In a number of recent columns, I've mentioned various startup and shut down problems you may encounter when using Windows. One of Windows' favorite error messages are ones that look similar to:
"A fatal exception (something) has occurred at (bunch of numbers)."
This type of inscrutable message makes people nuts. So, here's an interesting question that was posed to me not too long ago: what exactly IS a "fatal exception" anyway?
Oddly enough, I actually ran across the answer today. Microsoft has an article in its Knowledge Base aptly named "What Are Fatal Exception Errors?" You can find it at http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q150/3/14.ASP.
According to the article, fatal exception errors are codes that are returned by a software program when it encounters bad programming code. This code might be a problematic instruction, invalid data, or basically any attempt to do something the program can't figure out how to manage.
So, when the program hits the error, your computer's processor returns an "exception code" to the operating system (i.e., Windows). Windows treats this as a "fatal exception" so you have to restart or shut down the computer. The article also points out that "Windows does not cause these errors, but has the exception-handling routine for that particular processor exception, which displays the error message." In other words, Windows is just passing on the bad news. The article in the Knowledge Base has links to other articles that give you advice on how to troubleshoot the particular fatal exception error you are seeing.
If you are having problems with any Microsoft product, it's really worth your while to learn how to search the Knowledge Base. You can find it online at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx. This is the same reference database that the tech support folks use, so you can save yourself a lot of expensive calls by just doing a little searching yourself.