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Let's trade one Reliability Monitor mystery for another, OK?

Anybody who’s been reading these blogs for any length of time knows that I am enamored of the Reliability Monitor in Windows Vista and 7. Back in early September I wrote a blog entitled “Why doesn’t Windows 7 post a reliability index any more?” At the time I was (and remain) a bit miffed because MS has to store a stability index value to graph out the basic reliability history, yet it chooses not to explicitly display that value when it draws out the graph for your information and edification. Here’s a somewhat squeezed down display from my system this morning, so I can point out a few bits and pieces.

Today, the stability index is less than great, but better than awful

Today, the stability index is less than great, but better than awful

Notice the absence of numerical values for the stability index anywhere on the display, and the categories for errors (red X), warnings (yellow exclamation point), and information (white “i” on a blue background) that the utility reports day by day. Note also the links at the bottom of the window.

As it happens, I jumped into a great blog by the inimitable Ed Bott at ZDNet this morning entitled “Windows 7 in the real world: 10 PCs under the microscope.” It’s a fascinating recitation of his experieces with 10 different PCs running Windows 7 over the past year or so. Throughout he cites specific stability index values from those machines, and I found myself asking “Where is he getting this data?”

That’s when I returned to the tool, and clicked the link at the lower left of its window (in case you can’t make out what it says, the link reads “Save reliability history…” I clicked the link, and saved the resulting data as an XML file, which I then opened in Internet Explorer. Bingo! As the following snippet illustrates, this is where you can find the actual numerical stability index value for any given day, captured at hourly intervals.

The graph data is right there in readable form

The graph data is right there in readable form

If you really want this data, you can go get it for yourself. But my question is: given that MS has to read this data to draw the graph in the first place, why can’t they add the few necessary lines of code to report the value in readable numeric form. They did it for the Vista version, but not for the Win7 version. I’m confused… and I hope they decide to fix this in an update or Service Pack some time soon.

That said, Bott also makes some great points about the value and meaning of the stability index in the aforementioned blog, on page 2. I’ll quote it verbatim:

And yet… My experience with this machine has been overwhelmingly positive. It runs nearly everything I throw at it and has no annoying bad habits. It doesn’t crash. It sleeps and wakes up reliably. The Reliability Monitor algorithm deducted huge amounts from the stability index (a total of more than 6 points) for two incidents that consumed 2-3 minutes each. In once case, an IE8 tab crashed four times in the space of a minute or two because of a problem with Adobe Flash in a single tab. Solution: Close that page. Two days later, I updated the excellent MediaMonkey music organizer/player to the most recent release, which proceeded to crash when I tried to run it. A quick trip to the support forums turned up the cause (an incompatibility with an iTunes 9 component) and the temporary fix (renaming a DLL). Although each event was annoying for a few minutes, neither one had even the slightest impact on performance after it had passed.

Lesson learned? If you’re happy with the way your system works, don’t obsess over a perfect 10.

On my production machine, I’ve had similar problems with several bits and pieces that have cost my stability index dearly. Until Dell came up with a bona fide Windows 7 driver for my AOL 968 combo device (print/scan/fax) I might see anywhere from three to ten “Printer Filter Pipeline Host stopped working” errors a day. Likewise, PC Doctor (the new beta version that supposedly works well with Win7) includes PC Tools Security Service item that crashed 7 times on 10/7/09, leading to the precipitous drop you’ll see in my stability index earlier in this blog. I’m happy to report that a switch to NIS 2010 took care of that problem, and that everything’s quiet with the AIO 968 since I upgraded the driver on 10/14. And now, I guess, I’m going to learn to live with a less-than-perfect stability index as long as my problems aren’t too serious or vexing.

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