Troubleshooting - Software Fixes

Application Software Problems

If it seems a program causes the problem... Well, we're lucky then ;-)
Lucky...? Well, we're talking here about "application" programs, that's mostly all the software you're working with at user level. So a word-processor, a spreadsheet, a photoprocessor program and so on, all these programs are application software, or simply "applications". An other kind or level of software would be system software, such as your operating system itself or special software to make your hardware work. Problems with this kind of software are to be resolved in another way (see below).

So, if the system hangs when using an application program, first thing to do is trying to unblock the computer by hitting the [Control], [Alt] and [Delete] keys together (don't try to hit them really together, press the [Control] key first, and hold it down, then the [Alt] key, and hold it, and then hit the [Delete] key). Now, in Windows XP you get a window to shutdown the system. Don't shut down but look for the button Task Manager and click it. Now you get a list of all running programs. In the list, look for the program causing the crash (the last program you were working with). First click on the program name, then click to terminate the program. In many cases this will unlock the system.

After unlocking, you can shut-off the computer normally. If you're not working with windows XP, hit the same [Control], [Alt], [Delete] combination again to shut-off the system.

In case the above won't unlock the computer, look for the "Reset" button on your computer-case (not on the keyboard). Sometimes it's a bit "hidden", but every computer has a "Reset" button somewhere (sometimes even at the backside of the case, and sometimes it's not a button, but just a tiny hole with the word "reset"). This will restart your computer by what is called a "warm" start.

At least, if this won't work, there's nothing left but powering off the system, waiting for approx. 10 seconds, and starting it up again (a "cold" start). Don't do this unless all other things have failed, for you can loose part of your work and settings by shutting down like this.

Now after the system has restarted, we'll try to fix the problem. If the system won't start up normally, or if you get a lot of more or less cryptic text on your screen, mentioning all kind of errors, then skip this chapter and read on below. If the system seemed to start up normally, then read on here.

Now we can assume that the trouble was caused by the program you stopped before, and in many cases a re-installation of that program will fix the problem.

Do not re-install a program without de-installing it first. Although a second installation "on top of" may help sometimes, and although some programs do have some build-in repair functions, don't relay to much on it. It's still good practice to remove things first, and then do a clean install.

To de-install a program, go to the control panel and select (double-click) the icon "Software". Search for the program in the list and click on the "Remove" button. You may select to automatically remove the program (if the system asks for it). The program will be removed in a safe way (although not all tracks of it will be removed, but that's another story). If, at the end of the de-installation, the system asks to start up again, you click "yes", otherwise, you can close all windows and then shut-down and restart the system manually (not strictly necessary, but do it anyway).

After restarting, you can re-install the program. In nearly all cases this goes without any problem. If the program is on cd or dvd, just put the original program disk into the drive and wait for the setup-procedure to start. If nothing happens automatically, then open Windows Explorer and go to the cd-drive containing the program cd-rom (in many cases this will be drive (D:)). Click on the drive and look for a file named "setup.exe", or "install.exe". Click on the file to start the installation procedure. (If you don't find such a file, look for any text-files (.txt) containing program information).

By the way, if during installing the setup-program gives you a choice between "normal" or "advanced" setup, select "advanced". By doing this you can select some useful options, e.g. which program items will be installed or not.

If you want more information about installing programs, or if the program was downloaded from the internet, see the software installations tips which you can also find in the computing section on this site. It's quite obvious you should only install software designed to work with your hardware configuration and operating system (always check the minimum configuration needs before installing a program).

Hardware Driver Fixes

Drivers are extra pieces of software used to make some hardware work. Let's say you have a scanner from a certain brand, and when purchasing the scanner you got one or more installation disks. On those disk(s) is the driver, the software which makes your scanner or other hardware work.
If the problem seems to occur only when using some hardware (such as the scanner in this example), then first follow the procedure as described above. Disconnect the hardware and try to un-install the driver software from within the Windows Control Panel (look for the maker name of the hardware). After the software is un-installed, shut down the computer.
If the error had something to do with a build-in component (such as a modem card build into your computer) then restart the computer.
If the error had something to do with a peripheral component such as a scanner, printer and so on, it's important to know whether or not you must connect and/or power on the component to the computer before restarting the system.
If the component is connected by an usb-cable (tiny flat rectangular connector, nearly all modern components have them) then restart the computer. Do not re-connect it now, but wait until the system asks you to make the connection.
If the component is connected with another cable ("serial"- or "parallel" cable, those larger connectors in the form of a letter "D" with al lot of pins), then it must be connected and powered on before you restart the system.
So, we're restarting now...
In most cases the operating system (windows) itself will recognise the hardware and install the needed software properly needed (the driver(s)). This is what they call "plug-and-pray", o sorry, "plug-and-play"... In many cases you don't need the software delivered with your hardware, for the operating system (Windows) has already lots of hardware-drivers on board. Only if the system asks you for a driver, insert the appropriate disk (it can be the system installation (Windows) disk itself) and follow the instructions on the screen.
In case after restarting nothing happens and it seems the operating system does not recognise the hardware, then try to install it manually. Connect the hardware, open the Windows Control Panel and go to the Hardware item. Do not insert any disks immediately, but let the operating system try to detect the newly connected hardware once again, maybe the system will detect and install it now. You could also use the Control Panel now to select your hardware and install the driver manually, but to keep things simple you can close the Control Panel now and use the hardware installation disk you got with the hardware. Once inserted, follow the instructions on the screen to install the driver.
Remark: if the system can't detect the hardware and you don't have any installation disks, things may become a little more complicated and out of the purpose of this novice guide. Neverethless, you can give it a try. You can download nearly all drivers from the internet. Use a search engine to find them, download and run the software. There's not much harm in trying it, as long as you're very carefull to choose the right driver for your hardware. Check for the right make, type, model, version and so on before installing a downloaded driver.

More hardware troubles

It's obvious the above procedures can only work as long as the hardware itself is not defective. And unfortunately, computer problems can be complicated sometimes. Especially when caused by hardware incompatibilities, hardware failures and/or driver errors. Although there's not much chance for the novice user to fix those problems, some basic checks and tryouts can be done without much risk fir the system.

Disconnect the not working hardware. Go to the control panel, select the "system" icon and open device manager. Check for items with a quotation, exclamation or cross mark before them, indicating the item does not work properly. This does not necessary mean the hardware is defective, but it could be, and at least it's not working. Remove those items (right-click and remove) and then shutdown the system completely. Then follow the same procedure as above about un-installing the appropriate driver software, re-connecting and installing the hardware.
Remark: if no items are marked as defective in the device manager, at least all the hardware seems to function properly and you should suspect some program, software driver or settings.
Important note : even if it's not to resolve problems, looking into the device manager is a good practice to check if a system is basically okay; you could also use this before buying a second-hand (and even a new) system

More troubleshooting

If the computer will start up quite normally, but the above procedures didn't resolve the problem and the system keeps behaving strangely now and then, then the troubles are probably lying at a deeper system level and there's always also a chance a virus or other malware is causing the problem.
First, run a virus-scanning and a spyware-scanning program and follow the instructions. There are some good and free virus-scan and anti-spyware programs in the software section on this site. Whether you've problems at the moment or not, it's very good practice (not to say necessary) to use some of these programs.
In case none of this helps, then the system seems to be deeply corrupted and a more "drastic" procedure will be necessary... Maybe it sounds a bit difficult, but it can be done without much technical background knowledge. Don't hesitate to read it, sooner or later it will help you to fix your system yourself. See the troubleshooting topic about system restore.



Related topics : Software installation and removal - System cleanup


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