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How to troubleshoot software errors and problems

Software errorsSoftware errors, bugs and crashes could be really annoying, especially if the project deadline is coming. A couple of times I spent more time solving errors in various apps than actually working. Every time I try to stay calm and don’t lose patience and sense of humor. Here I describe my experience in fixing various bugs in design software with examples and general tips. How did you solve your most annoying error? Please add your tips and solutions in the comments.

Make sure you have the latest program version and all updates installed
It is obvious and probably problem you have is already fixed in updates already enrolled and you have just to install these updates. For some programs you have to download the latest version. I follow this strategy first when I have any error.

Example: CorelDraw X3 really drove me crazy when every 10 minutes I get report about unexpected or unknown error. The bugs were solved only with Service Pack 1 installation. I just had to wait for it a couple of month 🙂

Search Google or Yahoo for the error
Just press Ctrl+C to copy error screen you get into Google search box (a couple of times Yahoo helped me with more fresh and relevant results while Google didn’t). Sometimes even the first link has the solution to your problem.

Example: Once I have a weird problem with Adobe Illustrator CS3. It refused to save files with ‘Crash Error upon saving file’ report. After googling I discovered that the problem was in stopped Windows print spooler service. After starting it I can save file smoothly. Though I still can’t believe that in Adobe products file saving has something in common with printing.

Indentify what in particular causes the error
If you know exactly how to reproduce error and what part of your work has problem you’re almost fix it. This way is especially useful for complicated projects which consist of different objects from different software. It could be that only one of the components is damaged. Just replacing this asset with fixed version will solve your problem.

Example 1: By exporting PDF from Adobe InDesign CS3 I got error on the last pages ‘Failed to export the PDF file’. By exporting document page by page it turned out that the problem was caused by corrupted EPS file and I have just to replace one file to fix the problem.

Example 2: I recently discovered most annoying bug in Adobe Encore and Adobe Premiere Pro CS3. I used video from Premiere Pro for animated background in DVD menu and every time I tried to export DVD presentation project from Adobe Encore I got painful PCG error. So when I replaced this video with still image export worked without error. I replaced background with other video – still no error. In the menu background causing PCG error I had 3 elements: rotating 3D sphere with alpha transparency, Adobe Photoshop.psd file and moving background. After some hours experimenting I realized that the problem was in sphere. The only suitable solution was to export from Premiere Pro in DV AVi video format, other formats including QuickTime and MPEG fails. Seems strange that Adobe still doesn’t recognize and don’t address this obvious bug.

Don’t repeat the same solution more than twice
It’s obvious but sometimes people spend hours trying to solve errors without looking for new ways around and getting error again and again. Don’t drive yourself crazy, have a patience to use some other solutions.

Example: To be fair, once it happened to me. I spent an hour trying to install Autodesk 3Ds Max 9 and every time getting License error. The problem was in Xammp server running on my machine and solution was in stopping it.

Don’t re-install your software
In 99% of cases it won’t help because as a rule bugs and errors have nothing to do with corrupted installation.

Example: I know people wrote on forums that they re-installed Adobe Creative Suite and even Windows and still had the Adobe Encore bug described above.

Save your work every 5-10 minutes
It’s not hard at all to press Ctrl+S regularly or use Save as command to save file version. If the program has Autosave option adjust it for more often save. It will save you a lot of time and nerves when you get some unexpected error. It happens even with most polished programs.

Example: There are hundreds helps requests in the forums how to save some hours of work after Photoshop suddenly closed or popped up error report.  It’s a pity but you can’t recover your work afterwards.

Ask software developer for support
If you know how to reproduce the problem consistently and you have bought your software license you should ask developer for support. It is most obvious and quickest way to solve the problems sometimes.
Adobe – Feature Request/Bug Report Form

Example: I was confused by having no option for open the same photo twice in Photomatix 3.0 (for creating pseudo HDR photos). It seemed like bug to me. But after request to HDRsoft about the problem I got answer that is the new feature and I have to make a copy of this photo with different name to open it twice.

Ask for advice on specialized forums and community blogs

There are a lot of recourses in the Web where you can get quick and useful tips for free. Don’t hesitate to post your help request on forums and community blogs and help others if you find any new solution.
Adobe Forums
Expert Exchange Web development
Yahoo Answers
Creative Cow forums

Example: After having an odd Dreamweaver bug by saving its files I posted message in Adobe forums. The problem was in Bitdefender antivirus running in the background.  As a general tip, try to stop any potentially problematic software like antivirus or something else you don’t need at the time.

Place your content in new document, restart software, restart Windows
You can’t believe but sometimes it helps. Even just restarting your software which produce error or rebooting Windows can help. And placing content in the new document is the best solution for any corrupted file.
Example 1: One time my InDesign shortcuts refused to work. The solution was to copy default shortcuts profile and just rename it without changing anything.
Example 2: In Adobe Illustrator I got error every time I tried to copy object to different layer. After rebooting Windows everything worked fine, without any magic 😉

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