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I was playing Bastion in windowed mode. One of the controls is right clicking in the general direction you want projectiles to fly. Needless to say, sometimes I right clicked on the desktop quasirandomly in the hottest of moments. This was a harmless annoyance, until the desktop crashed, and restarted, and crashed, and restarted, and crashed, and restarted, and crashed, …

Eventually I died ingame and called it quits. Windows Explorer wasn't done crashing though. Logging in and off only helped insofar now it sent error reports, now limiting the rate at which the thing crashed.

I logged in using another profile, navigated to my desktop, and sure enough, Windows Explorer crashed again.

What could have gone wrong? What can I do now to trace the source of this crash?

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Does the system give you a specific error message or does it just say "I Crashed"? – Tim Dec 27 '11 at 16:58
@Tim Just "I crashed." :/ – badp Dec 27 '11 at 17:10
up vote 4 down vote accepted

One of the main reasons Windows Explorer crashes is due to malfunctioning shell extensions; this can either be due to corrupt folders or files that are failed to be parsed, or because the shell extension contains some unstable code. You can manage shell extensions with ShellExView such that you can try disabling those that you don't need for normal operation, which are all those that are non-Microsoft.

Shell extensions do things like adding context menu entries, generating image and video thumbnails; as well as generating information for columns in Windows Explorer (like PDF pages) and its properties.

Also have a look at which folder or file could cause this, in the worst case recreate the folder or do a system restore to an earlier point. It would be weird when the registry suddenly changed due to clicking...

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I opened up a console and cded into my desktop, dired the folder contents and started removing files one at a time (starting from scrap files I could most easily replace, obviously), trying to launch Explorer after every try.

Here's a condensed output from my console


27/12/2011  17:18    <DIR>          .
27/12/2011  17:18    <DIR>          ..
16/12/2011  22:05    <DIR>          Cobalt
17/12/2011  22:16    <DIR>          CS
09/03/2011  22:58    <DIR>          DD
11/12/2011  12:18            64.136 dingaling.wav
01/06/2011  21:36    <DIR>          Dolphin
23/11/2011  07:34    <DIR>          Erasmus
26/12/2011  23:51        11.805.121 familyfeud-playaround-heisanevigenius.mkv
04/06/2011  20:28    <DIR>          foo
<!--------------------------------- snipped a few more files --->

C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>del "greenTech+.lnk"
C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>explorer .
C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>del dingaling.wav
C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>explorer .
C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>del familyfeud-playaround-heisanevigenius.mkv
C:\Users\Santi\Desktop>explorer .

After I deleted this .mkv file, explorer stopped crashing. I wanted to make sure it was just this mkv file, so I redownloaded it. Sure enough, it crashed again. Rebooting didn't help.

As Tom suggested I used ShellExView and noticed only one item of type "Thumbnail" that wasn't provided from MIcrosoft and was about videos - "DivX Thumbnail Provider". It sounds unrelated (after all, DivX and MKV are different things) except the description claims "DivX MKV/AVI Thumbnail Provider" and disabling it fixed the problem.

Should I want thumbnails back for .mkv files, I could just reinstall/repair DivX again. Honestly, .mkv files play just fine and those thumbnails were fairly expensive to make anyway, so I'll happily live without them.

As for how this happened just by randomly clicking on the desktop... I have honestly no clue. The issue had likely happened in the past and the right clicking simply triggered a rebuild of the cached thumbnail, which crashed.

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Someone on the Win7 forums has compiled a list of common explorer fixes. The grammar of the thread could use some work, but the steps are there. In summary:

  1. Use ShellExView to check for corrupt context menu entries
  2. Run sfc /scannow to fix corrupt system files
  3. Try creating a new profile
  4. Repair install
  5. Download a registry fix that will cause explorer.exe to create a crashdump for more information
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