How to prevent Windows Vista's 'green ribbon of death'

This article is excerpted from Windows Vista Annoyances, published with permission by O'Reilly Media Inc.

Don't you just love it when something is so notorious for a particular shortcoming that a new term is invented to describe it? It happened with the Windows "blue screen of death." It happened with the "spinning beach ball of death" in Mac OS X. And it happened with the odd-number curse, referring to every other Star Trek film.

Now it has happened with Vista's own "green ribbon of death," shown below.

The green ribbon is basically a progress bar, a screen element Microsoft has sadly gone to great pains to excise from Windows Vista. But this particular progress bar is the harbinger of death for the active Windows Explorer window, which, unfortunately, is not uncommon in Vista.

The green progress bar inches across Windows Explorer's address bar as Windows attempts to assemble a list of files to show for the current folder. Most of the time, it's only visible for a few seconds, if it shows up at all. The problem occurs when it doesn't go away, at which point Windows Explorer stops cooperating when you try to view another folder or cancel the progress by clicking the little red X button next to the address bar.

What's worse, if you try to open another Windows Explorer window, that one is likely to malfunction, too, even if you closed the first one! The solution, temporary as it may be, is to close the seized explorer.exe process in Task Manager. But if you want to stop the green ribbon of death from visiting you again, you'll have to take matters into your own hands.

There are basically four things that cause this problem:

Broken thumbnails

This is the most common cause of this problem, and also the easiest to fix. Each time you view a folder containing photos (JPG, TIF files) or movies (AVI, MPG, WMV files), Windows Explorer opens each one to extract and build thumbnail previews for the file icons. If even one file in the folder is corrupted, or if one of the files makes use of a corrupted codec on your system, Windows Explorer crashes.

To fix this problem, you need to do two things. First, figure out which file is crashing Explorer. Of course, since you can't view the folder in Explorer without it crashing, you'll have to turn off the thumbnails feature first. On the System page in Control Panel, click Advanced system settings, and then in the Performance box, click Settings. Turn off the Show thumbnails instead of icons option, and click OK.

Windows Vista Annoyances

Next, open the folder and then test each of your media files. The video that won't play or the photo that won't display is the likely culprit. Now it's just a matter of figuring out whether the file is corrupt, or the codec needs to be fixed.

Slow network access

When you open the Network folder to view other PCs on your LAN, Windows Explorer sometimes takes a long time to show them all. You may want to check your network connections and shared folders, and perhaps stop some shared scheduled tasks because that slows network browsing considerably.

Searching when files are changing

If you're searching a folder, especially if you're using the Include non-indexed option, and another program is writing files to that folder, the search results may repeatedly appear and disappear while you stare at the green progress bar. To solve this problem, close the Search window (or select a real folder in the tree) while programs are saving files to your hard disk.

Vista's green ribbon
Vista's 'ribbon'
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