In trying to troubleshoot vexing Windows Explorer problems, I encountered one piece of advice repeatedly. It is best summarized as “Turn off unnecessary Explorer extensions.” According to the company which makes ShellExView, NirSoft, “Shell Extensions are in-process COM objects which extend the abilities of the Windows operating system.” In plainer English, this means that shell extensions in Explorer add to the range of objects you can access, and operations you can perform, using built-in menus and commands inside Explorer.
Most shell extensions come from Microsoft, which makes copious use of them in the Windows OS and component utilities. On my production desktop, ShellExView reports a total of 335 such extensions, of which 26 come from third parties, and 309 from Microsoft itself. I find little or no mention of issues arising from Microsoft shell extensions, but numerous mentions of trouble with shell extensions for third parties are known: see the “Slow Right Click” article at Ramesh’s site for a list of common right-click symptoms. For me, and many other users, the best-known of all Windows Explorer shell extensions comes from WinZip, as shown here:
ShellExView is a small (36 KB for the .exe file, 17 KB for the help .chm file, and another 16 KB for other odds and ends) and single-minded program. When you open the program it goes off and catalogs all the Explorer shell extensions defined in the Registry, then provides a listing for each one (Registry entries are enumerated in the CLSID column in the program’s listings). For the listing shown in the following screenshot, I clicked on the Company column to sort items by the vendor name associated with each one. Because this isolates all Microsoft entries from the other stuff, this makes it easier to use as prescribed–listings from third parties whose names begin with letters in the range A-L appear in grey (disabled) or pink (enabled) at the top of the screenshot, while the first few Microsoft entries appear in white at the bottom.
The sorting technique I’ve described makes it easy to find all the third party items. Right-click on any one of them (or use Ctrl-click to select multiples, then right-click) to produce a pop-up menu that lets you disable any selected extension(s). ShellExView is simple to use, compact, and appears to work well. If you experience slow menus, weird right-click responses, or no right-click responses at in Explorer, you may want to download and try out this program. ShellExView is also a pretty interesting way to poke around within the three-hundred plus extensions that Microsoft has defined for Windows Vista, if you’ve a mind to do so.
If you’re serious about using ShellExView as a troubleshooting tool, turn off all the third-party shell extensions on your Vista machine, except for those from one product at a time. If you use your machine for a while, you’ll be able to see if your selection is a source of trouble or not. If so, disable it, and try another one, then repeat as needed until you’re done. I turned everything except the three depicted vendor items (FileZilla, Acrobat PDF, and Logitech SetPoint) plus WinZip (not shown, but hopefully obvious from the preceding right-click menu) because those are the only shell extensions that I actually use, to the best of my knowledge.