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July 13, 2013

What can you do when good computers suddenly go bad?

NORMAN — What happened to my computer? What made it stop working?”

I hear this sort of question all the time. Sometimes, I have a logical, easy-to-understand answer. Other times, my answer sounds something like this: “I know it sounds crazy, but, sometimes, Microsoft Windows just falls apart. It just does.”

I often wonder if my customers believe this type of explanation, but it is, nonetheless, true. Hardware failures are easy to explain.

“See that burned spot on that circuit board? Do you smell the odor of melting plastic? There’s your problem, right there.”

Brownouts, power surges, cheaply manufactured parts and the law of entropy can all lead to easy-to-understand hardware failures. But an operating system “falling apart?” Really?

“My computer was working just fine and then, suddenly …” Yes, computers are a lot like cars: they run fine until they don’t run fine any more. Replace the broken or worn-out part, and you’re back on the road. Problem solved.

It’s when your Windows operating system starts acting up that things become a bit difficult to explain. Suddenly, without any visible explanation, your computer starts crashing, freezing, locking up, restarting or mysteriously turning itself off. Some programs work fine, while others exhibit bizarre behavior. Confusing and frustrating error messages and “blue screens of death” start popping up.

Sometimes, the solutions are simple. Other times, the solutions are very difficult to discover and time-consuming to implement. The reason for these nonsensical computer problems boils down to one thing: machine language.

Also known as “machine code,” machine language is the language that computers speak. In its most basic form, machine language is nothing more than complex combinations of zeroes and ones. Every bit of information in your computer, every file, every program, every email, every picture, every document, every song and every video is made up thousands, millions, billions and even trillions of zeroes and ones that your computer understands and turns into things that you can use.

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