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The next time your program is 'not responding,' (do not) try these steps

Can't open that tin of beans? Put it back in the cupboard and take it out again!

Something for the Weekend We're standing still. The suspense is unbearable. One of us is going to crack.

On the large projector screen is a message: "The application is not responding." Facing the large projector screen is a roomful of startup dudes. Staring back at them, and situated just underneath the projector screen, is the flailing, forlorn presenter himself: me.

"It's never done that before," I lie as I eventually give up frantically tapping the keyboard and jabbing the trackpad as if I was playing whack-a-mole.

As well as informing me that the application is not responding, the on-screen message is asking me what I want to do about it. Interesting question. What I want to do is kick the shit out of the laptop while yelling, "I'm paying $55 a month for this pisspoor software!" but neither option is among those offered to me.

Instead, I am asked if I would like to close the program (and risk losing information) or wait for the program to respond (and risk losing the will to live). Normally this would be answered by the conditions of my booking. If I was on a day rate, I'd choose the former; if on an hourly rate, I'd choose the latter.

Two years of hosting online meetings haven't gone to waste, however, and I know exactly what to do. Let me share the wealth of my experience with you now. Consider it a high-end life-hack gift from me to you, in the confident expectation that it will accelerate your professional development. Here goes:

Whenever things go wrong, launch a poll.

I turn to the crowd and ask them which option I should choose.

It doesn't matter what they vote for. It takes half a minute for them to make up their minds and raise their hands, and another minute to be told to please raise their hands higher and keep them there; and by the time I have counted the votes each way, the decision has already been made for us. Either the software has stopped sulking about the paucity of system resources, in which case I carry on with the software demo, or it hasn't, in which case I would announce it is hopeless and press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC.

While I relaunch the application, I regale the crowd with a long, drawn-up joke I stole and adapted off someone much funnier than me*, while mentally adding the name of the application to my fantasy hit list.

Two of the programs that I am certified to teach stop responding temporarily as soon as you launch them; on any computer, on any configuration, on any platform. Deviously, they give the impression of having launched completely, everything looking correct on screen within a mere couple of seconds… whereupon the "not responding" message routinely appears in the title bar and stays there for another minute or so.

In my training courses, I always get my trainees to launch these programs immediately before announcing a tea break. This gives the software five minutes to lark about with its "not responding" nonsense so that it'll have got itself together by the time we have started dunking our biscuits.

Well, I've had enough. After yet again having dodged a potential public embarrassment (with a poll, remember; you'll thank me for that later) caused by non-responding software, I am determined to get to the root of it once and for all.

Back home, I go to the software company's website and run a search for "The application is not responding" fixes. I begin working through the suggestions one by one.

1. End Task / Force Quit the program and relaunch it

OK, that's a given. I've been doing that for the last 30 years or so. One of the first things I do when sitting down at any new Windows computer is to set Task Manager to be "Always on top." I have a feeling this will be helpful later and I am always proved correct. Anyway, let's try something else.

2. Restart the computer

Obviously this suggestion has not been updated since the pandemic and the advent of the New Normal and remote working. No matter than I am the meeting host, I'll just restart my computer, shall I? The first time I did this, everyone I had invited to the meeting got turfed out instantly and it took half an hour to gather them back in.

To stop this happening again, I changed my meeting settings so that if I leave an event unexpectedly, presenter privileges are passed temporarily at random to another attendee. But when I tried this for real, by the time I had rejoined the meeting, the random attendee had discovered he had acquired full annotation tools and was drawing rude scribbles over my still-frozen screen.

Besides, restarting the computer does not work. That darn application continues to have a tendency to not respond from time to time.

3. Check for software updates

Great. Half the nerds in the industry tell me never to install the latest update; the other half tells me to do exactly that. I flip a coin: "update everything" it is. It doesn't help, though.

4. Uninstall and reinstall the program

But I've just updated it! Oh well, I have nothing else to do. Apart from getting on with some work, that is. For good measure, I uninstall, restart the computer, and then reinstall. It works! Hurrah! I get stuck into some work. Half an hour later, the program produces another "not responding" message.

5. Scan for viruses and malware

For what it's worth, I tend to think antivirus and anti-malware programs are malware by definition. But it's a Windows PC so I have one installed already; it makes no difference.

6. Restore Windows to an earlier date

What? First you tell me to update and now you tell me to downdate. Are you just making this up to keep me occupied and stop me raising flags and forming barricades? Fair enough, it's worth a try…

Brilliant, now nothing works properly any more.

7. Uninstall and reinstall Windows

Ha, by odd coincidence, I found I had to do that anyway after step 6 cocked up my computer entirely.

8. Install the program on a newer computer

Luckily I keep several brand new computers sitting around at home just for this eventuality. Oh, actually… hang on, no I don't.

9. Move your computer to a location where the Wi-Fi signal is stronger

Where exactly would that be? I hear the Wi-Fi's pretty good in Basingstoke. I give my local estate agent a ring and request a callback.

10. Sell all your belongings, burn down your house, and join a clifftop monastic order in the Himalayas.

Tempting though that is at this very moment, I have a better idea. Why not bugfix your sodding software so that it works properly?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He has taken pains not to incite violence towards software developers in this week's column as it plays merry heck with SEO. Besides, he does not wish to see any more unsolicited ads for "replica" weapons and polemicist guff in his social media feeds. By the way, the stolen joke* mentioned in the column is below. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.


A shepherd is minding her sheep on a hill one day when a swanky executive car makes its way gingerly down the lane nearby. It comes to a halt and the mirrored electric window rolls down, through which can be seen a complex dashboard of flashing lights and controls. A man sticks his head out and calls to the shepherd, complaining about the stupid sat-nav and lack of road signs, and asking for directions.

The shepherd tells the man how to get back onto the correct route, and makes a joke about relying too much on technology to follow what should have been a straight road.

Not wanting to leave with his tail between his legs, the man in the car proposes a bet: if he can use the tech in his car to calculate the precise number of sheep in her entire flock spread across the hill, would she let him take away one of the sheep as a prize?

Of course, she says.

The driver then pulls out a laptop and erects a mini satellite dish, and calls upon all manner of satellite photography and fractal chaos calculation apps to determine the size of the flock. Five minutes later, he has the answer. And the shepherd confirms he is correct!

She lets him pick a sheep to take, which he duly hauls into the enormous boot of the car. As he does this, the shepherd proposes a counter-bet: if she can guess what he does for a living, she wins her sheep back again. He agrees. Why not?

She tells him he is a management consultant. Fair enough, he replies, right first time. But how did she guess?

"You've over-specified the vehicle you need for your journey but thought it looked good. You don't know where you are going or where you have come from, but you blame other people for this. You chose to waste expensive technology to tell me how many sheep I have – something that I already know and would have been happy to tell you too for free if you'd asked. But most of all, you blindly accepted a challenge about which you know absolutely nothing.

"Now, can I have my dog back?"


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