Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Where Did My Icons Go?

A very upset person called my shop convinced that their machine had been “hacked”, probably had “spyware”, and they wanted me to “fix it”.

There was nothing terribly unusual about that, but their answer to one of my basic questions was unusual– what is happening that makes you think your machine has been hacked?
A: “When I turned on my machine, several of my icons were gone.”

That answer (and a few others) told me that, yes, my client’s machine had been altered, but not by a hacker unusedor spyware infection. Their machine had been altered by a “helpful” Windows feature called the Desktop Cleanup Wizard.

The Desktop Cleanup feature keeps track of your usage of the icons on your desktop and periodically (every 60 days) offers to remove the icons you have not recently used. Sometimes it will run when you aren’t looking.. which is what happened to my caller.

The icons are not deleted, they are moved to a folder and you can put them back on the desktop if you want. The folder is C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Desktop\Unused Desktop Shortcuts.
It will also place a shortcut to that folder on your Desktop, as shown.

Tip of the day: Turn off the automatic aspect of the Disk Cleanup tool, and avoid those pop-up balloons and “missing” icons.
1. Right-click a blank spot on the desktop, and then click Properties to open the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab.
2. Click Customize desktop to open the Desktop Items dialog box.
3. Click to clear the Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days check box.
Click OK twice to close the dialog boxes.

* To run the Wizard manually, click Clean Desktop Now on the Desktop Items dialog box. You can perform a manual cleanup at any time, even if you have disabled the wizard.

Today’s free link: lets you put yellow sticky notes on your Windows desktop, much like the popular Mac OS application. It is very simple and very customizable. (Far better than the Vista Sidebar widget.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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August 25, 2008 - Posted by | advice, computers, how to, missing files, PC, software, tech, tweaks, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , ,


  1. Hello and thanks for your response to my question “where did my icons go”?

    I tried your suggestion, sort of confused how to get into the C:/documents.
    I did not tell you that my system is millinium 2000 (windows me)a real old system.

    This is what is happening: I disconnected my system, moved it to another part of the room, when I hooked it up again, all my current icons/web sites are gone.

    It’s like stepping back in time, all the info. and icons from 2 years ago are on my screen, even my former server,dial-up, requesting my pass word is showing up.
    What can I do to get back into my current stuff.


    Comment by Gaia | January 30, 2009 | Reply

    • Gaia–
      Hmmm, very odd. Are you sure you logged into the correct User Account? Try “Log off”/”Switch user account”.You should be presented with a choice of accounts.

      There are various ways to access your My Documents folder, which is located inside your User folder– the path is c:\Documents and Settings\user\My Documents. You can click Start > My Documents, or Start > My Computer > Local disk C:\ > Documents and Settings > User Account.

      Moving the computer from one place to another does not cause what you’ve described. Something else happened. I would have to ask you questions before I offered any diagnosis or cure. However, if you’re in the right user account, you might try System Restore ( to restore it to a recent date.

      Gaia.. connecting a ME machine to the Internet is most unwise. If life’s cicumstances prevents you from upgrading it to XP, or buying a new machine, PLEASE — don’t do any online banking or shopping; don’t enter personal ID #’s in any document or form (online or off); and, make sure you have 3rd party firewall (such as ZoneAlarm) installed, an up-to-date antivirus, and an anti-spyware installed and active. On a machine that old, I recommend Spyware Terminator.


      Comment by techpaul | January 30, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hi Paul,

    A couple of days ago my son was playing computer games and noticed the icons from the desktop were missing. I turned the computer off and left town for the weekend figuring the system needed a reboot and all would be fine.

    I turned the system on this morning and still no icons.

    I’m running windows xp media version.

    I am familiar with the desktop cleanup tool. I’m not sure he did something with this because I have 0 icons. No trash, no my computer, not even the icon for the game he was playing that day. Because of this, I don’t think it was the cleanup tool.

    Please help. I run Kapersky (updated daily) and Window Defender.

    Thank you.



    Comment by Jessie | October 8, 2009 | Reply

  3. Paul,

    This is a follow up to the post this morning.

    As I click on the Start button and try to send the programs to the desktop, the icons are not showing up.


    Comment by Jessie | October 8, 2009 | Reply

    • Jessie,
      There are a couple of things that might be happening (including a malware infection).. so I would like you to try the following, and reply with the results.
      1) If you have the Taskbar and Start button.. click Start, the Run. In the Run box enter “explorer.exe” (no quotes) and hit enter. If that doesn’t fix it,
      2) Use System Restore to revert the machine to an earlier date. (You may have to use Safe Mode to access System Restore)
      3) Go to and click on the “Full Service Scan” button (middle of page, down a bit). This will run Microsoft’s online scanner.


      Comment by techpaul | October 8, 2009 | Reply

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