I recently came across a case I haven’t seen before on a customer’s computer.
All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, whenever he tried to open any program, Windows Media Player kept opening. On rebooting the computer, Media Player kept opening about 6 times before you could turn WMP fully off. Folders opened OK, but that was about all. Even trying to open System Restore or Regedit just produced more copies of WMP.
I figured out that for some unknown reason, Media Player had taken over the file associations for .exe files. Booting into Safe Mode didn’t help.
Google searches revealed some rather complicated edits to Regedit to restore the proper associations, but of course I couldn’t get Regedit to open, even from a command line.
Nor could I copy the proposed registry edit into Notepad and save as a .reg file, because trying to open Notepad.exe of course only opened the blasted WMP once more. By that time, I’d concluded that the numerous instances of WMP opening at startup were the various security and other startup programs trying to open.
By then I was contemplating a Repair run of W7, which may or may not have fixed the problem, but I didn’t really want to go through the risks of that if I could possibly avoid it.
Finally, after more research I found a simple little.reg file that someone had written for XP and W7 to fix just this problem. I downloaded it on my own computer, put it on a thumb drive, plugged that into the bad computer, and by right-clicking it and selecting “merge”, voila, problem fixed.
Research indicated that the problem of another program taking over .exe files (usually either IE or WMP) is rare, though not unknown.
My initial thoughts were that it surely had to be a virus, but running the HD through my own computer scanning with Avira and Malwarebytes showed it was completely clean (and others had reported similar results.)
The computer was only 2 months old and although the owner is rather a novice, he insists he hadn’t done anything unusual or visited any strange websites, and had not downloaded anything immediately prior to this happening, not even any email attachments. This is also consistent with what others have reported.
I have no idea what could have caused this, as it’s not something you could change by accident, nor do I think it could be the result of some random registry corruption. And there is no PC tuneup or similar utility on that computer which might have made that change. And I couldn’t find any answer to this on Google, only various solutions. He’d never used Media Player or, to the best of his knowledge, ever opened it.
A strange one indeed. Some corruption of WMP or IE would be my best guess. But why just .exe files, as all other files (eg .jpg, .doc), weren’t affected? Even more surprising when you consider that W7 generally protects .exe files from this sort of activity.