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Network problems can be caused by a number of things in either software or hardware. Fixing it may require a hands-on technician.

I've been noticing a few problems accessing files and folders across the network in the office. Some are minor annoyances, but I will list the two that cause me issues time and time again. I double-click on a file in a network folder; a program that is used for the file opens and then Windows presents me with an error dialog box that says, "Windows cannot find the file you specified. Make sure you spelled the name correctly." If I wait until the program finishes loading and double-click the file again, about half of the times, the file opens normally; the other half simply repeat the dialog box.

Second, when viewing the contents of a network folder, sometimes files I know to be present are not visible. The latest instance of this, I could change from a range by type to a range I modified and over 25% of the folder would magically vanish only to return when I changed it back. The office network is a mish-mash of different operating systems: XP, Vista, 7 and I think even Windows 2000. I'm not sure of the OS of the servers.

In this excerpt from Answercast #39, I look at a network that seems to be working intermittently and give a few suggestions to diagnose the problem.

Intermittent network

Unfortunately, you've actually identified the problem in that very last sentence.

  • The symptoms that you are listing are symptoms (to use a very technical term) of a flaky network.

In other words, the network is working sort of, but not always...

  • Windows will connect up to the network;

  • It will ask the server for a list of files;

  • And the answer may change;

  • Or it may lose its connection to that server midway through the response;

  • Or any number of issues related to the network itself not operating well.

An older network

You've indicated that there's a mish-mash of machines. My guess is that, normally, when there's this kind of a variety of machines, the network is a fairly old one:

  • It's been set up;

  • It's been incrementally expanded;

  • It's been incrementally "improved" (where I use improved in quotes);

  • It's basically expanded to use more and more machines; more and different operating systems over time.

This is a case where I really think, at the office, you need to get your network administrators (your IT people) involved in diagnosing the problem. I would be shocked if this weren't happening to other people as well.

Isolated problem

Now, if you're the only the person, or rather if this is the only machine that is experiencing these problems, then I have a very definite thing to look at:

  • That is the network card and the network cable that connects this particular PC to your network.

Like I said, these are symptoms of a flaky network; a network that is not working properly entirely. That can be a symptom on just one machine:

  • If that machine's own network card is failing or flaky,

  • Or if it's physical connection to the network itself is failing or flaky.

Test the network cable

The network cable is not really the prime suspect, but it is the easiest thing to try.

  • The very first thing I would do is to replace the cable.

Make sure you get a brand new one and just plug in a new cable between the PC and wherever it connects to your network.

Network adapter

  • The other thing, of course, is the network adapter in the PC.

If it's a built-in network adapter, I would either get an expansion one or a USB one and see if that makes the problem go away.

Try different connections

Finally (since this sounds like it might be a corporate scenario on your company network), often the network cabling that runs to your PC is actually built into your building and running through your wall.

  • If you have the opportunity to do so, try a different socket.

Try a different location; plugging that machine into a different connection to see if perhaps it is the cable in the wall that is contributing to this network flakiness.

Time for the techs

But overall, the symptoms that you're seeing come and go; it's very common for this kind of a thing to happen when there are networking-related problems.

Unfortunately, network-related problems can be caused by so many different things ranging from:

  • Your own PC's network card;

  • To the cables;

  • To the server;

  • To the switches and other equipment that on the network;

That it's extremely difficult to diagnose remotely.

But this is a case where there are a couple of things you can try on your own. Then, having ruled those out, it's probably time to bring the IT people for your company and say, "Hey this is going on. Help me figure it out."

Next from Answercast 39 – Why is my Windows Installer not running?

Article C5637 - July 29, 2012 « »

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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