A few years ago I started to see several complaints of Internet Explorer crashing in the course of a couple months. The error was one of the rather vague exception messages thrown at the time of the crash and didn’t allude to anything obvious. Tired of not being able to explain through any of the conventional troubleshooting methods, I did a little research into advanced troubleshooting techniques and came across the Windows XP default debugger, Dr. Watson. Sure it sounds a little cheesy but this is actually a helpful little gem that has assisted me in resolving many cases of unexplained application crashes. And even though Microsoft has done away with drwtsn32.exe in all Windows operating systems after XP, the majority of small and large enterprises are still using XP, which means it should be one of core tools of any Windows XP troubleshooting guru. You’ll also see how, despite Microsoft moving to WER, Dr. Watson can still be leveraged by the Windows Vista/7 OS (just for the hell of it).
To use Dr. Watson, you don’t need to do anything. By default, it is the default Windows XP debugger. When an application experiences a exception of sorts that leads to a crash, ideally it is designed to dump that process and create two files, a plain text drwtsn32.log and a dump file named user.dmp, the latter which requires WinDbg to open and analyze. If you are not sure if Dr. Watson is the default debugger, you can run drwtsn32.exe –i to make it the default. You can also confirm by going to HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\AeDebug and looking in the Debugger string for drwtsn32 -p %ld -e %ld –g:
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