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Bug of the moment 2007-10-15

A system as complex and screwball as Microsoft Windows has substantial potential for malfunction in ways no-one can comprehend. I’ve always found it ironic that Macs were infamous for the complete secrecy of the inner working, yet far more Mac users learnt how Macs worked than Windows users ever worked out Windows worked.

One bug in Windows 2000 that has plagued me for some time is that when I click the Show Desktop button on the Quick Launch bar, or press Win+D, it will sometimes set one or two taskbar buttons flashing.

I have no recollection of doing anything to trigger this, but I think the issue survived my last Windows reinstall, suggesting that an update to a certain application or framework triggered it. The issue can be repeated even after just about every program is quit.

One way to solve it is to uncheck Prevent applications from stealing focus in TweakUI. It was me who set this (before and after reinstalling windows), but it never seemed to solve the problem of Windows applications flinging random windows and dialogs in your face when you’re trying to use another application. Firefox in particular has a terrible problem with re-activating windows you’ve switched away from, but this seems to be an underlying flaw in Windows whereby certain commands called on a window will reactivate that window even when it’s in the background.

With that rather useless setting disabled, Show Desktop appears to work correctly again. It’s possible that it was me who set the bug off in the first place.

There’s another bizarre bug that shows up from time to time. When Firefox is not responding, its window caption is rendered as NULL in the alt-tab dialog:

However, the bug recurred today and showed itself to be impartial as to which program it wants to affect:

I found this puzzling, since I believed that Explorer ran the task switcher window. A bit of investigation into a recollection of the term CoolSwitch while writing this led to discovering that the Client/Server Runtime Subsystem drives the task switcher. Therefore, although Windows Explorer still knows what each window is titled, CSRSS can’t find out the name of any non-responding window, and bails out and goes on without the information, instead of hanging. Or something like that, I suppose.

I can’t be alone in finding this predicament a bit strange, as though there must be a way to get this right ;)

Posted 15th October 2007 – Comments and questions?