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Explorer.exe does not start on its own

Last Modified: 2012-06-22
Several of my users with the newer Lenovo Thinkpad laptops are having problems with explorer.exe not starting during boot up (I am not talking about about internet explorer or windows explorer.  This is explorer that handles the desktop icons and such).  Intermittently, when the computer boots, none of the desktop icons load nor does the task bar.  The only thing I can do is pull up Task Manager.  I called IBM and they recommended that I start explorer.exe manually by using the Task Manager.  They said a permanent fix would be to reformat the computer and reinstall the operating system because that is where the problem lies, in the operating system install.

Today, I reformated one of the affected computers.  After installing Thinkpad updates and rebooting several times, everything was fine.  But as soon as I installed Windows XP Service Pack 3, I rebooted and the desktop items were missing again.  Therefore, I think that the problem is in one of the Windows updates that was added in the later part of SP2 and that has been carried on into the SP3 install because the other affected users are on SP2.   However, the fresh install I did of this particular computer had SP2 installed also, but not all of the updates that came out later on.  It did not show symptoms of the problem until SP3 was installed.  I removed SP3 and there were no problems.  I would prefer not to just leave SP3 off because there are so many security updates the system needs.  

Does anyone know a permanent fix to this problem?   Do you think it is possible an Lenovo/IBM driver is conflicting with a Windows Update?   I have researched Microsoft's website and all over the internet.  It appears to be a known issue but everyone else says it is infected with a virus or malware.  This is not the case here because it was just reformated.    I appreciate your expertise.
Thank you.
Watch Question

Delete the following reg key and restart

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\explorer.exe
Top Expert 2013

deeayrian--"...had SP2 installed also, but not all of the updates that came out later on. It did not show symptoms of the problem until SP3 was installed.  I removed SP3 and there were no problems."
An installation of SP3 adds several Updates that could have been installed with SP2 but as you say you did not.  (In fact much of SP3 is the installation of recent updates that you missed.)
Just guessing as to what to do.  Go back to SP2.  Install all the Windows Updates to SP2.  Is the Desktop OK?  If not, the problem is not SP3, but one of the updates available for SP2.  It may be tedious, but you can unistall these one by one to hopefully find the culprit.
If the Desktop is OK,  get the full download of SP3 http://www.microsoft.com/downloadS/details.aspx?familyid=5B33B5A8-5E76-401F-BE08-1E1555D4F3D4&displaylang=en  (a humongous file)  If installing that messes things up again, then you will have to uninstall and live with SP2.  But you will have at least localized the problem.
That may not be so bad.  Read about SP3 here
You are correct that the usual reason for your problem is malware,  I guess a reformat should eliminate that, but why not scan with antivirus and antispyware programs (using up to date reference definition files)?
P.S.  When you say you installed Thinkpad updates do you mean MS Windows Updates?  If not, did you install Windows Updates as well after the reformat?  Your middle paragraph is a little hard to follow.


To:  jss1199

I do not have explorer.exe listed in that location in my registry.  I had actually already checked this because I read somewhere else that if it is there, it means that you are infected with malware or a virus.  I checked it again upon your recommendation and indeed it is not there.


To: jcimarron

Thank you for your many possible solutions.  Under your recommendation, I had removed SP3 and did windows updates again, expecting to install each update, one by one to find the culprit.  I wasn't sure the accuracy of this solution however because the problem is very intermittent so it doesn't always happen.  Some people say their computers will be fine for 2 months and then the problem happens again.  That makes it very difficult to troubleshoot.  
It is important to note that the operating system I am using is the factory defaults of Lenovo.  Therefore, it came with SP2 and already dozens and dozens of Windows updates installed.  However, it seemed to be working fine the first few times I rebooted it, before I started adding more windows updates from the website.   I added the first additional update and reboot.  Everything was good.  Added the second update, rebooted and the problem happened again.  So I removed that update and when I rebooted, the problem happened again.   I tried to uninstall the first additional update I added, but I can't find it in the list.  I have "show updates" checked and I see all of the other windows updates but this particular one I can not find (I wrote down the number so I knew which one to look for).   In addition, any of the updates that came with the operating system that Lenovo provided are not elgible for removal.    

The Thinkpad updates that I mentioned I installed are from IBM/Lenovo.  They have a software program called "System Update" that allows you to update the latest drivers for hardware and software items.  

I have done a scan on the computer and it comes back clean for malware & viruses.  I am pretty confident that it is not infected.  I really think that there are two things conflicting with eachother.  But I am open for trying any other ideas people can offer.  Thank you!
Top Expert 2009

Is the shell set to use explorer.exe?


HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\WinLogon

Shell should be data type REG_SZ with explorer.exe

If not add it.


To: AmazingTech

The shell is already set to explorer.exe.  Any other suggestions?
Top Expert 2009

Does this happen to all users? Even if you create a new local user?


AmazingTech:      Does this happen to all users? Even if you create a new local user?

Deeayrian:   I kept rebooting until I made the problem happen again.  Then I rebooted and logged in one more time under the user's profile to make sure the problem would happen again.  It did.  Then I rebooted and logged in under the Adminstrator (local) profile.  The problem did not happen.   I personally do not think that it is a problem with a corrupted profile because several users are experiencing this problem.  I think I am noticing that all affected users have a Thinkpad T60 or X60 series.  Users with models older than the 60 series do not have problems.  IBM Desktop users do not have problems.   This is why I think it is a driver or program  (from IBM or Lenovo) of some sort that is conflicting with something on Windows.  
Top Expert 2009

Can you make sure your laptop is out of any GPOs?
Especially ones that have Machine Startup Scripts?

REG QUERY "HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Group Policy\State\Machine\Scripts\Startup"

Are there any registry keys here? Key names will be '0' '1' '2' etc...


To:  AmazingTech,

I can not find a folder that says "Group Policy" under that path.  I get to - HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\  but it stops there because there are no Group Policy folders.  
I do have a group policy associated with this user's profile. I have one for every user in the office.  That is how I assign the logon scripts.  
Top Expert 2009

OK. So I think you don't have any Machine GPOs.

Can you temporarily unassign the User GPOs and perform your reboot tests?


First let me make sure I understand what Machine GPO's are.  I have the poilcy set up to cover both computers and users (see screen print attached).  Since it applies to computers, does that mean it is a machine GPO?  
Top Expert 2009


Then I believe you should have:
HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Group Policy

Can you check one of your desktops?

I think GPO maybe causing your system to stop the logon process.


I apologize.  I was looking under WindowsNT and not Windows.  Sorry.  Okay, so I do not see a Start Up folder.  See attached for what folder options I have.  
Top Expert 2009

Hmm.. Regardless can you disable all GPOs machine and user and do your reboot tests?
Top Expert 2009

Like moving your computer to another OU which doesn't have any GPOs linked. Not disabling the GPOs for your entire domain.


AmazingTech:   Like moving your computer to another OU which doesn't have any GPOs linked. Not disabling the GPOs for your entire domain

Deanna:  I had two affected computers that I was testing side by side.  One of them I moved out of the OU with a GPO assigned, the other I left in the same spot just to see if it happened more frequently or not.  I rebooted both computers dozens of times and could not get the problem to repeat.  It is so intermittent.   Therefore, I am unable to say if the GPO is the cause just yet.  Sorry.  I will keep you posted.  
May I just say a quick thank you to jss1199 - I was having the same problem and his cure worked a treat

I seem to be having this same problem out of the box Dell 690's XP SP 3 and some on SP 2 -- added to a domain ... i have looked at the previous suggestions and to no avail ... this is a troublesome problem as it is very sporadic and only acts up 1 in 20 boots .. sometimes more some times less ... i would very interested to see if anyone has found a fix.... rebuilt the domain gp ..
I think this is a domain issue just not sure  where to look.

This one is on us!
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I apologize, I did not notice the solution that was posted back on Sept. 19th.  I am excited because I think it might work and if it does, I would really like to award Orci the points he has earned.  Can you please leave this open for 2 more weeks so that I can see if the intermittent problem happens again after I make the changes Orci has suggested?   Please advise.
Author of the Year 2011
Top Expert 2006

Hi deeayrian,
There is an automated process that gets started from the macro I posted above.
If the question does get deleted (despite your request), you will still be able to 'see' the question in your profile.
Just open it and click on the "Request Attention" link and a Moderator will be able to re-open it for you.

Sorry about the lame post, but I am new to this Clean-Up gig and just learning the ropes.


Thank you SO much!  This issue has been giving me and my users a headache for 2 years!  This solution was the only thing that worked!!  

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