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Using Safe Mode for Cleanup
Works for all versions of Windows
Updated 7-6-16 to add Windows 10

How many times have you tried to uninstall programs, run Scandisk or Defrag and been stopped with a message "You can't do this dum-dum. The file is in use" or "This program has restarted too many times and will abort" or something like that?

Well, there is an easy way to solve it. First it helps to understand what causes it. Elsewhere in the web site, I discuss using msconfig to look at the files and programs that are activated when you start Windows. You can use this to turn off anything you don't want running, but using it just to do maintenance is cumbersome. Here is an easy way.

Windows has a special startup mode called "Safe Mode" that starts Windows as a bare bones program with no other files or operations running. It happens automatically when Windows detects a problem and gives you the opportunity to fix the problem. Let's look at a couple of scenarios to understand what Safe Mode does.

If you change monitors, sometimes when you start Windows, it thinks you still have the old monitor and all you get on the screen is garbage. Other times, there is a fault in Windows that prevents it from starting. You want to reload Windows, but need to save some files first.

In the above scenarios, you can use Safe Mode to correct the video and save files.

Other times, trying to run Scandisk or Defrag won't finish, because every time some file activates, it restarts the operation all over. This can be caused by a screensaver or any one of a number of programs that monitor what you are doing. Norton programs are the worst. They run all the time and watch what you do.

Using Safe Mode

So, how do we get into Safe Mode? That's the easy part. When you first start the computer (or restart), just keep touching F8 rapidly until a screen appears that has a number of choices like this:

1. Normal
2. Command Prompt
3. Safe Mode
and some other choices.

At this point, your mouse does not work. Use the keyboard down arrow to select number 3 and touch enter. Windows will go into Safe Mode. You will get a warning telling you some stuff won't work. (Like the Internet). Click OK. Your desktop will look funny since you are in the lowest color settings and 640X480.

Note: Here is a way to make the menu visible when you start Windows without having to hit F8: In Windows click Start, Run and type msconfig. (Discussed in Utilities).
In Windows 10 right click on the window icon to select Run.
Click the Advanced or Boot tab on the general page. Then check the box for Enable Start Menu or Safe boot. Then restart the computer and the menu will display automatically.

In XP, you need to go to the Boot.ini tab and select Safe Boot. Click OK, reboot.
The images below show different versions of Windows. The one on the right is Windowqs 10.

Solving Problems (See also Utilities)

You can still go into the Control Panel and use the Add/Remove Programs or Programs & Features to delete unwanted programs. This assures it gets completely removed since no startup files are running. This is especially true for removing an anti-virus program. They are very hard to remove because they run all the time. Unfortunately using the windows uninstall does not remove all the residual files that get installed with a program. I use IOBit Uninstall because it can remove these files.

You can also use the Windows Explorer to copy files to an external USB drive. Your DVD burner will not work in safe mode.

You may be able to open various programs to save a backup of data. Programs like Quicken, Quick Books, Family Tree Maker and some e-mail programs have backup tools to copy data to a disk. Don't bother copying the program, just the data.

After you have finished saving any wanted information, try reloading Windows from Safe Mode or use your restore disk and reload Windows.

Doing Maintenance

While in Safe Mode, you can still use Scandisk and Defrag They work better since no interfering programs are running. When you are done, just restart normally.

Final comment: A question from readers asks:

When I download software updates and other software should I be in safemode?

My answer:

No you can't because the Internet access is not working. Safe mode is running Windows without any support programs running. The advantage of using safe mode is that it prevents interference between running programs that cause the error messages, but what can be done is very limited.

See also my page of instructions on Downloading.

There are many well written articles on the web on how to get into Safe Mode. Here are a few as of this writing: for Windows 10 for Windows 8 for 8 & 10 from Miicrosoft


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