I'm a senior engineer at a company and help train technicians from time to time. I often get calls from new technicians when they encounter an error message that doesn't contain any information to help them identify and solve the problem. One thing I always preach to them is, "You might not have changed a file or created a log, but I bet the system did—go find it."

For example, I recently got a call from a technician concerning an in-place upgrade from Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2000 to SBS 2003. The technician completed the backup, BIOS updates, and other preparations without any problems. The technician also completed the OS upgrade without incident.

However, when SBS 2003's Continue Setup wizard launched, he received the generic error message: Set up was unable to install the necessary installation files. Set up will now exit. I asked the technician the typical questions,-such as "What logged errors did you find?" and "Did you conduct Microsoft and Google searches?" The technician replied that he checked the system and application logs and performed some searches but couldn't find anything.

I connected to the server and ran the Continue Setup wizard. It failed. I decided to practice what I preach, so I searched for all files modified in the last 20 minutes. I sorted the results and looked for *.log files. I found the setup.log file, which contained two errors:

\[12/19/05,19:39:31\] setup.exe:
  \[0\] CreateDirectoryLayout(),
  error log file name invalid
  \[C:\Program Files\Microsoft
  Integration\Windows Small
  Business Server 2003\Logs\
\[12/19/05,19:39:31\] setup.exe:
  \[2\] InstallSetupFiles :
  CreateDirectoryLayout failed

I conducted Microsoft and Google searches on CreateDirectoryLayout with no helpful results. On a hunch, I created a file named SBSMSILicensing.log in the C:\Program Files\Microsoft Integration\ Windows Small Business Server 2003\Logs directory, then I reran the Continue Setup wizard. About 50 minutes later, the setup was complete. Afterward, the Logs directory contained more than 20 log files, each related to the various SBS setup task that ran. For some unknown reason, the SBSMSILicensing.log file wasn't initially created.

As you can see, sometimes you just need to stop and think a bit before you give Uncle Bill a call on that 800 line. Everything gets a log file. You just need to find it and read it. That's what the support person at Microsoft is going to help you do anyway, right?