Why Do Application Installs Make You Reboot and Close Other Apps?

It’s happened to everybody at some point—you go to install a new application, and Windows tells you to reboot first. Or reboot after. Or it asks you to close out of every other application first. Why does it do that?

In today’s geek lesson we’ll explain exactly why Windows can be so irritating with all this rebooting, and hopefully give you a better perspective into why things work this way.

So Why Are Installers Annoying?

The short answer is that most installers are annoying because they either aren’t written very well, or they integrate too deep into Windows to be able to copy system files and start everything necessary without a reboot.

The problem is compounded because Windows applications often use DLL (dynamic link library) files that are shared between more than one application. It’s a nice idea, but when it comes to installing and uninstalling applications it can be irritating to need to reboot. The really sad thing is that many applications these days are completely self-contained and aren’t replacing built-in Windows DLLs, but their installers still make you reboot.

Here’s a couple of instances where installers might be annoying:

  • If the application you’re installing needs to copy new versions of files that are currently in use by another application, it will either prompt you to close all other applications, or it will make you reboot.

  • If there’s a previous installation or Windows Update that has pending changes requiring a reboot, some installations will fail and ask you to reboot first.

  • If the application you are installing has a plugin for another application, like an Explorer context menu addition, or a browser plugin, it will prompt you to reboot or close the other applications.

  • Sometimes badly written installers will ask you to reboot because they don’t start up the required services on their own.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these instances, so you can fully understand what’s going on.

In-Use Files Need to be Copied on Reboot

If the application installer needs to copy some files but they are currently being used, or are system files in the case of Windows Update, it will utilize a Pending feature in Windows that allows an installer to specify that a file operation happens after a reboot, and before everything in Windows has started up.

The installer will write a key to the following location in the registry:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager

If you’ve received an error saying that you need to reboot first, you can open up this key and you’ll see all of the files that need to be replaced on the next reboot.

You probably do not want to mess with the contents of this key, or else things will quickly start to become weird. There are some very rare instances where this key doesn’t get emptied even after multiple reboots, and you might have to wipe the contents of the key—but you should probably avoid doing that unless you are very certain.

Installation Already In Progress

Some installers won’t start up if there’s a current installation in progress, so they will check the following key to see if there’s an installation already happening:


I don’t have a screenshot for this one, but you can get the idea from the name of the key.

Windows Update Makes You Reboot

If you’re getting a message saying that you can’t install an application until you restart your computer, it’s because of Windows Update requiring a forced reboot. So, for example, if you’re getting this error message:

It’s because you probably clicked Postpone when you saw this dialog pop up:

If you head into the registry, you’ll see that there’s a RebootRequired key at this location in the registry:

CurrentVersion\WindowsUpdate\Auto Update

There’s a whole bunch of GUID values over on the right-hand side, and while they don’t pertain to anything in the registry, the fact that they are there is what is triggering that message.

Technically you could probably export the contents of the key, install the application, and then put them back—but it could break something, and rebooting isn’t that painful is it?

So now you’ve learned a little more about why application installers work the way they do. Is there anything else you’d like to know? Explain your frustrations in the comments, and we’ll see if we can’t shed some light on them.


How to Restore Previous Versions of the Registry in Windows 7

If you want to manually restore a specific section of the registry from a previous System Restore snapshot, or access some specific keys from an older version of the registry, you can do so by getting access to those files and then exporting sections from them. Here’s how to do it in Windows 7 or Vista.

Since Windows 7 and Vista utilize Shadow Copy, otherwise known as Volume Snapshot Service, to power the “Previous Versions” feature, there are snapshots of important files taken over time, including registry hives, so we can access the older versions of registry files this way without having to do a full System Restore.

This article was jointly written by myself and Ramesh from WinHelpOnline, who has also covered how to do the same thing on Windows XP.

Access Previous Registry Hives from Shadow Copy

Important Note: before we get started, we should really give you a disclaimer: you should not use this technique unless you know what you’re doing and are willing to deal with possible problems, or at least have some good backups of your files. Still here? Read on.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is disable User Account Control, because you can’t really access the folders otherwise. Once you’ve done that and rebooted, open up a new Windows Explorer window and head to the following folder:


Right-click anywhere in the white space area of the folder, choose Properties from the menu, and then click the Previous Versions tab. Once you’re there, double-click the appropriate folder (Hint: Look at the Date modified field to decide which version of the files you want to restore.)

Note: If you’re using Windows Vista Home editions and you want to do this, you’re going to need to use Shadow Explorer to get to these files.

Select the registry hive files you need, and copy them to a folder of your choice.

Click OK when you see the Windows Security prompt.

And now you should have a folder containing the backup registry keys.

Now that you have the backup versions of the registry, you can use them to access the older version.

Loading a Registry Hive and Accessing Specific Keys

At this point you can load the entire registry hive into the registry, which will make it a sub-key of one of the main sections, and allow you to access settings from the older version. Open up the Registry Editor using regedit.exe in the Start Menu search or run boxes, click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE or HKEY_USERS, and then use File –> Load Hive.

You’ll be prompted to give the new hive a name—for this example I just used test.

And just like that, you can see the new key with the contents from last week’s backup copy. So, for instance, if one of the settings or license keys for an application was lost, we can find it by browsing through the keys for that application. You’ll have to manually make the changes if you’re doing just a few keys.

If you are trying to use this method to restore large chunks of the registry, you can export a key, modify the exported file to have the correct key path instead of Test, and then import it again. It’s a bit of a pain, but might be helpful if you need to.

Once you’re done, you should make absolutely certain to delete this entire key, or else it’s going to add a lot of extra bloat to your registry that you really don’t need.

Access the Previous Version’s Registry Keys Through the Command Line

Instead of loading the registry key using the GUI and adding all those keys to your current registry, you can use the RegFileExport tool from Nirsoft to access and extract the data from the backup files directly—you’ll just need to know the exact key that you’re looking for

So, for example, if you wanted to access the list of currently installed programs from the Programs and Features dialog. You’d run a command like this against the saved backup copy of the SOFTWARE registry hive—assuming you have the command-line application in the same directory as the backup file:

regfileexport SOFTWARE ExportedKey.reg “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\

This will generate a regular .reg file that you can either double-click to enter the contents into the registry, or you can open it up and find specific keys that you might want to use.

This method can actually be used to easily restore sections of the registry, should you need to. It’s probably most useful for restoring the sections pertaining to a specific application.

Again, you should be very careful when editing the registry, but at least you know a lot more than you did before.


How to View and Understand Uncommon Filetypes

Have you ever needed to open an important file, or simply wondered what some random file on your hard drive was, only to realize you couldn’t open it?  Here’s some tips that can help you find info from even the most obscure file formats.

Whether you’re just trying to open the attachment your friend sent in Publisher format or are wondering what the config and log files from your favorite programs contain, most computer users will encounter many files that their OSes don’t know how to automatically open.  When you try to open an unknown file type on Windows, you’ll be presented with the following dialog.

Microsoft’s own web service is notoriously bad at giving useful information about file formats, so if you choose to use the web service to find the correct program, you’ll often not find any information.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft’s own Bing search often offers more information about specific file types than Microsoft’s dedicated file info search.  So, if the first site from Microsoft doesn’t show much info, click the Search the web link near the bottom to quickly see the file extension info on Bing.

Alternately, you can manually search for information about a file type.  Make sure you can see the file extension, then search for the extension on your favorite search engine or a dedicated site such as FileInfo.com.  FileInfo.com offers information on a wide range of file formats, and includes a very extensive list of applications that can view, create, or edit that file format, so we recommend checking there first.  Wikipedia is another good source of information about file formats, though often you’ll find more info about the format’s history and technical issues than how to actually use it.

Check File Format Information on FileInfo.com

Information about File Formats from Wikipedia

Open File in Notepad to See More Info

Alternately, when you try to open an unknown filetype, you can choose to select a program to open it.  If you already know what program this file  should be opened with, simply select it or click Browse and locate it on your computer.  Alternately, try opening the file in your favorite text editor such as Notepad.

Please Note that you should uncheck the box at the bottom of the dialog if you don’t want this program to become the default program for opening this file type.

Depending on the file, you may be able to read its full contents fairly easily.  Many modern files, such as this config file, are based on XML which makes them very easy to read and find information in.

Many files will be even less human-readable, but you can still often find clues as to what program was used to create the file  or at least what program it was associated with.  You may even find the info you’re looking for without having to open it in a full viewer, depending on what you’re needing to find.

View Almost Any File With Universal Viewer

When you need to view a file itself, looking at it in code form sometimes doesn’t cut it.  If so, then Universal Viewer is a great tool that you can use to see the file itself.  This free viewer is available in portable and installable forms, and can display a wide variety of documents and files.  It can display large PSD files quickly, as well as a wide variety of other image formats, including less common ones that you might not normally have a viewer for.

It can also play back a fairly wide range of multimedia formats, including Adobe Flash videos, though note that it is actually using your built-in browser plugins and media player codecs to render media files so if you can’t already open it, chances are Universal Viewer won’t be able to either.  The great thing is, it usually recognized files fine even when Media Player said they were unplayable.

Even though Universal Viewer can display many file formats, it still can’t display everything.  If it cannot open the file you try to open, it’ll inform you that it’s an unknown format.  Click the yellow band to display the file in binary format.

If you click it, Universal Viewer will display the file the same as Notepad would, in binary mode.  Here, you still may find clues as to what the file contains.  For example, we’re able to see that this file apparently includes HTML files, which makes you think it may be an archive file containing multiple different files.  We can investigate this in the next step.

This is a great portable app to keep on your flash drive to make sure you can open any type of file no matter what computer you’re using.

Download Universal Viewer

View Contents of a File With 7-Zip

Many modern file types are actually renamed archive files containing numerous different files, including XML, HTML, image files, and more.  If you think a file may actually be an archive format, you can always open it with the freeware 7-Zip.  Once it’s installed, right-click the file, select 7-Zip, and then click Open archive.

As we suspected, the file contains a number of HTML files that you can open individually in your browser.  Many modern file types, including the newer Office file types like .docx, can be opened this way.

Do note that 7-zip will offer to let you Open Archive on all files, including ones that are not archive formats.  If you try to open a file that is not an archive, you’ll be prompted that 7-zip cannot open the file.

7-zip is a great archival program, so if you don’t already have it installed, make sure to do so.

Download 7-zip

Download Official Viewers

Sometimes 3rd party viewers don’t cut it.  If you need to print out a high-quality Word document or play back a PowerPoint show, the official viewers are often the best.

Here’s download links for some common official viewers.  Many software companies offer official free viewers for their files, so be sure to check and see if your file type has an available viewer.  If you have others you regularly use, feel free to let us know in the comments.  Additionally, you can find many common viewers on FileInfo.com as mentioned above.

Word Viewer

Excel Viewer

PowerPoint Viewer

Autodesk DWG Viewer

Adobe Reader

Additionally, VLC player is great for playing back almost any multimedia file you may need to play.

Use Expired Trials As Viewers

Another trick to view your files is to use a trial of a program as a viewer.  For example, Microsoft doesn’t offer viewers for OneNote, Publisher, and Visio files, and there are no widely available viewers that work good for these files.  One solution is to download and install a trial of Office, selecting only the programs you need as viewers.  Then, when the trial expires, you’ll be prompted to activate it every time you open the program.

Simply click Close on the prompt, and then your file will open as normal.  You won’t be able to edit the file at all, but you can view it and search for text in the file.  You can also still print the document as before, even with the expired trial.

Download Office 2010 Trial

Use Webapps to View Files

As webapps become more common, there’s increasingly less need to pass around files.  Often nowadays you can simply upload a file and share it with a colleague via Google Docs, Office Live, Photoshop.com, or other services.  Additionally, you can use these tools to view your files yourself.  Office Web Apps lets you view and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files online, while Photoshop.com lets you view and edit PSDs and other images online and AutoCAD WS lets you edit and view DWG files.  With these webapps and more, you can view and even edit and share an increasing number of files without ever having to install a new program on your computer.

With all these tools and tricks at your disposal, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to view the information you need from your files.  No matter what file type you’re dealing with, there are tons of tools you can use to dissect, view, and do more with your files.  Thanks to webapps and portable apps, you might be able to do it without even installing any extra programs.  Do you have any extra tips for dealing with unusual files?  Feel free to share them with us below in the comments.


How to Upgrade the Windows 7 RC to RTM (Final Release)


Automate Windows Maintenance Tasks to Keep Your PC Running Like New

With a Windows computer there are several maintenance tasks you should run on a regular basis, though most of us forget. Here’s how to automate the most important maintenance tasks in XP, Vista & Windows 7 and keep your PC running like new.

We'll take a look at automating some of the most common tasks, and while it takes a bit of time to set each one up, once you do you’ll have peace of mind knowing your system is clean and up to date.

Automate Cleaning Up Your Hard Drive

If you want to make sure you have plenty of space on your hard drive, and get rid of old files you no longer need, you can schedule Disk Cleanup to run in Windows 7 or Vista, which gets rid of plenty of temporary files and other stuff that doesn’t need to be around anymore.

You can setup Disk Cleanup in XP as well as a Scheduled Task. The process is easy following the Scheduled Task Wizard in XP.

If you really want to keep your system automated, however, you can setup the freeware CCleaner tool to automatically run every night, which will clean up more than just the regular temporary files—CCleaner can even clear out your browser history, applications caches, and more.

Note: you’ll want to make sure that you don’t select any toolbars during CCleaner installation, or get the slim download from the optional downloads section.

Automate Backups to Keep Your Data Secure

The most important task Windows users need to do is make sure your data is backed up—that way, no matter what happens to your PC, you can always get to your files, even from another PC. If your PC is completely dead, you’ll be able to restore those files onto your new computer and get right back to whatever you were doing.

Local Backups

Windows 7 includes an easy-to-use, wizard-driven Backup & Restore utility in all versions, which includes creating a system image. For more on which files to backup, check out The Geek’s guide to What Files you Should Backup on Your Windows PC.


The Backup & Restore utility included in Windows 7 allows you to set a schedule from daily, weekly, or monthly. The choice is up to you, but if you backup on a regular basis, you’ll be glad you did.

If you have Windows Home Server, backing up your computers is very easy to configure and automate. You can set it to backup on a regular schedule and also have WHS wake up your machine to back it up at night.

Online Backup Services

If you want to be really thorough with in your backup strategy, having redundant backups onsite and offsite is a good thing. There’s plenty of commercial backup services, like Mozy and Carbonite. They both work the same way, pushing your data up to their servers and making it available for download from another PC, or allowing you to restore individual files that you might have deleted.

Automate Disk Defrag to Keep Your Drive Running Smooth

The cool thing with Vista and Windows 7 is that Disk Defragmenter is scheduled to run by default at 1 AM every Wednesday, so it’s something you no longer have to deal with. You can customize the defragmenter schedule if you want, but there’s probably no reason to change it.

If you’re still on Windows XP you can get the same feature by creating your own Windows 7 style auto defrag using Task Scheduler. There’s no reason to have to remember to do it manually, and really no reason to waste money on a commercial defrag utility that does it automatically when you can set it up yourself.

If you’ve got multiple hard drives in your XP machine, you can also setup a batch file that will defragment multiple hard drives at once.

Automate Disk Checking

The chkdsk.exe utility in Windows allows you to scan your hard drive for errors and fix them as well, and this task can be automated with the command-line and Task Scheduler as well, though it’s going to require rebooting your PC in order for it to work, so it’s probably best to just trigger this one manually every so often.

If you do want to schedule it to run automatically, you can simply create a new Task Scheduler job that runs chkdsk.exe with the parameters from our guide to check disk.

Then go to the Actions tab of the job in Task Scheduler, and add another action to run after the chkdsk command, and specify shutdown as the command. This will run the chkdsk command, and then run a shutdown afterwards. Make sure to use /R as the argument so that Windows will reboot and run chkdsk, and not just shut down.

You may also want to check the box to make sure that Windows doesn't reboot you while you're doing something. You can head to the Conditions tab, and make it only start if the PC has been idle for a while.

Note: Windows will automatically detect when your drive has a lot of problems and prompt you to check the disk, but that doesn’t mean running it manually is a bad idea once in a while.

To manually trigger a disk check for the next time you reboot, right-click on your local drive and select Properties. Then select the Tools tab and under Error-checking, click on the Check now button.

Make sure to select both Check disk options, and click Start.

Unfortunately it can’t start while you’re using your PC, but you can schedule it to run during next restart.

The next time your machine is restarted, Check Disk will run and detect and fix errors automatically. Keep in mind this process can take quite a while depending on the size of your drive and the amount of data on it. For more, check out The Geek’s guide to Check Disk in Windows.

Automate Windows Updates to Keep Your PC Patched

Although it should go without saying, an important task you can make run automatically is Windows Updates. You can configure Important and Recommended updates to download and install automatically, or just download and you choose which ones to install.

For more, check out how to make Windows 7 Update display recommended and important updates.

Automate Antivirus to Check Definitions & Scan Your Computer

Another important security task is making sure your Antivirus protection is up to date and runs automatically. Each program is different, but most provide the option to keep definition files up to date and scan automatically. For instance it’s easy to setup in our favorite Microsoft Security Essentials.

Note: of course, most anti-virus applications are set to automatically update their virus definition files, but you should double-check to make sure.


If you’re using another Antimalware utility to compliment your Antivirus software, make sure it’s set to find its latest definition files and scan automatically. Keep in mind though, with most of the free versions of Antispyware apps, you’ll need to purchase a license to get real-time protection, automatic updates, and scanning.

Automatically Keep Drivers and 3rd-Party Software Up to Date

Another important task to automate is checking for the latest hardware driver and other app updates. There are a few good programs that will do it which we’ve previously covered such as Secunia Personal Software Inspector. It will automatically check for software updates at startup and provides continuous monitoring.

To automatically keep your hardware drivers up to date, try a program such as Device Doctor, Slimdrivers, or any of the other non-free utilities out there. They will complete driver scans and make sure that your drivers are updated.

Note: One thing to keep in mind with Device Doctor (or really any application) during installation is to skip installing the worthless Ask Toolbar.

This guide should definitely get you started in figuring out which maintenance tasks you want to setup to run automatically. While there certainly seems to be a lot to keep up with if you’re a Windows user, setting tasks to run automatically will free up some time so you get get to work and get things done.

What about you guys? What Tasks do you set up to run automatically and what methods do you use? Leave a comment below and lets us know!


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