April 26, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft to add 'black box' to Windows

SEATTLE--In a move that could rankle privacy advocates, Microsoft said Monday that it is adding the PC equivalent of a flight data recorder to the next version of Windows, in an effort to better understand and prevent computer crashes.

The tool will build on the existing Watson error-reporting tool in Windows but will provide Microsoft with much deeper information, including what programs were running at the time of the error and even the contents of documents that were being created. Businesses will also choose whether they want their own technology managers to receive such data when an employee's machine crashes.

"Think of it as a flight data recorder, so that any time there's a problem, that 'black box' is there helping us work together and diagnose what's going on," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said during a speech at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here.

For consumers, the choice of whether to send the data, and how much information to share, will be up to the individual. Though the details are being finalized, Windows lead product manager Greg Sullivan said users will be prompted with a message indicating the information to be sent and giving them an option to alter it, such as removing the contents of the e-mail they were writing when the machine crashed. Also, such reporting will also be anonymous.

"Our stance on this is that the user is in control," Sullivan said. "In the consumer environment, you will be presented with a dialog that clearly gives you the choice whether to share the information and then also provides exactly what the detail is so you can parse character by character what's being sent."

With businesses, however, IT managers typically set the policy. If they wanted total information, they could configure systems so that they'd know not only that a user was running Internet Explorer, for example, but also that he or she was watching a video from ESPN.com. Or, they might find out not only that a worker was running Instant Messenger but also that he or she was talking to a co-worker about getting a new job.

And consumers could have a tough time knowing just what information they were sending. Though they'll be able to see the contents of a document, they may not recognize the significance of the technical data--such as register settings--that's being sent.

Industry analyst Richard Doherty said he doubted Microsoft got enough feedback on how users might feel about such a feature. Even airplane pilots, Doherty said, have been able to keep from having their routine in-flight dialogue preserved. Microsoft's version of the black box, Doherty said "is begging for more real-world testing."

But Sullivan pointed out that businesses can already install third-party software to monitor workers' computer usage and some do.

He also said that in the present incarnation of Windows, companies have fairly fine control over what crash data they receive and what information gets sent on to Microsoft. With the new black box feature, he said, companies will simply have "more detailed management ability of the reporting infrastructure."

With the information it does get, Microsoft could, in theory, identify a problem the first time it appears and push down a patch so that no other person encounters the error. Microsoft also shares some data with other Windows developers to help them improve their products. However, Sullivan acknowledged that the day when an error only crops up one time and is fixed is still a long way off.

"Will we ever get to once? No," Sullivan said. "That will remain the goal."

Microsoft also plans to step up the amount of information Windows users get when they send an error report to the company. With Windows XP, the software leviathan has begun sending information back to consumers, though the data tends to be fairly generic. Microsoft is trying to get to a point where it can send back specific details on the problem and how to fix it.

"We're going to take steps toward that," Sullivan said. "It remains to see exactly how far down that path we get."

77 comments

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patches?
they will release patches? that'll be a first...
Posted by Scott W (419 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Been on another planet?
Where have you been, "John Smith?"
Microsoft releases patches as free support for customers, and has been doing so for years and years.

On another planet, run by Open Source, patches are indeed rare. Most problems are resolved by removing the faulty software and completing a total upgrade to the latest version.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Anyone concerned?
I know 3rd party software exists but do I want a error report sending non-tech like the contents of my documents, what site I was using, contents of IM..etc..sounds like error reporting + Net Nanny rolled into one..
Posted by Greenbeanx (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not really
At home, people can choose not to send anything if they are concerned about what information might be collected. It is a voluntary process.
At work, just forget about it. If your company wants to keep tabs on your computer use, they can and will. This type of error reporting will not make it any easier then it already is.
Posted by catchall (245 comments )
Link Flag
Not concerned - irritated
If M$ (or any software vendor) was actually going to fix something fine. But I fix pretty much all my own problems, trying to get the vendor to fix something is almost always a waste of time - although tech support at Iomega were quite friendly, last time I talked to them ;-)

I contacted Gateway about a missing *.cab file, trying to repair M$ Office 2003 & their suggestion - do a system resotre - for 1 F&*!&*^@$*^*ing file. If they'd preloaded the same version of Office that was on the CD that they sent, everything would have been Hunky Dory.

So - I don't want a flight recorder for the PC, when it is NOT going to help & it will just take up resources.
Posted by (409 comments )
Link Flag
Not one bit.
So long as I retain control of any data collected on my system, I have no problems with this at all. In fact, over time it should help improve the system and all its integrated features and applications. Not a bad thing at all.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
(sarcasm on) Only 10 years too late!
This is just what we needed 10 years ago when Microsoft brought out Windoze 95!

Now that Microsoft has finally created a relatively stable version of Windows (Windows XP) this will be just useless extra garbage - another service running in the background, gobbling up more memory and making more money for the Korean chip manufacturers.

Wouldn't surprise me if the next version of Windows will require 512 MB of RAM or so.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
tryed running WinXP with 256 ram?
Have you ever tryed running Windows XP with only 256 ram? When I "upgraded" from Win2k to XP (big mistake) with 256 ram. Windows XP basically freaked out..I was running the same apps and programs launching in the tray but XP is a memory hog..I was fine on 256 mbs with Win2k..My virtual mem usage on XP before I got 512 mbs total was 600-700 mbs..and of course everything slowed down
Posted by Greenbeanx (35 comments )
Link Flag
stop pushin me...
for me, it always seems like i need more reasons to move away from windows, although this might not be the straw to break the camel's back...it's definitely pushing me towards that little thing called linux...

ahhh!!
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only a matter of time
Its only a matter of time before the OpenSource community clones this effort for Linux. Will that be the straw that breaks another camel's back, forcing you to use... Hmm... OS/2? I'll give 'em 2 years to get it done and implemented. Given that the user retains control over the information collected, and can decided whether or not to release this information, I find your fear confusing. Perhaps you can elaborate on how this feature, which will obviously provide beneficial information to MS allowing them to improve their OS, somehow offends your obviously delicate sensibilities.... eh?
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
The user takes part in development
"We are Microsoft, where end users help us develop our buggy products. We don't do Beta Testing, so we rely on the end user to send us their errors so we can know where to patch. Our user: our Beta Tester. Microsoft: bringing the development to the user."

Has anyone thought about this? A patch is (in the literal sense) a piece of clothing applied to old clothes to cover holes and prevent further ripping. If Windows was an old pair of pants, how would it look after so many patches? When will be the day that no further patches are required?
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would be very nervous....
... iif I thought that MS had installed spyware into me computer. As
it is, both MS and Apple have semi-automated reporting
capabilities when some things go wrong. And a report can be sent
if the user agrees.

But, how likely is it that MS might do data collecting without openly
telling any one? Would you believe MS if they said thay did it only
when they needed to? Have you ever heard about spyware???????
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We know.
<<I would be very nervous>>

You *are* very nervous, Earl. It would seem that you let speculation and fear completely rule your opinion of Windows technology. It was stated quite clearly that the user will retain complete control over the information. Any suggestion to the contrary without evidence is FUD. Plain and simple. The only question left to ponder, is how long it will take OpenSource groups to clone this effort.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Test TalkBack
Just a test :)
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
lol
^^subject^^
Posted by Scott W (419 comments )
Link Flag
So MS is committed to no improvements or changes in its flawed architecture
So MS will continue to omit "memory management" from the charter of its OS (guaranteeing that "buffer overflows," "leaks," and other inter-application encroachments for which we'll invent new euphanisms will always be FATAL)?

And we'll NEVER have "configuration control" in Windows? So we'll still be stuck forever with the flawed module-sharing concept whereby every important application is at risk of being broken by any trivial application which chooses to replace an OS module or make changes in the Registry? And nothing can ever be QA'd because we'll never know what any software is made from?

And all this DESPITE the fact that there are 30-40 year old field-proven OS models which had none of these problems (and which could be copied or emulated)?

The reasons for Windows crashes are not hard to figure out!! The flaws are huge, obvious, gaping, conceptual holes in the architecture!! There are simply no provisions for inter-application security.

This whole initiative sounds like a bull-headed commitment to never learn.
Posted by landlines (54 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The little black snitch
I really do like the concept of the 'black box'. What I don't like is who is doing it. To be blunt I don't trust Microsoft. I don't really think they are collecting mounds of data on me everytime I login or surf the web, but why do they need to know the contents of my documents. I can understand wanting to know what applications were running, but not the contents in them.

In the end I really don't care what they do as long as I can shut it off. I turn off every unneeded service and uninstall every useless app.

I have to agree that the measures that a lot of companies are going to to thwart piracy are probably just going to hurt them. In Microsofts case I think that the product activation and soon to be 'black box' is just going to drive a lot of people away. I don't expect a massive defection, but a few at a time.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Its possible
Its possible that some people will fear the user-controlled black-box and consider alternate systems. However, the black box was not meant to be a tremendous benefit or offer enhanced value to the end user. It is merely a piece of a larger effort to improve the product. If it works, the black-box will enable more relevant patches, more timely releases, and a better overall product. If it works, the product improvements will likely win back any customers that were scared away by features they simply didn't understand.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Is this the death knell? Please!?
While I still make money 'fixing' (i.e., patching, workaround-ing,
uninstalling, etc.) Microsoft's ubiquitous (iniquitous?) OS
weaknesses for clients, I now love a Mac. It felt sinful at first. I
switched over to Apple as soon as I felt the new OS X was
interoperable enough for me to keep up with school
assignments (Master's International Relations) and client's
computer systems. My little PowerBook Ti has taken a beating
and near-constant use with no problems at all; I do take good
care of it -- for $3000 I felt it a moral necessity. Microsoft's
user-development scheme tries to cover the multitude of
programming sins and then charges the end-user for the honor.
I think not -- I hope this is at least one nail in coffin for MS, and
finally Linux and Apple (obvious bias) can gain some ground.
Posted by SNGecko (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Way off target
<< I hope this is at least one nail in coffin for MS>>

Lets see... User retains complete control. Error reporting is improved speeding patch development and timely deployment.

If you ask me, we are getting more features designed to keep Windows up to snuff. This is a product upgrade that takes nothing away from the user or their experience. How in Sam's Club could this be a proverbial nail in the coffin? The idea is absolutely ridiculous, unless you believe the paranoid anti-MS FUD that people are spreading about this additional feature.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Bad link?
The 'view print-friendly version' button on this article points to a different article, one about a Longhorn developer preview.
Posted by haunted_i (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Very concerned
I'm sure there'll be a terms of use along with this that says they can change the terms at anytime without telling you. So, next week, they can decide to not keep it anonymous and turn off the opt-out and they don't even have to tell you. I blogged about it here (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://jointheweb.org/?F=showarticle&#38;id=25" target="_newWindow">http://jointheweb.org/?F=showarticle&#38;id=25</a>)
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Privacy??????
This seems to be the end of our privacy...
Well, let´s go change to a new OS, like Mac or Linux... I dont want to Microsof know everything i am doing im my pc...

Life to Open Source!
Dead to Closed Source!
Posted by (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
option
setting the amount and type of info sent back to MS is exactly the way is should be. that way the option is left up to the user on an individual basis if it is a home PC.
Posted by rockerrb (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Uh, windows doesn't require the most ram
OS X is a much greater RAM gobbler, and so is Linux (prepackaged versions). For modern OSes Windows XP requires the least amount of RAM to run. I know someone who has run it on 128 MB of ram for three years now (not recommended), but try that on OS X or Linux. This isn't a comment on the quality of the OS, just the resources it takes. If you knew anything about these OSes you would have known that.
Posted by tsm26 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is why I switched to Linux
Last September we purchased two new AMD-64 machines, with XP pre-loaded. Graham, my boss, also purchased a complete XP install (not the OEM that comes with the system) and the latest Office release. He started using his machine a couple of days before I did, and all I heard was how often XP/Office wanted to call home.

Partion Magic + Fedora Core and I have never looked back, or for that matter re-booted. VMWare is next, so I can test website development from IE, without having to fire up a notebook.
Posted by (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, people shouldnt just, ...trust, ...Microsoft.
Most people have come to realize that only a FOOL, a LIAR, or WORSE, would ever expect anybody to simply-accept ANYTHING said by Microsoft.

This is because, NO ONE can expect to be taken seriously if they dont know that Microsoft has been caught lying, cheating, stealing, violating consumer-rights and privacy, breaking the law, and producing incredibly-shoddy, insecure, and seriously monopolistic-products ...time, after time, after time, after time...

This negative-view, regarding Microsofts behavior, is simply an inescapable conclusion derived from years of consumer-experience, an enormous-body of easily verifiable historical-facts, reams of expert-analysis, and the continual-conclusions of legal-case, after legal-case, which have been proven against Microsoft.

Frankly, in this particular instance, it would be absolutely fool-hardy to ignore the numerous historical-examples of Microsofts attempts misappropriate personal-information, such as,

-trying to get IBM to alter the original PC, before its release, to allow Microsoft to individually identify each computer using MS-software.

-Working for the built-in processor-ID to allow Microsoft to identify the individual computer used by all Web-surfers and software-users.

-The Media Player-identifier, ...transmitting a unique-ID to any streaming-media server contacted.

-transmitting the contents of users internal system-searches to Microsoft.

-During system-patches', collecting and transmitting [to Microsoft] all identified non-Microsoft software installed on someones PC.

-Including physical-ID tokens as part of the next version of MS-Windows, which would allow Microsoft to actually identify each individual computer-user.

As well as, Microsofts numerous, less than ethical, policies and actions against consumers in general, such as,

-Windows Product Activation, which allows Microsoft to decide if, when, and for how long, a computer-owner can use the software, for which, they have already paid.

-Microsofts EULAs which demand the power to delete, alter, or deactivate absolutely any programs, or data, on any computer.

-Demanding that the world accept Microsofts, ludicrous, assertion that consumers dont actually own the products which they have bought.

-Microsoft flatly refusing to accept, any responsibility for the flaws in their products, or, a consumers right to refuse pre-installed software.

-Using their illegally-created monopoly to demand five-times higher profit-margins than almost any other manufacturing-industry.

-Imposing "Trusted Computing" upon consumers -which virtually every analyst has stated is primarily a hard-DRM, and copyright-whim, enforcement-enabler, ...as well as being a very effective Microsoft-product LOCK-IN tool.

So, despite Microsofts perpetual-claims that, "...they have changed", it is quite obvious, to anyone with an ounce of common-sense, that Microsoft simply CANNOT RESIST using any possible method of controlling the market, ...whether it is unethical or not.

Therefore, expecting Microsoft to refrain from lying and misusing any power within their grasp, would have to be considered to be the height of gullibility.

Its no small wonder that so many consumers, IT professionals, security-experts, business-communities, and even entire nations, are now seriously exploring alternatives to Microsofts-control, ...at such a feverish-pitch.

All of this has even led some industry-pundits to question Microsofts long-term business-potential.

Yes, Microsoft is still huge, but their perceived market-value has, in fact, fallen considerably of late. And finally, theyre having some of their more egregious business-practices forcibly-curtailed by governments around the world. These two facts, along with the general animosity, within the tech-community, towards Microsofts heavy-handed actions, and product-imperatives, may be the reason why Microsofts previously-amazing Market-domination now seems poised to finally erode at an ever-increasing pace.

Maybe, in a few years someone will write a book, "Dirty-Monopoly: The Real Reasons for The Rise, ...and The Ultimate Fall, ...of Microsoft".
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Reply Link Flag
If spyware=software Not enough then Activate=blackBox else die
How far are we from this? This is a self made nail in their own coffin. PC's preloaded with Linux will make a big step in the coming 12 Months I will bet on that !
Posted by cyberblatt (35 comments )
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Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Black Box? Has a familiar sound!
Products such as Cryoserver and KVDrymax sell themselves as 'flight recorders' and 'black boxes' which take a forensic approach. Is MS going down this route too, or is this release simply marketing speak for better crash reporting?

Either way, increasing compliance legislation probably means MS is thinking ahead in this regard, and it'll only be a small step for them to offer businesses complete monitoring over corporate desktops. Which is A Good Thing when you think about it.
Posted by j_swanson (3 comments )
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