The last thing you need first thing in the morning is a PC with attitude, telling you that because you didn’t shut it down properly last time, you’re going to have to wait while Scandisk checks your disc drive for errors. Needless to say you would dearly like to shut down your PC properly, but it won’t let you, so you have to go through this tiresome ritual, and be cheekily chastised by your PC for something that’s almost certainly was not your fault…

Shutdown problems are very common and can usually be traced back to the most recent program or piece of hardware that you installed, in which case try uninstalling and re-installing it. If that doesn’t work, and your PC is otherwise behaving itself take the matter up with whoever is responsible for the errant product. However, occasionally shutdown problems develop spontaneously; unfortunately there is an almost infinite list of possible reasons why Windows won’t do as it is told but if you go about it in a methodical manner you can normally determine the cause or at least where to start your investigations quite quickly, though actually fixing the problem may take a little while…

In Windows 95 and 98 quite a lot of things need to happen before the ‘It is safe…’ message appears or the machine switches itself off; these include unloading and re-configuring driver files, flushing the disc cache of temporary files, completing all disc writing operations and finally closing down programs. Whilst Windows will normally exit running applications automatically some may not respond, so before clicking Shutdown it’s always a good idea to check you haven’t missed something or that there’s nothing happening behind the scenes by making sure the taskbar is clear of icons and pressing Alt + Tab; if nothing appears on the screen you can proceed. If the PC ‘hangs’ at the ‘Please Wait…’ screen, don’t be impatient and switch off, give it a minute or two, especially if the hard disc activity light is still flickering, some programs can take a while to finish what they are doing.

If you are sure the machine is idle, or frozen try pressing the ‘Esc’ key. If that doesn’t elicit a response press Ctrl + Alt + Del just once, to bring up the Windows Close Program dialogue box. You will see a list of items, including Explorer and Systray, leave them alone but highlight each of the others in turn, click End Task, and then try the Shut Down button. Make a note of the last one that prevented shutdown and this should give you a clue where to start looking.

Still no joy? Try starting Windows in Safe Mode configuration by pressing and holding the Shift key after switch on, until Windows has finished loading. If The PC now shuts down normally then it’s likely that one of the programs in your Start-up folder (Start > Programs > Start Up), which loads automatically when Windows boots, is causing problems. If so remove the shortcut icons one at a time and then try again.

The next stop is System in Control Panel, double-click on the icon, select the Performance tab then click the File System button and select Troubleshooting. Work your way down the list, disabling each item in turn then shut down or switch off, restart and then check to see if it will shut down correctly.

Advanced Power Management is another area to check. In Control Panel click on the System icon, then the Device Manager tab and click the ‘+’ sign next to System Devices, select Advanced Power Management and if it has been enabled, check the ‘Disable in this profile’ option, click OK, exit Control Panel and attempt a restart and shutdown. If that doesn’t work go back to Control Panel click on the Power Management and on the Power Schemes tab, under Power Schemes, select Always On and see if that makes a difference.

This one is for Windows 98 users. System configuration files, loaded at start-up may contain commands that can cause the PC to freeze during shutdown. As we showed last week Windows 98 has a useful tool called ‘Msconfig’ which can help identify a lot of start-up and shutdown problems. Go to Run on the Start menu and type msconfig, and select the General tab. Check the item ‘Selective Startup’ uncheck Process System.ini file, click OK, shut down, boot up and try shutting down again. Do the same with the Win.Ini file. If that doesn’t help select the Startup tab in msconfig and disable the programs that Windows loads automatically one by one, trying for a clean shutdown each time. The last thing to try is select the General tab, click the Advanced button and check the item ‘Disable Fast Shutdown. If none of the above works don’t forget to return all settings back to the default values.

Finally – and we’re scraping the barrel now – a corrupt Exit Windows sound file can make a PC stop responding, if you don’t hear the sign-off sound go to Control Panel and double click Sounds, highlight Exit Windows and in the Name panel select None, click OK and try once more.

That just about covers the most common shutdown problems that most users can safely tackle by themselves, but there’s plenty more for you to try, if you know your way around Windows. There’s a useful set of ‘Trouble-shooters’ on the Microsoft web site, that take you through the investigative process, step by step. They cover Windows 95 and 98 (and a lot of other Microsoft applications), you’ll find it at: good luck!

Next week – Introducing the Windows Registry




A section of computer memory or an area on the hard disc set aside for temporarily storing data used by Windows and running applications


Special Windows diagnostic mode used to help trace faults by loading a minimum configuration, avoiding sometimes-troublesome start-up files and drivers


Important files (Autoexec.bat, config.sys,, win.ini etc.) containing text-based commands, that set up and configure Windows and the programs running on the PC



It’s time for another in our very occasional series of ‘Easter Eggs’, those sometimes diverting little features hidden away inside software applications, and another reason why programs take up so much hard disc space these days... This one can be found in Windows 98 and is the most challenging yet, calling for a very steady hand, and possibly an atlas. Double click on the time display on the Taskbar or click on Regional settings in Control Panel and select the Time Zone tab to display the world map. Hold down the Ctrl key and move the mouse pointer to Cairo, at the northern end of the Red Sea, click and hold the left mouse button then move the mouse pointer to Memphis Tennessee (above Florida), release the mouse button, then without moving the pointer click and hold and move the pointer to Redmond in Washington State (just North of San Francisco), release the mouse button, watch, listen and be amazed (well, mildly surprised…).  Don’t give up if it doesn’t work first time, you have to be very precise. No prizes, but can anyone tell us the significance of those three cities?

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