How to remove phantom selected menu items after closing the context menu in Windows

Occasionally, Windows 7 does bizarre things that aren’t really complicated but are difficult to articulate.

Some of the minor issues begin benign but become nettlesome over time.

Usually, we try to ignore these quirks thinking they’ll disappear but eventually we squash our quixotic theories and realize we’re dealing with Windows here.

Today I want to talk about a relentless issue that I’ve struggled with many times on my Windows 7 workstation: I’m calling it phantom menu items.

The Problem

Sometimes after installing an update or plugging in a USB drive a little notification balloon materializes in the bottom right corner of the screen near the system time.  If your mouse isn’t hovering over the balloon, it normally fades away after about 4 seconds; however, sometimes it get’s stuck as it’s fading away and then it get’s permanently frozen on the screen.

Clicking it closed is futile because clicks simply pass through to the background.  In addition, dragging windows over it to repaint the screen are also abortive because that stupid, catatonic, balloon permanently floats above all screen elements.

Alternatively, the problem sometimes manifests itself as a frozen command selected on a context menu.

Click an option from a context menu results in that selected item getting stuck, almost pasted, on the screen.

The command usually executes and you can still use your computer normally but you can’t make the selected menu item disappear.  It’s as if the operating system gave up rendering the rest of the animation that plays when clicking a menu item.

Normally Windows quickly fades the menu from opaque to transparent after a click event.  It happens swiftly; therefore, it’s hardly noticeable; however, when the menu item adamantly refuses to vanish that can be a serious pain.  Just like the notification balloon problem, clicking the menu item simply passes through to whatever element is beneath it.

When this crap happens to me, I usually try to ignore it but I eventually capitulate, huffing and puffing, as I reboot my computer.

But thank God there’s a better alternative to rebooting…

Fixing it

To resolve this issue you can either toggle the color depth from 32bit to something else or even easier just kill the Desktop Windows Manager (DWM).

I’ll show you this second method since it’s faster.

What is the Desktop Windows Manager?

Simply put: the DWM is responsible for making Windows pretty.

DWM, specifically, dwm.exe gives Windows title bars that diaphanous, frosted glass, look.  DWM also provides that cool live thumbnails effect whenever you mouse over running applications in the taskbar.

Most of the time the Desktop Windows Manager works great but sometimes it goes on the fritz and needs a good hard kick in the butt.

Killing dwm

The quick and dirty fix is it click Start and type

tskill dwm

Here we’re telling tskill to slay dwm.  

Anytime you need to kill an aberrant process, summon tskill for the job.  Think of it like the hitman for your frozen system programs.

This command forces the Desktop Windows Manager to reset.  In other words, it terminates the process and then resurrects it thus saving you a time-consuming reboot.

And that’s it!  This little trick will relegate the phantom menu annoyances into oblivion.

If this helped you, please share in the comments!

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Posted in Windows, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Tagged with:
  • M@

    This is by far the best workaround I’ve found (MUCH more convenient than turning Aero off and then on again), but it still doesn’t actually solve the problem. I’m having this problem and using tskill to restart DWM only makes the phantom go away. It doesn’t prevent it from happening again… every 5 minutes. It’d be great to actually understand what creates this problem in the first place, especially because there are other symptoms that aren’t addressed by restarting the DWM (such as context menus not fading IN all the way when you first open them; they’ll fade in about 50%, and then pop to 100% when I move my mouse in the menu). Thanks for the workaround.

  • Dave Caskon

    someone help me when i typed the tskill dwm thing it just freezes to the white thing and it doesn’t come back to my old windows design so i have to restart just to fix it so please someone help me.

  • Richard Cheese

    Fuck yeah

  • Samantha Taylor

    it didnt work… D: