One of your network PCs or servers is running into trouble -- crashes, freezes, random errors. It's your job to fix the problem. Only you're not sure what's causing it. Now may be the right time to call on Microsoft's free DebugView utility. DebugView can capture debug output from any PC to help determine the cause of system or application errors.
Another powerful Sysinternals tool by Mark Russinovich, DebugView version 4.76 can monitor and display both kernel-mode and Win32 debug output, so you can debug problems with device drivers as well as Windows applications.
Download DebugView from tinyurl.com/nvu7aa. Like most Sysinternals tools, you don't need to install it; just run it from the .EXE file. You can also trigger the utility directly from the Web site without downloading.
After launching DebugView, the program automatically starts monitoring for and capturing debug output. The only options you may want to specify from the outset are whether to scan for kernel-mode debug output, Win32 output or both.
After capturing the output during a crash, freeze or other glitch (as shown in Figure 1), you can attempt to research and interpret the debug information yourself. You can copy each line of debug output from DebugView and paste it into your Web browser to research it. Running a Web search can help you learn more about the various functions and commands that get trapped. More likely, though, unless you're an expert debugger, you'll want to send the output to your Microsoft support professional for further diagnosis.
Figure 1: Output from Sysinternal's DebugView
DebugView lets you connect to any machine over your network via TCP/IP. To access another networked computer, you can simply enter its name in the Connect field or browse your LAN or domain and select the PC to monitor.
You can minimize DebugView to the Windows system tray and you can open up multiple DebugView windows in the event you need to monitor more than one computer at a time.
If the debug data gets too long, you have options to search within the debug lines or filter them for specific text strings. You can also set a history depth to limit the number of debug lines displayed.
The debug information itself can be saved as a text file with a .LOG extension, so it can be archived, e-mailed or opened within DebugView. You can set the logging parameters to limit the size of the log file and create a new log for each day.
In the event of a total system crash, DebugView can even open and display the results of the Windows dump file to filter out the debug output.
Finally, you can run DebugView from a command prompt and specify different options to control its startup behavior. Simply type dbgview /? at the command line to view a list and description of all options.
DebugView supports Windows NT, Windows 2000, Server 2003, Windows XP and Windows Vista, as well as Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7. It will work with both 32-bit and 64-bit OSes.
Lance Whitney is an IT consultant, software trainer and technical writer. He has spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist,he took a blind leap into the IT world back in the early 1990s.