I’ve seen ’em too. You really start to wonder what the program is, and before you can even reach for your mouse, it’s gone. Or even if you do manage to click on it, it disappears from view.
There are several techniques I use to track these guys down. Not all work in all cases, but between them all I can usually figure it out pretty quickly.
I’ll share a couple of places to look, and I also want to mention one technique that’s perhaps not all that obvious, but actually quite handy.
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I’ll start with the relatively obvious: check what’s starting when you login. What’s all this stuff running after I boot Windows? covers several of the techniques you can use to examine your system and identify all of the different programs and utilities that start each time you boot or log in.
You’ll probably be surprised at how much there is. With that alone you may be able to say “oh yeah, that’s it” when you stumble on something you didn’t realize was starting on login.
My next approach would be to use Process Explorer. Process Explorer actually highlights processes as they start and stop, leaving them highlighted on its display for a few seconds after they exit.
The only “trick” here is that you’ll need to add Process Explorer to your start-up programs, and hopefully in a position where it starts and is running before the event you’re attempting to diagnose.
Grab a camera … or phone
I picked up this next trick from reading Fred Langa’s old LangaList1: grab your video camera or smartphone and take a video of the screen as the item pops up and disappears.
Now, watch that video in slow motion, or even frame by frame. You may now be able to read the text in the task bar button, and use that as a clue to return to some of the techniques above. (This technique works great for error messages and blue screens that occasionally fly by as well.)
Finally you can enable something called “process tracking”. This will create a log of all processes that come and go on your machine. You may get overwhelmed with data, but the answer is almost certainly in the results. This article – How can I track what programs come and go on my machine? has the details.