Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reliability Monitor and its analysis of my work computer

First, my usual disclaimer:
Sorry I am such a lackadaisical blogger. Bizarrely, my traffic is basically the same whether I blog or not -- between 70 and 90 visits a day according to Google Analytics; although lately the trend is downward. I will try to get a series of shorter posts out more often than every 60 days. This is not one of these shorter posts.

Is there no way to gather more usable data from the Reliability Monitor? I ran it at work and it had data going back for three months, but seemingly no export capability. To get at the data, I screen-captured and pasted each screenful of data into OneNote, used "Copy text from picture", pasted them into TextPad to fix and put back into tabbed columns, and then pasted them into Excel. Now I can pull statistics like the following:

Application

Version

Failures

Outlook

12.0.6023.5000 (Outlook 2007, prior to SP1)

13

OneNote

12.0.4518.1014 (OneNote 2007, prior to SP1)

9

Firefox

various (1.8.20071.12718, the most recent, has crashed the most, and it seems that 1.8.20070.25881 was the most stable)

8

TabTip

1.8.20070.25881

7

Communicator

1.0.559.0 (2005) crashed 5 times, 2.0.6362.0 (2007) crashed once

6

Interwoven DeskSite (Manage32.exe)

8.2.87.0 (8.2, I think SP1)

6

Procmon.exe

1.0.0.0

4

SPCSCM.exe

3.4.0.6

3

Visio

12.0.4518.1014 (Visio 2007, prior to SP1)

3

Excel

12.0.6024.5000 (Excel 2007, prior to SP1)

2

NiAiServ.exe (Enteo NetInstall)

5.80.0.1399

2

...and 11 other apps crashed once.

So what information can we draw from this?

Outlook:
It's somewhat unfair to taint Outlook by problems caused by its add-ons, or the size (~2GB) of my OST file, but 13 crashes in two months (none were logged in December, it would seem) is a couple crashes a week. And also, I'm probably like everyone else in that Outlook is far and away my most used app. So I don't know if I rebuilt my OST in the December timeframe, or some add-on that was causing instability got disabled and I never noticed, but I guess it's been better lately. I'll have to revisit after running Office 2007 SP1 for awhile.


OneNote:
OneNote has no add-ons, so I would have to blame its instability on a) poor handling of the online/internet/offline transition and b) LiveSessions. I have a notebook that I use constantly that's on a file share at work, a few notebooks on SharePoint that I edit throughout the day, and maybe 15% I am in meetings taking handwritten notes with my tablet. I also spend about 15 - 20% of my time in LiveSessions with one or two colleagues, taking shared notes in meetings. Handwriting is pretty stable, I think it's the LiveSessions that cause some crashing, and some of it is just random lock-ups.


Firefox:
Before I looked at the above statistics, I would have sworn to you that, at work, far and away my least reliable application was Firefox, and I still feel that these stats don't capture every crash or lock-up that I experience with Firefox. It is telling that Windows Reliability monitor didn't log any Firefox crash for almost two months, between 9/20 and 11/15, while I guess it was on version 1.8.20070.25881 (or maybe some interim, extremely stable version between that and 1.8.20071.2514). I like to think that I have minimal add-ons in my work Firefox but I must have enough to cause a persistent instability, like freezing when I resize the window with an IE Tab page selected, or a freeze that just happens without using Firefox for awhile.

Why do I stick with Firefox because it's so unreliable? I guess my IE 7 experience was worse, or sufficiently different and lacking in functionality as compared to Firefox that it wasn't worth it. IE 7 didn't seem to have as robust a tab saving mechanism as Firefox, and it crashed often enough that a group of tabs that I meant to leave open were gone, and that really got on my nerves after awhile.


TabTip:
This is a TabletPC thing that Vista is convinced has some compatibility issue. I can't remember the error but Vista seems to periodically close it and throw some error message. Mind you, this has never happened when I'm actually in tablet mode or using tablet features, it happens when I'm doing something else altogether.


Communicator:
I don't remember this crashing, to be honest, so I don't know why.

DeskSite:
DeskSite likes to freeze up when you launch a document out of it -- it's not just a Vista problem, it happened a lot when I had XP, too. With the Vista error reporting feature turned on, most of the time I can actually find out why this is hanging -- typically it is Firefox but it can also be OneNote, Outlook, or Visio (which isn't really integrated with Interwoven yet and basically causes problems whenever it is launched).

I think I've already ranted about legal-specific software vendors, and I know this will be a popular search result because it contains the terms "Interwoven" and "SharePoint", so I will be gentle and note that despite my enmity towards the Interwoven product, its competitor (Open Text LiveLink eDOCS and whatever else they called it, formerly Hummingbird DM5) just a few days ago released their Office 2007 product. So, like, a full year after Office 2007 shipped. Shows you where the Open Text product is going -- down the toilet. (Disclaimer: The previous view is mine alone and does not represent the view of my employer)

Procmon:
If you forget about procmon and leave it running, you use up all your RAM and your computer falls to shit. Of course, you usually RUN procmon so you can figure out why something else is going to shit on your computer, so sometimes procmon is a symptom rather than a cause. Regardless, that's what's going on with my 4 procmon crashes, I think.

SPCSCM.exe:
I don't even know what the hell this is so I looked it up to find that it's the Sprint PCS Connection Manager. I delivered (and then took back two months later) an EVDO card to my colleague and so of course I installed the software for use on the trips to and from Chicago. I have a Treo 700p with PDAnet and the PCS software, despite the 3 crashes, was like 300 times more reliable than that piece of shit PDAnet. I'm glad I can get Internet access for free and only expensed $25 or whatever to my company. But I'd way rather not have to spend 20 minutes fucking with, and ultimately rebooting, my laptop to get stupid PDAnet to work. As I have said before, PDAnet is better than not having any Internet access, but not by much.

The rest:
I realize I'm detailing the apps that crashed on my work computer, which is inherently a fool's errand to begin with. But since I started it I might as well finish:

Visio: Visio 2007 Interwoven integration is non-existent, but for some reason it is enough to leave Visio.exe in memory, using 50% CPU and fucking up all other Interwoven calls, until you kill it. Hence the three crashes. I like to think that I am really good at Visio, but with 2007, if I can avoid using it, I will.

Excel: Excel is usually really good so I'm surprised to see these two crashes. I blame Interwoven for this, also. Maybe unfairly ;)

Enteo NetInstall: This company has like three support people in the U.S. and after two years of terrible service my company has ceased recommending its products. I try, on my computer, not to run NetInstall but there are some apps our IT people packaged that I need so I have to from time to time. This then leads to the inventory app running up my CPU utilization until the app is killed.

I was going to check my home PC against this, as I would think the results are very different, but I didn't realize how long this blog entry would turn out to be. I think that, in summary:

  • Reliability Monitor would be even more useful if it could export its data to help you pinpoint your worst-behaved apps
  • I think Reliability Monitor misses some crashes and hangs
  • Firefox is totally unreliable on my work PC but is excellent at home with the same add-ons plus a dozen more; WTF?
  • Interwoven DeskSite can cause unreliability
  • Microsoft products crash the most :D

Back soon,

--sbreck

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