The Problem with Network Support Tools - Windows Vista Will Help


For the better part of the last two years I have been working as a Program Manager on the Network Experience team in the Core Operating System Division at Microsoft. I have been working on the network diagnostics built into Windows Vista with a team of talented and dedicated Developers, Testers and Program Managers.

These are v1 features that I hope will help every Consumer user running Windows Vista overcome the most common networking issues that they typically experience. I also hope that experienced support folks can also leverage these features to reduce the amount of work they have to do to isolate and fix common networking issues. I plan to make a few blog posts to evangelize these features in the near future.

Why did we build network diagnostics into Windows Vista? In the past, in order to troubleshoot a network issue a knowledgeable individual would have to use several support tools to gather information, test hypotheses, and identify how to fix an issue. As you can see from some of my other blog posts, I developed many support tools in the past to help experienced troubleshooters do just that.

There are several issues that limit the usefulness of support tools:

  • Accessibility: the number of users that can really take advantage of support tools is limited for a couple of reasons:
    • Typically the user of a network support tool needs to have knowledge of networking and experience troubleshooting network issues to effectively make use of a network support tool. Although there are many IT Pros that have the required mix of knowledge and experience to use such tools, there are many, many more people that do not. Support tools are not useful to the vast majority of users that experience network issues.
    • Many support tools are not localized. i.e. they only support the language of the developer that wrote them. If the user doesn’t understand the same language they probably won’t be comfortable using the tool.
  • Consistency (Variable Input/Output): every tool takes different input (or the same input but with a different format) and generates different output. i.e. there is no universal syntax for support tools. If the user must use three or four support tools to troubleshoot an issue, chances are each tool requires different switches than the others. The user has to be able to interpret each tool’s output and determine which pieces of output need to be used as input for the next tool.
  • Serviceability: maintaining support tools can be challenging for their developers. As new requirements emerge it can be difficult (and expensive) to retro-fit old tools to meet the new requirements. Many times it is easier to develop new tools to meet the new requirements. This exacerbates the previous two issues I mentioned above.

One of the goals we had for network diagnostics in Windows Vista was to mitigate the need for users to use network support tools when they encountered common network related issues. This simplifies the troubleshooting process for both Consumers and IT Pros and makes network diagnostics more accessible for everyone. We wanted to simplify the input and output that users had to deal with (this is much harder to do than it sounds). Since these network diagnostics are built into Windows Vista, the output is localized in all the languages that Windows Vista supports and being built-in will also improve our ability to service network diagnostics over time.

I will introduce you to some of these new features included in Windows Vista in my upcoming blog posts.