannot resolve the problem, you can reinstall the problem software and/or Windows itself overtop the existing version. This may resolve errors relating to missing or corrupt files, or missing or corrupt settings.

If you have been backing up copies of your Registry, you can also try to restore a previously working version, but this may or may not solve your problem and may cause you knew ones.

Your last resort is to back up all your data, reformat your hard drive, reinstall all of your hardware and software correctly - without error - and "see if it happens again".


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