Help me not have to restart to get Windows Explorer back
October 13, 2006 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way for me to restart Windows Explorer (the shell) when it crashes, eliminates my taskbar and all desktop icons, but otherwise my open programs are working fine? Don't want to have to restart everything.

From time to time Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) has some kind of conflict and it crashes. Googling tells me it is also called the shell. When this happens, my desktop disappears as does the taskbar and start button. All my applications stay up, albeit hovering over an empty blue rectangular hole where my taksbar usd to be. And I can navigate between them using Alt+Tab, and keep using them. But I can't do anything else. Can't start anything else, can't get to my files, etc. So I have to close everything and do a Ctrl+Alt+Delete and restart to get my controls to come back.

Since everything else seems to still be working fine when Windows Explorer crashes, it seems like I ought to just be able to restart it and continue on my way. If Word or Firefox crashes, for example, I can just start them back up. Can I do that with Explorer? If so, how do I do it without having any icons, task bar, Start button etc. to click on?

Is there some key combination I could use? Ctrl+Esc doesn't bring up the start menu because there is no start menu anymore. Is there some way to program an F key to start it up? Is there some key combination to, say, launch a DOS prompt and enter something in there that would start up Windows Explorer again?
posted by kookoobirdz to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Launch the task manager (ctrl-shift-esc I think), then from its File menu choose Run and type explorer.exe. I used to use this trick frequently when I ran Windows. You also might be able to do the same thing if you use the win-r combination to pull up the Run dialog. Not sure if that will launch when Explorer is dead though.
posted by autojack at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2006

It's supposed to restart automatically. It does for me.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2006

I don't have the exact answer you're looking for, but have you considered using an alternative to Windows Explorer?
posted by LeisureGuy at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: ctrl-shift-esc brings up task manager, from there you can File -> New Task (run) -> explorer
posted by Mahogne at 1:26 PM on October 13, 2006

Oh yeah, and seconding LeisureGuy on using something other than Explorer - I was always a big fan of GeoShell.
posted by autojack at 1:27 PM on October 13, 2006

You may need CTRL+SHIFT+ESC to open cmd.

If you can see the start menu:

Start->Shutdown->CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+Click 'Cancel' - Cleanly shuts down Explorer. You may do a CTRL+SHIFT+ESC to open cmd from this point too...
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:29 PM on October 13, 2006

Um. assuming XP. Not sure about the previous or later versions. YMMV.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 1:30 PM on October 13, 2006

Logging out (windows key + L) then logging back in usually fixes this for me.
posted by fire&wings at 1:39 PM on October 13, 2006

Win + L just locks the computer or lets you switch users, but it doesn't actually log you out.
posted by stopgap at 1:45 PM on October 13, 2006

Well whatever it does it fixes this problem.
posted by fire&wings at 1:51 PM on October 13, 2006

Another way to get WE back going is to use any of your open programs to launch it. File->open-> c:\windows\doubleclick on explorer.exe (don't just "open" it).
posted by notsnot at 1:51 PM on October 13, 2006

Best answer: EXPLORER.EXE can crash. It doesn't always start up automatically. If it crashes...

1. CTRL-ALT-DEL to bring up Task Manager.
2. From the Main Menu of Task Manager select File -> New Task
3. In the field labeled Open type "explorer.exe" (without the quotes) and click the OK button.

That should be sufficient to do what you describe.
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:56 PM on October 13, 2006

Even easier than that: Windows key + R brings up the "Run" dialog. Type "explorer", hit return, all done.
posted by Sibrax at 1:57 PM on October 13, 2006

(Whoops, didn't read the first response all the way through. Sorry.)
posted by Sibrax at 1:58 PM on October 13, 2006

Response by poster: Wooohoooo! Thanks everybody. This is great. Longtime annoyance solved.

btw, I tested the Win + R method just now since it has the fewest number of steps, but it was unrespnosive with the shell dead.

Thank you thank you thank you
posted by kookoobirdz at 2:11 PM on October 13, 2006

To have it restart automatically, just add this regkey value using regedit.exe

posted by Diddly at 2:48 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Registry scaaary. Non-techie afraid of registry. Skulls sit atop bamboo poles outside registry cave. Solution sound good, but kookoobirdz stay in village. Not go out to cave. Kookoobirdz do things old fashioned way and restart shell manually each time. Build character. Village stay safe that way.

Kookoobirdz keep this bookmarked just in case, though. Diddly not tell registry, OK?
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:12 PM on October 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

doesn't win + E work? ... that's how i always start explorer.exe
posted by pyramid termite at 3:42 PM on October 13, 2006

Response by poster: P Termite, Win E opens Explorer for me when the shell is running, but doesn't when the shell has died. Win R didn't work either. Might just be me. I use Win XP Pro
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:47 PM on October 13, 2006

Prudent non-techie need have no fear of registry. Registry good, friendly, make Windows roll over, sit up, beg, fetch slippers. Skulls on poles only to frighten away the Clueless. Kookoobirdz know much powerful magic talk - shell, Explorer, Task Manager. Not clueless, walk past skulls whistling. Kookoobirds find specified keys, values, not futz with others. Kookoobirds write down what went before so changes can be unchanged. Kookoobirds on path to becoming village technician!
posted by flabdablet at 8:09 AM on October 14, 2006

An important side note: if your shell crashes while you have a Windows Explorer window open, you'll need to end the existing explorer.exe processes via the Task Manager before you can get your shell back.

When explorer.exe runs, it checks to see if it's the only explorer.exe process running. If so, it launches as the shell. If not, it opens as a Windows Explorer instance.

So if you've got a couple of explorer.exe processes already running and you try the Task Manager trick, you'll end up with a Windows Explorer window instead of a shell. Sort the list of processes by name, then go through and select, right click, and choose "End Process" or somesuch.
posted by Coda at 10:13 AM on October 14, 2006

FYI: anytime my Explorer has crashed, even though I knew about CTRL>ALT>DEL to bring up the selection box where I select Task Manager vs. Logoff or Shutdown (heah, now it immediately brings up my Task Manager with MCE!), I've still always rebooted because lots of my tray icons disappear with Explorer going down.

Even if it is just a matter of restarting each one manually, jeez, I have 17 in there and that ain't gonna happen! Yea, I have 2GB of RAM so I got it like that lol. G/L.

My desktop:

Unfortunately, you can't see the whole bottom in this one, but you get the point. G/L.
posted by BillyG at 10:59 AM on October 14, 2006
posted by BillyG at 10:59 AM on October 14, 2006

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