Friday, July 24, 2009

Windows XP self-help tools

Even though support for XP will continue into 2014 and it remains the dominant OS for now, many people are starting to worry that they’re going to be cast adrift. I assure you this isn’t going to happen but this week I’ll cover some hidden onboard tools that will help you do your own support.

One of the easiest to use is the Event Log. Windows logs every error and you can actually view those to get an idea where to start troubleshooting a problem. While true these entries are in geek speak they can give you something to start a Google search for to track down the source of the issue.

You can view the Event Logs by opening the Control Panel and double clicking Administrative Tools. Double click Event Viewer and you’ll see a list of different logs on the left. Application and System are the important ones; they contain the logs of the programs running on your PC and of the Windows OS itself.

You’ll see mostly Information entries in those logs but you can also find Error and Warning messages. The Error messages are the ones to look at for problems. They will tell you which .exe file triggered the error and, if you’re lucky, which related system file actually crashed. Then entry might also contain an error code, usually nXnnnnnnnn, where the Ns may be numerical or alphabetical. The X is always X.

Googling the error code along with the .exe file name and hopefully the system file name will usually give you some ideas for a fix.

Another handy tool, which is totally hidden and applies to MS Office users, is one to repair Outlook .pst files. Outlook is the email component of Microsoft Office and gives you much more flexibility than Outlook Express. It will handle your email and address book and adds calendar/scheduling, a task list and a journal for your personal thoughts.

All of that data is contained in a single file, called a Personal Folders file and saved in .pst format. As you can imagine, storing all that data can result in some rather large files and, as a rule, the larger the file the more likely it will get corrupted.

This rule doesn’t apply to things like video files or large photos that never change. This applies to files that change frequently like huge databases, which is a good description of .pst files that change frequently.

If you use Outlook and suddenly can’t open the program, can’t get email or save tasks you might panic, but the Scanpst tool might fix the problem.

To use the tool navigate to C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\Mapi\1033\NT and double click on Scanpst.exe. When it opens you’ll be asked for a .pst to check. Click the Browse button and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\profile name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook and click once on Outlook.pst. Click Start and let it go. It might take a while but if the file is damaged this will probably repair it.

As usual when I start one of these things I discover that the topic is much too large to cover in one week and also may run a little geeky. I’ll try to tone down the geekiness but this time there are so many of these tools it may run for several weeks, so I’ll stop this one now. We’ll pick up next week with more cool and handy stuff you never knew you had ;)

Kevin Mefford, Editor

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