Corporate Error Reporting's Public Debut

Microsoft's Watson technology, for soliciting semi-automatic bug reports from end users and plowing the data back into the bug-fixing effort, has been mostly for the computer industry.

But last week at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas, the company demonstrated software to help in-house enterprise developers use Watson to improve ongoing quality and maintenance of in-house applications. While Corporate Error Reporting, as Microsoft calls it, has been available to Software Assurance subscribers since September, Microsoft hasn't highlighted it before. "This is the first show where we've really talked about it a lot," says David Hamilton, a director in Microsoft's Enterprise Management Division.

The public face of Microsoft's Watson technology is the pop-up prompt that confronts users of Office, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 whenever an error occurs that forces an application to shut down. If the user approves sending an error report to Microsoft, Watson sends information on the failure back to Microsoft. Armed with the reports, Microsoft can determine which bugs are causing the most failures and prioritize its bug-fixing efforts accordingly.

In addition to its own applications, Microsoft has encouraged developers of drivers for hardware devices and independent software vendors to take advantage of Watson, as well. Microsoft says it segments its database of bug errors to allow third-parties to see bug reports related to their applications. The company has also approached companies whose drivers caused a disproportionate number of crashes about getting problems fixed.

Most software development, however, takes place not in the computer industry but instead inside companies where internal business applications are written -- and Corporate Error Reporting is designed to extend the benefits of Watson to those users.

Michael Emanuel, another director in the Enterprise Management Division, gave a demonstration of Corporate Error Reporting technology during an MMS keynote presentation. The software runs on a Windows server, and gives administrators the ability to decide whether error reports go to Microsoft or are rerouted to an internal database. Administrators can also select how much information is sent, exclude certain applications such as internal applications and exclude specific users (say the CEO) and computers from sending any information.

Emanuel showed sample results in a table form that allowed an IT administrator or developer to sort and view errors by application or by the users experiencing the problems. Emanuel said the user view gives IT a way to be proactive in dealing with users' problems. For example, if IT discovers that a particular user is having daily problems with an in-house application, the administrator can forward the bug reports to the developers, have the problem fixed, and then let the user know that the problems was noticed and corrected.

Hamilton says Corporate Error Reporting has been an attractive option for large Microsoft's customers with extensive in-house application development. "There are at least hundreds of customers using it. So far, it's tended to be our largest customers. They tend to be customers interested in analyzing crashes."

For now, Microsoft is looking at ways to offer tighter connections between Corporate Error Reporting and Microsoft Operations Manager, but the company has no plans to offer Corporate Error Reporting outside of Software Assurance. "We like the association with SA today. We think it's the right place and the right customers," Hamilton says.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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