Starting Windows in safe mode

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Starting Windows in safe mode? What does it mean? How to do that? To a novice the instruction to start Windows in "safe mode" may be a little confusing, a little un-nerving, or even a little scary. It is not really as bad as it sounds. And I hope you don't have to do that ever. But in case you do, a little advance knowledge about Windows safe mode can come in very handy. If you use your computer regularly and do a number of things with it, if you add hardware to your system or install many software, I am afraid, sooner or later you will fall in a situation when you will have to start your computer in a safe mode. So in this section, I shall try to mentally prepare you for that situation.

Let's first talk about what conditions may make it necessary to start Windows in safe mode. Sometimes, after installing a new hardware, a new driver for an existing hardware, or after installing a new software you may notice that your computer hangs, or freezes, or behaves in a real weird and mysterious way, or Windows does not even start or gives you frightening messages basically saying something is wrong or missing in the system. In such circumstanes, it may be necessary to start Windows in safe mode to troubleshoot and resolve the problem.

So what is Windows safe mode? When started in the safe mode, Windows does not load all its regular components, and the programs that normally always run in the background do not run at all. You will see there are no tray icons on the right hand side of the taskbar - just the clock will be there. Furthermore, the hardware drivers are not loaded except the drivers for the keyboard, the mouse, and the VGA monitor which runs at a low resolution. That means when Windows is running in safe mode, you cannot use your printer, or scanner, or CD-ROM or DVD drive, or any other peripheral you may have connected to your computer. You cannot access the Internet while Windows is running in safe mode in your computer.

How do you start Windows in safe mode? Here is how:

1. Start or restart your computer. If your computer has frozen completely, and you cannot restart or shutdown your computer in the normal way, pressing the ALT+CTRL+DEL keys together twice should restart your computer. In extreme cases, you may have to turn off the power and after waiting for a couple of minutes, turn the power back on to start your computer.

2. While the computer is restarting, press and hold down the CTRL key (in some machines you can use the F8 key) until you see a menu (Microsoft Windows Startup Menu).

3. When you see the Microsoft Windows Startup menu, release the CTRL or the F8 key whichever you were holding. Then using the down arrow key of your keyboard, select (highlight) Safe Mode in that menu and hit Enter. (Safe Mode is usually the third choice from the top and you just have about 30 seconds to choose that option. A countdown clock ticks and tells you how many seconds are left. So be alert and know beforehand what you need to do. You need to highlight Safe Mode in that menu and hit Enter).

4. Soon Windows will start in safe mode and it looks very different from regular Windows. It has a lighter background color with the words Safe Mode written on the four corners of the screen. Also, because of low resolution, you will notice the icons and font sizes (size of the writings) on the desktop are larger than usual. There you have it. You are now in Windows Safe Mode.

As I said before, the purpose of starting Windows in safe mode is to troubleshoot and to try to resolve whatever problem your computer was experiencing. The error messages usually give the clue. So read them very carefully and try to understand what they are saying. If you cannot understand, write down the exact message and pass on the info from whomsoever you are seeking help. And always seek help from Windows (or Microsoft) first. Most often it is a conflict between a hardware or a software you have recently installed, and your system. So try to remove the hardware by going into Device Manager in System Properties dialog box under System in Windows Control Panel and then remove its driver by using Add/Remove Programs. If you had installed a software recently after which your computer started working improperly, try removing the software. If the software came with an Uninstall option, you can use it. Otherwise use Windows Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel.

After you remove the hardware and its driver or the new software, restart your computer and let Windows load in the normal way. If you find your computer is now working properly, it is more than likely that the offender was the hardware or the software that you had just removed. Sometimes, a problem may be caused by one or more corrupted (meaning damaged) or missing Windows files. In that case, you have to consult with an expert to find out how you can repair or replace the damaged/missing file(s). In real bad cases, it may be necessary to reinstall Windows in your computer from its disks. That is the worst case scenario and that should be your very last resort. It is a major operation. You will lose everything that you have in your computer. So first try to make copies of your important files (if you have not already done so) before re-installing Windows.


It is always a good idea to backup your files by regularly making backup copies. Windows provides a tool for that purpose which you can reach by clicking on Start, pointing to Programs, pointing to Accesories, pointing to System Tools, and then clicking on Backup. To learn more about file backup, read Windows online Help or seek help elsewhere. That is beyond the scope of these "basics of computing" tutorials.

If you ever need to reinstall Windows in your computer from the disk, remember you will need to reinstall all your software (such as your word processor) too!

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with Windows Control Panel before you run into trouble. You can reach the Control Panel by clicking on the Start button, pointing to Settings, and then clicking on Control Panel. When the Control Panel window opens up you will see a number of icons there labeled Add New Hardware, Add/Remove Programs, Display, Printers, System, Keyboard, Modems, Mouse and so forth. You can double-click on each icon (one at a time) to see what is inside each of them. This will give you a fairly good idea about what to do if you need to change something or correct some settings in one of the components in your computer. DO NOT CHANGE ANYTHING UNLESS YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Just see and become familiar with what is available where. Then close that window and double-click on another icon to know what is inside that one. When you have seen what is inside each icon, just close the Control Panel window. This suggestion is for slightly advanced beginners.

If you need help using the Internet, check out the companion site:
Internet Basics For Seniors
If you need help with Windows XP, check out the companion site:
Help with Windows XP (New)
If you are an absolute beginner in computing, check out:

ABC's of Computing


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