Tackling a modem that won't initialize

A communications program that has hijacked the modem during Windows startup can cause modem initialization problems. Learn how to quickly find the offending program, shut it down, and prevent it from causing problems in the future.

Upon opening a Windows telecommunications program, it is not uncommon to receive an error stating that the modem cannot be initialized. This problem is typically caused by one of three things. First, if the user is using an external modem, the modem may not be getting power. Second, the telecommunications program could be set to look at the wrong serial port. Finally, and most likely, another program may already have initialized the modem.

The fixes for a modem that isn’t powered up or a program that is set to use the wrong serial port are fairly obvious—simply plug the power cord in or change the program's settings, respectively. But how do you know if another program has already initialized your modem?

Find the program that's hijacked your modem
First, begin by closing any open applications. Then try initializing the modem again. If the modem still fails to initialize, none of the open programs were causing the problem.

Most often, a user-launched application isn’t the problem. Instead, programs such as Procomm, PC Anywhere, and Reachout can be configured to allow another user remote access to the machine. When the computer is configured in this manner, a low-level program initializes the modem and tells the computer to wait for a call. There are a couple of ways to spot such a situation.

Call the computer
One of the simplest methods is to call the computer from a voice phone and watch the screen for activity. If the computer answers the call, it means that the modem has been initialized. With some programs, when the computer answers the call, the active program will display some sort of dialog box indicating that a call is coming in. Often, this dialog box will reveal the problem program's identity.

Check the Task Manager
Another method for detecting these hidden communication programs is to press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] simultaneously. Upon doing so, you’ll see the Windows Security dialog box. Click the Task Manager button. When the Task Manager opens, look at the Processes tab, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The Processes tab lists all of the lower-level operations that are going on inside your computer. In a Windows NT, 2000, or XP environment, it’s normal for this to be a fairly long list. Nonetheless, you must read through the list to try to locate the program that could be interfering with your modem. Normally, the program's name is the best clue, but you could also try calling the modem with a voice line and watch what process’s activity level jumps when the computer answers the call.

When you’ve located the program that’s giving you grief, select it and click the End Process button. After the process terminates, you should be able to initialize your modem. However, there’s still a really good chance that the problem will come back the next time that you reboot the system. Therefore, your next task is to track down the point from which the nuisance program is being called.

Stopping the problematic program
The first place you should look is in the Start | Programs | Startup folder. If the program is being called from the Startup folder, you can remove the problematic program with a few simple steps. First, open the Advanced tab on the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box. From here, click the Remove button to display a list of programs listed in the Start | Programs menu. Expand the Startup folder and you will see those programs that are automatically run when Windows starts (see Figure B). Click Remove to stop the offending program from starting when Windows does.

Figure B

If the problematic program is not listed on the Start | Programs | Startup menu, it's probably being called from the Windows Registry. Before you attempt to modify the registry, try using the Control Panel’s Add/Remove Programs option to unload the offending program. Only if you still can’t unload the program should you try to do so through the Registry Editor (see Figure C).

Figure C

The command that’s causing your problems is most likely being launched from the following registry key:

Use Regedit or Regedt32 to open the registry and remove the offending program's entry.

Wrapping up
If the above suggestions fail to eliminate the offending program, check the program itself for a setting that causes it to automatically run during Windows startup. If you're unable to find such a setting or changing this setting does not resolve the problem, uninstalling the offending program may be your only option. Be sure to actually uninstall and not merely delete the program. Uninstalling the program will hopefully remove any program bits and/or registry entries that might be causing the program to start automatically during Windows startup. Good luck and happy program hunting!

Editor's Picks