Clean Boot

What it is and why you need it
 

IMPORTANT!! Please see my Security recommendations before continuing with any procedures described here.

This article first appeared as a post to Microsoft's Windows 98 General Discussion newsgroup in 2003. It has undergone one or two revisions since then.

It is my experience that many problems that people encounter with Windows 98 and 98SE involve two major issues: Installing and/or uninstalling applications (or adding/removing Components); and/or having a cluttered system, requiring maintenance procedures such as Scandisk and Defrag.

A multitude of problems encountered while performing these procedures can be prevented, in great measure, by practicing "Clean Boot" habits. I can't count the number of times family members or private clients of mine have struggled with some issue, only to watch me *fix* it by starting out with a clean boot. In the Win98 newsgroups, I've written these instructions so many times, in so many ways, for so many problems, that I thought I would put them here as permanent articles. This way, I can simply refer people to this article when needed, rather than repeating it over and over (and over and over...)

The principle of "Clean Boot" applies to all versions of Windows, but these instructions are tailored to Windows 98 and 98SE only! Windows NT, 2000, XP, and, to a lesser degree, Millennium Edition, have different methods involved. Also, the term "Clean Boot" is used throughout the Microsoft Knowledge Base to refer to a multitude of situations and procedures. I borrow this term because it's what I think of as a "Normal Procedures Clean Boot". In-depth trouble-shooting, for instance, goes several steps deeper in disabling things, steps which are not required or even necessarily desirable for the purposes I have in mind when posting this. The whole idea, here, is to get background applications out of the picture, clean up temporary and other garbage files, and otherwise create an environment conducive to the successful installation or uninstallation of applications, and/or the successful running of utilities that don't like having other processes running at the same time, like Scandisk and Defrag. (However, for purposes of uninstalling applications, there is a caveat. See footnote, below.)

"Clean boot" conditions are not conditions in which it is wise to do anything other than installing or uninstalling software, or performing maintenance chores (Scandisk, Defrag, for instance, for which these procedures are *very* good.) Do not go surfing the internet, *do_not* check your email, do not use any applications other than those needed for the tasks mentioned above. You may encounter errors, and you are not protected against viruses or other malicious software. Users with Broadband/Always-On internet connections, or who are on a LAN or WAN should turn off the modem, disable the network adapter, disconnect the network cable, or otherwise do whatever is necessary to isolate the computer from the rest of the world. (Dial-up users, if a dial-up prompt occurs without having been explicitly prompted by the use of IE, OE, etc., you have a potentially serious problem that needs looking into.)

1. Start => Run => (type) MSCONFIG <enter>

This launches System Configuration Utility. If Selective Startup is already chosen, look in the other tabs for items that have been unchecked, and write down those items for future reference. Then, back on the General tab, with Selective Startup chosen, uncheck all *except* WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI.

Now, look in the AUTOEXEC.BAT tab (if there is one) and see if there is a line that says "SET TEMP =..." If so, put a check mark back in there to re-enable it. While not as common a method, also check CONFIG.SYS (if it exists) for a line saying "TEMP=..." or similar, and if there, re-enable it.

Click OK and Restart when prompted. (**If using Norton Antivirus, see below.)

2. Start => Settings => Control Panel => Display

In the Screensaver tab, make the Screensaver "none", then in Power Management, set all items to "never" (I create a Power Scheme called "Never" for these latter settings.) If you are using a custom Desktop IE background, also set that to Standard Windows or some other that does not require the Desktop to be viewed as a Webpage.

3. Start => Run => (type) %TEMP% <enter>

WARNING: This should *only* be performed after a complete restart of the system!

This command should open whatever directory has been designated as the TEMP environment--usually C:\Windows\TEMP, but it may be different. Use Ctrl-A to Select All, then Delete to completely delete the contents of the folder. (I use Shift-Delete, which bypasses the Recycle Bin and permanently deletes the files, but you may want to consider the below, first.) There *shouldn't* be any "undeletable" files in TEMP at this time. If there are, that needs looking into. When emptying the TEMP folder at other times, there may be files that cannot be deleted. This *shouldn't* be the case after a Clean Boot, but when it occurs, I hold down the Ctrl key and click on the first file in the list, which de-selects it. Then I hit Delete (or Shift-Delete) again, repeating as needed. (Note: If you have a SET TEMP command in your Autoexec.bat, disabling that file with MSCONFIG will make the Run command %TEMP% useless. Use the real Path to your usual TEMP folder instead, or see above.)

If you do not empty the TEMP folder regularly, or are not familiar with the TEMP environment, you should review its contents first. Files in the TEMP folder *should_be* garbage once a full restart has been performed (before that, there may be files waiting to be used during startup--installation files, for instance.) But some log files (particularly of errors), and some auto-backup files for certain applications, may be stored here. If you have been having any recent problems, or you have lost files due to crashes, the TEMP folder may contain information you want to keep. It is also possible, of course, that you or other users have unadvisedly saved files here, particularly downloaded files or email attachments, the contents of Zip files, etc. These may be the only copies you have left. In short, if you are "missing" files, look here. If in doubt about deleting the contents of the TEMP folder, create a new folder elsewhere, then Copy the contents of TEMP over, then Delete the TEMP files (sometimes works better than using Move.) Relying on the Recycle Bin in this case is not really a good idea, since it may already contain dozens or hundreds more files. Just makes the task of review that much more difficult.

4. Start => Settings => Control Panel=> Internet Settings.

Delete all Temporary Internet Files. If prompted to include "Offline" files, do so. If using Netscape or other browsers, *also* delete the cache files for those applications, but whether or not you use other browsers or email programs, you still want to delete Internet Explorer's TIFs.

5. Right-click the Recycle Bin and Empty it.

Again, if you have been "missing" files, this may be the time to review the contents of the RB. If this is a task you don't want to perform at this time, you can create a new folder elsewhere, and Move files from the RB to it using Drag & Drop (or Cut & Paste.) Don't use "Restore" unless you are absolutely certain the file(s) need(s) to go back to where it/they came from--you may overwrite newer version(s). If you are using Norton Utilities, and have Protected Recycle Bin enabled (or even if it isn't enabled, since there are "issues" with this item), be sure to also review and/or empty this.

You now have a "Clean Boot" environment. Nothing is running in the background, at least nothing should be. If you subsequently discover that something *is* running, particularly if something has re-enabled itself in MSCONFIG, you need to diagnose that issue. Having things loading up at startup after everything has been disabled is not normal and may indicate malicious software--viruses and other devious and unwanted programs.

Also, you have emptied the TEMP folder, TIFs, and the Recycle Bin, and these, too, are important steps in creating a clean environment for installing applications or performing other maintenance operations.

*Uninstalling/Reinstalling -- There is one little catch involved in creating a "Clean Boot" environment for the purposes of Uninstalling or Reinstalling applications. If part of the uninstall operation involves removing one or more startup launch commands, they will not be removed if they have been disabled. Particularly if you do not intend to reinstall the application exactly as it was before, you need to re-enable the startup commands, first, without actually launching the application(s), and before performing the Uninstall. It's easy: Just run MSCONFIG again, immediately before performing the uninstall/reinstall operation, choose Normal Startup, Apply and Close, but DO NOT restart the machine. Once the uninstall has been completed, return to MSCONFIG and repeat Step 1, above. If prompted to restart your machine after Uninstall, reject that option, repeat Step 1, above, and *then* restart. (If that doesn't prevent most problems, I'm sorry--the uninstall will have done things in a very odd manner and you'll simply have to deal with it manually, as discussed below.)

**Norton Anti-Virus. If using NAV, it is better to not use MSCONFIG to disable it (may cause problems when re-enabling.) The best thing to do with NAV is to go into its own Configuration settings and simply disable the entire thing. The actual steps needed to achieve this vary from version to version, so I won't go into them. In earlier versions, simply disabling Auto-Protect would prompt a message asking if you wanted it to reload with Windows at the next startup. I don't recall if the newest versions do that. Also, in combination with disabling AUTOEXEC.BAT, disabling Auto-protect was all you had to do in NAV with earlier versions. Again, I'm not certain that this is the case with newer versions. But it is *important* to completely disable any background NAV functions before installing or uninstalling applications. These procedures very often do things that NAV is meant to prevent--run Scripts, change system files, etc. Not disabling it can cause real problems. Lastly, you must remember that after re-enabling NAV, if you have performed an installation or reinstallation, NAV or other utilities *may* see some change as an indication of virus-like activity, and prompt some kind of repair. Reject this prompt, but consider running a full scan to be sure no *real* virus has been introduced.

Once your installation or uninstall/reinstall operations are complete, if you intend to go on to maintenance chores, you need to be sure to reboot first, and then repeat the above, numbered steps--you probably no longer have a "clean boot" environment and will want to restore it.

Once you have finished all chores, restore Normal operating conditions by using MSCONFIG to choose "Normal Startup". If you previously noted items that had already been disabled in the startup queue, back in Step 1, now is a good time to investigate why. MSCONFIG is not a good place to permanently disable items. If you want to stop something from loading at startup, you need to either use that application's configuration settings to achieve this (with the item Enabled in MSCONFIG, so that the command is properly deleted), or you need to uninstall the application completely--or you need to otherwise understand why this item is in the list in the first place. A similar concept applies to items that failed to be removed after an uninstall operation. If you can't figure this out, or have figured it out but don't know how to remove the item(s), the best place to come for advice is  the Win98.Gen_Discussion newsgroup.

Remember, also, to re-enable any Screensavers, special desktop backgrounds, Power Management settings, etc., that you have previously disabled.

That's all I can think of, right now, except--Have Fun!

Gary S. Terhune
MS MVP Shell/User

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