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Windows start-up

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Windows throwing error messages at start-up? We share some possible solutions

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to send you into a sweat, it’s Windows throwing up an error message on start-up. If you’re lucky, Windows will continue to load normally, and the error message is just a mere annoyance, although it could have repercussions elsewhere in your system. If you’re unlucky, Windows will refuse to go any further, suggesting you restart your PC or – worse – that you reinstall Windows.

In most cases, reinstalling Windows is the equivalent of cutting off a patient’s head to cure a cold. Thankfully, the solutions are usually quicker and much less painful, and we’ve dug deep to find the most common questions surrounding start-up problems in this special FAQ.

You can start preparing for the worst now. While your PC is still working, now is the perfect time to print some useful articles from the Microsoft Support Knowledge Base. The web address is found further down this page.

I receive the following error message on starting Windows: ‘Error Loading Kernel. You must reinstall Windows’. I’d rather not reinstall if I can possibly avoid it. What can I do?

Basically, the kernel32.dll file has gone missing or is damaged. What you need to do is restore the file from your Windows CD. First you need to rename the corrupt file (if it exists). Boot from your start-up disk and choose to load withCD-ROM support. When the command prompt appears, type the following,pressing [Return] after each line:

cd windows\system
ren kernel32.dll

Now you need to extract a new copy of the kernel32.dll from your Windows CD. In Windows 98, type the following two lines, pressing [Return] after each, and change d to the letter of your CD-ROM drive:

extract /a kernel32.dll /l
c:\windows\system\ (all on one line.)

Remove your start-up disk, reboot and all should now be fine.

Windows halts just after the desktop first appears with an error message telling me that I need to reinstall Windows. I can’t get any further than this blank screen. What’s gone wrong?

This error message often appears after you’ve uninstalled a shell-replacement program like Talisman or Litestep. You need to boot from your Windows start-up disk and choose to Start Computer without CD-ROM support. When the A:> or C:> prompt appears, type edit c:\windows\system.ini and press [Return]. The Edit utility should run with the System.ini file loaded. Locate the line that begins shell= and make sure it reads shell=explorer.exe. Press [Alt] + [F] to open the File menu and use the cursors and [Return] to select Save. Then repeat the process, except this time choose Exit. Remove your start-up disk, restart Windows and it should now boot properly.

When I attempt to load Windows, even in Safe mode, I get the following message: ‘Error loading User.exe. You must reinstall Windows’.
This is due to a corrupt or missing dll. The file in question is Ddeml.dll, and you can replace it using the sameprocedure outlined under Corrupt Kernel, above. The only difference is how you use the extract tool:

Windows 98: extract ddeml.dll c:\windows\system
Windows 98SE: extract ddeml.dll c:\windows\system

When I boot into Windows an error message flashes up telling me that certain files are missing or corrupt. However, Windows continues to load normally. What’s going on?

There are two primary causes of this: a program that hasn’tuninstalled itself properly, or a problem with files that have vanished from a key location or become corrupt somehow. In Windows 98, click Start, Run, type sfc, and press [Return]. Select Extract One File From Installation Disc, type the name of the missing file (including its extension) in the box and click Start. Click OK to follow the instructions, extracting the file to your Windows\System folder or whatever folder is prompted.

If this doesn’t work, search your hard drive for the missing file – chances are it’s duplicated somewhere else. If you find it, copy it to the Windows\System folder. If you don’t, and the file is a VXD file, then the problem is driver-related. Search online for the file in question to see if it throws up any hints as to the driver’s origins. If you find it, remove the hardware in question from Device Manager and then let Windows re-detect it and reinstall it from your driver’s original location (probably the driver CD).

If the file is a DLL, then go online and browse to, where you can search for the file and download it. Download the file to your PC, then copy it into c:\windows\system. The problem should now be resolved.
Search the Knowledge Base
The quickest way to get help for specific start-up problems is via the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Go to and select your version of Windows from the drop-down menu under Search (KB). Enter your keywords under For solutions containing… and make sure All of the words entered… is selected under Using…. Select Full Text next to Search and you’re ready to click Search Now. If none of these options is visible when you first access the page, click the Show options link.

When searching, start by looking for specific file names if you’ve been given any. Failing that, broaden your search to include such words as ‘error’, ‘startup’, ‘missing files’, and so on. If you have no luck here, go to your favourite search engine and broaden the search to the entire Internet.

Which Error Message?

To find out more about particular error messages, be they invalid page faults, Windows Protection Errors, or Fatal Exception Errors, see the following Knowledge Base article: 315854.

Windows Protection Error messages

A common start-up scourge is the Windows Protection Error message. The dreaded blue screen appears and you’re forced to reboot – except, nine times out of ten the message reappears. These messages take one of two forms: either the unhelpful ‘Windows Protection Error’ message, or the slightly more illuminating ‘While initializing [device name] Windows Protection Error’.

There are several major causes of Windows Protection Errors, and while some sound worse than others, you shouldn’t panic yet.

Often the error is caused by a conflict between real-mode and protected-mode drivers, which points towards a hardware problem. Any error message referencing a VXD file is usually caused by this.If you can’t even boot into Safe mode then the problem is likely to be caused by a damaged Registry – if you’ve just installed a new piece of hardware or program then this is the likely culprit.

Less likely causes are damaged or Command.comfiles – such damage could be caused by a virus – or, moreseriously, various hardware problems ranging from memoryconflicts to faulty components.


The key is having access to a remote PC, so you can search the Internet for more information. If you don’t have any access, thenyou may have to reinstall Windows from scratch (the best way todo this without losing any data is to install it into a separatefolder to your current Windows settings). Before doing that, however, follow these steps…

Try booting into Safe mode. If this works, dig out your copy of troubleshooting start-up problems from the Microsoft Web site to track down the culprit. If you didn’t follow our advice and printa copy, you’ll need to access the Internet via another PC.

The Hard Way

If this doesn’t work, you’re going to have to do it the hard way. The first place to look is the Registry: it may well be corrupt. Boot from your start-up disk and start your PC without CD-ROM support. When the command prompt appears, type cd\windows\command and press [Return] followed by scanreg /restore (followed by [Return]). Select the most recent backup with ‘Started’ next to it and press [Return]. Once notification that a working Registry has been restored is made, remove your start-up disk and restart your PC.
This material is the copyright material of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited, a Future Network plc group company, UK 2004. All rights reserved.

Article ID: 835569 - Last Review: 12/08/2015 06:06:37 - Revision: 5.4

Microsoft Windows 98 Standard Edition, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition

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