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It's an application's job in Windows to draw what it wants to display in its window. A white window typically means that the application is unable to.

About 5 minutes after booting up Vista, the taskbar turns white. It does the same thing after rebooting. Changing the settings to Aero under appearance settings will sometimes return it back to its "glass" state, but it turns white after another 5 minutes.

First the "Blue Screen of Death", then the "Black Window on Boot", and now... a white window?

When an application's window turns all white, that actually tells us something about what's happening to that application. And I can tell you that what's happening usually isn't good.

The other thing to know is that the Windows taskbar is just another application. A special application, perhaps, but when push comes to shove, it's an application just like any other.

In Windows, as you might expect, each program or application is responsible for filling in or "drawing" whatever it wants to show you in the areas it's been assigned on your screen - its window.

Notepad Window

When Notepad, for example, wants to show you its menu bar and the area in which you can type, it's responsible for actually drawing the images of the menu items that you see across its top, and then also "drawing" the editing area that you see on the screen. (Yes, pedants, it may have help from system functions, but it's still the application's responsibility.)

Windows tries very hard to cut down the amount of work each application needs to do by only asking it to draw what actually needs to be drawn. For example, if you cover up half of Notepad's window and then uncover it, technically it only has to re-draw that part that was covered. Windows tells the application "you need to redraw this area here" and it's up to the application to figure out how to do that. It can elect to redraw everything, or just the parts that it needs to, to restore the content of its window completely.

But again, it's the application that's doing the work in response to Windows asking it to.

The white window can happen when for some reason the application can't.

"Windows tells the application "you need to redraw this area here" and it's up to the application to figure out how ..."

You're probably asking "ok, why couldn't it?" - well, there's no simple answer. Applications are fairly complex beasties, and there could be many different reasons. Sometimes the window remains white only for a short time while the application is busy doing something else. The most common reason for a permantly white window is that the application itself has crashed, hung or otherwise failed in some way that's preventing it from redrawing its window. But in reality, it could be for any of a thousand reasons that might differ from one application to the next.

Windows will, in some cases, blank or fill with white the area that the application needs to fill in, and then tell the application to go repaint it. Normally, you never see this because the application quickly does so. When it fails to do so, you're left with a white window.

The Windows Task Bar is actually a window owned by the application "explorer.exe" - the same application that also displays Windows Explorer windows. It's "special" in that it's launched automatically when you login, and the first instance of it is responsible for creating the task bar and a few other things.

It's also special in that if you kill it, Windows will notice and start it up again, automatically.

So that's certainly something to try: fire up task manager or Process Explorer, locate "explorer.exe", and kill it.

Process Explorer about to kill explorer.exe

This should make your white taskbar disappear, and within a few seconds the taskbar should reappear normally.

Unfortunately, this doesn't address the root cause and it's likely to reoccur. In a situation like this, I would typically suspect malware of some sort, or perhaps a corrupt system file. The old standby is where I'd start: run up to date anti-virus and anti-spyware scans, and perhaps the System File Checker.

Article C3672 - March 12, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Katrina
March 17, 2009 12:03 PM

I'm not sure if this is the same problem I had with my last computer, but I have flat panel monitors. They would suddenly go completely white, usually after spending several hours in one website etc. I would have to turn off the computer (without using the Start button, which was, of course, GONE) and wait a longer and longer amount of time before it would work again.
Seems these monitors overheat. It's a desktop, by the way, and I am talking about an entire screen, not just a window.
This one has done it once, and I can feel the heat with the back of my hand like a mother checking for a fever.
So many people had different ideas for the cause-- and the solution-- too many tabs open, too much time on one site, too much sun in the room, burned out card, and a 24/7 screensaver. I did find out screensavers aren't necessary anymore, and I turn off the computer when I'm not using it.

The End came when I was looking at the Manufacturer's help site and saw how many other frustrated users there were with the same problem, and no solution. The manufacturer supposedly had no idea what I was trying to describe.
Yep, it burned up as I was trying to figure it out, and I recycled it.

Marc Ponick
March 17, 2009 12:34 PM

AVG (free version) is more than good enough, as long as your OS is XP (w/sp. updated), or Vista.
Simply put,the only real necessity that AVG lacks, is provided with XP / Vista. A Firewall.
Like Leo, I always advise my clients to use a router firewall if it is an option. If not, windows firewall will suffice for most computers, most of the time. (i say "most" only because if someone really wants into your computer, there are many ways to do it, and no computer defense is 100% guaranteed). I am a copmputer tech, and every home/personal computer I build/ repair leaves the building w/ AVG (free version). I also use it on all 6 of my own computers (and I do have copies of both Norton, and McAfee -always thought it was funny that the second product's name ends with "A fee"- but don't use them). Of special note, AVG does not check your email for spam/junk. If you are using web based email (hotmail, gmail, etc.) that service should warn you of any suspicious email, and reccomend what to do. If you are using outlook, it will filter itself (provided you keep automatic updates on). Most internet browsers take on the responsibility of phishing protection, and pop-up blocking, again be sure you have these set correctly. I do not recommend anyone fiddle with their registry unless they absolutly know what they are doing, so you may want to leave registry "cleaners" off your list for now. The only other step I take to be safe, is to run windows defender a couple of times a month, as a back up check. AVG (Free) can be found at download.com

John Palmer
March 17, 2009 8:43 PM

Although this is not the exact same problem described by the OP, I experienced a white screen problem with a photo editing program right after I installed Microsoft's IntelliPoint software for a new mouse. This apparently is a problem that's been on-going for several years. The only solution was to disable/uninstall the IntelliPoint application which also disabled the custom mouse button assignments - one of the main reasons for buying the mouse.

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