Diagnostic software is used to identify problems on a computer or piece of equipment. These programs test the onboard systems for issues and help to alert users of potential problems or breakdowns. Over the years, these programs have gone from very basic to complex and highly specialized. With this increase in technology, the skill required to use the software has actually decreased to the point where most people can use this software with little or no training.
Programs that provide diagnostic information are common everywhere. Something as simple as the oil light on a car dashboard is a type of diagnostic software. These hard-coded diagnostic tools usually monitor one specific part of a larger piece of equipment and typically are always operating. While these types of diagnostic programs are the most common, they are usually the least versatile. When people think of true diagnostic software, they usually think of the types used on computers. These programs monitor the computer for problems involving every aspect of the machine, from hardware to software—far more complex and versatile than the change oil light.
Since the introduction of diagnostic software, it has evolved in many ways. The original type could usually only find the most major of problems. There needed to be strong indicators or physical damage in order for the software to recognize and report the problem. When computers became more common in people's homes, particularly with the rise of Disc Operating Systems, commonly known as DOS, diagnostic software became more common. Small built-in programs, such as Checkdisk (CHKDISK), allowed users to perform basic diagnostic routines on their systems. These early programs would often output technical information and esoteric error codes instead of readable information. In recent years, the output reports have changed considerably. The basic outputs are now readable by most users, and they often contain tips or warnings telling users what they should or shouldn't do, all in plain language.
Technological advances have even made Web page-based diagnostic software available for home users. With minimal Web searching, nearly any home user can find a wide range of Web sites offering to speed up their computer or diagnose problems. Many of these sites are scams, so consumers should perform proper research before using them. General Internet searches can generally provide a number of resources to check a company's credibility.