Troubleshooting Windows: "Windows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close..."

Troubleshooting Windows: "Windows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close..."
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Troubleshooting Windows Explorer is not fun, especially when you get random, non-descript messages such as “Windows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” What’s this! What have I done! What on earth is the machine talking about! Lets take a look . . .

On my Vista Ultimate Media Center PC, this usually means that I’ve been messing around with Dream Scene content, but it’s also possible that a malware infection is present. So if you see this error and don’t know what you might have been doing to provoke the crash, it would be a good idea to scan the machine with an anti-virus application. But sometimes we might like to deliberately shut down the windows manager – cleanly!

First of all, WHY might you want to shut down Windows Explorer? It’s responsible for most of what you see on the Windows screen. It handles icon positioning and drawing, Explorer windows, and everything, in fact, except the Vista sidebar or Windows 7 gadgets (both of which run as a separate process) and the actual drawing of applications. The answer is simple. Sometimes Windows runs low on resources, becomes unstable, and starts getting pokey.

Did you know that Microsoft includes a way to deliberately close down Windows Explorer’s window manager in Vista? Windows Explorer is in the class of programs that’s designed to restart automatically if it crashes. (Antivirus programs and Microsoft Outlook can do this, too.) The problem is that a crash is not a controlled, clean shut-down. Especially if you are running Windows Vista on a marginal machine with too little RAM, you may have been using the Task Manager to stop explorer.exe to force it to restart.

This is much like a crash because Task Manager doesn’t tell explorer.exe to exit cleanly.

Microsoft gave us a back-door, however – a hidden switch to EXIT the window manager that works in both Windows 7 and Vista. Here’s how to use it: click the Start button and press the Shift + Ctrl buttons. While holding them down, right-click on an open area in the Start Menu, and you’ll see a pop-up appear giving you the choice. [See image 1 below]

Select “Exit Explorer” and POOF, everything except your running applications and the sidebar will disappear.

This is the approved, but undocumented, Microsoft-provided method to restart explorer.exe without having to exit and restart Vista.

So, after doing this and seeing a whole lot of nothing except the mouse pointer, how do you restart it? Press Cntl + Shift + Esc to start the Task Manager. Click File, and select “New Task (Run).” In this dialog, enter “explorer.exe” and press Enter. [See image 2]

The Vista or Windows 7 window manager will smoothly restart behind your applications and the Windows toolbar will appear. Hopefully this will resolve any stability issue that led you to need to do this.

And here’s a quick tip about the Task Manager – to bring it up quickly, right-click a blank place on your toolbar and select “Task Manager.”


Restarting Windows Explorer from the File menu in Task Manager

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