BOOT CAMP 338 (10/08/04)




As we have seen over the last few weeks Windows XP is chock full of tools that can help PC users repair or restore a dead or ailing computer. This week we’ll round off this short series on troubleshooting with a look at a diagnostic utility that can sometimes help with some of the more obscure problems that afflict XP.


Event Viewer is a little known program that operates in the background automatically logging the important goings on inside your computer. These include error messages and warnings generated by your PC’s hardware, Windows and the programs that you are using.


Windows XP tackles most trivial or routine glitches without ever bothering you but when a more persistent problem arises the Event Viewer can help you or an engineer to quickly isolate the fault or even suggest a possible solution by interrogating the huge error message database at the Microsoft Help and Support Centre. 


The records kept by Event Viewer fall into three broad categories. The Application Log relates to error messages from programs other than Windows; the Security Log keeps tabs on attempts to logon to your PC and System Log tracks Windows events such as the times it was booted up and shut down and the successful (or otherwise) loading of drivers and system files.


It’s worth taking a look at the Event Viewer to familiarise yourself with its various features, whilst your Windows PC is working normally...  Double-click Administrative Tools in Control Panel then double-click Event Viewer and a two-pane dialogue box open with the three event logs displayed in a familiar directory type layout. Double click on one of the logs and the contents are shown in the right hand pane.


Events are classified in one of three ways. A blue ‘i’ on a white background indicates information, detailing the time, date and nature of a normal event or successful operation. A black exclamation mark in a yellow triangle warns that something might be wrong or is about to happen and should be investigated at your earliest convenience. A white cross in a red circle indicates a significant error message, something potentially serious may have occurred and it should be checked straight away. If you see any red error symbols listed during your current session don’t panic, it’s probably nothing but it is a good idea to save any open files or documents and ensure that your backups are up to date.


Before we delve into warning signs and error messages let’s look at some of the other data stored by Event Viewer. If you want to keep an eye on other people using your PC you can check the times it was booted up and shut down on the System Log. Event Viewer records this as the times it started and stopped monitoring your PC, i.e. ‘The Eventlog Service was started’ or ‘The Eventlog service was stopped’. If other authorised users need a password to access files on the PC you can also check the times they logged on and off by double-clicking the Security Log.


By default Event Viewer displays everything that happens but as you will see this generates a vast amount of information, most of it apparently meaningless, but for more detailed investigations it can be set to only display events of a particular type. To do that go to Filter on the View menu, on the General tab you can set the size of log files and how long they are kept, on the Filter tab you can specify the nature of the event you are interested in  (Information, Warning, Error, Success, Failure), and further narrow your search by specifying the ‘Event Source’ and ‘Category’ on two drop-down menus.   


If you see any yellow or red warning symbols you can find out what they mean by double-clicking the entry. This opens a dialogue box with a brief explanation but most of the time it will look like complete gibberish. You may be lucky with something more concise, like ‘Failed to connect to server’ or ‘Error detected on device Cdrom1’, which might give you an inkling of what has been happening.


If a warning or error message relates to a previous session and you didn’t notice any problems then it can usually be safely ignored. However, if the same error or warning message keeps appearing then it should be investigated. Double-click the most recent occurrence and click the Help and Support centre web link. You will be shown the details of the information Event Viewer will send, which in most cases is perfectly innocuous containing only anonymous technical data. If you have a firewall on your PC (and if you haven’t, why not?) you may be asked to grant permission for Event Viewer to access the Internet. You can safely agree and your error message will be checked to see if there’s match in the MS database, and a solution and if found the results will be displayed in a few seconds.

Don’t expect miracles, Event Viewer is mainly intended for experts and there is a fair chance that all you will see is yet more gibberish, but this might very well prove useful to an engineer or a software helpline, so click the print button and keep it safe.


Next week – XP Service Pack 2





Small program or data file that tells Windows how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware, like a mouse, printer, web cam etc.



Program that monitors an Internet connection, preventing unauthorised access by hackers. Most firewalls also stop programs on your PC using your Internet connection without permission



Important files that configure Windows during boot-up, telling the operating system what settings to use, what software is loaded and the hardware or peripherals attached to the PC




It’s worth checking the Event Viewer every so often, to keep an eye on your PC’s general health and a good way to remind you to do just that it is to use WinAlarm. This handy little freeware program can be set to remind you to do things with a colour-coded on-screen display and sound at a predetermined time or date, or repeatedly at daily, weekly, monthly or yearly intervals. It also has a ‘snooze’ button if you don’t need reminding… The program is suitable for all recent versions of Windows  (98, SE, ME, 2K, XP), its multi-lingual, the download is 913kb and it can be found at:

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