The Network Ate My Shortcuts!

It's a bit scary when you turn on your computer and it's different from when you left it the day before. I don't mean it's a different computer (though sometimes that would be nice), but that something changed while you were in the land of nod.

This happened to me last week. As I sat yawning and stretching in front of the screen waiting for some sign that the technology was also waking up from sleep, I noticed that several of the shortcuts to network resources that used to be on my Windows 7 desktop had disappeared. The first immediate panic reaction is "do I have a virus?" But a scan with a virus checker, and exploring the event logs, found nothing untoward.

Next, try refreshing the desktop. No change. Then the trick of turning off display of icons (right-click the desktop, select View, and untick Show desktop icons) and then back on again. No luck. Next, look in the C:\Users\[user]\Desktop folder to see if the shortcuts are on the disk but not shown. Nope, not there either. Very odd...

Maybe it's something to do with File and Print Sharing, or some domain-related issue. So I wander down to the server cabinet and start poking the domain controller. Strange - at 5:00 AM precisely that morning it had started reporting errors that there was a fault in the Active Directory. It happened immediately an automated backup started. And now the network icon in the taskbar was reporting that it was connected to an "unidentified network" rather than its own domain network.

So I do the usual fix for that problem, disable and re-enable the network connection. Immediately it comes back with the correct network name. Except that I now have to reconnect to all the Hyper-V instances it hosts because they lost their connection when I disabled the network. And then, every six minutes, an error in the event log that Group Policy could not be processed because it can't find a domain controller. Even though it is one. The detail of the error is simply "Directory Error." Not exactly helpful.

For a minute or so I ponder a full reboot, but that means stopping all the Hyper-V VMs. One is the proxy server, and my wife is currently in the middle of her morning Facebooking session so that's not a relationship-friendly option. The next best guess is to restart Active Directory Domain Services, which automatically stops and restarts several other important sounding services. There's heart-in-the-mouth moment when the DNS Service takes almost a minute to start up, but thankfully it all comes back with no errors in the event logs. And, magically, several hours later no more Group Policy errors either. Amazingly, I seemed to have fixed it.

After that rather exciting start to the day, I do the research bit and discover that the shortcut issue is not my fault. According to KB 978980 on MSDN, being greedy and getting kicked for it is by design:

"The System Maintenance troubleshooter performs a weekly maintenance of the operating system [and] either fixes problems automatically or reports problems through Action Center. When there are more than four broken shortcuts on the desktop, the System Maintenance troubleshooter automatically removes all broken shortcuts from the desktop."

Furthermore, it says, "a broken shortcut is a shortcut to a file, folder or drive that may not always be available, for example, [...] a network folder that is currently not available due to the network not being available". I'll take a guess that being on a different network from the one the shortcut points to qualifies as "not always available." The workaround suggestion in the article is "keep the number of broken shortcuts on your desktop to four or less [or] create a folder on your desktop and move the shortcuts to that folder [which] will not be removed since they don't sit directly on the desktop."

Or you can just disable the System Maintenance utility in Control Panel | Troubleshooting | Change settings.

I can't help wondering how the meeting went where the Windows 7 developer team decided to include this feature:

    "Have you seen Joe's desktop recently, it's covered in shortcut icons. I'm
    sure he has no idea what they're all for!"

    "Yep, soaking up valuable resources and hiding that lovely picture of
    Niagara Falls that we went to so much trouble to include in our themes!"

    "It shouldn't be allowed. There should be someone who checks user's
    computers regularly to make sure they aren't being untidy after
    we went to all that effort to make the background pretty!"

    "Yes, but they might want to have a few shortcuts there for their favorite
    programs and regularly used files..."

    "I suppose so. How many do you reckon we should allow? Twenty? Ten?"

    "Why mess about. Let's just include a secret process that detects when
    a user is getting a bit slovenly and tidy up automatically. They'll never notice..."

Except that, as the KB article reveals, sometimes we do...