Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Tips, tricks, nuances and strange things that might be difficult enough to understand that we can only call them Windows Oddities.

"A Cabinet file cannot be trusted" - Why?

There are many things that can lead to the error "A Cabinet file cannot be trusted". I'll review the steps I'd take to track down the problem.

Are Clippy and Rover and the Kitty Cat ever coming back?

A minority of people are missing Windows helper animations... but that's not going to be enough to bring them back.

Are multiple administrator accounts on a single machine a bad thing?

Multiple administrator accounts can be difficult to keep updated on a Windows PC. You may have to log into each account.

Can I create a shortcut to a program needing administrative access that bypasses UAC?

User Account Control or UAC requests confirmation when a program needs administrative access. If you know it's safe, we can bypass UAC with a shortcut.

Can I delete these randomly named folders?

Folders with random and unreadable names will occasionally appear on your machine. They're typically the side effect of an update that didn't clean up.

Can a website cause my computer to get a "blue screen of death"?

The blue screen of death can happen for many reasons, usually hardware failure of software bugs. Issues with web sites, however, is not one of them.

Can the same file have two different names?

It's possible to have two different names for the exact same file on disk. The tools, like the concept, are a little obscure but can be very useful.

Chkdsk said my system was "dirty" - what does dirty mean?

Windows tracks unfinished business on your hard drive with a "dirty" flag. Turning off your computer improperly can leave the dirty flag set.

Do green bars in the defragger mean my BIOS has a virus?

When defragging a hard disk, some files in use by Windows can't be moved; in the defragging tool, they appear as green bars. But don't worry - they're not viruses.

Does "Windows is checking for a solution..." actually do anything?

When a program is terminated by Windows it will check for a solution. If no solution is found ... don't wait for one.

Does Microsoft Fix-it really fix it?

Microsoft Fix it works on only the specific problem that it is designed to fix, so it is not a general, over-all fix-it solution.


How can I get Windows Explorer to default to open on a directory of my choosing?

You can create a shortcut to open Windows Explorer on the directory of your choice.

How can I tell from where an EXE file is being run?

Malware authors often attempt to hide their work by giving them the same name as system process. The difference comes down to location.

How do I change a file from read-only to read/write?

Removing read-only is easily done in Windows Explorer... but the read-only notice may not be real.

How do I fix "The Windows Installer Service could not be accessed"?

"The Windows Installer Service could not be accessed" is a frustrating error with many causes. I'll look at one trick that may clear a few of them up.

How do I get my attached drive to show in Windows Explorer?

Occasionally attaching a drive to a computer will appear to work, except the drive's nowhere to be found. I'll walk through one common solution.

How do I get rid of this msconfig startup error after making changes?

After making changes using msconfig it restarts on your next boot and presents what appears to be an error message. It's not. I'll look at what it is.

How do I install an msi file that requires administrative privileges in Windows Vista?

Installation packages that use msi files may require administrative rights in Windows Vista, but it might not be obvious how to grant those rights.

How do I install something if I keep getting an LUA error message?

LUA error messages are there as a line of defense to protect your computer from malware. You'll need to be running as administrator.

How do I print a .prn file?

If you've saved a document in .prn format using print-to-file your options to actually print that file are severely limited. As in slim to none.

How do I print a list of what's on my USB drive?

There is as yet no Windows included application or option to print a listing of the contents of a folder or drive. I'll look at how else we can do it.

How do I print or capture the information from a "blue screen" error?

Blue screens are bad enough, but they're further complicated by the fact that capturing the information presented is nearly impossible without a trick.

How do I turn off the unread message count on the Windows XP login screen?

Running more than one email program in Windows XP may result in an incorrect unread message count, but fixing this issue requires some skill.

How do I turn off thumbs.db in Windows 7?

Thumbs.db is created by Windows Explorer as a performance optimization. We can turn it off with a simple setting in Windows 7.

How do I type in characters and symbols that aren't on my keyboard?

There are literally thousands of different characters; many more than would fit on a keyboard. There's an approach to type the less common ones.

How do all these "Documents" folders relate to each other?

My Documents, Username's Documents and the My Documents folder in the Documents and Settings folder all relate ... intimately.

I can't format my hard drive - it keeps telling me "volume is in use by another process" -- why?

"Volume in use" when trying to format most commonly means you're trying to format and erase the entire disk that has Windows on it.

Is it safe to use hibernate all the time?

Hibernate is a convenient way to turn off a machine without shutting down all applications for a quick restart later.

Is there a way to save my 'Favorites' in case of a system crash?

Since your Favorites are stored in a folder on your machine, backing them up in case of a system crash is a quick and painless process.

My "Search Companion" window comes up empty and I can't search. How do I fix it?

The Search Companion window sometimes disappears or comes up empty, making searching difficult or impossible. There are a couple of possible solutions.

My desktop PC shuts off after a period of inactivity. Why?

Computers can be configured to shut down after periods of inactivity. But if it happens without having configured it, reasons aren't as clear.

What are alternate data streams, and are they a security risk?

Alternate data streams are a little known and little understood feature of NTFS that allows information to be effectively hidden within other files.

What are the $NtUnstallKB* folders in my Windows folder, and can I delete them?.

Windows Updates saves uninstall information into hidden folders that, with a little planning, can be deleted to free up disk space.

What are the security ramifications of moving a file to another disk?

When data security is important, such as when file encryption vaults are used, it's equally important to understand that something as simple as a file move might leave unexpected file remnants.

What does "If you change a file name extension, the file may become unusable" mean?

Filename extensions are important pieces of information that Windows uses to determine what a file contains. Change it, and you could lose access.

What is "Print To File" used for?

Print to file is an option on many print dialogs that sends printer output to a file rather than the printer. It's of very limited utility these days.

What is '\Program Files\XEROX\NWWIA', and how do I get rid of it?

\Program Files\XEROX\NWWIA appears to be a harmless "ghost" file, and there is no need to delete it.

What is Error 8000FFFF when I try to install a Windows Vista Update?

Error 8000FFFF results on Windows Vista machines with 4gig of RAM. As of this writing there's no resolution to error 8000FFFF on a Windows Update.

What is a "top-level folder"?

A top-level folder is one that appears at the root of a drive. I'll explain what that means by looking at files and folders in Windows Explorer.

What is the prefetch folder, and why are there copies of system files there?

Windows uses several techniques to try to run as fast as it can for you. The prefetch folder is an aspect of one such technique.

What is this numeric folder in my SYSTEM32 folder, and why does it have 45 gigabytes of data in it?

Within the Windows\System32 folder are hundreds of files and folders that comprise Windows itself. One set of folders is about language and location.

What's the difference between AppData and Application Data folders? (And why have both?)

In Windows Vista, and Windows 7, several common folders have been moved or renamed. The old names remain for compatibility (and confusion).

What's the difference between a DLL and an EXE, and why is it important that I know?

DLLs and EXE files are very much related, but they are two different things. I'll cover the differences and explain why knowing the difference matters.

Where's the Recycle Bin on my USB Drive?

Relying on a Recycle Bin could be a costly mistake. Particularly when USB and other removable drives may, or may not, even have a recycle bin.

Why are there duplicate entries in Task Manager, and how do I clean it out?

Many programs are designed such that they will appear more than once in Task Manager. We'll look at why that is, and when you should care.

Why can I suddenly not rename, move or delete particular types of files?

Windows Explorer does a lot on its own, but add-ons make it even more powerful. Unfortunately, add-ons can sometimes also add problems.

Why can't I access the Documents and Settings or Local Settings folders in Windows Vista?

Two previously standard folders, "Documents and Settings" and "Local Settings", appear to be locked in Windows Vista. The reason: they've been moved.

Why can't I change user-specific folder and variable names?

When you rename a user account in Windows you might expect that the user specific folders would be renamed. Sadly, you'd be wrong.

Why can't I create a folder named CON? (And other "Crazy Facts")

Unexplained behavior can often seem mysterious and even magical, until the real, more mundane reasons are understood. And so it is with Windows.

Why can't I delete this file?

Sometimes a file cannot be deleted because it has invalid characters in its filename. There are techniques and tools to force the delete anyway.

Why can't I make changes to my host file when I am the administrator on this computer?

The host file is a good tool to use to block IP addresses to keep your computer safe from porn and more. You must have administrative privileges to make changes. I'll show how to set those privileges.

Why can't I write any files to my C: drive?

Writing files to C: drive could be hitting up against two problems... both of which are there for your protection.

Why do I get "write protected" when I copy a file to an external destination?

It depends on what external device you're talking about when you're talking about the destination for your file, but the error messages give us a clue.

Why do I get 'Not Responding' from Outlook so often?

"Not responding" is a common message delivered from Windows when it is not able to communicate quickly enough with a program running on your computer.

Why do I get an error that says "The requested operation requires elevation"?

When a computer requests "elevation," it is asking you to increase your administrative privileges to the next level.

Why do I have two desktop.ini files on my desktop?

Changing display options in Windows Explorer can occasionally have unintended side effects, such as changing the way that your desktop looks.

Why do my files get locked?

Files can get locked for several reasons, but the most common by far is simply that some other program is currently accessing them.

Why does my AOL software crash when I download a file?

AOL software can be tricky. I have two recommendations.

Why does my System32 folder open when I log in?

If the SYSTEM32 folder opens on log in it's normally the result of a broken start-up entry or a virus. There are steps you can take to correct it.

Why does my computer shout at me?

Windows has many sounds all of which are tied to specific events. Random sounds, including the computer shouting your name at you, is a mystery.

Why doesn't the "Help & Support" Service stay disabled?

The Help and Support service will restart itself and stay running after you ask for help and support. Apparently that's just how it works.

Why is my C: drive filling up even though I install programs on D:?

When you install software on a drive other than C: you may be surprised to see space disappear from it anyway. I'll look at some reasons why.

Why is there more than one "My Documents"? Does that mean it's taking up extra space?

The "My Documents" folder is treated somewhat differently by Windows. While it can appear in multiple places, there's really only one.