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Using Microsoft Windows' Startup Modes for Troubleshooting

Microsoft Windows problems can be fairly difficult to troubleshoot when the computer freezes up or the display becomes unreadable. It's necessary to make Windows bypass some of its complex routines and bloated code so that the system can start up (you can't troubleshoot the problem until Windows is running). Microsoft Windows provides four alternate startup modes for troubleshooting purposes.

To access the Windows startup mode menu, simply turn on your computer. Immediately after you hear the startup beep, press the [F8] key. The startup menu will be shown like this:

  1. Normal
  2. Logged (\BOOTLOG.TXT)
  3. Safe mode
  4. Step-by-step confirmation

  Enter a choice: 1

Press the appropriate number key for your choice and then press the [Enter] key.

Startup mode #1 (Normal) allows you to get out of the startup menu and continue starting Windows as usual.  This mode is handy if you pressed the [F8] key accidentally.

Mode # 2 (Logged) causes Windows to "log" its startup activity in a text file named bootlog.txt in the root directory of the boot drive. Bootlog.txt will be a very large file. Using Windows notepad, open the bootlog.txt file. Search for a line that has the word "failure" in it.

If Microsoft Windows freezes before completing the startup process, the last line in the bootlog.txt file may give you at least a clue to the cause of the problem. You might discover that one or more steps in the startup process failed to complete successfully. But don't automatically assume that those failures are the cause of the Windows startup problem. Those steps may have been failing all along and you didn't know it, or they may have failed as a side-effect of the real problem.

Mode #3 (Safe mode) bypasses most startup configuration files, including a large part of the registry. It starts Microsoft Windows without loading most of the drivers. Safe mode loads only the generic mouse and keyboard drivers as well as a standard VGA video driver.

Safe mode lets you troubleshoot the problem using a "bare bones" Microsoft Windows configuration. You have access to your disk drives so you can copy or delete files as needed. You can also use the Registry Editor to inspect or edit the Windows Registry.

But clicking Control Panel>System>Device Manager will return the error message "Status is not available when Windows is running in Safe Mode" for the properties of every device. This effectively prevents you from troubleshooting the area that causes most Microsoft Windows problems.

Mode #4 (Step-by-step confirmation) completes the Windows startup process one step at a time. Before each step is performed, a message is displayed on the screen letting you choose whether to run or bypass that step. This allows you to skip the steps that returned the "failure" code in the  bootlog.txt file.

Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows 98 may provide you with a few additional startup options, including "Command prompt only", "Previous version of MS-DOS", or "Safe Mode with Network Support". Windows Me doesn't offer an independent DOS command processor so these additional modes are not available on the menu.

Microsoft Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows 7 also provide you with several extra startup options. These additional options include "Enable VGA mode", "Last Known Good Configuration", and "Debugging mode", which can be used for certain specific troubleshooting purposes.

In summary, if Microsoft Windows freezes up or the video display becomes unreadable, you can use an alternate Windows startup mode in order to bypass some of Windows' complexity and code bloat. By using one of these alternate Microsoft Windows startup modes you might be able to find some clues as to the source of the problem, or at least allow Windows to start up so that you can troubleshoot the problem.

Stephen Bucaro is the owner of Bucaro TecHelp. Visit him at: http://bucarotechelp.com

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