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Ask Microsoft: When Windows crashes

Microsoft support executive Gabriel Aul talks about the Windows Error Reporting service and how it interprets "crash patterns."

On an occasional basis, Microsoft executives answer your questions through's "Ask Microsoft …"...

This question was answered by the software maker's Windows Team.

Instead of sending me a message like: "The operating system has encountered a critical error and needs to shut down. We are sorry for any inconvenience," why not let me know what the problem is, and how I can troubleshoot it? -- D. Silda

This is a great question. The bottom line is: the failing system is not able to diagnose the cause of the problem when the failure occurs, simply because a failure of this type -- failing in very low level kernel-mode functionality -- means that the normal operations of the system cannot be relied upon, i.e., no code can run to diagnose the failure exhaustively because the failure itself prevents code from running reliably. This is why Microsoft has created the Windows Error Reporting service, which you should see after the system reboots and offers you the opportunity to report the problem.

Windows Error Reporting takes a snapshot of the failing system and diagnoses it remotely through pattern-matching algorithms against known failures. This remote diagnosis allows us to more reliably determine the root cause and help the customer resolve the issue -- be it hardware or software related. We are able to recognize thousands of unique crash patterns and point users to information about how to resolve the problem they're encountering. -- Gabriel Aul, Group Program Manager, Feedback & Supportability Platform Team

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