but when this happens, especially on an older machine, we begin a process of cleaning and maintenance in the hope that something that we do resolves the issue. However, 'intermittent' is always a problem. It is like taking your car to the garage and telling them there is an intermittent problem. You can be assured that, when the mechanic tests the car he will find nothing wrong. Mechanics hate 'intermittent' faults.
So, that said, here's a list of what I would try;
1] Clean the machine. I assume this is a desktop and not a laptop, so when was the last time you opened her up to clean out all the dust and grunge that builds up over the years? CNET has a video about that here;
2] Remove unwanted files, like Temp folder files, Temporary Internet Files, and so on. The best tool for that, I find, is CCleaner. If you decide to us it, watch the install process carefully to make sure you do not accept any add-ons or components you don't want. Install, then run the CCleaner from it's first page with the stock, (default), settings.
If you want to save some browser cookies, go to the Options > Cookies page first and move all the cookies you want to save to the right hand column.
3] Remove all but the latest System Restore point. Use XP's own Disk Cleanup utility for that from Start > All programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. When you open that, be prepared for a short delay as it checks for Compressed Files. When the main window opens, go to the "More Options" tab to remove all but the last System Restore backup files. Only do this if your system is otherwise running well and you are unlikely to need to return to some date/time further back than that latest restore point.
4] Malware scans. Make sure your anti-virus scanner is up to date and run a full scan. Then download and install the free versions of Malwarebytes Anti-malware and SUPERAntiSpyware. Update them, and run full scans, one after the other.
5] Corrupt files. The Windows component called "Explorer" is what displays your Desktop, and is closely integrated with Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer. What affects one may affect all. Your Desktop should only hold shortcuts, but if you have full files on there, eg photos, music, video files etc and one or more is corrupted, then Explorer may often fail as it attempts to render the icons to display them. Review and remove those files.
6] Similarly, any bad Add-ons that might affect Internet Explorer can also affect other aspects of Explorer. Review all IE Add-ons and disable those that are suspicious.
7] Startup files. When XP starts up it will load up any applications that are set to 'load on startup'. Review those startup files and remove all unnecessary ones. To do that, open the System Configuration Editor, by going to Start > Run, type in msconfig and click OK. (For clarity that is MSCONFIG). Head over to the Startup tab, look down the list and review all applications that load at startup. Google will help, but only the applications that XP needs should be retained.
If you have any USB devices attached, eg a hard drive, a printer etc, disconnect those and see if Startup improves.
9] If you are connected to a Home Network, make sure all other computers are turned on and working properly.
10] If you use a modem/router to connect to the internet, occasionally reboot them both.
11] In the Task Manager > Processes tab, check down the list of processes. make sure you are displaying all processes for all users. Google will help you identify them and show which are needed, which are optional, and which might be suspicious.
12] Check your Services. Start > Run, type in services.msc. Check through the list and disable any unwanted ones. BlackViper will help you there.
Finally, if the Desktop fails to appear but you can open the Task Manager, go to File > Run, type in explorer.exe and click OK. That might run Explorer properly and display your Desktop.
I hope that helps.
I am running XP - sp3 and having intermittent problems with my desktop display.
When I shut off my machine and restart I often get only the wall paper and do not get any desktop icons. It happens about 1 out of 7 times so it is an intermittent problem and has been occurring for about three months.
I've got two other accounts on the machine and will sometimes log into and out of another account which will often , but not always, bring back the desktop. ( I can get task manager open to switch accounts but that is all)
I suppose if it came to it I could start using another account but I would rather try to fix the situation I have currently.
Thanks for any suggestions.