040/365 | How To Deal With The BSOD | Project 365/2010

040/365 | How To Deal With The BSOD | Project 365/2010

If your computer runs the Windows operating system (all versions), then you are familiar with the Blue Screen of Death, commonly referred to in its abbreviated form: BSOD. When you are greeted with this screen, you know it is over. You are done. Finished. It’s "Lights Out", and time to hang up the cleats for another day.

The Blue Screen of Death means Windows encountered a critical system error and shut down to preserve the integrity of the system (as opposed to your sanity.) And, typically, when you see this error, it is likely that you will get it again and again until you do something to fix it. You may have lost an entire day’s worth of work when the first BSOD occurred, but that’s nothing compared to the pain one feels when a computer becomes routinely unstable. Over the years, I’ve encountered plenty of Windows computers that I would consider to be routinely unstable.

This brings me to today’s daily photo, which shows a BSOD message I received last evening while working on my nightly upload to Flickr. When a BSOD occurs, the blue screen will provide plenty of easily-digestible information. For example, my screen tells me a "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA" seems to have been caused by the file "SYMEFA.SYS". Cool. SYMEFA.SYS may not have caused the problem, but it "seems" to have. O.K. I know that whatever happened is not good.

When a BSOD occurs, Microsoft expects you to contact your system administrator. This just happens to be one of the titles I hold in our family, along with husband and father. I am responsible for a home network of about eight desktop and laptop computers, along with various Wi-Fi devices. I know other husbands and fathers (and wives and mothers) who perform this role in their family, and who have assumed these duties without any additional pay or recognition. In Windows households, being a system administrator can be a tough cross to bear, as SA’s are often subjected to short tempers, scornful looks, lots of whining, and even sarcastic comments from what, otherwise, are loving family members.

So a BSOD has occurred. Now what? The truth is that most husband/father/system administrators have little to no formal training with the inner workings of the Windows Operating System. These brave and often abused souls may, however, have learned quite a bit after years and years of trial and error in dealing with BSOD crashes (Historical note: 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Windows 1.0 and, along with it, the white text on blue screen BSOD.)

Still, the accumulated knowledge – even for a person who may have been experiencing BSOD’s for a quarter century – may not be enough to know how to deal with the BSOD at hand, and that’s when the boys in Bangalore are called. The techies in Bangalore, who are under contract, or may even work for the manufacturer from whom you purchased your PC, will go out of their way to sound friendly and knowledgeable. They may even try to "trick" you into thinking they are not in Bangalore by talking about your local weather (as seen by them on CNN International). And once pleasantries have been exchanged, the overseas techies will read scripted questions and prompt you for scripted answers. And you will remain patiently on the line, or on-line in "live chat" mode, while making your best effort to understand what they are saying before the connection is dropped. And it will, at some point, be dropped.

Now, if you get to the point where you are directed what to do, chances are what you will be told is to reinstall the Windows operating system. You’re told this because reinstalling Windows will usually make the problem disappear – if only temporarily – without ever having to spend the time diagnosing what actually caused your system to crash in the first place.

Is reinstalling the operating system a good solution? Yes, if you are a technical support person with a long line of customers in the queue, and are getting paid per incident. But from the consumer standpoint, the answer is a clear "no" unless all other means have been exhausted. Reinstalling Windows can be a long and frustrating ordeal for many people whose systems are not fully backed up, who may have misplaced their software installation discs (if they have the discs at all – many computers no longer ship with them), who have lost or misplaced order and product registration numbers, don’t have backups for their configuration settings or don’t know how to locate the files, have no list of their log-in ID’s and passwords, etc., etc. Trust me, I’m just getting rolling…

I was able to get my problem fixed without having to reinstall Windows, but it did take several hours of work (and one call to India) to get my system back to its pre-BSOD state. I’m not going to bore you with the details. Instead, I’m going to let you in on my plan for dealing with the BSOD problem in the future. So here goes…

I mentioned that I was the "System Administrator" for our family. I am also the guy in charge of technology procurement. Over the past 5-1/2 years, my wife, daughter, and son have all been switched to Apple Mac’s. We’ve got a combination of Apple laptops and desktops, all running OS X. Before we began the migration, I was constantly doing battle with unstable systems, while trying to explain non-intuitive "features" of our Windows computers in an intuitive way. Since my wife and kids switched to Mac’s, I have been about as busy as a Maytag repairman.

The last Windows computer in our household is mine, and it won’t be long before it, too, is gone. A new iMac (and, later this year, an iPad) will be its replacement, and our conversion from an all-Windows to an all-Mac family will be complete. So that’s my plan for dealing with the BSOD. Buy a Mac. It really is that simple.