If you have worked with Windows long enough, you have encountered the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Windows encounters a fatal error and crashes "to prevent damage to your computer."
The BSOD appears from time to time in Windows-based software for video conferencing. Typically it is just after the videoconferencing software has launched and tried to initiate a video call. So the logical conclusion the user comes to is..."Every time I launch your software I get the BSOD, what is wrong with your software!"
Sometimes there is something wrong, however, almost without fail, a BSOD comes about because of a hardware issue. In the videoconferencing world, this spectacular and annoying failure is most often associated with video drivers.
What could be wrong with video drivers ? A short list:
- No drivers installed
- Standard Windows drivers installed, but camera requires specialized drivers
- Specialized drivers installed that depend on Windows services that are not installed -- for example, a service pack that has not been applied
- Another videoconferencing product is installed on the machine and grabs drivers, but doesn't let go of them even when it is not in use. Sadly, there are some products that assume they are the only software that will ever need access to certain system resources. So when another product needs, say the video driver, there is a conflict, and at best a timeout and at worst...BSOD.
- A very specific case we came across recently: A Logitech driver conflict with Windows 7
Think about what you need for videoconferencing:
- Audio inputs
- Audio outputs
- Video input
- Video output
- Network communication to a video server or directly to the person you are trying to call
As one of our developers put it: "If you take a computer out of the box, install videoconferencing software and make a call, you will be lucky to make a connection." Why? Because a new in the box computer likely has 35 Windows patches, and another 15 driver updates to go with the patches, and on and on and on.
Is this an indictment of Windows-based video conferencing ?
It isn't intended to be. I use it daily and it works flawlessly. But as a Windows user, you need to be aware that behind the simplicity, there is an extremely complicated web of individual software files that are frequently being updated. So when Microsoft sends out an update and you apply it, it may change a registry setting that you need. Apply the patch and reboot as they ask you to and everything works fine. Apply the patch and wait to reboot until after your video call, and you are taking your chances.
Is there something better than PC-based video conferencing?
The above may seem a little intimidating. So let's put it into context. The benefits of PC-based video conferencing include:
- Use a PC you already have
- Work in an environment (Windows) you already know and are comfortable with
- Use the network you already have
- If there is a problem with your hardware, you can go to virtually any other machine, log in there and you are up and running in minutes
- The cost of buying the machine and all associated peripherals is substantially lower than buying dedicated video conferencing equipment
- The costs of supporting the system are dramatically lower because user's need less training, and administrators and support staff need to learn one more Windows software package rather than an entire new hardware/software/network environment
Dedicated video conferencing equipment may make sense, the questions is what makes sense for YOUR situation.