Isn't it annoying when a program crashes? You're working one moment and then the next thing you know the program won't respond. Your blood pressure rises and you start to get nervous. Panic starts to set in. What do you do? This excerpt from David A. Karp's Windows 7 Annoyances will give you a few options.
Error messages are passé. When a program crashes, Windows doesn’t necessarily tell you that it has crashed. Rather, the program simply “stops responding.” This means that you can’t click any of the controls in its interface, save your open document, nor (most importantly) close and reopen it easily. Sure, Windows usually lets you move it around the screen, and sometimes even click the Close button to end the task, but that’s about it. But these are also symptoms of an application that’s simply busy, caught up in the last task you asked it to perform.
Annoyed that Windows insists on “searching for a solution” after you close a crashed program? Although it’s true that Windows finds solutions to some problems you report—if not now, then eventually—it’s unlikely that Microsoft will come up with a solution faster than the developer of the crashed application will release an update. To turn off the “searching...” box, making it so you have only one window to close instead of two, open the Action Center in Control Panel. Click the Change Action Center settings link on the left and then click the Problem reporting settings link below. Select the Never check for solutions option and click OK.
Either way, triggered by your first attempt to use a crashed or busy program, Windows turns the whole window pale while trying to communicate with it. If you want to know whether a program has reached this state without triggering it with a click, just try moving the mouse over the edges of the window; if the mouse cursor doesn’t change to the familiar “resize” arrows (and given that it’s a resizable window), the program has probably stopped responding.
So, how do you tell the difference between a crashed program and a busy one? Well, Windows can’t even do that reliably, instead showing you a window that looks like the one in Figure 6.6 when you try to close it. The solution is to be patient and use your best instincts.
Figure 6.6. When you see this message, it means that Windows doesn’t know whether the program you’re trying to use has crashed, or is simply busy
But patience only gets you so far. After waiting an intolerable length of time, say, three to four seconds, one has to wonder whether the program will ever start responding. If you’re through waiting, you can go ahead and elect to close the program, a strategy that works some of the time.
If an application window is visible, it’s easy enough to click the small × button on the application title bar to close it. But if it’s minimized, or if the main window isn’t responding at all, right-click the program’s button on the taskbar and select Close.
If closing doesn’t help, or if, after closing a window, you can’t open another one, then it’s time to pay a visit to Task Manager, shown in Figure 6.7.
Figure 6.7. Choose the Processes tab in Task Manager to list all the programs running on your PC, a necessary step if one of them has crashed and you need to close it (the hard way)
There are three ways to start Task Manager:
- Three-finger salute
If the taskbar and keyboard methods don’t work, then Windows itself is crashed or busy. In this case, press Ctrl-Alt-Del to blank the screen and show a special administrative menu, at which point you can click Start Task Manager to launch it.
Although the Applications tab is inviting and easy to understand, it’s not too helpful for this purpose. Choose the Processes tab, click the Show processes from all users button at the bottom (present only if UAC is in effect), and then locate the crashed program in the list.
There’s a funky bug in Windows 7’s Task Manager, but
fortunately, it’s one that’s easy to fix. If your Task Manager appears
with no title bar, menu, or tabs, just double-click the thin gray
border around the main list to bring them back. If that doesn’t help,
or if your mouse is unavailable, open the Registry Editor, navigate to
CurrentVersion\TaskManager and delete
To find the program to close, sort the list. You can sort the list
alphabetically by filename (e.g.,
explorer.exe for Windows Explorer) by
clicking the Image Name column
header. Or, sort by application title by clicking the Description header. To show the
full path and filenames for each running process, open the View menu, click Select
Columns, and turn on the Image Path
But for most hung applications—also known as “frozen” or “locked up”—it’ll be most entertaining to sort by exactly how busy the program is. Click the CPU column header twice (so its little arrow is pointing down) to sort by processor usage (a percentage from 0 to 99), and the crashed program will usually leap to the top of the list.—its CPU usage will usually be in the high 80s! (Or, if you have a dual-core processor, the CPU usage for a crashed program will be closer to 50.)
Windows Vista came with a nifty tool called the Windows Defender
Software Explorer, which was unfortunately removed for Windows 7. In
its absence, you can use Task Manager to list processes in memory, or
System Configuration (
msconfig.exe) and the free
Autoruns tool to list programs that start with Windows.
Windows is basically just a collection of components, and at any given time, some of those components may be loaded into memory and listed as running processes in Task Manager. In fact, you’ll probably see more programs running than you expected, especially after you click the Show processes from all users button.
If you see a program you don’t recognize, don’t panic; it’s not necessarily malware, but then again, it’s not necessary legitimate. See Table 6.1 for a list of those items commonly found on most Windows 7 systems.
Table 6.1. Processes you should expect to find running on your system
Naturally, you shouldn’t interfere with the components Windows requires to operate while you’re looking for errant programs or programs you can get along without. And just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean it isn’t required by your system, so use caution when ending a process with which you’re unfamiliar.
Learn more about this topic from Windows 7 Annoyances.
Windows 7 may be faster and more stable than Windows Vista, but that's a far cry from problem-free. With Windows 7 Annoyances, you'll learn how to deal with a wide range of nagging problems before they deal with you. Annoyances.org founder David Karp offers you the tools to fix all sorts of Windows 7 issues, along with solutions, hacks, and timesaving tips to make the most of your PC.