Home Office: Banish Those Gnarly Windows Errors

SAN FRANCISCO (05/01/2000) - Usually, I ignore these little love notes from Windows and hope they'll go away.

Okay, kids: What do General Protection Fault, Page Fault Error, and Blue Screen of Death have in common? Right--Bill Gates thinks they're all rare occurrences.

Not on my PC, they're not. After I switched from Navigator to Internet Explorer and added a bigger hard drive, a gnarly Windows 'invalid Page Fault in Kernel32.DLL' error kept popping up whenever I closed IE.

Let's face it: Everyone gets occasional error messages. Think of them as the price of doing business with Microsoft (and unless Bill uses Linux, he gets 'em, too). Usually, I ignore these little love notes from Windows and hope they'll go away. But sometimes, like my relatives at Thanksgiving, they don't get the hint. If you get error messages more than five times a month, it's time to take action.

With help from a Microsoft support technician and Rod Ream, my user-group troubleshooter, I resolved all my errors. I also have a cure for some of your Windows blues (and no, it's not Linux).

Warding Off Problems

You may not know it, but you can ward off some errors by adhering to a few simple rules. First, when booting up, let your hard drive come to a complete stop before you do anything. Windows does housekeeping at this time--scanning the Registry and loading Startup programs. Second, let all apps finish loading before you use them (closing them midstream is just as bad); otherwise, modules and drivers may get stuck in memory, causing errors.

When you do get an error message, close the system as usual, using Shut Down.

Then when you reboot, run ScanDisk (Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*ScanDisk) and correct any reported drive problems. This may take care of the problem underlying that particular error message and possibly deflect future ones.

If a Windows error appears often, try to identify a pattern. Note what programs are active when the error message appears. If you have Windows 98 or Office, use System Info to see what's running on your PC (select Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools). Or try Process Viewer (free at www.fileworld.com/magazine). In the case of my kernel error, Process Viewer showed that an ActiveX helper file was running--a vital clue (more on that later).

You can also use Windows itself to gather more data. After you start your system and the power-on tests finish--but before Windows 98 begins--hold down (in Win 95, press after 'Starting Windows 95' appears) and choose logged. Windows will merrily record your computer's start-up procedure to a text file and save it to the root folder; use Explorer's Show all files to view this. Then scan for the word "fail" in this document to find the files and devices that may be loading improperly.

Cash Out The Cache

If your browser crashes frequently, or if that dreaded 'invalid Page Fault at Kernel32.DLL' error appears, you probably have corrupt files. In this case, begin by dumping your browser's history and cache files. In IE 5, select Tools*Internet Options, and click Delete Files (in IE 4.72, Internet Options appears under the View menu). Then choose Clear History. Next, check your ActiveX Controls. Click Settings, View Objects, and then change the View to Details. That's where I discovered three 'damaged' ActiveX items. Once I removed them, my kernel32 errors disappeared.

In Netscape Navigator, select Edit*Preferences, click Navigator, and then Clear History. Next, move down to Advanced, click Cache, and click Clear Disk Cache.

Close Navigator and use Windows Explorer to get to your Navigator folder (typically, C:\ProgramFiles\Netscape\Navigator\Program). Rename the Plugins folder as Plug-old, and then restart Navigator, which should create a new Plugins folder. If Navigator no longer crashes, you can either gather fresh copies of your plug-ins or start copying the old files from Plug-old into your new folder, one at a time. Be sure to restart Navigator after each new addition, and monitor for problems until you find (and eliminate) the culprit.

Still experiencing problems? Another cause might be new DLLs battling older ones. You can find some solutions in my September 1999 column (www.pcworld.com/sep99/home_office). For help with even more esoteric problems, check out the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://search.support.microsoft.com.

It's easy to use and surprisingly helpful.

These days, the majority of my error messages are gone. And my relatives? I just offer them Linux lessons after dinner, and the house clears out.

Find files from this article at www.fileworld.com/magazine. Contributing Editor Steve Bass is president of the Pasadena IBM Users Group. You can reach him at Steve_Bass@pcworld.com.

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