I’m a big believer in open platforms, computer platforms, and the power to customize stuff. Unfortunately, there’s a simple reality: developers’ work is sometimes a bit like the proverbial bull in the china shop. (Code SMASH!)

In short: a lot of times when Windows’ file managemer Explorer is hanging, it’s not Microsoft’s fault. Misbehaved shell extensions – often installed without your permission by other tools you’ve installed – are often responsible.

If you’re like me, you’re willing to put in a little bit of effort if it saves you time down the road. For me, a few tweaks to Explorer resolve some of Windows’ biggest annoyances and make it workable, productive, and enjoyable for music making. (Greetings, FL Studio and SONAR and Reaper and Windows-only plug-ins!)

At the end of last year, I wrote up a story on troubleshooting Explorer for Rain Recording, the custom music and visual PC makers. (Rain takes care of a lot of the other Windows annoyances right out of the box, but shell extensions are added by software you might install after you get one of their boxes.) It’s not really a music story, but I think if you can solve computer annoyances, you can get on with music making – and I still believe computers are far more interesting, on balance, than outboard gear alone. Explorer oddities are not among those reasons, so I:

  • Nuke bad shell extensions
  • Customize the context menu so that, instead of a terrifying, moldy wasteland, it becomes a productive tool
  • Stop network bottlenecks from hanging the system while it looks for disconnected file servers

Troubleshooting Windows Explorer [Rain Recording Pro]

I’m interested to hear how you work, though, and I’m sure there are tips I’ve missed.

10 Free Non-Musical Windows Software Every Musician Should Use
12 Free and Cheap Must-Have Music Utilities for Windows

By the way, to revisit a previous story, I’m still not entirely happy with any antivirus software. Antivir is quite lightweight, but posts ads for buying the full version every time it updates. I still long for a simple, lightweight tool that doesn’t nag you and can be switched off (updates and resident protection) whenever you want. I also have to question whether viruses are the threat they once were – meaning, with other protections, what you may want is something a lot more modest.

  • Dandy

    Switch to Mac OS and You'll have no reason to post this so called "news"… 😉

  • Well, gee, Dandy, it's too bad you can't use all that productivity you've gained on MacOS doing something … productive. 😉

    By the way, the Mac file system suffers from the same issue with network servers. For some stupid reason, most file systems will simply hang when they can't find a server.

  • Adam

    After years in Norton Antivirus slow-down hell, I switched to Kaspersky which is much more lightweight. The ideal solution is to have a work computer and a internet computer separate, but I haven't been able to pull that off.

    Not quite sure why there is so much Mac snobbery. As a web designer I need to stay in touch with the what the majority of people use. But I love Windows for all of it's free little programs that fill in the gaps when you're using the big corporate tools.

  • I think they're not real people. I think someone wrote some comment bots a few years ago, and they just automatically post those Mac comments any time they see the keyword "Windows" or "Linux."

    Mac users I know are intelligent, discerning power users.

  • I don't believe in any anti-virus software. Its all useless. I believe being smart on the net will keep you safe. I also reformat my computer every year so if there is anything slowing it down it all goes away.

    I have to say that my favorite quick removal tool was "hijack this."

    I also use nlite. I am not sure if it has been mentioned before, but it is free and allows you to create a bare-bone installation of windows (XP & Vista). With this I can add my drivers to the install disk and it makes that reformatting every year that much easier.

  • Grok

    Regarding Explorer, I hardly ever see it / use it. Total Commander all the way. It speeds up you file handling 10x. Plus it has tons of extensions for various uses / workflows. I even have it as Portable on my stick, so I don't have to see Explorer anywhere.

    As for AV software, I really couldn't totally agree with "I believe being smart on the net will keep you safe". In most cases it's very true, but net is not the only connection our computers make in this day and age. Recently friend of mine brought some work files on USB stick, and it turned out that stick was infected. Fortunately, my Nod32 recognized and blocked the virus.

    People switch USB sticks, external hard drives, make WiFi / LAN connections etc etc., and in all those instances there is possibility of virus infection. And "slowing down" of your OS is last thing to worry about concerning viruses. There's more serious damage that can be done by malicious code.

  • tobamai

    I also don't run any antivirus software on XP and haven't had a virus this millenium. The quickest tips I can give: use firefox instead of internet explorer, use gmail instead of outlook, show file extensions, disable autorun, and avoid questionable software (add-on toolbars, non-official patches, novelty downloads, etc) There are good reasons and explanations, but then they wouldn't be "quick".

    But telling most users how to avoid virii isn't a reasonable strategy. That's like telling people not to use condoms, just go out and be a good judge of character. You need some kind of protection, either antivirus or a good backup scheme. Many people are familiar with antivirus, but a smart backup scheme can be better. Install the OS on its own smaller partition. Setup all of the drivers and software you use fresh, then seal it away in a disk image of the entire partition. When something goes wrong you can fall back to this image much faster than reinstalling. More to that too, but I'm trying not to type a novel.

    For Dandy, someday you'll realize there is no such thing as "best", only "best at" or "best for"… best with qualifications. OSX is great, but it isn't the best solution for everyone. Telling people to "just switch" is turning a blind eye to other important factors that went into their choice of OS. Also, unless Apple wants to close off development for their OS like they've done with the iphone they'll face similar issues in a couple years.

  • Jaime Munarriz

    I also love the Norton Commander clones. There's a free open source one I install on every computer I touch:

    Remember: F5 Copy, F6 move…
    the same old shortcuts!!

  • Andrew

    Not explorer related, but the two changes that fixed my problems with audio on my new tablet:
    1) Installing the "AMD USB Audio Driver Filter"
    2) Disabling the A-band on my wireless card

    Without the second fix I was getting audio drop outs with even the internal sound card. It took a really long time to figure this out as you might imagine.

  • there's some good tips on optimizing your XP computer here…

  • In regards to Dandy's comment: I'm no fanboy of Mac or PC and use both, but I personally can't stand the Mac Finder. I think it's horribly inefficient and every view has fairly major flaws.

    Windows Explorer's always done me right and I wish there was a clone of it for Mac OS!

  • Wallace Winfrey

    I used to not run AV software on my Windows machine, thinking that safe habits on the net would protect me. The problem is, Windows and Windows applications tend to be so full of holes that this isn't really feasible. I used ZoneAlarm for a long time, but it slowly went to pot and I abandoned it for a more piecemeal approach: Windows Defender, Windows Firewall and Avast!. I also run questionable .exes in Sandboxie. What's questionable? Just about everything not downloaded from the manufacturer's website, or stuff from a new manufacturer.

    Also, I turned off all of the Windows search indexing stuff and use a small app called Everything. I will also second the recommendation of Total Commander. The interface is a little busy, but it's an amazingly powerful app.

    For quick file copies, I use FastCopy.Works really well when you're moving those ISO images around.

    I also use a replacement for the Task Manager called Free Extended Task Manager.

  • @KEEB$
    Depending on what you're looking for, PathFinder could be a good option. Tabbed navigation, lots of features, quite nice. Not really Windows Explorer-like, but pretty usable.

    If you like Norton Commander-style interfaces, this runs on every OS (via Java):

    — meaning for those of you on multiple OSes, you can have one file manager that works on all of them instead of having to switch. Bonus! In fact, now having had this discussion, I may give it another try. 😉

  • Oh yeah, and while I'm advocating muCommander:
    FTP/SFTP/Bonjour support makes it ideal for transferring large files, like, ahem, Digital Music you have Created.

  • godprobe

    Antivirus — haven't run any for over ten years. Had three virii in that time, and two were my own fault.

    Precautions: use a firewall (XP SP2's is good enough for me), be familiar with the Windows Registry in case something bad *does* happen, use SysInternals' Process Explorer for fun and Autoruns for sanity, and occasionally run Spybot S&D.

    Also, don't run things if you don't know what they are (Wallace Winfrey's Sandboxie suggestion is good, though I've never used it myself).

    (The virus that wasn't my fault is the reason I permanently switched to Firefox instead of Internet Explorer (and ActiveX…).)

  • godprobe

    + Context menu app in the article looks useful. Gracias!

  • Stuart

    I know everyone here is talking software but one of the biggest improvements I've made to the over all stability of any of my computers is to make sure they're connected to clean power. Even spending $100 on an inexpensive rack power conditioner can make a huge difference.

  • I run with no antivirus, with no problems. I think the last time I actually saw a virus was in 1992 (on a work machine, with who-knows-who running who-knows-what on it).

    A shell extension that's very much worth using is Filebox Extender — I set up my various samples, presets, and renders folders as favorites, and I can jump straight to them in almost every plugin and app. (I just wish Alchemy used a standard file browser instead of its crippled custom thing.)

    I suppose one could do a similar thing with subst, but it wouldn't be as elegant.

  • As a user with a foot planted in each OS, mac and pc, and no axe to grind I would firmly state that the OSX Finder is excruciating to use for audio. The addition of Audiofinder helps a lot, but the basic tools in the mac finder are weak for audio files. You may have a lot of power in Spotlight searches, but it's completely wasted because the search results cannot be ordered by any file attributes related to audio (let alone ordered by size FFS! what were they thinking)

    Comparatively Windows Explorer is still way more usable for audio files (I'm talking XP here, not Vista with the 30 different buttons and file menu locations and icons that look like kids threw some blocks and paint at a screen)

    But, regardless, the best shell extension I have is made by Softpoint who also make Tag N Rename, the tagging app. It's called Audioshell and basically adds some great functionality to inspect audio files, plus it adds a few more 'sort by' options to your standard windows.

    It's very useful being able to instantly see samplerate, bitrate, number of channels, compression bitrates, duration of audio files..etc etc These are functions already built into the Windows explorer but audioshell gives you more like all tag info, editable, embedded images and comments. I find the comments padded tag very useful for typing little reminders next to pretty much any audio file, that you can see just browsing audio folders.

    At the very least, people should right click on the grey bar just at the top of any explorer window where size/type etc are, and enable the built in options of samplerate/bitrate/duration. So much for the mac having the superior media infrastructure….

  • That should've read Softpointer, not Softpoint.


  • gbsr

    just curious. you people keep saying that you are running without antivir and that you havent had any viruses but.. how do you know that? windows is jampacked with security holes and considering that you can embed trojans in a jpg these days, youd be crazy to think that your computer is safe. the only only safe computer is a computer without an ethernet interface.

  • my favorite part about mac OS X is that it only runs on computers that cost $500 more than other computers with equivalent specs.

    windows XP, that you denigrate so much, will run on just about any computer made in the last ten years. go figure.

  • "the fact that the Apple OS & the hardware it runs on are so tightly integrated is so dumb!"

    does that in some way change the fact that it costs $500 extra for the same hardware? or did you have some actual point you were trying to make in your idiotic, hysterical rants that make utterly no sense?

    some of us are trying to talk windows here. it is not a conversation to dis OS X, which i use regularly. so smarten up.

  • michel

    how about avg free for anti virus? simple, lightweight and does the job for me.

    btw: i remember reading a test where they connected a pc without av or firewall to the internet. in only 5 minutes there were files coming from the net on the pc. not every file is harmful of course, but i just don't believe that 'safe surfing' stops intrusion.

    nice pac/mac discussion you got there…

  • Okay, folks, I'm saying this way too late, but now and for all time:

    Don't feed the trolls.

  • To be fair, I haven't seen any unsolicited comments about the Mac here. The comments are mostly specific to things like the Mac's Finder. Something most Mac users I know would agree with.

    The first comment on this blog article was an idiotic Mac zealot one, Peter's response was correct.

    I standby my 'so much for the media infrastructure' comment. The Mac has a great driver model, Core Audio. There's nothing else about it that makes working with audio superior other than that a typical Mac Pro is a higher specced 'PC' than an off the shelf Dell. But people build Mac-like PC's specific to audio work, and then the comparison is reduced to which audio software you want to use.

    I still don't know why you have to be so defensive Fred, I've praised the Mac here for what it's good for, and criticised it for what it's not so good for, something you'd have found if you spend an equal amount of time with both Windows and OSX. As a user of both platforms I'm tired of one sided arguments based on brand loyalty rather than empirical evidence.

  • JN



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