System Information and Crash Logs
Often when people go looking for help on forums, they forget to include proper system information and in case of crashes or application hangs info on what may have caused the crash. Because nobody can unriddle such stuff without any details it is important to provide at least some bits and pieces.
On Mac this is is easily accessible by checking the About this Mac panel that is hidden in the apple menu in the top left corner, where you can also access other system control panels or shortcuts to programs and functions. The panel will list the version of OS X you are using as well as some basics. A similar panel can be accessed from the menu bar using View – System Information, when you are on the desktop. It contains a few more details about storage, memory and screen resolution. It will also show a Model Identifier, which is a short code consisting of two or three numbers separated by commas. This info can be looked up on the Apple web site to find out exactly what version of e.g. an iMac you are using. Hitting the More Info button on both of these panels will bring up the system profiler that contains the full details about your hardware and lots of other information.
On Windows the system information is structured similarly. A basic overview can be accessed by right-clicking on My Computer and choosing Properties. From the panel that comes up you can then proceed to Advanced Properties or the Device Manager. The latter is also available when you right-click on My Computer and choose Manage. Finally, detailed system information can be obtained using the System Information application. This can be found in your start menu in the following location:
All Programs\Utilities\System Programs\ System Information
Moving on to crash data, it is critical to know where that information is logged, as naturally, when it happens you often have no time to collect information otherwise or are simply to excited or frustrated to write it down. Many times you will be presented with the operating system’s standard crash dialog that offers to shut down the app. On Windows these are the The program [program name] has stopped working. or The program [program name] does not respond. dialogs. If you choose to display more info in those dialogs, you may see the path of the application along with some cryptic numbers. This is the so-called fault module, meaning the actual culprit. This is the truly important part, as many times it may indicate drivers or system DLLs and not the main program. This also includes any bluescreen crashes that reboot your system as well – the fault module is usually listed on the bluescreen itself. All serious crashes or application hangs also create entries in your system’s Event Viewer. This is a management tool that can be found in your start menu under:
All Programs\Administrative Tools\Event Viewer
It will only be visible if you have set your start menu viewing option to include the Administrative Tools, which can be done by right-clicking on the start menu and then customizing it accordingly. If you chose not to use that option, the panel will be available in your System Control Panel. When you need to provide information from the event viewer, copy & paste the relevant parts. This information is stored as one big blob of data in a specific Windows system file and there are no editable text files that can be opened.
On a Mac things work slightly differently. When an application ceases to function, a more varied number of warning dialogs can come up whose actual texts are too numerous to list here. Usually it will read like Application [application name] has quit unexpectedly or similar. You can then choose to dismiss the dialog with Ignore, attempt to relaunch the program or view the report by using the corresponding buttons. When you choose to view the report, the crash reporter will come up. Of interest here are the Exception Type and the thread that crashed, usually Thread 0 along with the rest of the information in the head section. The rest of the info is most of the time not required and should only be provided when requested. The data generated by the crash reporter is stored in text or XML files in the Logs folder in your system directory. They can be viewed with any text editor or the Log Viewer/ Console application that you can find in your Applications:Utilities folder.
Note: If you need to get help on a forum, sending the error reports to the vendors and referencing the ID is not useful because except for the companies, nobody has access to that data. This includes Adobe’s error reporting tool as well. Therefore always make sure to provide the details as described above.
During installations, updates or even just when using a program it may be necessary to terminate it or some auxiliary components associated with it because something doesn’t work right. Common examples for this are updates in Adobe products ever since CS5 that request to end Bridge (this referring to the Bridge quick start helper or Mini-Bridge panel), dynamiclinkserver for products that import and export certain video formats or cross-link applications, the Photoshop Elements automatic image downloader or finally, Flash Player asking you to close Internet Explorer. Another frequent occurrence are pending installs from other applications that never finished either due to technical problems or while they are still waiting for a system restart. Many of these are not actually visible processes, but work quietly in the background. Therefore they cannot be terminated by closing a window or hitting a button and that where your process management tools come into play.
On Windows this is Task Manager. It can be invoked using the following methods:
- Use the Ctrl+Shift+Esc keys to make it appear immediately. This may not work if a program has crashed/ hung and is blocking the screen.
- Use the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys to bring up the Windows task screen, including an option to launch the Task Manager.
- Right-click on an empty area on your Windows taskbar.
Once the window has come up, the parts that interest you are the Applications and Processes tabs. On the first you have a button reading End Task. This can be used to end programs the proper way. Select them in the list and hit that button. This is what you always should try first, as it potentially gives you a chance to save your work. It will send a system message to the program and if the program is still able to respond, it may produce the correct file dialogs or at least the operating system’s end task dialog. Using this method also has the advantage, that it does not drag other processes along if it is successful, preventing damage or loss of data elsewhere. If it doesn’t work, you can right-click on the window name and use the Switch to Process option or manually change to the Processes tab. Here you will find a similar button labeled End Process, which works just like that – select a process, hit the button and everything goes. This option is also available in the right-click menu along with an even better one called End Process Structure. Often multiple processes are strung together and interact and this method will a) ensure that all related processes get terminated if possible and b) this is done with as little ill effects on other processes as possible to minimize the risk of hard computer crashes or damage to files. If you want even more control, Process Explorer or similar alternate tools can provide it.
Sometimes called the evil twin of task manager, Activity Monitor is the equivalent tool on Macs. That’s not exactly true, though, as it mostly provides a graphical interface for some other commands and the internal process monitoring that happens in teh operating system, anyway. It can be launched by navigating to your Applications:Utilities folder or searching it with a quick search using the global search field in the system menu bar at the top. Once it comes up, it offers a familiar sight with a process list and some extras. Processes can then be terminated easily by selecting them and hitting the stop sign. A second method to force-quit applications that run amok is to use the Cmd+Alt+Esc key combination to bring up a dialog that allows you to do it. Finally, the geek method of doing things is to use a terminal window/ command prompt that gives you access to the stuff under the graphical user interface. This is similarly found in your Utilities folder. Since OS X is based on UNIX principles and methods, it uses similar commands. Typing ps into the prompt will show a list of the active processes. Each of them will have a process ID (a number) right after the name of the process. you can then use this number with the kill command to quite literally kill processes. Example: kill 476. These numbers depend on when and how often processes are launched, so there is no fixed number e.g. for After Effects and you always will have to find out anew.
Since you may want to avoid killing unrelated processes, here’s a short list of what you should look for:
- msiexec.exe – Microsoft Installer service
- Setup.exe, Install .exe – your own or other applications’ install program
- Bridge.exe – Adobe Bridge
- DynamicLinkServer.exe, QT32Server.exe – video loaders for Adobe apps
- Switchboard.exe – Adobe Switchboard
- acrotray.exe, acro_sl.exe, reader_sl.exe – Adobe Acrobat and Reader quick launcher helpers
- FNPLicensingService - Adobe licensing system
- IExplore.exe – Microsoft Internet Explorer
Note: The above is not a complete list of all possible names. In case of doubt, research the names and make your own observations about a program’s behavior before prematurely terminating it. 32bit programs on 64bit versions of Windows will be listed with an extra *32 appended to the process name. On Mac, there is no .exe extensions and the applications will only be listed under their name.