Fixing Vista Start Menu Problems

First off, I like Vista despite its compatibility problems. By and large, I don’t have many problems with it as long as I avoid doing stupid things like installing really old software with warnings like “If you install this on Vista, your computer will burst into flames” or trying to get nVidia SLI working. See my previous delightful post in regards to that. BTW – life is good again on that front.

Having said that (and still waiting for Bill to send me the money that he promised), I’ve had a long standing problem with Vista Ultimate and Office 2007. When I click on certain links in my Start Menu, they don’t work. It really cheesed me off. I would have to go through All Programs, find the program I was looking for, then click on it. It made using Vista painful at best. The other problem I had was that when I right-clicked on System and listed the system properties, one of the links would be for the Device Manager. If I clicked on it, nothing happened. That really cheesed me off because I spend far too much time in Device Manager trying to figure out what the last piece of hardware I installed broke.

Today was a nice, quiet calm day with minimal computer problems so I started to delve into the mysteries of this particular problem. I checked all the usual suspects like http://support.microsoft.com/, and did a Google search. As usual, I found mostly crap or people complaining of the same problem with no solution. On about the 4th Google page, I found a post and it actually fixed the problem I’m really, really happy to say.

<Begin technobabble — guaranteed to put non-technical people to sleep>

The problem is caused by programs installing Shell Extensions that interfere with Vista’s processing of the Start menu and its associated links. These typically manifest themselves as options that happen when you right-click on a file and see options for WinZip or Media Player. If you install lots of software, you have hundreds of these buggers and one of them is causing the problem. The trick becomes:

  1. How do you view these items?
  2. How do you find the offending entry?

I found a program called ShExView by Nir Sofer (http://www.nirsoft.net/) mentioned in one of the posts. His web site doesn’t work so a quick Google search found a version of the program and I quickly installed it.

The program generated over 100 items when I ran it which scared the crap out of me. I thought I was mostly careful about installing software. Most of them are from Microsoft so I guess that’s OK and I calmed down a degree. With so many entries, how do you find the offending entry?

The program colour codes suspicious looking items in shades of pink. For some reason, Google is intense pink while others are barely there pink. Perhaps the rating scheme is based on market valuation? I highlighted all the pink entries and disabled them all. I then went to the Start Menu and tried a program link that didn’t work like New Office Document. Miracles, the program link worked.

I then went through them one by one, enabling each one and trying the same program link. I eventually came across an entry from a program called Free Hex Editor (yes, yes, stop the snickering, looking at data in hex is useful on occasion). When I enabled it, everything stopped working. I went through the rest of the entries just to be sure and left the entry disabled. I rebooted, and Vista is back to its happy self again.

Good luck if you have the problem and drop me a line if I can be of assistance.

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