My tablet with OneNote is gone! (But here’s why it’s OK)

When I got to work today this is what I saw:


A missing tablet from my docking station. I was actually happy to see it missing (it had not been stolen, nor had more hardware gone bad), and here is why.

A short while ago, I installed a particular build (version) of Office. All appeared well, but after a few days of use ("bake time", in the lingo) I noticed some rather severe performance problems. Random hangs for 2-12 seconds, typing was sluggish, I couldn’t switch between Office apps and things like that. Other applications like Notepad or Wordpad worked fine, so I was pretty sure I was looking at an Office bug rather than a hardware problem. I went through the standard troubleshooting steps of getting the smallest set of steps needed to reproduce the bug, got a memory dump and a some traces of the soft hangs and filed a bug.

Quick note: a "soft hang" is one in which the application appears to freeze for some amount of time, but eventually the user gets control back. In my case, the soft hangs would last only a few seconds, but I was getting them so frequently that I could not really use the machine. A "hard hang" is one in which the application never returns control.

Anecdotally, I asked around to see if anyone else was using my same configuration and found one other person on my team who was, and he was hitting the same problems. Great - more data to troubleshoot.

After a few days, I checked to see what was happening with the bug. As it turns out, I was the only person reporting this problem out of hundreds of users with the same configuration. That itself is a clue - it may be unique to the personal tweaks I apply, something to do with the exact hardware configuration I use after all (I use ink on my tablet, for instance) or there may have been an error when Office was installed that was not reported correctly. At this point, I have no idea what could be causing the performance problems, and the developers from the setup team came by yesterday to investigate. They could not make any headway in the short period of time they had, so I volunteered my tablet to them to take to investigate.

I know all of this sounds a little vague and is missing some details. At this point, though, I don't have any details of the problem. I can only point to a single symptom and don't want to speculate on the root cause.

Taking hardware like this is not unknown, but it is not common either. Since we had such a small set of machines (2) that can reproduce the problem, it was the quickest way to get the needed information to the team to investigate the problem.

For now, I'm back to pen and paper for meetings. Sigh. I miss OneNote already…

Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


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