Help      |      Chebucto Home      |      News      |      Contact Us     

159. Your Computer's Black Box

By Andrew D. Wright

When there's a plane crash, the first thing you hear about is the search for the Black Box, a protected instrument package that keeps a record of the plane's sensors and crew conversations. It gives investigators a place to start looking for causes for the disaster.

Computers keep this sort of record as well. Usually referred to as log files, your computer keeps a record of when programs and services start up or are closed. The computer records the successes and failures of various background tasks all the time.

In the Windows operating system these log items are called events and you look at them with the Event Viewer.

When a Windows computer crashes or otherwise behaves in an unexpected manner, there's usually a reason. If you can figure that out, you may be able to fix the problem. This is where the Event Viewer comes into play.

In Windows you get to the Event Viewer by going to the Start button and right-clicking on My Computer. In Windows Vista and Windows 7 you'd right-click on Computer. On the context menu that opens up, click on Manage. In Windows Vista and Windows 7 this will require Administrator permissions.

When clicking to select an item on a context menu, you always left-click. This is a standard feature in Windows: right-click gives you a context menu, left-click selects an item.

In the Computer Management window that will open up, Event Viewer will be found under the System Tools menu. Click the little plus sign or arrow to the left of Event Viewer and you'll see a number of categories listed. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you then click on Windows Logs.

The items we'll focus on here are Application, System and Security.

Application is referring to the programs you run on your computer. Application items will have a time stamp and say Information, Warning or Error. It is not unusual to see the occasional Warning or Error on any system, and usually the items are minor. Newest items are at the top.

Double clicking on a listed item in Windows XP will show a more detailed report. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the Event Viewer has been redesigned to show the detailed information right away when an item has been selected. The detailed report will offer the option of sending the information to Microsoft for a possible solution. This will require the computer be on the Internet and may take a minute or three to come up.

The System heading covers all the background tasks Windows performs all the time - synchronizing the computer clock with Internet time servers, starting and stopping background services and the like. Again, it is not unusual to see the odd Warning or Error here and most are minor. Clicking on them shows the detailed message and online help from Microsoft is available if needed.

Security covers Windows security audits and is usually more populated by events in Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems where program access is more restricted by Windows logins and the User Account Control (UAC) prompts.

What you're looking for in all three headings are clues to malfunctions such as program crashes, system lockups and system crashes. Seeing a lot of Warning or Error messages is your computer's Black Box trying to tell you something is wrong. Check the dates to make sure you're looking at events that occurred now and not in the past. Make sure your computer's clock is set to the correct date and time since the computer time stamps events based on what it thinks is the correct time.


The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 2 October 2009


Our community is online here!


This column is provided as a community service by