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Within the last week my Windows XP workstation has begun randomly losing focus from the active window. I've seen this in multiple applications including FireFox, Notepad, Putty, Visual Studio etc. There is no application stealing the focus, instead the active window simply goes inactive and there is no active window visible. In the taskbar the application I am working in is still highlighted - so that application is active but its window does not have the focus.

This is not focus-stealing feature you are thinking of that you can configure with Tweak UI. I checked that and its not enabled and anyway that is working the way its supposed to and looks different since its configured to make the grabbing application flash in the task bar.

This looks more like some other app runs, grabs the focus and then exits. The desktop is in the same state you have when you exit the active application.

Any ideas?

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Have you tried using System Restore to go back to a point before it started happening to see if the problem remains? – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Sep 13 '11 at 20:50
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I should have mentioned this was a corporate workstation. It turns out the culprit is a windows script that's trying to run. These may be logon scripts but some of them will run forever if I let them. I found that killing them - instances of wscript.exe - when I have this problem will resolve it without ill-affect that I can see.

I may have to coin a new term: failware.

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+1 for "failware" – Andrei Rinea Feb 15 '12 at 19:55

Jeremy, have you run full scans on your computer using your antivirus software? If so, run a scan using Malwarebytes AntiMalware (MBAM) just to make sure the background application is not bad.

If you find no evidence of a malware infection, using a tool such as ProcExp (an advanced task manager) to view more advanced details of what processes are running on your computer when the focus is stolen. By looking at the processes that appear to be running "hot" (high cpu at that moment) when the focus is stolen, you may be able to pin down a probable cause. Doing research on the offending exectable should give you a fair indication whether or not you really want it running in the background or at all.

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Old post, but if anyone comes across this, after reinstalling Windows XP, to try and fix my same problem, I discovered it was a TP-Link wireless network adapter program. I uninstalled it but left the drivers on and the problem went away, after months of frustration! I found it by fluke:

  1. Press Alt+Tab to see what's active, the fewer number of programs running the better.
  2. Remember what the Alt+Tab window looks like.
  3. Wait until focus disappears and instantly press Alt+Tab again.

In my case, the little icon for the TP-Link config utility appeared, I recognized the icon, uninstalled it and that was it. The same way of finding out what program is causing the problem might work for others!

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Some malware is starting new processes and hiding their windows instantly, so focus gets switched there and then lost. Check for viruses, also check your startup list with this software:

Remove everything unneccessary for normal operation from there.

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Jeremy, only run the above software if you're already familiar with the programs that ought to start up on your computer each time it turns on. I agree with Mikhail in the probable cause, but unless you're competent to do this, I'd recommend against using a start up manager program. The chances are too great that you could cause even more serious problems. – music2myear Nov 7 '11 at 23:17

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