I must admit that I tend to install a whole bunch of junk on my
computer system. It is part of my day job as Director of
Technical Services at a major company to review new software to
determine if it may be of use. I just love to look at new ways
to solve issues that people run up against all of the time. So I
am always keeping a look out for the newest shareware and
freeware and checking them out.
Over the years, I've found a few utilities that I have
discovered which make my life easier. Thus, as I've moved from
computer to computer I've tended to install these same programs
without thinking, considering them to be "safe" as I've always
About a year ago I started having problems with my computer
system. Naturally, since I am an MIS professional, I don't
follow the advice that I give everyone else: install one thing
at a time so you know what to uninstall when there is a problem.
Following this procedure makes it easy to troubleshoot problems
when the occur - with Windows bluescreens and application issues
are almost always the results of the last install. This is
especially true if the system was stable before any new programs
No, I'm so smart that I don't need to follow my own advice
(notice the sarcasm here). What do I do? I get a new computer
and install Windows NT with service pack 5 and Office 2000. So
far so good (that's what I had before). Now I install my usual
set of programs and everything is fine, then I have to go and
add over two dozen new applications. The system appears to be
stable, so I don't think much about it.
Over the next few months, I realized that Windows Explorer was
crashing occasionally. This is very annoying, because it causes
all browser windows to close and all of the tray icons to
disappear. At this point I found I needed to log out and log
back in. The system would remain stable for a while, then the
same thing would occur. There was not a pattern to the failures
that I could find.
After a while I had the bright idea of upgrading to Windows 2000
as it is a much more stable, clean operating system. I also
acquired a brand new machine (933mhtz) with a lot more disk
space. I quickly realized that Windows 2000 definitely was worth
the hype - very clean, extremely fast and wonderfully full
featured. I must admit that I fell in love with this operating
system immediately and will never go back to Windows NT, 98 or
95 (I never used ME).
Except for one thing - Windows Explorer still crashed in exactly
the same manner. Every once in a while (generally no more than
once per day) all of my Internet Explorer windows would close,
the tray icons would disappear and the desktop would be
refreshed. This was getting very frustrating. At first I thought
it was Internet Explorer 5.5, so I installed the earlier 5.01
version. The problem still occurred, but not as often.
I had already tried everything that I could think of. I had
removed and re-installed as many applications as I dared. I had
reinstalled the operating system, changed operating systems and
even changed hardware. I searched Technet (Microsoft's knowledge
base) and found nothing. I questioned other experts and they all
came up blank.
I was getting very frustrated up until about a week ago. I am
very good at this kind of thing, and to continue to have the
same kind of issue without coming to a resolution was really
Yes, believe it or not, there is a point to this story. Last
week I stumbled across an article about Browser Helper Objects
(also known as a BHO). This is the first and only time that I
have heard this term, although I had been unknowingly using
these little critters for years. A BHO is a piece of code which
is installed in a special place known to Internet Explorer which
adds additional features. Microsoft has kindly provided this
function to allow third party companies to extend the browser
without needing to provide access to the source code.
I'm absolutely sure that most of the readers of this article use
at least one BHO at least occasionally. Some examples include
Alexa, Gator, Flyswat, GetRight, Gozilla, RealDownload and Yahoo
Companion. There are many, many more which are often made
available for free in return for a name and demographic
information. I'll bet that you have at least one of these
installed on your system right now. All of these applications
are extremely useful, and all of them extend the functionality
of Internet Explorer. Each has been produced by a different
company with different development, coding and testing standards.
Once I read the article something clicked and I went through my
add/remove programs control panel and deleted the most useful
BHO of them all - Gator. I love this application, but I had to
see if this was the problem.
Well, it's been a week and my system has remained 100% stable
since that time. Not one application freeze. Not one Windows
Explorer crash. Not one problem of any kind.
I learned something - well, I relearned something that I already
knew. Be conservative on the installs of new applications onto
your computer. Nothing makes Windows more unstable than new
installations. And once you're sure you've got a stable Windows
system which does what you need, then by all means stop
installing things. More than likely, it will remain stable -
that is, until you find that perfect piece of software that
you've just got to have.
When you do install something that modifies the behavior of
Internet Explorer, remember this article. Perhaps you've added a
Browser Helper Object. I would recommend that you go ahead and
install it, then watch your system carefully for a week before
making any other changes. This is really the only real way to be
sure of where the new problem came from.
About the author:
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets.
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