Monday, September 20, 2010

Windows XP in VMware Workstation 7.1: Windows Explorer Keeps Refreshing

I was running Windows XP SP3 as a guest in a virtual machine (VM) in VMware Workstation 7.1.1 on an Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) host.  I had just installed a couple of freeware utilities when suddenly Windows Explorer began refreshing itself about every two seconds.  More specifically, it was refreshing the right-hand pane, showing files and folders, but not the left pane, showing the folder tree.

I thought at first it was a virus, but I was running antivirus software, and a scan with a different antivirus program turned up nothing.  Besides, I had just downloaded those programs from reputable sources (e.g., CNET) that supposedly certified them to be virus-free.

A search suggested this was a relatively common problem.  Several posts made me think it had to do with network drives, which in this case would mean the link between Windows and VMware.  I killed the VM, reverted to a previous snapshot, and started that, but the same thing was happening there as well.  I powered up a different VM in a different session of Workstation.  The problem was not occurring there.  I closed all sessions of Workstation and powered up the misbehaving VM in a new session of Workstation.  The problem recurred -- but then, after a minute or two, it stopped.  But then, after I used Windows Explorer some more, it resumed; but then it stopped again.

I downloaded the "Prevent Automatic Folder and Icon Refresh" registry edit from Kelly's Korner and ran that, and then rebooted Windows within the VM.  The problem was still there.  I took this to mean that *automatic* refresh was not the problem -- that, presumably, something was manually refreshing Explorer.

I tried displaying different drives' contents in Explorer, on the theory that maybe this was happening in connection with just one particular network drive.  That was not the case; it happened on all of them.

I wondered if a program installation was responsible for the problem.  But it was not clear to me how any of these would have been responsible for the fact that the flashing occurred within a snapshot that I had taken before installing them.

Then I came closer to what seemed like a possible answer.  I tried again to install the Microsoft Task Switch Powertoy.  I had tried before, and it had given me an error message, and the same thing happened again.  The error message was "Error 1606.  Could not access network location [gibberish]."  The gibberish was actually just a set of five squares with no characters in them.  It appeared that the installer was trying to access a network location whose name did not consist of valid characters.  Following advice, I checked the following registry keys for incorrect addresses:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders

I did find several bad entries in the second of those five locations.  I corrected those and rebooted the VM.  I was now able to install the PowerToy.  Unfortunately, the flashing was still going on.  I went into VM > Settings > Options > Shared Folders and switched that to Disabled > Save.  The flashing stopped.  In Windows Explorer, I tried to go to another network drive, but got the message that it "is not accessible.  The network path was not found."  I went to drive C (not a network drive).  Its contents displayed OK.  No flashing.  I set Shared Folders back to Always Enabled.  No flashing on drive C.  Flashing on drive D.  I tried C again.  The folders there would refresh once, immediately after being selected, but then not again.  In Windows Explorer's menu, I went to Tools > Disconnect Network Drive and disconnected drive D.  Drive E was still flashing.  I went to Tools > Map Network Drive and mapped D again.  It was flashing.

A Microsoft Knowledgebase webpage said that a somewhat related problem (flickering in the left-hand pane of Windows Explorer) could be repaired at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer.  I had only a lowercase "policies" (not "Policies") key at that location.  Regedit would not let me create the uppercase version.  So I went into the lowercase "policies" key.  It did have an Explorer subkey.  I went in there and created a new key, NoRemoteRecursiveEvents, of REG_DWORD type, and gave it a value of 1.  I exited regedit and rebooted.  This step did not solve the problem.

I closed this VM and went back to the previous version, the one that did not flash.  I corrected the incorrect registry addresses (above) first.  Then I started reinstalling the programs that I had been installing when the problem began.  I went down the list and, what do you know, the flickering started when I installed FolderSize, and it stopped when I uninstalled it.  FolderSize calculates the size of folders, and apparently refreshes the screen while it does so.  After I uninstalled it, the problem went away.



Ray - You're a wonderful human being. :-)

I have a cheap NAS, which I had all but given up on because it was constantly refreshing itself.

I hadn't really done much troubleshooting, but after a few moments googling 'nas explorer xp "keeps refreshing"' I came across your blog.

Not only did you have the answer, but you had set out the problem and the various steps you tried in perfect, documented detail.

I work as a tech support guy and I wish all people (including myself!) would approach problems with the same systematic and rigorous method that you do.

Anyway, I've stopped FileSize and will have to give up on it when using the NAS. Shame really ('cos I really do like that app), but thanks for sharing the knowledge.




Errrr - Replace "File Size" with "FolderSize"


I dunno if this is something that you still bothers you, but I found that Explorer++ (a very good Explorer replacement) can show folders sizes on my NAS without the constant refreshing.

Explorer++ is good enough on its own merits, but as it works so well with my NAS, I'm even happier with it!



Errr... OK. I'm not a cyberstalker, I just thought I should leave the latest info:

Under Control Panel, Folder Size, you can choose what types of drives it gives folder sizes for, and you can choose the format as well.

Over and out.


Rick -- I'll begin to worry about stalking when you begin to post these notes on my car windshield. Seriously, more information is better. Thanks.