Bob Rankin: Free Windows Troubleshooting Tools


By Bob Rankin

Fixing Windows Problems and Annoyances

What’s keeping you from opening or deleting a file or folder? Why do certain programs start automatically when you don’t want them to? Why can’t you install or uninstall a program? Why doesn’t my sound work? Why does an app just sit there, apparently doing nothing, while the activity light of your hard drive flashes busily? These are just a few of the annoyances that can drive you crazy.

Windows has some built-in tools, such as Task Manager, to assist in troubleshooting. There are also built-in troubleshooters you can use. On Windows XP, open the Control Panel, then select the category that best matches your problem, and a list of Troubleshooters will appear on the left side of the panel. On Vista or Windows 7, just click the Start button then type “troubleshooting” to access all the troubleshooting tools in one place.

But many advanced users turn to free Windows troubleshooting tools that provide much more information about potential causes of problems and options for solving them.

Sysinternals Process Explorer has been described as “Task Manager on steroids.” It displays a tree-view of running processes, organized by which process spawned which other(s). You can sort the display in other ways, too. Process Explorer shows a lot more details about processes than Task Manager and lets you do more than just kill a single process. Processes, or whole trees of them, can be killed, frozen, or resumed. You can also find the process controlling a given window by pointing at it, or search for any running process, handle, or DLL.

System Information for Windows packs more troubleshooting tools into one free software package than most others. It displays your system’s software, hardware, and network resources in amazing detail, including things such as software license keys (in case you’ve lost your hard copy); device temperatures; installed multimedia codecs; and much more. A Tools tab includes handy tools that can reveal hidden passwords, a CPU stress test; and more.

ProcessActivityView answers the oft-burning question, “What is that program doing?” It lets you inspect the file accesses of a running program and can make a log file of all of a program’s file accesses. It can help you debug problems in which file read-write operations are not happening correctly.

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