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Windows slow right-click problems

Occasionally, you may suddenly notice that when right-clicking on an icon it takes an age for the menu to be displayed. Alternatively, selecting one of the right-click menu items as usual doesn't do anything. There are a number of possible causes for this behaviour; generally they are caused by a bad "Context Menu handler".

In essence, a Context Menu handler is a function that adds commands (called shell extensions) to the menu that is displayed when you right-click an item. For example, the handler is responsible for the context-menu commands (such as cut, copy, etc.) that is displayed when you right-click a folder or other icon. Various programs can add their own context-sensitive commands, in addition to the default options (such as cut, copy, etc.) that already exist, for convenience.

Unfortunately, not all programs implement these context-sensitive commands correctly. A bad context menu handler can cause a number of problems, which may result in any number of syptoms. Some common problems are given below:

  • When you right-click a file/folder, there may be a huge delay before Windows displays the context menu
  • When you try to empty Recycle Bin (from Common Tasks), it opens Quick Finder instead
  • When you click Play All in the Music or Videos folder Common Tasks, nothing may happen
  • When you select multiple files and right click and open/print nothing happens; whereas selecting a single file in explorer and right click and open/print, it works fine
  • When you right-click a folder in the Start Menu and choose Open or Explore, nothing may happen; whereas, it works fine in Windows Explorer
  • The error message "Windows Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience" when you right-click a folder
  • Right-click is extremely slow only when the network card is enabled
  • When you right-click on a folder and choose Properties, nothing may happen
  • Your image editing program does not start when you click the Edit button in Windows Picture and Fax Viewer
  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP) error occurs when Windows Explorer or Control Panel is launched
  • Right-clicking any desktop icon causes the hourglass to show for a while, then the taskbar disappears. The screen may go black for 20-25 seconds and then reappear.

A poorly-coded context menu handler may be causing any of the above symptoms. As context menu handlers can be added in different areas (file class, folder, allfilesystemobjects, HKCR\* registry keys), it's a difficult task for an end-user to pinpoint which shell extension is causing the problem.

However, ShellExView (by Nir Sofer) is an excellent tool to view and manage all installed shell extensions. It displays the description, as well as version details, company information, location, file name, and more, of all shell extensuions if available. It is possible to disable/enable any item, which can be very useful to disable an extension that is no longer needed or that has been left behind in the right click menu from a previous software install.

Effective usage of ShellExView to resolve the right-click problems

The ShellExView application is a standalone executable that does not need to be installed or require any additional DLLs. It can be run from any location: just copy it to any folder you choose (even the Desktop). Download the ShellExView application from the useful downloads page, and run it. It will scan the registry for all installed shell extensions and within a few seconds display these as a list. To group the context menu handlers together, sort the results using "Type".

Identify problem handlers

The latest version of ShellExView marks all the non-Microsoft extensions in pink for easy identification. All other types of shell extensions that ShellExView utility cannot recognize are categorized as "System" type. The procedure is to disable non-Microsoft context menu handlers *one-by-one* and verify if the problem is solved. If disabling one does not solve the problem, undo the disabled item and disable the next non-Microsoft handler. Repeat until the problem is solved, finally identifying the culprit (scroll right to see the Company Name column in ShellExView). If this does not solve the problem, try disabling the Microsoft handlers one by one.

Suspicious Shell Extensions

Most shell extensions use standard file extensions (.dll, .ocx or .cpl) and usually don't turn on their system attribues (read-only/hidden/system). If ShellExView detects a shell extension with an unusual file extension or with an unusual attribute, it will be marked in red. It is strongly recommended to check these unusual shell extensions to ensure they are not unwanted malicious programs.

Problems when right-clicking an empty area in the Desktop

If there is a problem when right-clicking on a blank area on the Desktop, then this is due to a handler in the registry key

HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT \ Directory \ Background \ shellex \ ContextMenuHandlers

The ShellExView application identifies items from this location. The only handler present by default (in a clean XP installation) is the New handler. If you find any additional sub-keys there, it may have be added by third-party applications.

Right-click is extremely slow only when network is enabled

The Right-click menu or functions may be extremely slow when a system is connected to a Network. However, disabling the network interface card may restore the normal right-click functionality. This is usually caused by adding a context-menu option referring to an application placed in a network share.

The slow right-click may be experienced only for the first time after a restart. Some packets will also be transferred via the network card (flickering of the Taskbar notification icon). In some systems, disabling the DHCP Service may speed up the right-click menu display.

If the problem is not related to a context menu handler, it may be due to networked folders or printers that are no longer available. To disable these, follow the steps below.

  • Go into any folder
  • Click Tools and then Folder Options
  • Go to the View tab
  • Uncheck the "automaticaly search for network folders and printers"
  • Click ok...

See also:

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