When Troubleshooters Run Into Trouble


Microsoft has a collection of little programs that try to fix problems on your Windows PC, but depending on your system, the success rate can be hit or miss.

Q. What do Windows Troubleshooters actually do? I’ve never really found them to be effective.

A. Microsoft’s automated Troubleshooter utilities are small programs or scripts that focus on a problem you may be having on the computer with a specific function, like flaky Bluetooth connections, sound that doesn’t play or Windows Update. Troubleshooters are designed to seek out and repair things like unregistered or corrupted dynamic-link library (DLL) files, outdated or damaged drivers, or settings in the Windows Registry that are out of whack.

In Windows 10, you can find a collection of Troubleshooter apps by pressing the Windows and I keys to open the Settings box, and selecting Update & Security and then Troubleshoot. In earlier versions of Windows (as well as in Windows 10), open the system’s Control Panel and open the Troubleshooting icon.

The Troubleshoot section of the Windows 10 Settings box has utilities that try to fix basic software problems on the computer.CreditThe New York Times

A Troubleshooter tool is programmed to make the necessary changes that are sometimes deep in the system. The tools are intended to simplify the process for those who aren’t keen on digging around in unfamiliar areas of Windows — and possibly breaking something else. Microsoft has been developing these more automated solutions for decades as web downloads or built-in apps, notably with its “wizard” utilities and Fix It scripts, which are now called “Microsoft easy fix” solutions.

But “easy fixes” are not universal fixes. The huge range of hardware and potentially conflicting software available to users can trip up a Troubleshooter program with an unexpected variable, making it unable to complete its mission. If you have problems with a Troubleshooter or it doesn’t fix the issue you were looking to solve, online forums and additional technical support from Microsoft and Windows-focused sites are other routes to take if you’re not quite ready to call a repair shop.

Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer