According to a story at Ars Technica, Microsoft has launched a beta version of a new service for Windows users, called the FixIt Center. (The PhysOrg site also has a short news note on this.) This is basically an automated problem diagnosis and repair tool for Windows installations.
The service, which has about 300 fixes already built in (with more to come), is designed to help users diagnose and troubleshoot problems with their Windows PCs.
In order to use the service, the user downloads and installs a client program on the PC (which can be running any version of Windows still supported by Microsoft). The client program scans the user’s PC to determine what hardware and software components are installed. It can then use this information, together with diagnostics from the OS, to attempt to diagnose problems, and offer to download (if necessary) and install fixes, or just report the problem to Microsoft. The system also keeps a log of what has been changed — something which, as any veteran of PC support knows, users are not particularly good at.
(Some of these tools have already been tried out in a limited way as part of Microsoft’s Knowledge Base articles, especially to provide temporary software fixes.)
The system also gives the user the option of setting up a FixIt Center online account. The client software can then be installed on multiple PCs, all of which can be tied to the same online account. This is meant to make maintenance and management easier for small businesses, and for families with multiple PCs.
With any system of this kind, the devil is in the details; and the fact that data is being centrally collected (when the online account feature is used) may raise some privacy issues. Still, everyone know that maintaining Windows systems is a pain, especially for small- or medium-sized organizations who can’t afford dedicated technical staff. Microsoft is to be commended for trying to make this better; let’s hope they succeed.