Symptom: Problems launching a software application (e.g., won't launch, freezes up computer, produces an error message, etc.)
Could be: A conflict with other applications.
The fix: Try the System Restore function to remove any recent changes. "It removes any system settings, like if you changed your desktop from a picture of a puppy to a picture of the beach, or any software added since the last restore point," Bivin explains.
If your computer has problems launching applications soon after you've installed new software, uninstall the new application and then install it again to see if that solves the problem, he advises.
You should also check for and install updates on existing software, he adds.
Symptom: Blue-screen error
Could be: Hardware or software problems.
The fix: You can look at Event Viewer in Computer Management to get a brief description of the error and maybe even reference support articles. (To access Computer Management, click Start and then click Control Panel. Click Performance and Maintenance, click Administrative Tools, and then double-click Computer Management.)
"It will tell what file caused an issue, so you can identify whether it was hardware or software that caused it," Obenshain says. You might just need a software update to get things rolling smoothly again.
Otherwise, you can use the messages that appear to search for a probable cause and solution. If the computer is successfully able to boot and you're working in Windows and getting error messages, you can go to Microsoft's support site to find troubleshooting info or, if it's a known problem, the steps to resolve it, Obenshain says. He notes that the messages might not make sense to the user but could mean a lot to IT professionals.
Symptom: Peripherals won't work
Could be: Corrupted software.
The fix: It's tempting to think that your printer is kaput or your PDA is on its last legs when it won't work with your computer, but it's often just faulty software, Meister says. "The software that allows the computer to talk to the hardware sometimes gets corrupted or deleted or changed," he explains.
The fix could be as simple as uninstalling the software for the device and then reinstalling it, he adds. Look for and install any updates, too.
Fatal error: Your PC's down. Now what?
Do you feel helpless, frustrated and defeated when the error message rears its ugly head? Learn some first steps to help you identify the problem and seek the kind of help that is widely available for do-it-yourselfers online.