Before I jump into this topic, let me explain its title. In keeping with some no-doubt hoary and outdated Windows terminology, I like to call entries that appear within the Windows Vista Control Panel “applets” (as in miniature applications).
Microsoft has apparently abandoned applet terminology if indeed they ever used it, and calls these things “items” instead. Whether you prefer item or applet, the focus of this story appears as the “Problem Reports and Solutions” entry in the Windows Vista Control Panel listing when viewed in Classic mode.
If you approach the Control Panel in the default Vista view, here’s how to get to that item: Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Problem Reports and Solutions. Or, you can type wercon.exe in the Search box (or at the command line) instead.
Either way, here’s the kind of display you will see when you visit this Control Panel item, after clicking the top left-hand menu entry “Check for New Solutions”:
The items that show up in the “Solutions to install” (if any, there are none showing in the previous screencap, and I haven’t seen too many in the 18 months or so I’ve been using Vista full time) and the “Information about other problems” are usually worth investigating, particularly when the !New flag pops up as it does for three items above. For example, the Spyware Doctor item indicated that PC Tools had posted a new version of the program (from version 5.1.15… to 188.8.131.524). Even though I’m a licensed owner of the program, and subscribe to its update notifications, I wasn’t yet aware a new version was available, and installed it immediately, thanks to the information that appeared on screen when I clicked on the Spyware Doctor entry show in the preceding screenshot.
Likewise, the AVG Anti-Virus information also indicated a new version was available, but I’d already upgraded from 7.5 to 8.0 as that notification advised.
Further investigation of the “Windows compatibility problem found” entry revealed a recommendation to download and install a new Intel driver for the ICH9 chipset on my GA-P35T-DQ6 motherboard. But, as I explain in my piece on Smart Use of DriverAgent, I had already addressed this problem as well.
This points to one of the weaknesses of the Problem Reports and Solutions tool–namely, that it remains blissfully unaware of which reports have been addressed or remediated. This puts the onus on the PC’s user to keep track of what items reported remain problematic (and thus, in need of ongoing monitoring) and which items have been addressed and can thus be ignored. You must also be smart enough to jump back and forth between the “problems on your computer” listing displayed at the outset of this article, and the “View problem history” that appears in the next screenshot. You can use the date of the problem report (the older it is, the less likely it is to require action on your part; the newer it is, however, the more likely such action becomes).
Here, you can expand entries to read the relevant detail (I pick one from this weekend, that informs me a driver for my Canon Powershot A570 is generic, and which exhorts me to check the vendor site to see if a more capable or feature rich driver can be found there: I follow this advice and learn I’m still running the original version of this software, 5.8, and that updates to versions 5.8b, 6.0.2a, and 6.1.1 are available; I download the latest version and install it).
In general working with this tool pays the best dividends when you use it regularly (at least once a month) and when you work your way through the whole history file at each go-round, then either clear the whole thing (select the Clear Solution and Problem History entry on the left hand menu on the Home screen), or delete individual entries as you clear them yourself (I usually do the latter, so as to keep unsolved or apparently insoluable problems, so that I can keep checking on them over time). No matter how you slice it, though, this is a useful tool, and helpful for keeping your system and its components and applications up-to-date. Each time I use the Problem Reports and Solutions tool, I make a quick run through the problem history list and remove all items that I’ve taken care of, or that relate to system components that haven’t raised any trouble for three months or longer. This usually keeps the total number of entries at or under 30, which has proven itself to be reasonably manageable for my systems.