Tip

Work around Windows' hidden tooltip issue

Here's one of those little things that drive Windows users crazy, because it seems to come and go for no particular reason. Every now and then, without warning, the tooltips that show when you hover the mouse over any element in the Taskbar or System Tray inexplicably appear behind the Taskbar.

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 Going into suspend mode or hibernation sometimes fixes it; rebooting always fixes it. But neither is an acceptable solution for a problem that's been lingering in Windows XP since before its first release candidate.

Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article on the hidden tooltip issue, but suggests no fix other than logging off and back on again, or rebooting. (I suspect that putting the system in sleep mode also works the same way, since on my own system I typically have to log back in when the system wakes up.) The Knowledge Base article hasn't been updated in over a year, so the chances of an official fix don't seem likely. (The tooltip issue also apparently manifests itself from time to time in Vista, although I haven't encountered it.)

I've found several possible solutions, which I encourage people to try in this order (from least complex to most complex):

  • Click somewhere on the desktop, then on a desktop icon, and then on the desktop once more. This usually restores the "z-order" for the desktop tooltip (i.e., the front-to-back ordering of elements).
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  • Another trick: Click Start | All Programs, then right-click any folder or shortcut that appears above the Taskbar. This also seems to help (at least temporarily).
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  • Reset the Taskbar's "Keep the taskbar on top of other windows" setting. Right-click on the Taskbar, select Properties, uncheck "Keep…", click Apply, re-check "Keep…" and click Apply once more.
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  • Kill and restart the EXPLORER.EXE process.
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  • Log off and back on again.
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  • Reboot.

Another solution, proposed in the microsoft.public.windowsxp.general newsgroup by "Mr.Anon," involves a Registry edit. But I'm skeptical. It sounds too much like the sort of Registry voodoo that's been circulated for too long in Windows circles. In fact, it's not even clear that the system reads those particular keys or does anything with them. I only list the post here to show the lengths that some people will go to in order to find a permanent solution.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

This was first published in May 2007

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