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Troubleshooting Windows 7 With Microsoft's Built-In Tools

The Windows Action Center

Assuming your installation of Windows is actually running, the place to begin your hunt for a solution is the Windows Action Center. You’ll typically first encounter the Action Center as a small flag with an alert icon in your system tray.

The Action Center is a one-stop shop for Windows notifications.

Just click on the flag, then click on “Open Action Center.”

The Action Center is really only a starting place.

The key area you’ll want to explore is under "maintenance." See those messages? Note in particular the one that reads “Address a problem with ATI Graphics Driver.”

At the time, I was running an early beta of the Radeon HD 5870 driver. Removing that and installing the shipping Catalyst 9.11 driver cured a number of stability issues with several games.

Now let’s revisit my problem with Firefox.

The third one down, "Address a problem with Skype extension for Firefox" is another key message. As I noted earlier, I’d been having substantial stability issues with Firefox 3.5. Firefox would crash mysteriously, but the core Firefox process would “stick” in memory. I’d have to bring up task manager and manually kill the Firefox process. After disabling the Skype extension, most of my Firefox problems miraculously cleared up.

The Action Center is useful, but sometimes it’s too much of a nag. That little flagged exclamation point pops up when Windows wants to check for updates, if you haven’t backed up the system, and other actions useful for average users, but less useful for power users. You can tweak Action Center to only pop up with messages you consider important.

Tweak the Windows Action Center to tell you only the warnings you think are necessary – or not at all, if that’s your preference.

The Action Center can get you started, particularly with driver or applications issues. But it’s possible that you’ll need to dig deeper.