CategoryWindows 10

That Time Windows 10 Defeated Me

So, I’m a gamer — it’s one of my primary hobbies outside of rock climbing and go-karting and fast car driving at the track.

I’m going to speak blasphemy here for a moment by telling you that until about 45 days ago, I was running on the same base install of my OS that I deployed when Windows 7 launched.  Yep, I’m an IT guy and I ran Windows 7 until 8 came out, did an in-place upgrade to 8, then did an in-place upgrade to 8.1, then did an in-place upgrade to 10.  I’m that guy.

In my defense, my computer worked fine throughout — a lot of people like to give Windows grief for its ability to fall apart after long periods of time, and most IT people (myself included) recommend doing a refresh of your OS every one to two years to make sure it’s in a good shape — but as I had not experienced any real issues, I kept chugging away on the same OS install.  At least, until the great alt-tabbing of 2017 began to occur.

It started small — once every few hours of playing a full-screen game, I would be randomly alt-tabbed out to the desktop and have to alt-tab back into the game I was playing. I did all of the requisite checking — made sure my anti-malware was up to date, ran through startup options, checked running processes, did a full scan, the whole 9.  Uncovered nothing.  Did an nVidia driver update, made sure my chipset drivers had been updated, ensured my motherboard drivers were current, did a quick BIOS update.  Glasswire showed no network traffic being sent during the incidents and a cursory review showed no unexpected network traffic to any unexpected hosts at any period of time.

Still occurred.  Went through scheduled tasks and cleaned out a lot of cruft that had migrated from previous versions of Windows as a few of the tasks seemed to coincide with the times that I was being alt-tabbed out of games and did uncover a Microsoft Office update telemetry scheduled task that caused a console window to appear for a second before disappearing (they’ve since updated and fixed that issue), which I thought was the culprit.

Alas, disabling it made no difference.  On the contrary, as the months passed, the frequency of this became higher and higher until about 45 days ago when it was happening within 5-7 minutes of running any full screen game or video application.  I ran Process Monitor to log every single system call being made to see what I could find and it never gave me any indication as to what was occurring.  I downloaded a couple of apps that purported to tell me what application was stealing focus when focus was lost and all they told me was that Explorer had stolen focus.  I saw no scheduled tasks executing that should be calling Explorer and couldn’t correlate the times to any actual event happening in Process Monitor.

I spent something like 2 months troubleshooting this — I’m a problem solver by nature and there’s nothing I like (and … dislike) more than a difficult and complicated problem to solve.  I noted some Scheduled Tasks that were only shown in ‘Running Tasks’ and referenced solely by GUID but that I couldn’t ever track down in the actual task scheduler.  I monitored reads/writes to the Task Scheduler library directories on the PC to see if a process was creating a scheduled task, executing it, and then deleting it — but found nothing.  Microsoft seemingly doesn’t make any kind of debug-level task scheduling software, so it was remarkably difficult to uncover what these tasks were doing, but I really thought they might be the culprit as the times/dates of their execution matched the times I was being kicked out of full-screen gaming.

Unfortunately, there’s really no happy ending to this story — I couldn’t uncover what in the world was causing this and ultimately ended up doing a full clean install of Windows 10 and rebuilding my desktop from scratch, which did resolve the issue.  To my surprise though, the GUID tasks existed in Task Scheduler on a completely clean Windows 10 install from known good install media — so I’m still somewhat curious what those tasks are and why they exist.  You probably have them as well, every Windows 10 PC I’ve looked at since has had them.  Just open up Task Scheduler, ensure you’ve enabled “All Tasks History”, and then wait a day or so and look at the last 24 hours of tasks.  I expect that you’ll see a lot of tasks that are either currently running or have completed with names like “{00cb6656-b9a9-4545-9fd0-dc538765be9e}”.  I have yet to find a way to uncover what these tasks are doing, as they only appear in the running tasks pane, don’t seem to correlate to any actual scheduled tasks, don’t send any network traffic that Glasswire could see, and don’t allow any kind of click-through from the Running Tasks interface to the task definition.

I figured that since I post all the time about problems I found a solution to, I’d make a post pointing out something I really never figured out.  Re-installing did fix my alt-tabbing issue, but now I’m deeply curious about these weird Scheduled Tasks.

Windows 10 Mail App – Crash at Startup

Last Thursday I (seemingly) randomly started having problems with the Windows 10 Mail application, where it would launch and then crash immediately within 1-3 seconds.  I didn’t recall any changes I had made that could have impacted it, so I started doing some troubleshooting.  First thing was to look at the AppCrash itself:

Faulting application name: HxTsr.exe, version: 16.0.6965.4090, time stamp: 0x5758b3c9
Faulting module name: hxcomm.dll, version: 16.0.6965.4090, time stamp: 0x5758b43f
Exception code: 0xc0000005
Fault offset: 0x000000000035436d
Faulting process id: 0x24e8
Faulting application start time: 0x01d1d2174050de8f
Faulting application path: C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_17.6965.40901.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe\HxTsr.exe
Faulting module path: C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_17.6965.40901.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe\hxcomm.dll
Report Id: 322aa185-f761-430a-8e67-211cfc97e616
Faulting package full name: microsoft.windowscommunicationsapps_17.6965.40901.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe
Faulting package-relative application ID: ppleae38af2e007f4358a809ac99a64a67c1

HxTsr.exe is apparently a background process (incorrectly, I believe) associated with Microsoft Office 2016, depending on where you look.  In my experience it’s one of the background processes required for the Windows 10 Mail application — not directly related to Office 2016.  Arguably, that doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this post anyway.

Doing some forum searching, I was able to find 10-15 cases of other people having this problem, but most solutions included refreshing the OS — something I consider to be admitting defeat and use only as an absolute last resort.

I was able to find one forum post that pointed me in the right direction, however, by pointing to the privacy settings.  This reminded me that I had just restricted some privacy settings in the Control Panel.

First thing I did was re-enable app based access to my Contacts, which immediately stopped Mail from crashing at launch.  Now, it put a banner across the top telling me that my Privacy Settings were stopping the App from reading my Calendar.  I then let Apps access my Calendar, and was then informed that my Privacy Settings were stopping the App from accessing / sending / receiving Mail.  I then realized I had somehow decided it would be good to disallow Apps from having Mail access, while using the Mail app as my primary method for sending and receiving e-mail.  I then toggled that back on.

This fixed everything, my Mail app stopped crashing, and everything is back to normal.

The reason this blog post exists is because if you have turned your privacy settings up to the max, Mail no longer generates any level of useful information to inform you as to why it is crashing.  It’s very possible that you’ve taken away the privileges it needs in order to do its job.  Why it required Contact access in order to tell me it had privacy problems, I’ll never know — but at least I got it fixed, and if you’re having this problem as well, at least you know what the cause was.

 

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