April 20, 2010, 9:29 AM — Microsoft has launched a new self-support service for Windows XP and Vista users that relies on technology baked into Windows 7.
The combination of desktop client and back-end service gives users of older versions of Windows some of the same functionality that only Windows 7 provides by default, Lori Brownell, Microsoft's general manager of product quality and online support, said Friday. The Fixit Center client is currently in beta, and can be downloaded free of charge.
"Irrespective of what versions people are running, and many aren't running Windows 7 today, we need to support those customers just as well," said Brownell, explaining Microsoft's decision.
Microsoft used the same technology that powers the scripted diagnostic feature within Windows 7, dubbed "Action Center" -- in some cases, the same code -- to craft the client software for Windows XP and Vista.
"It's not as seamless as in Windows 7," Brownell acknowledged, noting that the network troubleshooter in Windows 7 is integrated such that it pops up when users experience problems running Internet Explorer 8 (IE8). "But many of the troubleshooters are exactly the same." Although Microsoft wrote the troubleshooters to add to Windows 7, they were developed so that they would work on older versions of the operating system.
"The value you get with Windows 7 is integration," she said.
The Fixit Center client scans users' PCs on demand, looks for potential problems, then presents a list offering to automatically apply fixes or give the user control over possible solutions to implement. Unlike Windows 7's Action Center, the client must be manually launched in XP or Vista.
Users can link the client to a Windows Live ID account to allow the client to detect hardware and software configurations, then store that information, including any troubleshooting results, on Microsoft's severs. Microsoft technical support personnel can also remotely access the software's log to determine what troubleshooters, if any, were run, and the results -- but only if the user explicitly approves that move. "They can access a history of what troubleshooters have been run, as well as what drivers have been installed," Brownell said, "but they can't access any data files on your hard drive."