Sherlock Holmes’s worthy companion Dr. Watson might seem like an odd choice of name for a little known Windows trouble-shooting utility but like its namesake, its special talent is gathering evidence of foul deeds… In PC parlance they’re known as general protection faults or GPFs, dastardly crimes committed by malevolent computer programs carrying out illegal operations that usually result in the dreaded ‘blue screen of death’. Dr. Watson is known in the trade as an application error debugger and it is designed to investigate problems, stepping in at the moment a crash occurs, making a detailed record of what your PC was up to at the time it happened.   

Unlike other types of PC maintenance programs or tools Dr Watson cannot prevent a crash or help you to recover lost data, instead the information it collects can be used to diagnose, and occasionally indicate a solution to a recurrent software fault, and whilst the data it generates may not mean much to you, it can be sent to manufacturer’s technical support staff and the people who wrote the programs, to help them fix the problem or suggest a remedy. It can be especially useful on reproducible faults, where Windows or a program crashes after a particular sequence of events.

Microsoft has included Dr. Watson in Windows since Version 3 but you’re unlikely to have come across it, especially if you’re using Windows 95, as it wasn’t in all releases. However, it does appear in most versions of Windows NT and Windows 98, which is what we’ll be concerning ourselves with in this week’s Boot Camp. Part of the reason for it’s intermittent inclusion in Windows is that it has never been fully developed and can, in some circumstances, actually cause GPFs of its own, however if you have a troublesome machine, and all else has failed, it is definitely worth trying.

The program is very well hidden in Windows 98, it can be found by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information, and you’ll see it listed on the Tools menu. It not enabled by default, so the first task is to get it up and running on your machine. The simplest method is to type ‘drwatson.exe’ (minus the quotation marks of course) in Run on the Start menu. Immediately you’ll see a new icon pop up in the System Tray, next to the clock display on the Task Bar. However, it makes sense to have Dr. Watson running in the background, constantly monitoring your PC. To do that you’ll have to create a shortcut and include it in your Start Up folder so that it launches every time you boot up your machine. It’s quite straightforward, go to the Start button, select Programs, double-click on the Start-Up icon and an Explorer window will open. Next, go to the File menu, select New then Shortcut and the Create Shortcut dialogue box opens. In the Command Line field type ‘drwatson.exe’, then Next, accept the default name and click on the Finish button. Alternatively go to Start > Settings > Taskbar & Start Menu, select the Start Menu Programs tab. Click the Add button then Browse and find DrWatson.exe in the Windows folder, highlight and click Open, then Next. Now select the Start Up folder from the directory tree, click Next and Finish. In the unlikely event you experience any problems after Dr. Watson has been installed simply highlight the icon in the Start Up folder and remove it by pressing the delete key.

From now on each time your machine suffers a GPF Dr. Watson intercepts the crash and takes a ‘snapshot’ of your system. It identifies the program responsible and the nature of the fault and writes detailed technical information into a ‘log’ file (extension *.wlg), which is stored on your PC’s hard disc, (in the Dr. Watson sub-folder in Windows). As an added bonus it gives you the opportunity to jot down a few notes of your own. This file can then emailed to the technical support people, or printed out and sent by fax or letter.

When Dr. Watson is running you can get an instant appraisal of your system by double-clicking on the icon in the System Tray, it takes a snapshot and a dialogue box appears on the screen in Standard view showing the Diagnosis, window along with the jotter pad for your notes. This probably won’t tell you much but if you then go to the View menu and select Advanced you’ll see a row of tabs that provide much more detailed insights into your system, its configuration and the software it is running. If you prefer you can have Dr. Watson always open in the Advanced view by selecting Options on the View menu and checking the box ‘Open new windows in Advanced view’.

You can save this data by going to the File menu, select Save and use the Browse button to locate the Dr Watson folder in Windows, give the file a name (today’s date for example) and click the Save button. It’s worth doing this straight away, when your machine is operating normally as it will give you or anyone who’s interested a benchmark to work from.

Dr. Watson is not going to stop Windows from crashing (nothing will, if it’s a mind to…), but the information it provides is a lot more useful than the normally meaningless error messages that appear and it just might help a software sleuth with their deductions.

Next week –  Word 2000




General Protection Fault – a ‘fatal’ software error, causing a running program to stop working because it fights (and looses) over the amount of memory resources it and other programs have been allocated by Windows


A compilation of data and statistics about your PC including details of the operating system, memory resources and status and running programs


Windows New Technology, highly stable but less well featured version of the Windows operating system, designed for critical business and network applications



If you want to prevent others from using your computer here’s a wickedly simple little tweak that will not only stop your PC from loading Windows without your say so, but also frighten anyone who messes around with it into thinking they’ve damaged your PC!


Go to Find on the Start menu, select Files or Folders and in the Names field type (an important file Windows needs to load). Click Find Now and wait for it to appear in the window below. Click once onto the icon and it highlights, wait a second, click again and a cursor appears, wait another second and click a third time so that the highlight disappears. Now position the cursor and rename the file to something you will remember ( for example) and close the Find window. The next time your PC boots up it will display a scary error message, saying it cannot find, and the boot sequence will halt at the C: prompt. All you have to do is type in and Windows will continue to load as normal. To return your PC to its former state simply rename the file to

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