One of the new but rarely discussed Windows 7 features is the Troubleshooting Platform. Troubleshooting is usually the job of Windows admins, and so I took a closer look at this new Windows component. The introduction in Microsoft's white paper sounds quite promising:
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For many information workers and IT professionals, solving computer problems feels like nothing more than trial and error. It can be frustrating for users to try to solve their problems, but it can be expensive for corporations to maintain a fully staffed support center. To compound the problem, many support calls involve routine, recurring issues.
Windows® 7 takes steps to address both of these problems with the Windows Troubleshooting Platform, which allows users to solve many common problems on their own and improves Help desk efficiency by allowing IT administrators to extend the platform to solve routine issues that are specific to their environment.
So the main purpose of the Windows 7 Troubleshooting Platform is to make life easier for admins because it enables end users to solve common problems by themselves. The paper even implies that the support staff can be reduced thanks to this new feature. I will say a word or two about this claim in my next post.
But let's first see how Windows 7 troubleshoots computer problems. The Troubleshooting Platform consists of three components: Windows Troubleshooting Packs, Troubleshooting Engine, and Troubleshooting Wizard.
A Troubleshooting Pack is a combination of XML data and Powershell 2.0 scripts that contain the information to solve a specific problem. Windows 7 comes with 22 built-in packs, including (for example) packs for printer or networking issues. New packs can be added through Windows Online Troubleshooting Service (WOTS), and third parties can add their own Troubleshooting Packs for their applications.
The Troubleshooting Engine is just the interpreter for the Troubleshooting Packs, and the Troubleshooting Wizard is the interface that interacts with the user during the troubleshooting process.
Users can launch Troubleshooting Packs from four locations: Control Panel (type “troubleshooting”), Control Panel (System and Security|Action Center), Action Center in the notification area, and links in Windows Help.
You can easily see how the Windows 7 Troubleshooting Platform works by just muting the speakers of your computer and then launching the Audio Playback pack. Windows will correctly detect the problem and unmute the speakers.
Not all problems however can be solved so easily. If Troubleshooting can't correct the issue, it will offer hints for what you can do next. For example, I launched the Aero pack in virtual machine under VMware Workstation 6.5, and Troubleshooting correctly suggested the use of graphics card that supports Aero.
What admins have to know
If the user can't solve the problem, an admin can access the Troubleshooting history to see what has been already tried, which may save time in some cases. You’ll find the link to this history in the left-hand navigation pane in the Troubleshooting applet in Control Panel.
Admins may restrict users in launching only their own Troubleshooting packs by signing them with a digital certificate. Troubleshooting Packs are .digicab files that can be distributed just like any other application—that is, you can deploy them through Group Policy and also launch them in unattended mode. The Within Windows blog has a crash course on authoring Windows 7 Troubleshooting Packs, and Microsoft offers more detailed documentation.
The Troubleshooting Platform is enabled by default. If you don't want your users to mess at all with troubleshooting, you can disable this feature through Group Policy (Computer Configuration - Administrative Templates - System - Troubleshooting and Diagnostics - Scripted Diagnostics). You can also configure through Group Policy if users can download new Troubleshooting Packs via WOTS and whether users can launch only signed Troubleshooting Packs.
In my next post, I will share my opinion about the Troubleshooting Platform.
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I am not sure how well these troubleshooting packs work, but if they were effective I does seem like they’d be quite a help.
Looking forward to seeing your opinions on their effectiveness.