Kill Zombie Processes with a Keystroke

Does Windows ever grind to a halt because of unresponsive or “zombie” processes? Is it sometimes so bad that opening Task Manager becomes a task in itself? Fortunately, there's a little-known program called taskkill.exe that does exactly what its name suggests. In this post, I'll show you how to create a shortcut to taskkill.exe that will kill those zombies with a single keystroke.

Download Program

First, find out if you have the taskkill.exe program on your system. Press <WinKey+R>, type cmd into the dialog box and press <Enter>. When the Command Prompt opens, type in the command:

taskkill /? | more /e

If you get screenfuls of help info for taskkill, congrats! You can skip ahead to the next section. But if you are a Windows XP Home Edition user, you'll most likely get this message:

'taskkill' is not recognized as an internal or external command,
operable program or batch file.

Which means that you'll have to download and install the program.

I found a blog post from 2005 which has a link to a zip file containing taskkill.exe, but the link is broken. Fortunately, the Wayback Machine archived a copy (and one in Dutch).

Download whichever version you prefer to your computer. Unpack the zip file and you'll find the taskkill.exe program. Copy it over to the C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32 folder. Do the taskkill /? | more /e thing again and this time you should get the help info.

Create Shortcut

The next step is to create a desktop shortcut. Press <WinKey+M> to minimise everything and move focus to the desktop. If an icon is highlighted, press <Ctrl+Space> to desellect it. Now, press <AppKey> or <Shift+F10> to open the desktop context menu and press <W> for New and <S> for Shortcut and press <Enter>.

When the Create Shortcut dialog box opens, Copy & Paste the following line into the type the location of the item field:

taskkill /f /fi "status eq not responding"

The /f switch forces a process to quit and /fi is short for filter, in this case, all processes whose status equals “not responding”. Read Microsoft's Taskkill Documentation for the whole story.

Anyways, click on the Next button and on the following screen, give the shortcut a descriptive name like Kill Zombie Processes or whatever floats your boat, and click the Finish button.

Assign Keystroke

But we're not quite finished yet! Go back to the desktop, select the newly-created shortcut and press <Alt+Enter> to access its Properties dialog. Tab down to the Shortcut Key field and pick a letter. Be careful that the letter you choose is not already being used by another application. Z was free on my machine, so that's what I went with. Just press Z and Windows will add the <Alt+Ctrl> for you. Next, tab down to the Run combo box and select Minimized. And lastly, click on the OK button.

Phew! That's it. The next time your computer locks up, try tapping <Alt+Ctrl+Z> once or twice and waiting a few seconds to see if anything happens before resorting to more drastic measures like holding in the power button for five seconds. Good luck!

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