Answer Line: Stop Those Annoying Boot-Up Error Messages

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I get the same error message every time I boot my computer, but everything seems to work okay after that. What's wrong?

(Name withheld by request)

Something has changed in your computer, for better or for worse, but the change wasn't complete. The most likely reason is that you removed a program that Windows is still attempting to load.

First, grab a pencil and paper and boot your computer. Write down the full text of the error message; the correct path and file names are especially important. Also, make sure that you get the spelling right.

Once you're back in Windows, select Start, Search (in XP), Start, Search, For Files or Folders (in 2000 and Me), or Start, Find, Files or Folders (in 98). Enter the error-message text in the "file name" field (the exact name of the field varies from version to version of Windows), select your hard drive in the 'Look in' menu, and click Search or Find Now. If the file appears in the results window, make note of the file's path; you have the option of fixing, rather than deleting, the file's automatic loading tendency. I'll discuss that later.

Whether or not the file is still on your hard drive, you should research this mysterious program. If you enter the file name in Google or your favorite Web search engine, you're almost certain to find some useful information about the program that it's associated with. If you don't find anything, there's a very good chance that the file's name was randomly generated (especially if it more closely resembles an eye chart than a word or a name). If that's the case, the troublesome file is almost certainly related to a virus or similar pest. But don't rejoice too much over having figured out that it's part of an uninvited guest; even if the file is no longer there or if you delete it now, a copy could very well still be lurking on your hard drive under another randomly generated name. Make sure your antivirus and anti-spyware programs are up-to-date, and use both programs to scan your hard drive.

Whether or not the file is malicious, chances are you're better off not loading it. After all, your computer works fine without it. Either way, you'll still want to stop that error message. To do so, select Start, Run, type msconfig, and then press <Enter>. Click the Startup tab. (Windows 2000 lacks the System Configuration utility, so with this OS you should use Mike Lin's free alternative, Startup Control Panel.) If you see a listing for the error-producing file, delete it.

If no such listing appears, try cleaning the Registry. Stand-alone Registry cleaners like Easy Desk Software's RegRepair (free trial, $30 to keep) can do the job with one click; alternatively, you can use Windows' own Registry Editor to fix the glitch. Start by backing up your Registry (for instructions, see "How Do I Restore My Windows Registry?"). With your backup in place, select Start, Run, type regedit, and press <Enter>. In the Registry Editor, press <F3>, enter the file name in the 'Find what' field, and press <Enter>. If you find an entry for the file in the Registry, delete it, unless the path described in the entry points to the same folder as the file that you found during your previous Windows search. In that case, leave the Registry entry alone.

If you're using Windows 2000, type regedt32 to open the Registry Editor. To launch the search, select View, Find Key. You will have to search separately in each of the five windows.

So what should you do if the problematic program is one that you want to continue to autoload? Your best bet is to follow the instructions above for cleaning the program from your Registry, and then to try reinstalling it. This solution is simpler and surer than trying to fix the existing file. Browse to "Windows Rejuvenated!" to read my instructions for clearing all the cobwebs out of Windows, and visit our System Resources Tune-Up page to see a list of freeware and shareware system utilities, including several that rank among PC World editors' favorite Registry cleaners, uninstallers, and hard-disk scrubbers.

From Old App to USB Printer

I have an old DOS-based database program that will print only to the LPT1 or LPT2 ports on my PC. My new printer is strictly USB. How do I print to it from my database application?

Walter Mueller, Regina, Saskatchewan

I'm becoming more and more convinced that you simply should not buy a printer that doesn't include a parallel port. USB printers have too many limitations (see "How Do I Share a Printer on My Small Network?" for another example). Fortunately, there's a workaround for this problem in Windows XP and 2000 that involves printer pooling, which is meant to allow one logical printer to print to two actual devices.

First, you'll need to open the Printers applet in Control Panel: In Windows XP, select Start, Control Panel, Printers and Other Hardware (if you are using XP's Categories view), Printers and Faxes. If you use Windows 2000, click Start, Settings, Printers. Now right-click your printer's icon, and select Properties, Ports. Check Enable printer pooling near the bottom of the dialog box; then select LPT1: at the top of the port list, and click OK (see FIGURE 1

Figure 1: Send files from old apps to a USB printer via the printer-pooling feature in Windows XP and 2000.

Windows 98 and Me have what appears to be a built-in remedy--an option named Capture Printer Port on the Details tab of each printer's Properties dialog box. Unfortunately, this function works only for printers on a network, not for those connected directly to your computer.

Spybot vs. the DSO Exploit

Every time I scan my PC for spyware using Spybot Search & Destroy, the program lists DSO Exploit as a problem. I instruct the program to fix the entry, but the next time I run Spybot, the same thing happens. What's going on?

Christopher McHenry, Portland, Oregon

You're actually contending with two bugs. The first one, which Microsoft has addressed, resided in Windows. The second one, as I write this, is still in Spybot.

Let's start with the Windows problem. The DSO Exploit was a security gap in Internet Explorer that allowed a malicious program to take over your PC. Microsoft plugged that gap, and if you use Windows Update to keep Windows nicely patched (as you should), it's no longer an issue.

Unless you're using Spybot Search & Destroy, that is. When you scan with this popular spyware-detection utility, it looks for the DSO Exploit. If it finds it, the program alerts you and gives you the option to fix it--as it should (see FIGURE 2

Figure 2: What is that exploit? This spyware scan entry may be a security hole, but it's probably just a bug in Spybot.

Unfortunately, due to a bug in Spybot, the program doesn't delete the exploit, so it continues to tell you that the bug needs fixing. And it will still tell you this after Windows Update has plugged the hole.

In short, if Windows is updated, you don't have to worry about the DSO Exploit at all. Just ignore Spybot's warnings. The program's designers at Safer Networking know of the problem and plan to release a fix. (Note: As we went to press, Safer Networking claimed that it had set existing Spybot versions to ignore the bogus DSO Exploit return as of the February 16, 2005, program update. Visit the Spybot FAQ page to read Safer Networking's explanation of the problem.)

Make a Backup of Your CMOS

Is there any way for me to back up the CMOS chip on my PC's system board? Its data, some of which is necessary to boot a computer, will disappear if the motherboard's battery runs out.

Charles Ruggles, Phoenix

The most reliable tool I've been able to find for creating a CMOS backup is Super Win Software's $25 WinRescue. This program backs up all your system files. Be sure to download the edition of the program that's designed for your particular version of Windows.

The CMOS backup is in WinRescue's Boot Disk feature. Begin by opening WinRescue and clicking the Boot Disk tab. If you're running Windows 2000 or XP, select DOS Boot Disk from the pulldown menu (the other option produces a disk identical to the emergency boot floppy I described in my November 2003 Answer Line column, "What to Do When Windows XP or 2000 Won't Boot"). Click the Boot Disk button and then follow the prompts.

If that fateful day ever arrives when you find that you need to restore your CMOS, all you'll have to do is boot to the floppy disk that you just created and then click the Restore CMOS button.

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