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How to Fix Unresponsive Programs in Windows XP

January 29th, 2008

This tutorial article by Adam Losier provides a step-by-step guide for what to do if your computer freezes up because of an unresponsive program. Fortunately, the author was nice enough to include some screenshot images that I was able to resize and compress down to manageable file sizes that should not take too long to load. Meanwhile, if your computer has not completely frozen up but is running much too slowly, see my article on fixing the computer CPU speed.


An unresponsive program is any program on your computer that freezes up and will not respond to your actions. This kind of unresponsive program can occur for a variety of reasons; however, the main reasons include low virtual memory, low RAM (Random Access Memory), and generic windows errors.

Several things can be done to troubleshoot an unresponsive program in windows XP. The easiest way to remedy this situation is to press and hold ctrl, alt, delete on your keyboard. This will open up your windows task manager - once this window opens you can release the ctrl, alt, and delete keys. The image shown below is an example of what the windows task manager looks like.

fix-unresponsive-program-in-windows-xp-1.jpg

Your task manager is a built in windows XP tool created to manage the applications your computer is currently running. This tool also gives you statistics on your computer’s performance and your computers network utilization.

When you first open the windows task manager you will notice a total of five tabs near the top of your page (see image below). These tabs are a powerful way to inform you of your applications current state.

fix-unresponsive-program-in-windows-xp-2.jpg

Once you have the windows task manager open, click on the Applications Tab. The Applications tab shows you which programs you currently have running on your computer and the status of each program.

You have two categories in the Applications tab (see image below), one labeled “Task” (Red Circle) and one labeled “Status” (Blue Circle). The task category displays every program currently running on your computer. The category labeled “Status” gives you information regarding the status of each program. There are only two names which are displayed under the status category, the first and most common is “Running” and the other is “Not Running”.

fix-unresponsive-program-in-windows-xp-3.jpg

If the status of a particular program is labeled as “Not Running”, then the program has become frozen for some reason. From this task manager you can close that particular program by clicking on the name of the program that has the status of “Not Running”, and then click on the “End Task” button located near the bottom of your task manager (Black Circle). This will close the frozen program.

Sometimes the above operation can take a few minutes to perform the task and can slow down your computers performance; the second example shown below should resolve this issue and close the program right away.

Open up your windows task manager again by holding ctrl, alt, and delete on your keyboard and click on the Processes tab located right beside the Applications tab.

Unlike the Applications tab, the Processes tab shows you everything that is currently running on your computer, including your system processes. While working with the Processes tab avoid ending any process with the user name “SYSTEM”. These particular processes keep your operating system working - if you close certain system processes it may automatically restart your computer. Randomly closing system processes will not harm your system, but it can prevent particular programs from running properly. If this happens, restart your computer to fix the problem.

The Processes tab has several different categories (see image below), for the purpose of this article we only need to focus on the “Image Name” and the “User Name” category.

fix-unresponsive-program-in-windows-xp-4.jpg

The Image Name category gives the short hand name of your system processes and your application processes, while the User Name category informs you of where that particular process is running from.

To find the proper program to end, switch back to your Applications tab and find the name of the program that has a status of “Not Running”. Remember this name (the name can be found under the Task category in the Applications tab) and switch back to the Processes tab. In the Image Name section, look for the name of the program that is not responding, as you can see from the image above the name Paint Shop Pro.exe corresponds to one of my open programs and can be found under the Application tab as Jasc Paint Shop Pro (the non-responsive program name from the task category under the Applications tab will have a slight variation from the Image Name category under the Processes tab but they should be closely related).

When you find the non-responsive program name under the Processes tab, select it by clicking on the name. A blue line should appear indicating you have selected this process. Have a quick look under the user name category - if the user name category does not say “SYSTEM”, then you have found the unresponsive program and you can now click on the end process button located near the bottom right of the task manager.

After clicking this button the non-responsive program will close down and be removed from the Processes and Applications tabs. You can now close the windows task manager and continue using your computer. If you want to use the program that was not responding all you need to do is restart that program and it should be working fine.

You are able to use both of these techniques with any program that has frozen on your computer. By doing so you can save yourself from having to restart your computer, but unfortunately if you did not save your work before the program froze, it will be lost once you close down the program.



12 Responses to “How to Fix Unresponsive Programs in Windows XP”

  1. comment number 1 by: corics15

    And on Task Manager, select the Processes tab and select the unresponsive program and click End Process. That will free up memory and kill the unresponsive program.

  2. comment number 2 by: Jackie

    I’ve followed this procedure many times, but my computer still locks up and seems to run slower than usual. Do you have any other suggestions? I appreciate any help thaat you can give me.

    Jackie

  3. comment number 3 by: Walter Prayer

    I went to the task manager and was able to open it. When I clicked on the application tab it stayed empty. When using the other tabs all were operating properly. How come I don;t get anything but a blank page for applications?
    Thank you.

  4. comment number 4 by: Karlonia

    @Walter Prayer:

    This is because you do not have any actual applications currently open. I have noticed that in the task manager, “applications” refers to programs that are actively running in separate windows. This is different from “processes”, which are programs that are constantly running in the background but are not actively open in any windows.

    For example, my task manager right now has two items displaying under the applications tab. One is Gmail, my email client that I have open in one window, and the other is the program that runs this site (WordPress). This is open in a separate window, so it is showing as an additional item under the tab. In your case, you probably didn’t have anything open in a window when you checked the tab. But if you start up one or more programs and then check the tab again, you should see at least one entry.

  5. comment number 5 by: walter roberts

    I understand how to do all of this but I was wondering if there is something that can be done to keep this from happening. Whenever I am on AOL and I open another program such as Itunes my AOL will go unresponsive repeatedly. I have uninstalled and reinstalled AOL and this does nothing to resolve the problem.

    Thanks

  6. comment number 6 by: Ciara

    Hey. ive tryed this many times. but when my computer starts up it freezes before anything come on. i am on safe mode now and that’s all i can go onto. i need help with this.
    Thanks

  7. comment number 7 by: liz

    Thank goodness for the helpful advice - my laptop froze and I went onto my notebook and discovered by using control. alt and delete it brought all back to normal working order. Thank you for super advice!

  8. comment number 8 by: michael williams

    The above information is very informative but it still don’t answer the question on how to prevent multiple unresponsive programs. when encountering a unresponsive program lots who have had this problem can attest to the fact that ending the program from the taskbar or the xbox in the upper right corner of your screen seem to be verrrry slowwww. but ending from the task manager is faster. applications is sometime a little faster and ending the program from the process tab is indeed faster. But this only give me temporary relief from a individual program what if every program i click on is unresponsive both on and off line.I once clicked on finding the status of the unresponding program that is located in the MS error reporting box. it then took me to a MS site ” it said that there isn’t much you can do to prevent a program from stop responding. then they elaborated on the cking for virus, spyware etc. it seem to me that there should be something the user can do to stop and prevent these occurences

  9. comment number 9 by: Dave Knowles

    This all sounds very familiar to me. However, Trying the Task Manager route does not always work for me, as clicking “end task” just makes matters worse, as I get message indicating unresponsive program again. I had to have my hard drive cleared recently and windows XP re-installed this is when this problem started to get worse (more frequent). Its a bloody nuisance to put it mildly. Sorely tempted to invoke the final sanction and heave whole PC forth from window. Incidentally I do defrag, clear Junk, etc (Crap cleaner), I do notice that when I get these hangs CPU useage is 100% so PLEASE where do I go from here, thanks for any help Dave

  10. comment number 10 by: dave knowles

    well, still have this stupid problem after all this time, driving me crackers. Is there NO ONE out there who has some sort of answer to my problem as outlined above - ie that when I get a non responsive program I cannot even shut is down in Task Manager, in fact it hangs even more. just get message indicating task manager not responding and note 100%CPU useage??

  11. comment number 11 by: Kris

    i have a new laptop and it just froze this weekend it is a Dell running Vista 7 I have tried task manager with no success . I have done shut down and restart also without results .It is still there when i restart!

  12. comment number 12 by: Someone

    When i try ctrl, alt, delete it just brings performance..

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