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Windows 8 gets polite new 'blue screen of death'

Complete with sad face icon

The feared 'blue screen of death' (BSoD) crash screen used to tell Windows users that something has gone badly wrong with their computer is to get a radical makeover in Windows 8.

According to images released after a Microsoft Build Windows Conference in California, the new screen abandons the complicated advice that appears on current Windows versions in favour of a simple, user-friendly tag "Your PC ran into a problem that it couldn't handle and now it needs to restart. It'll restart in 30 seconds."

See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review

Sugaring this slightly misleading advice (the problem lies with Windows and not necessarily the PC itself) is a large sad face icon. Usefully, the screen also includes a system error clue, which will vary according to the general nature of the problem encountered; 'HAL Initialization failed' would indicate a hardware issue, for example.

Despite its iconic status as a signal of impending doom, the Windows blue screen has quietly evolved since its first appearance in the development phase of IBM's OS/2 in the early 1990s, a long-gone operating system worked on by Microsoft and which, controversially, seeded its own Windows NT system. Windows NT eventually turned into Windows 2000 and then XP, and so the screen survived and prospered so to speak.

In its earliest form, the screen displayed cryptic exception error messages, which anyone other than programmers found mystifying. Microsoft tried to rectify this from Windows XP onwards with a screenful of advice on remediation, but while less cryptic the effect was the same - users had no idea what was wrong with their computer.

The risk in the new streamlined screen is that it becomes even more iconic than its predecessor, drawing public attention to the uncomfortable fact that Windows 8 is still a complex operating system in an age increasingly defined by the simpler, more reliable OS rivals that power mobile devices.

Not every developer is impressed by BSoD's clean new look. "Gone are the confusing and uninformative error codes, and in its place you get an equally uninformative sad emoticon," said Engadget contributing editor and blogger, Terrence O'Brien.

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