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Screens of death

In many computer operating systems, a special type of error message will display onscreen when the system has experienced a fatal error. Computer users have dubbed these messages Screens of Death, as they typically result in unsaved work being lost and often indicate serious problems with the system's hardware or software. Most screens of death are displayed on an even background color with a message advising the user to restart the computer. The Screens of Death are primarily organized by their background color.

Black

The Black Screen of Death (BSOD), is either of two things: a failure mode of Microsoft Windows 3.x, or the screen displayed by the OS/2 operating system in the event of either a system error from which it cannot recover or a "hard" error in a program running in "full screen" mode (the former being a serious system failure but the latter being a less serious application failure).

The black screen of death has been present in all versions of OS/2.

The Windows black screen of death

In Windows 3.x the black screen of death is the behaviour that occurred when a DOS application failed to execute properly. It was often known to occur in connection with attempting certain operations while networking drivers were resident in memory. (Most commonly, but not exclusively, it was seen while the Novell NetWare client for DOS, NETX, was loaded.) The system would switch the display to text mode, but would display nothing, leaving the user looking at an entirely black screen with a blinking cursor in the upper left corner. At this point, the user could do nothing but perform a cold reboot to get the system running normally again.

According to Wallace McClure of ASP.net , the phrase was originally coined in the summer of 1991 by Ed Brown, a technician with Coca-Cola Company's IT department in Atlanta, GA. He reports that the company was rolling out Windows 3.0 within the Global Marketing group and when the users would attempt to run WordPerfect, they would randomly receive a BSOD.

This can also be triggered by something on the keyboard during a boot. In this case, it is accompanied by a very loud beeping sound directly from the computer itself.

On Windows Vista, some boot errors are shown on a black screen. These generally occur when winload.exe is missing or corrupted.

The OS/2 Black screen of death

In OS/2, a black screen of death is either a "TRAP screen" or "full-screen hard-error VIO pop-up". OS/2 switches the display adapter to a text mode of 80 columns by 25 rows, with white lettering on a black background and a black border, utilizing the text mode font of the display adapter.

TRAP screens

A "TRAP screen" occurs when the kernel encounters an error from which it cannot recover, a system crash. Usually this is a result of faulty (or overclocked) hardware, but it may also result from a software error in either the kernel or a device driver.

The "TRAP screen" contains a dump of the processor registers and stack, and information about the version of the operating system and the actual processor exception that was triggered.

The only action the user can take in this situation is to perform a soft reboot by pressing Control-Alt-Delete or to perform a system dump by pressing Control-Alt-NumLock twice.

Hard error screens

A "full-screen hard-error VIO pop-up" occurs when a process incurs a "hard" error, either an outright application program crash or a potentially recoverable hard error (such as an attempt to access a floppy disc device where no disc has been inserted into the drive).

The screen is displayed by the "hard error daemon" process, which handles hard errors from all other processes. Technically, the screen is a "VIO pop-up" screen. All processes (except the one that has incurred the error, any that also incur hard errors whilst the first error is being displayed, and any that themselves wish to display a "VIO pop-up" screen) continue to run, and the system continues to operate as normal. The hard error daemon uses a VIO pop-up when either the system has been booted into text mode or the hard error has occurred in a process running in a full-screen session.

The "pop-up screen" contains information about the processor exception that was triggered and the identity of the process.

The user is prompted for the action to be taken, and may choose

  • to end the process,
  • to display more information (which comprises a dump of the processor registers and stack for that process),
  • to retry the operation (if appropriate — I/O errors are retryable, CPU errors are not), or
  • to ignore the problem and continue (if appropriate — I/O errors are ignorable, CPU errors are not).

Blue

The Blue Screen of Death (also called BSOD, stop error, or bluescreen) is a common name for a screen displayed by the Microsoft Windows operating system when a system error occurs. There are two main types of BSODs. The Windows NT/2000/XP indicates a serious kernel or driver error. The Windows 9x/ME is not as serious and occurs more often when a driver encounters an error. 9x/ME BSODs can also appear when a CD, floppy disk, or other removable memory device is removed from its drive while being used. The NT BSOD only lets the user restart the system, whereas the 9x/ME version usually allows the user to continue. Generally, rebooting is the only way to fix the error. Windows CE also has a BSOD, being the simplest of them all. The Playstation Portable has its own blue error screen as well.

The BSOD has become a commonly known term in IT. Administrators often use the word "Bluescreen" as a verb. Microsoft has recently released BSOD prank software, originally made by Sysinternals. The software detects the operating system of the computer, and displays the relevant BSOD, along with fake hard drive chatter. It then simulates restarting the machine, and repeats the cycle again. Many anti-virus programs report this screen saver as an "unwanted program" because it attempts to fool users even though as a program it is not harmful to the system.

With the BSOD, it is possible to connect a second computer via a serial cable and run WinDebug to access diagnostic information. This is a useful tool for device driver writers who often receive BSOD while writing their drivers. The BSOD is actually an exception that halts the operating system, but there are lots of utilities that can still run through WinDebug while the computer is in a BSOD.

In rare cases, Windows XP may hang right before the logon screen is displayed, leading to an empty "blue" screen with a movable 'busy' mouse pointer. A screenshot may be found here

Also, a Windows XP system may display a screen with large blue pixels of varying hues at startup that cannot be removed if there is an overload of data.

Purple

Purple Screen of Death (PSOD) occurs in VMware when an ESX vmkernel experiences a critical failure.

A similar "Purple Screen of Death" may occur on Windows Vista when the graphics drivers fail

Gray

The original front-loading Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game console would sometimes show a blank gray screen if the cartridge would not start. As a play on the traditional Blue Screen of Death, NES fans have dubbed this the Gray Screen of Death. On the top loading NES, however, this screen would be green instead of gray.

On Mac OS X a Kernel panic (see below) causes a gray screen. This is known on the Mac forums by several names, including "Gray Screen of Death (GSOD)" and "Gray Curtains of Death (GCOD)".

Green

The Green Screen of Death (GSoD or Green Screen of Intensive Care) is the name given to failure modes on the TiVo digital video recorder and Microsoft Xbox 360 console game system platforms. In such instances on the Xbox 360 the user is prompted to contact Xbox customer support

This error also occurs on the original Xbox when the system identifies the disc as a disc readable by the system, but an error occurs when reading it, and gives an error message similar to its successor's.

On TiVo machines, the causes of it vary, but it is generally regarded as a recoverable error despite its grave appearance. The message is displayed while the TiVo attempts to repair the data contents of its hard drive.

The GSoD text reads as follows:

A severe error has occurred.

Please leave the Receiver plugged in and connected

to the phone line for the next three hours while the

Receiver attempts to repair itself.

DO NOT UNPLUG OR RESTART THE RECEIVER.

If, after three hours, the Receiver does not restart

itself, call Customer Care.

The GSoD has also been present on PlayStation 2 consoles with poorly soldered Multi-X chips. There are no error messages for the GSoD on a PlayStation 2, which means there is only an even green color displayed on the screen until the console is restarted. The GSoD is received after a failed disc read. This problem is common with DMS chips.

Yellow

Mozilla

In Mozilla-based applications, the yellow screen of death is the screen displayed when they encounter an XML parsing error. This typically happens when the XML document that the browser is trying to access is not well-formed, for example when it does not nest tags properly.

The yellow screen of death is common when an author of HTML tries to serve HTML as XHTML, with the recommended MIME type of "application/xhtml+xml", without checking for well-formedness.

When it arises due to a web page error, only the page content area displays the yellow screen of death; the browser chrome is unaffected. However, the entire browser window may be replaced with the yellow screen of death in situations where browser code has caused a parsing error (this is almost always the result of a bug in an extension or an extension incompatibility).

Nintendo DS

A Nintendo DS can sometimes fatally crash, displaying a solid uniform color on one or both screens. The color displayed correlates with the firmware version. One can crash the Nintendo DS by ejecting a DS/GBA cartridge while in PictoChat. There is also a "Red Screen of Death" aka guru meditation error that displays when a homebrew application crashes and requires a reboot. (This failure mode was first seen in DSOrganize.)

ASP.NET

The yellow screen of death is the colloquial name given to an Exception report screen generated by ASP.NET.

If ASP.NET cannot build or compile an application it will display a parser or compiler error in red on white and the relevant problematic source code in black and red on yellow. If the error is a runtime exception then it will display a stack trace in black on yellow. If the original page source is available ASP.NET will also display the last location in the application's source code where the exception was thrown.

By default, the application's Web.config file tells the server what to do when an unhandled exception occurs, the default is to show a simple error message, as not to reveal any sensitive information about the application's operation to site visitors. The Web.config file can also be used to specify a custom error page or to show the entire error message to all visitors (the default is to only show it to visitors connected to localhost).

Red

A "red screen of death" is used on some game consoles, and early beta versions of Windows Vista used a red screen for boot loader errors.

White

The White Screen of Death (WSoD) affects some newer mobile phones and Pocket PCs leaving them with a blank white screen. It was first mentioned in user groups in April 2005. In some cases unplugging the battery and restarting allowed the phone to reboot but some phones are left unusable. Most users found that WSoD was initiated by USB plug removal during mobile phone to computer transfer, and other users reported erratic functioning of the phone after the installation of games, applications and MP3s. WSoD has so far been observed on mobile phones in the USA and Europe. A reflash of firmware can resolve the problem of WSoD but users have reported the same bug on newer phones in the same product line. A flashing White Screen of Death has also been known.

On most Linux distributions, failing to configure a certain video driver, failing to properly execute X, or in other situations (configuration of Beryl or Compiz) can also result in a White Screen of Death, or will drop back down to a text mode console.

On iPods, if the firmware is corrupted, a white screen with black text in several languages prompts the user to connect the iPod to a computer and restore it. Recently iPods have not been displaying any text during a screen of death, and thus not letting the user know the exact nature of the problem. Solution for an iPod's white screen of death range from leaving the device plugging in for an extended period of time, to letting the battery runout, to having to send the iPod away for repair.

On the Sega Game Gear, if the system is started without a cartridge, the screen will be gray/white.

On Mozilla Firefox, if the back button is hit after the cache has timed out, you may get a blank white screen.

On some websites programmed in Adobe ColdFusion, if the programmer has not properly trapped an error, users may receive a blue-gray error screen. This ColdFusion error is usually called the "white screen of death" although some programmers also call it the "blue screen of death" or less frequently the "gray screen of death."

Kernel panic

A kernel panic is an action taken by Unix or Unix-like operating systems upon detecting an internal fatal error from which it cannot recover. The kernel routines that handle panics (in AT&T-derived and BSD Unix source code, a routine known as panic()) are generally designed to output an error message to the console, dump an image of kernel memory to disk for post-mortem debugging and then either wait for the system to be manually rebooted, or initiate an automatic reboot. The information provided is not always useful to the end user, but can sometimes provide troubleshooting data for a system developer or tech support personnel. The format of the panic error message varies depending on the nature of the error and the specific operating system.

Attempts by the operating system to read an invalid or unpermitted memory address are a common source of kernel panics. A panic may also occur as a result of a hardware failure or a bug in the operating system.

A kernel panic usually takes the form of a text dump to the main screen of the computer, sometimes overwriting any graphical content on the screen. A notable exception is that of later versions of Mac OS X, which generally hide the text dump behind a message to reboot the system; the debugging information is still available as a logfile. The Mac OS X kernel panic has been nicknamed "The Gray Screen of Panic and Disarray" by some Mac OS X users.

Sad Mac

A Sad Mac is an iconic symbol used by older-generation Apple Macintosh computers (hardware using the Old World ROM), starting with the original 128K Macintosh, to indicate a severe hardware or software problem that prevented startup from occurring successfully. The Sad Mac icon was displayed, along with a set of hexadecimal codes that indicated the type of problem at startup. This was used in place of the normal Happy Mac icon, which indicated that the startup-time hardware tests were successful. In earlier models, a tune (Chimes of Death) was played, and later models featured a digitized sound of a car crash, or of glass breaking. In the MC68000-based machines (those models earlier than the Macintosh II as well as the original Macintosh Classic), all it did was crash silently and display the Sad Mac, without playing any music.

A Sad Mac may be deliberately generated at startup by pressing the interrupt switch on Macintoshes that had one installed, or by pressing Command and Power keys shortly after the startup chime.

Sad iPod

On the iPod, if damage or an error occurs to the hardware (or the firmware), a Sad iPod appears, much in the same way as the Sad Mac, except the frown extends one pixel down on the left, as opposed to the right on the Mac, and is missing its nose.

Sad Tab

Google Chrome has a "Sad Tab" screen of death that is displayed when there is a problem in a given tab resulting in the killing of the associated process(es) without crashing the entire browser.

The browser also features a similar "Sad Plugin" screen of death when a plugin crashes. In this case the icon is in the shape of a jigsaw puzzle piece.

A Sad Tab can be caused at anytime by killing a process via the Task Manager.

Bomb

The Bomb icon is a symbol designed by Susan Kare that was displayed when a "classic" Macintosh operating system (pre-Mac OS X) program had an application crash. It was similar to a dialog box in Windows 9x that said "This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down". But, since the "classic" Mac OS offered no memory protection, this would sometimes result in a system crash which could take down the entire system, unlike Mac OS X and Windows NT which only force-quit the offending program. System 7 and later also tried to do this, but if the operation failed a fatal system error could occur.

The bomb symbol first appeared on the original Macintosh in 1984. Often, a reason for the crash including the error code was displayed in the dialog. If a person was lucky, a "Continue" button would be an option, which could be used to dismiss the dialog and force the offending program to quit (on the programmer side, this was implemented by using a resume procedure, passed to InitDialogs), but most often the computer would have to be restarted. The debugger program MacsBug was sometimes used even by end users to provide basic (though not always reliable) error recovery, and could be used for troubleshooting purposes much as the output of a Unix kernel panic or a Windows NT Blue Screen of Death could be. Classic Mac OS bomb boxes were often ridiculed for providing little or no useful information about the error; this was a conscious decision by the Macintosh team to eliminate any information that the end user could not make sense of.

In Mac OS X, the bomb symbol is no longer used since the system architecture is vastly different from that in the classic Mac OS, and an application crash rarely brings down the entire system. A kernel panic screen (either text overwritten on the screen in older versions, or simplified to a reboot message in more recent versions) replaces the bomb symbol but appears less often due to the radically different process management model.

TOS-based systems, such as the Atari ST, used a row of bombs to indicate a critical system error. The number of bombs displayed revealed information about the occurred error. The error (also called an exception) is reported by the Motorola 68000 microprocessor.

Guru Meditation

Guru Meditation is the name of the error that occurred on early versions of the Amiga home computers when they crashed. It is analogous to the "screens of death" in other operating systems.

Prior to the display of a Guru Meditation error, the power LED may blink for some time. This is a cue to the computer user (presumably a developer) to press the DEL key of a remote console, connected to the serial port at 9600 bits per second, with 8N1 framing. This will cause ROMWack to be entered *before* displaying the alert, and offers the potential ability to recover without having to reboot the machine. If the DEL key is not detected after several blinks, the alert is displayed.

When a Guru Meditation is displayed, the options are to reboot by pressing the left mouse button, or to invoke ROMWack by pressing the right mouse button on the Amiga itself. The keyboard of any attached terminal is ignored at this point.

ROMWack is a minimalist debugger built into the operating system which is accessible by connecting a 9600-bit/s terminal to the serial port.

As of AmigaOS 2.04, the alert message no longer reads "Guru Meditation." Nonetheless, the name sticks.

AmigaOS 1.x machines displayed all alerts, recoverable or otherwise, with red-on-black text, with a flashing red border (see illustration). AmigaOS 2.x and later offered recoverable alerts in yellow. While only the most critical failures resulted in the whole screen going black, nearly all alerts were displayed as a strip across the top of the screen, causing the remainder of the display to shift downward. Alerts are implemented as a separate screen, and relied on the Amiga's ability to display multiple screens and multiple resolutions concurrently to effect the display.

This error is sometimes referred to colloquially as a "trip to India", "Guru", or just "alert".

The alert occurred when there was a fatal problem with the system. If the system had no means of recovery, it could display the alert, even in systems with numerous critical flaws. In extreme cases, the alert could even be displayed if the system's memory was completely exhausted.

Some versions of Winamp can also display this type of error.

DSOrganize, a homebrew program for the DS, also displays this type of error.

Red ring of death (Xbox 360)

When a Microsoft Xbox 360 console experiences a "general hardware failure", on the front of the console three flashing red lights appear (known as the red ring of death). This is reported to be caused by multiple systems failing simultaneously.

Other error screens

  • On Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, when a critical system process fails unexpectedly, either terminated by the user or due to a system infection (worm), or a remote procedure failure, a System Shutdown dialog box appears, giving the user 30~60 seconds to save their work and prepare for a system restart. It is not possible for users to cancel the shutdown via the dialog, although it may be canceled by other administration tools, such as issuing the command shutdown -a (abort) to the system via the Run dialog box. It is also possible to quickly change the date and time settings to push the scheduled shutdown far into the future. If a Microsoft Office program has an unsaved document open, selecting "Cancel" from the dialog box will stop the automatic shutdown. Below the System Shutdown dialog's time remaining section, it explains the reason for the shutdown.
  • In the Sega RPG Phantasy Star Online a lag issue or a loading problem (particularly in crowded areas) could lead to a "frozen screen of death," abbreviated FSOD. FSODs could cause the victim to lose some or all of their items or, in the worst cases, corrupt the memory card, erasing all of its data.
  • On many Pokémon games if the game/Nintendo DS crashes during game-play, it displays a message saying that the save data is corrupted in a blue background and the error message will be in a border that the player had chosen.
  • On Mario Kart DS and some other games produced by Nintendo, such as New Super Mario Bros., if the game pack is removed (or some other error occurs), the screen will dim with a message reading "Game Pack was removed" or, in the case of other errors, may freeze. At this time, users may access a debugger used by Nintendo staff by holding Left, L, R, and A, releasing these buttons, holding Down and B, releasing these buttons, and then pressing Select and Start simultaneously, displaying debugging information on the screen until the system is turned off. A similar message is displayed before some of these games start if the user's saved data is corrupted.
  • On a Gameboy, Gameboy Color or a Gameboy Advance, a problem may occur when turning it on. With the Gameboy and Gameboy Color, 3 things could happen. 1. The little NINTENDO on the screen would be scrambled. 2. The little NINTENDO on the screen would not be there. 3. The little NINTENDO on the screen would be covered in black (There would only be a small black box there). With the GBA, sometimes the NINTENDO will show up but it won't turn on or the NINTENDO won't be there. The blacked-out NINTENDO logo screen also appears when a Gameboy or Gameboy Color is turned on with no cartridge inserted. Interestingly the chime sound will still play when this occurs, and the Trademark symbol will still be visible.

References

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