More great free troubleshooting tools for Windows

Keep these tools handy for ironing out install issues, diagnosing application crashes, probing process activity, slaying resource hogs, and curing other Windows ills

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"What is that program doing!?" We've all asked this question at one time or another. Little is more frustrating than running a program and watching it do absolutely nothing. Or burning up 99 percent of all four cores without getting even a responsive window for all that trouble. The worst is when a program is churning furiously away at the disk for no apparent reason. It's not just a performance killer; those of us with a paranoid streak may wonder if our files are all being shredded while we sit and drum our fingers.

Another of Nir Sofer's endlessly useful software creations to the rescue: ProcessActivityView. ProcessActivityView lets you inspect the file activity of a given process in great detail, and create a running log of all the file accesses generated by that program.

When you run ProcessActivityView, click on "Start With Existing Process" and you'll be presented with a list of all running programs. Select one, click OK, and ProcessActivityView will begin to record everything that program does with respect to files: files opened, written to, closed, which program module performed the deed, the last process handle associated with the file, and any resulting error codes generated by the file access. This last option is especially useful if a program is trying to access a file that, for instance, it doesn't have permission to talk to and is crashing because it doesn't have code to handle such a condition. You can also launch a process from within ProcessActivityView (click "Start New Process") and start tracing its activity immediately. As with all of Nir Sofer's apps, you can generate reports in HTML, XML, plaintext, and CSV from the data harvested.

ProcessActivityView comes in two editions: x86 and x64. Note that the x64 version is used for inspecting x64 applications; it's not the version you must run on 64-bit Windows. In other words, if you have 64-bit Windows, you need to run one of either version of ProcessActivityView depending on the program you're inspecting: the 32-bit version for 32-bit apps and the 64-bit version for 64-bit apps. If you try to use the x64 version to inspect a 32-bit app, the app in question may crash. For safety's sake, start with the 32-bit edition first, and if you don't see the intended program, grab the 64-bit edition and use it. I keep both editions in one folder with "x64" tacked onto the end of the name of the 64-bit version.

Also note that ProcessActivityView is most useful when you're dealing with a specific program. It can't tabulate results from multiple programs at once.

ProcessActivityView traces the file activity of a specific application and creates detailed logs for later analysis.
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