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Stop System Tray Icons from Disappearing in Windows XP

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/12/2009

Have you ever logged into your computer, only to find that some of your program icons are not showing up in the system tray? I figured out how to correct the problem.

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    Where did my icons go?

    Have you ever started up Windows XP, only to find that some of your icons won’t show up in the system tray? They should normally appear next to the clock in the lower right hand corner, but sometimes they don’t. The problem seems to happen randomly or sometimes not at all. I had the same problem myself until I figured out the cause and solution.

    Cutting right to the chase, the solution is simple. When you are at the login screen in Windows, and by that I mean the screen with the list of users where you click one to log in, you should wait a little while before logging in. That’s it – just wait before you log in. If you listen closely, you can hear your hard drive grinding away while that login screen sits there. It does so because it is preloading data in the background.

    If you click on a user name and jump into the system as soon as the login screen comes up, Windows often doesn’t have time enough to preload all your settings, and this is why your icons sometimes randomly disappear, even though the programs are still loading. It’s a freakishly weird phenomenon because the results are constantly different, and that’s why it can be tough to diagnose. Some people might think it’s a problem with the software whose icon is not showing up, but most of the time it’s just another quirk of Windows XP.

    What causes this problem is something called Windows prefetch. What prefetch does is preload parts of your most commonly used programs so that they will start faster after you boot the computer. The problem is that sometimes it gets a little bogged down. Originally, it was believed that you could speed up your machine by clearing the contents of the \windows\prefetch folder from your hard drive. Now, the subject is up for debate.

    I did a good bit of research online about clearing the \windows\prefetch folder and there seems to be some controversy as to whether or not you should do it. Some people say clearing it will make your computer start faster while others say it’ll slow things down because Windows will just repopulate the prefetch folder with the same things as before. I found several message boards where techies were having some very heated arguments over the subject.

    For safety’s sake, I recommend that you just leave the \windows\prefetch folder alone unless you really know what you are doing. If you really think your computer is running too slow, try adding more RAM, uninstalling old software you never use, or defragging the hard drive. Just remember that computers are machines and tend to slow down a little over time, so give it a minute before you log in next time.