How to Cleanly and Quickly Terminate and Restart Windows Explorer

(This tip is for experienced PC users.)

Do you ever have a pesky application that hangs and you can’t seem to get it to close? Or do you sometimes edit the Registry and want to see its effect without having to log off first?

Either task can be accomplished by terminating the Windows Explorer interface (that includes the desktop) and then restarting it. There are several ways to do this but the standard methods such as using Task Manager or Process Explorer may be too abrupt in some cases. This tip gives another method that appeared at the Microsoft MSDN blog.

According to Microsoft, its purpose is to help developers and testers stop and restart Explorer quickly and cleanly without having to log out but the rest of us can use it also. Here is how it works.

How to cleanly terminate Windows Explorer

Windows XP

  1. Open the Start menu
  2. Click “Turn Off Computer”
  3. Hold down the Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys and click the "Cancel" button.

Windows Vista and Windows 7

  1. Open the Start menu
  2. Hold down the Ctrl + Shift keys and right-click in an empty spot inside the Start menu. (Keep holding down the keys while you click.)
  3. A hidden menu will pop up 
  4. Click “Exit Explorer”

After either of these procedures you may have a very empty screen but the system is still operating. If you have changed the default Explorer settings to "Launch folder windows in a separate process",  then some folder windows may not close when you apply this trick.

How to restart Windows Explorer

To restore Windows Explorer in all versions of Windows, do the following:

  1. Press the keyboard combination Ctrl+Shift+Esc  to launch Task Manager
  2. In Task Manager, open the "File” menu
  3. Choose “New Task (Run...)"
  4. Type "Explorer" and click OK

Windows Explorer will reappear.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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