The Mystery Of The 5 Minute Browser

Heed the sage words of Brian!I had the weirdest problem recently. Five minutes after booting up my office laptop, in the midst of checking the news online, my browser stopped working. That isn’t to say I couldn’t use the buttons or select items from the menus. Functionally speaking, the browser application was fine. The problem is that pages stopped loading. All of them.

Expecting that it was a network outage or a corporate firewall problem, checked the usual things. I verified that my network cable hadn’t broken or been disconnected. I tried unplugging it and plugging it back in. Still dead. I fired up Innernut Exploder (I use Firefox by default. [Funny Side Note: In getting this link, I've noticed Firefox's website has determined I'm Italian. I have no idea why, and there's no convincing it that I'm not. I wonder if it's flirting with me.]) Still nothing. I checked with some other people in the office. Their connections were fine, and they hadn’t experienced any outages whatsoever. Damn, it’s me.

I often listen to radio programming streamed over the internet while I’m in the office. Every now and then the little embedded applications used by these stations will cause me trouble that can only be resolved by rebooting. So I reboot. And I’m back online, happily getting my news fix. For about five minutes. Then I’m dead in the water again. About this time, I get an email. What the heck is going on? My browsers are dead by my email application is humming right along like everything’s fine. And I can ping Yahoo from the command window.

So I reboot again. This time, I don’t expect this to fix the problem, I just want to establish that this problem is a repeatable and demonstrable, so I don’t look like an idiot when I speak with the help desk. Like clockwork, after about 5 minutes, I’m dead in the water again. So off I go on a help desk adventure. I’ll spare you the details. All you really need to know is that this bug owned the help desk. If you seriously suggest wiping and re-imaging a PC, you are conceding defeat. You are owned. I have to give them credit though, before admitting defeat, they spent hours chasing this problem, trying increasingly more obscure solutions. I’m probably not worth the effort they put into it, if you run the metrics.

I had no intention of reinstalling and reconfiguring this machine. I’ve spent too much time getting it configured just right. I took the problem home, and scoured the internet for a solution. (From another PC, of course.) And I found a lot of possible fixes, which I sent to my Crackberry for use the following day at work.

Here are the valid candidate solutions I found. I’m listing them all here, because what worked for me may not be what works for you. I know you won’t be surprised to hear that there are a variety of things that can cause this problem.

Fix Candidate #1 – IP Renewal:
This is probably the easiest possible fix and least likely to cause trouble. For this reason it was the first I tried. (I’m kind of surprised that neither Help Desk or I thought of this.)

  1. Open a command window (Start -> Run -> “cmd”)
  2. Type ipconfig /release and enter.
  3. Type ipconfig /renew and enter.
  4. Close the window and try the browser. If this was gonna work, it would be now.

Fix Candidate #2 – Flushing DNS Cache:
This is similar to the first, and if the websites and newsgroups I read are any indication, the odds favor it as the winning solution. (There are some additional steps that involve updating registry values to set minimums and maximums for DNS cache, but I’m leaving them out. They’re non-essential, and I don’t want to encourage people to go mucking around in their registry. If you want to know, let me know.)

  1. Open a command window (Start -> Run -> “cmd”)
  2. Type ipconfig /flushdns and enter.
  3. You should get a message indicating success.
  4. Close the window and try the browser. If this was gonna work, it would be now.

Fix Candidate #3 – Hijack This:
This fix is simple as downloading HijackThis (official website on Trend Micro), running it, and deleting the following items, if they appear. If they don’t, this isn’t the fix for you. Because I’m all about saving time, do a search for “win32exe.exe” on your machine before downloading or installing anything.

  • O4 – HKLM\..\Run: [winbin32] win32exe.exe
  • O4 – HKLM\..\RunServices: [winbin32] win32exe.exe
  • O4 – HKCU\..\Run: [winbin32] win32exe.exe
  • O4 – HKCU\..\RunServices: [winbin32] win32exe.exe

After that you need to reboot and delete the file file named “win32exe.exe”.

Fix Candidate #4 – The Repair Install:
I save this one for last for a couple of reasons. To begin with, it sounds kind of stupid. Also, it happens to be the fix that got me back on track. It’s dumb and it works. As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently began the slow, painful process of migrating from one mail client to another in the office. As a part of that transition (which, I’m annoyed to say, is ongoing) I had to install AT&T network client software. And wouldn’t you know it, the install blue-screened. That’s all the background you need for this fix.

  1. Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs
  2. Select AT&T Network Client from the list and click the “Change” button.
  3. Select the repair install option. (Or uninstall, if you no longer need the software.)
  4. Follow instructions.
  5. Reboot optional. You may find that your browser works immediately.

If you don’t have the AT&T Network Client installed, and are having this problem, have no fear. The word is that these steps can also be used on systems with Symantec AntiVirus or Microsoft Media Connect. Generally speaking, if you have the problem shorty after installing new software, consider re-installing it, or removing it.

I hope in posting this, I’ll save somebody the pain of formatting and reinstalling their PC in frustration. If you do use this information to fix your machine, let me know! I’ll consider the warm-fuzzy payment for services rendered. :)

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