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Issue #160: August 15, 2010

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Q: I enjoy your column every week and your Christmas display every year! Not trying to suck up, I really do!

Every time I start up my computer, I get a dialogue box which reads “Do you want to allow the following program from an unknown publisher to make changes to your computer?” It then describes a file at “C:\Windows\p_981116.exe”

This computer is about 1 month old and did not do it from the onset – started a week or so after. I clicked yes at first but have been clicking no for awhile.  It doesn’t seem like it’s affecting performance, just annoying not knowing what it is. 

– Jeff B.
Niceville, Fla

A: Thank-you for your kind words, Jeff, and for giving me an excuse to mention my Christmas light show!  To the uninformed, Jeff is talking about the “Geek Lights on the Corner” which runs at my home in Bluewater Bay annually from the Sunday after Thanksgiving to the Sunday after New Years.  This is not your typical Christmas light display.  The Geek Lights are a full-on computer driven music and light experience that you just have to see and hear to believe.  And honestly, Jeff, I enjoy bringing you the show, watching it myself, and meeting all the visitors every bit as much as you enjoy the show.  I’m not letting the cat out of the bag on this year’s show yet, but rest assured that I and the entire I.G.T.M. team are diligently working day and night to make it bigger and better than last year’s.  Watch for announcements and more information here in the column as the Christmas season gets closer.

Now, on to your question!  I was immediately suspicious that the file you described was some sort of malware infestation.  I mean, who names a file something as vague as p_981116.exe, unless they’re trying to hide something, right?  So I was all set to warn you to go get rid of it, and clean up whatever other malware you could find.  But NOT SO FAST!  It turns out that this file is actually a legitimate part of a DirectX patch that was released by Microsoft.  It may have arrived on your computer during the installation of some other software that uses DirectX, as this type of program often checks to make sure you have the latest versions of support software that it need in order to run, and many will upgrade your computer if you don’t.  That’s no excuse for it running every time you start up though.  Something failed to remove it from your startup after upgrading, so you’ll have to remove it manually.

Use the key combination <Winkey>+R to bring up the “Run” dialog.  Remember that Winkey is the key on the bottom row – usually between Ctrl and Alt – that has the Windows logo on it.  In the Run box, type MSCONFIG and hit Ok.  In MSConfig, look at the Startup tab, and you should find the culprit.  Uncheck or remove it and exit out of MSConfig.  You might be prompted to restart your computer, but that’s unnecessary.  All you did was get rid of something you don’t want to run anyway.  Just take note that next time you do restart, you’ll get a dialog warning you that the MSConfig utility was used to make changes to the system.  Now that it’s not running anymore, you can go back and delete that oddly named file and hopefully enjoy error free boot-ups from now on.

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