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Fixing Windows problems

Over the years I have ended up being called in to fix problems on friend's and relative's PCs. Often, the approach I have taken is as per a recent XKCD cartoon, and usually I don't need to go beyond the 'click menu items at random until you find something that works stage.

Sometimes, even the 'Google search' option does not work. The only web pages I find simply contain the advice that the approach should be scanned for viruses and so forth. Whilst good advice, it is years since I have found a PC where that was the cause of the problem

As a result I have to sort it from first principles. These are some of the results, posted so that Google might find them when other people have the same problem:

Sharing Contacts between Outlook express and Outlook

This was originally at but is posted here after the original disappeared

Officially, Outlook 2002/2003 and Outlook 2000 in Corporate/Workgroup mode do not support sharing of its contact data with Outlook Express, but there is a registry hack that works, at least with some versions of Outlook Express. To do this add a new DWORD named
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\WAB\WAB4\UseOutlook (if it isn't already present), and set its value to 1.

Outlook Express will display the Contacts folder in the default delivery store (Exchange mailbox or Personal Folders .pst file) in Outlook. You cannot direct the WAB to a particular Contacts folder, except by changing the default store.

To turn off sharing, set the value for HKCU\Software\Microsoft\WAB\WAB4\UseOutlook to 0.

This is a valid registry entry for Outlook Express 5.0 and later versions. Outlook MVPs have tested it with Outlook 2003, Outlook 2002, and Outlook 2000 CW and OE 5.0 and 6.0 so far. Thanks to MVP Frank Saunders for pointing it out.

Note that this technique shares only contacts. Outlook Express cannot read information about Outlook distribution lists that might be stored in the Contacts folder.

Also note that when you use Outlook Express you'll see Outlook.exe running in Task Manager even if you don't have Outlook open.

Visual Studio switches keyboard layout

Along with many oter people I have noticed that occasionally Visual Studio will switch to an alternative keyboard layout. It turns out that <alt><shift> changes the keyboard layout, and changes it back again. I have not managed to track this down in the documentation

Windows explorer crashes or misbehaves: The 'Shell extensions' mystery


Windows explorer (explorer.exe) crashes frequently, often when it is opened, and otherwise simply randomly. A Google searchreveals this to be a common problem. None of the solutions found by Google worked for me. This did however...

Suggested debugging: Shell Extensions and the Shell extension cache

One useful trick which might help locate the problem is to try creating a new user on the system. If the new user has the same symptoms then it is a core software problem, otherwise it is likely to be a user-specific setting or file causing the problem.

Windows explorer provides shell extensionsso that it can show directories and folders in different ways. These are typically common to all users, so if all users suffer the problem, a utility such as ShellViewEx can be used to disable them to see if this fixes the problem.

If only one user has the problem then it may be that the shell extension cache in the registry contains an invalid entry. This was the problem I encountered. The cache is found at:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell Extensions\Cached

As its name suggests, this is a cache of data that is held elsewhere, and is unique to each user. New shell extensions are not normally placed here, but are derived from information elsewhere in the registry Sometimes they have to be placed there as a workaround, although this is clearly not a good idea (it would only work for one user for a start).

In my case there was data in the cache was ("were data that were" sounds so wrong) either obsolete or incorrect and nothing seemed to trigger windows to fix it. Clearly once in the cache it stays there (which is why you can add extra entries as a workaround) I found I could reproduce the problem by exporting the contents of the Shell Extensions\Cached directory for the user with problems using RegEdit, switching to my new test user, clearing his cache and importing the settings that I had previously dumped. Killing and starting explorer.exe with the task manager ensured it picked up the new cache, and the fault appeared on the new user.

I then went through laboriously removing entries, first in blocks and then one by one, restarting explorer each time, until I tracked down the problem entry. I then went back to the real user and deleted the same entry. Problem fixed.

Alternatively, you could delete all the entries in the cache of the user with problems (after first exporting them with regedit, so that they can be replaced if needed), and it will refill over time (You can check this with the test user if you are not convinced this is the case), hopefully without recreating the problem. However, this will delete any entries that have been put in using the workaround approach to adding extensions, or any other invalid way of setting this data. It is possible that the Windows OneCare cleanup utility or simialr would also fix this problem.

Unable to delete contents of subdirectories in "Temporary Internet files"

If all the temporary internet files are deleted, and then the size of the "Temporary Internet Files" directory is displayed using properties, you may find it still takes a lot of disk space. This is because there are 'hidden' subdirectories that contain temporary files that are not visible and are deleted with the other temporary files. Some applications such as TreeSize will show these directories and their contents, otherwise, the directory name can be entered directly into explorer. The two directories that can end up accumulating large numbers of temporary files are:

  • Temporary Internet Files\Content.Word
  • Temporary Internet Files\Content.MSO

In addition,

  • Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5

Can end up with subdirectories containing files from previous versions of internet explorer which do not get deleted, which can be identified by their having very old 'Date modified' dates. Internet Explorer 8 would appear to use just 8 subdirectories (which random 8 character names) in this directory.

Alternatively, to make all of the contents of this directory visible, follow the instructions at:

Internet Explorer crashes when installing addins such as the Facebook photo downloader

On one of my laptops I found that when websites attempted to load various addins, such as the Facebook Photo Downloader, it caused Internet Explorer to crash with the 'The instruction at "0x0b9f0068" referenced memory at "0x0b9f0068" The memory could not be written" message. Running IE under dubug showed that it loaded msjava.dll just before the crash. This was a very old version (5.0.3155.0 vintage 1998) and laptops with newer versions (5.0.3810.0 vintage 2003) were all OK.

As there is no simple way of updating the MS java, which is no longer supported, I simply renamed the file msjava.olddll, in the hope that the SUN Java that was also installed would be used instead. Viola, the addin installs and works. I can only assume that the addins are not tested with such ancient versions of Java.

Problems with installing and updating .NET

.NET is clearly here to stay, but Microsoft has not done itself any favours by having an install/update process that is so prone to failing, the classic being the continuous failing to install .NET

There are various suggestions for fixing this, but perhaps the most extreme, and the only that worked for me in one case is the complete removal of .NET, for which a tool has been created, and then a reinstall.

What you may well then find is a directory in the C drive (called something like C:\ac565cacs67dd8f9s8778988s98d) which cannot be removed. The problem is that the file permissions have got stuck in a state that prevents deletion. In order to fix this the file security settings need to be changed. The technique for removing such directories is described here (This can only be done in safe mode in Windows home).

Welcome screen appears after installing .NET

If the various versions of .NET are installed in the wrong order, the welcome screen appears at startup when it did not before. This is because .NET creates a user account which does not end up on the list of 'special accounts' which should be ignored.

The solution is to create a DWORD entry: HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\UserList\ASPNET and set it to zero, as described in:

Invisible CorelDraw popups

Maybe there are one or two people out there using very old versions of CorelDraw. In which case you mat have encountered a problem where popup dialog boxes simply do not appear and the program locks until you press enter, which clicks the default button on the dialog box.

The fix is to rename the *.cfg files in the ..\Corel\Draw70\photopnt directory, which hold the default information for the windows etc, until you find the one that causes the problem. They will be regenerated using default values, and then all will be well.

Scripting Error when trying to run Microsoft Onecare safety scanner

Turns out that this problem occurs if 'Allow active content to run in files on my computer' (Internet Options/Advanced/Security) is set. Unset it and the problem goes away. This problem suddenly appeared when it had been fine before, so I suspect there is another dependancy as well

Intel Video driver cannot cope with 1440 * 900 screen

The solution turns out to be to edit one of the installation files before installing the driver as described in (or Local copy)

However the values on this page turned out not to give the best reults on my W2043S monitor and the first of the values from, namely

HKR,, DTD_5,%REG_BINARY%, 56,2A,A0,D8,51,84,2E,30,20,98,29,14,00,00,00,00,00,1E,37,01;1440x900@60...from web

gave a much clearer picture, with the text properly syncronized with the pixels. I had to unset and reset the cleartype for it to take effect with the new setting. Note also that the .inf file may go under another name with a different intel screen driver. In my case it was kit18312.inf

Spell check does not work with Outlook 2010

This is a common problem when installing Outlook 2010, but keeping an older copy of word. The most useful source of information turned out to be:

The two options that seem to have most success were

  1. Copy the winword.exe program from its current location (e.g. C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11) to the new Office directory C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE14. This worked for me
  2. Remove the contents of the registry hey HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Shared Tools\Proofing Tools\1.0\Override, or if the key does not exist, create it but leave it empty

Cannot highlight text in a pdf/a file

Acrobat reader started opening a file as readonly so would not allow text to be highlighted, when I had previously been able to highlight text in the file. To fix, go to 'Edit/Preferences/Documents' and change the PDF/A view mode to never.

Intel Graphics Media accelarator does not save Video Overlay hue settings in shared schemes

In certain versions of the Media Accelarator, when a scheme is saved and recalled, any videos that are played are in very strange colours. This is because the Video Overlay hue setting has not been saved correctly. This can be set manually using regedit. Find the szOvlHue setting in the associated schemes subkey, and change the value from 00 00 00 00 to 10 14 00 00

Incorrect icons associated with desktop icons (e.g. exe icons)

Frequently encountered with adobe acrobat