Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Restoring missing icons from the Windows System Tray

Recently, I took delivery of a sexy, new HTC Touch Pro2 from Verizon -- the second-to-the-last US carrier to make it available. Anyone following my Twitter or Facebook or StumbleUpon feeds knows my obsession with this phone, so I'll avoid the gushing reviews of it. Among the features I wanted to exploit were enhanced Bluetooth profiles and functionality. I burned the midnight oil connecting my two Vista machines at home to every profile available on the new phone. Then it was time to marry my IBM ThinkPad running XP Pro to the new phone. And that's where the quest began.

Being a slightly older (read: archaic) ThinkPad, it does not have Bluetooth support built in. I picked up a cheap, yet reliable Kensington Bluetooth USB adapter at <insert favorite tech geek store here> and have had very good luck with it. Today, I plugged the USB adapter into the laptop, enjoyed the symphony of "boop-beep" noises as plug-n-play [re-]created all the appropriate Registry entries, after which the blue LED went dark. This is typical when the Bluetooth device is turned off by means of a right-click of the Bluetooth System Tray (SysTray) icon. No biggie. I'll just right-click the icon and re-enable it. Wait, where's the freakin' icon???

Apparently, due to one of the myriad mysteries of Windows startup, many of my System Tray icons had gone missing, including the pretty Bluetooth icon. I then did what any upstanding self-proclaimed computer expert would do: "Googled it!" I found several impressive, interesting, helpful, and scary articles about how to edit the Registry to remove misconfigured chaff, delay startup of applications, and disable services such as uPnP to get the problem solved. I then came across the safest, easiest, and in my experience, most reliable way to restore my missing System Tray icons: Piff Explorer.exe.

"Piff" is an industry term, meaning to kill and restart the process in memory. To do this, first close any applications that you may wish to protect from any possible OMG's that could occur by killing processes mercilessly. Then, bring up the Task Manager, most coolly by pressing Ctrl-Shift-Esc, but by whatever means you deem appropriate. Click on the Processes tab and sort the list by Image Name. Here you'll see at least one process called explorer.exe:

Select each explorer.exe process and click End Process. Once you kill the last explorer.exe, every Windows Explorer window and the bottom Task Bar will be gone. Things get eerily quiet at this point.

Now, re-start Windows Explorer by pulling down File... New Task (Run...) in the Windows Task Manager. Type "explorer" (no quotes) and hit Enter. At this point, the Task Bar should reappear, and include all the previously lost System Tray icons you were missing so dearly.

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