Mel from Newburgh, NY writes:

My question is, I have Windows XP Pro and the other day I accidentally dragged an important document from my desktop into my Prefetch folder. How can I get this document back? Windows won’t let me open, delete or move it back to my desktop. When I try to open it, a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark in it comes up and say’s Access to C:\Windows\Prefetch\HOWTOS~1.RTF was denied. I’m the only user and I don’t have a password to get into my computer, so I must have administrator rights.

You’ve discovered one of the interesting design choices Microsoft made with Windows XP that worked from the assumption that users don’t know what they are doing and shouldn’t be trusted with their own operating system. For instance, by default, XP hides system folders and files from the user, and some files aren’t immediately accessible even if you are logged in with a supposedly administrative account.

The Prefetch folder is one of those areas Windows doesn’t want you messing around with. The operating system automatically places files in this folder as it keeps track of what programs you immediately open when the computer turns  – say your firewall, anti-virus, chat program, etc. The operating system uses the files in that folder to speed up the startup process whenever you power on your computer.

You absolutely can move files out of your Prefetch folder if you put something there by mistake, there’s just a couple of hoops to jump through first to gain ownership of the file.

Pull up the “My Computer” window from the Start menu and open the “Tools” menu at the top of the screen, then click “Folder Options.”

Navigate over to the “View” tab and scroll to the bottom of the “Advanced Settings” area. Remove the check mark from the “Use simple file sharing (Recommended)” box and click “OK.”

Simple File Sharing

Open up the Prefetch folder, right-click the file you need to use, and select the “Properties” option.


Navigate to the tab labeled “Security” (if you didn’t turn off the simple file sharing option before, this tab will not appear on the screen). Click the “Advanced” button at the bottom of the window.

Security Tab

Click the tab labeled “Owner,” then click the “Administrators” option in the list and choose “OK” to return to the previous window.

Owner Tab

Click the “Add” button at the right side of the middle bar in the window.

Adding Administrator Rights

Type “Administrator” (without the quotation marks) in the text box and click “OK.” Assuming you are logged into the administrator account, you have now successfully wrestled control of the file away from Windows (who knew it could be so difficult to access your own files?).

Taking Ownership

Close the window and you should now be able to move your file out of the Prefetch folder.

In the event you continue to receive an error message, restart the computer in Safe Mode and attempt to move it again. To launch Safe Mode, tap the “F8” key repeatedly while the computer boots up until a text menu appears on the screen, then highlight the “Safe Mode” entry and tap Enter. After moving the file, restart the computer again to exit Safe Mode.

~Ty Arthur