Have you Tried Turning it off and on Again?
Why do we say this and what does it mean? This classic line, immortalised by the TV programme The IT Crowd, is a tried and tested stalwart of IT support departments. But why? In any support call, it’s a phrase that is usually said rather reluctantly knowing the fictitious connotations behind it. However, turning a computer, a laptop or a peripheral (like a printer or a scanner) off and on again does several things and can actually fix quite a few problems.
To begin with, it’s important to make a distinction between restarting a computer and shutting it down, in these days of Windows 10, shutdown may not be as it first seems. A feature first seen in Windows 8 (where it was called “Fast Boot” and now “Fast Startup” in Windows 10) is effectively a hybrid shutdown, where the majority of the operating system turns off but it saves the system state to a hibernation file which means your device boots up much faster the next time, possibly inheriting some flaw that may have been part of the system state. This feature is enabled by default so you may be using it without even knowing it. Restarting a PC does what it says on the tin, it restarts the PC which is the same as doing a proper shutdown (without “Fast Startup”) and then turning it back on again.
If there’s a problem with hardware drivers, or something similar, keeping the same instance of the operating system running isn’t going to help – the problem will still be there when we go to use our machine next time it boots up. Restarting is a whole fresh instance of the operating system and can solve a lot of possible issues. Just shutting it down, not so much (unless you’ve disabled “Fast Startup”).
If we ask you to reboot (or restart) your system it means that the computer will go through the entire shutdown process and then start back up again. This is often something that is needed during troubleshooting or after installing new software/hardware.
There are certain times when you’re almost guaranteed we’re going to say it and “Turning it off and on again” is important: –
- After we’ve installed new software or new hardware (including certain software/Windows updates).
- If your computer is running slow, it could be a long-running app, too many browser tabs open, or even a memory leak (software consuming more and more resources without releasing any), back in the day Windows 2000 could start to act funny if it had been left running for a significant number of days.
- If you complain your computer is acting “strange”, this could be related to the previous point or it might be that a Windows Service (part of the overall operating systems) has failed and typically that can only be resolved by restarting (the Windows Update service caught ‘stopping’ is a classic example of this).
- After any hardware or driver error, with USB devices especially, Windows normally does a great job of auto-detecting the hardware and then finding the right driver for it – more exotic hardware, however, might require a restart so the driver for it can properly initialise.
In these more green aware times, it’s been a good habit, for a business who use a variety of software especially, to turn off computers at night ahead of the next day. Not only does it save money and use fewer resources, but it also allows your operating system to flush your computer’s memory of all the short term tasks and bits of software it’s accumulated through the day, helping it to run quicker and more efficiently. It purges all those memory leaks from when programmes don’t close down properly and fixes a plethora of small errors that can cause an accumulated litany of tiny, irritating glitches and buggy behaviour. There is a knock-on effect though, if a computer is turned off (even with the fast boot option) then it can’t update its operating system and Windows 10 updates are arguably the most invasive they’ve ever been. You don’t really want users sitting around having to wait for their machines to finish updating in a morning, so this does put you in a quandary:
- Do you tell users to leave their PC’s on for updates?
- Do you tell them to turn them off and risk longer startups?
- Do you configure Wake-On-LAN on your network that sends a specially crafted packet at a certain time to ‘wake’ the PC’s up so they can update and then go back to sleep afterwards?
Windows Updates usually happen over a specific time window and your organisation may even have a set schedule to reflect this but this then puts the onus onto the users to remember it which may not be advisable.
So next time you hear us say “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” please have a thought for your poor IT support team who have to say it (at least) several times a day. We say it for a good reason, we promise, and it’s all a part of getting you back and running as soon as possible.