When we use removable storage devices, such as flash drives, external hard drives, and notebook cd/dvd drives, there’s a very important step to take before disconnecting a device.
Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista have a built-in feature to cache disk writes. That is, they pretend that a portion of the computer’s RAM is a drive. When a program wants to write to a drive, it actually writes to memory (which lets the program finish the step faster, and return to the user’s control). Then, Windows manages the process of writing to the storage device.
The problem is that this delay may be several seconds or more. In order to make sure that the write process actually takes place, when we shut down Windows, we use the shutdown process. Similarly, before removing a storage device from the computer, we need to "Safely Remove Hardware."
The icon in the Windows Status Bar is the icon to which the red arrow points in the image below.
If we move the mouse pointer over the icon, Windows shows us the Safely Remove Hardware "tool tip," as shown below.
If we right-click on the icon, we get a selectable button that says, unsurprisingly, Safely Remove Hardware — which opens the Safely Remove Hardware dialog box.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the image of the dialog box, below, the device does not get identified with a particularly user-friendly label. It’s labelled "USB Mass Storage Device." Sure, that’s what a flash drive (in this case) really is, but it’s not a very helpful description.
We select the device we want to stop, and then click the Stop button.
When we try to Stop the device, we get the even more confusing Stop a Hardware Device dialog box. What do we do first?
If we had double-clicked on the icon, we would have ended at the same dialog box.
However,there’s a much easier and more user-friendly approach to safely removing hardware.
Starting at the same point, we see the icon showing that there is removable hardware.
All we have to do is to single-click with the left mouse button.
Now, we get a selectable line for each device, with a user-friendly label. Since this particular flash drive is a U3 device (and one for which I have not chosen to the disable U3 menu system), we see that Windows views the flash drive as two "drives." The U3 system uses a fake CDROM on the flash drive, which is assigned the first alphabetic letter (F:), and then a user-writeable section, which is assigned the second alphabetic letter (G:).
All we have to do is to click on the item (in that popup box) that we want to safely remove. So, before I would unplug the flash drive, I would left-click on the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the Windows Status Bar, and then left-click on the entry "Safely Remove USB Mass Storage Device – drives (G:, F:)."
The desired result is a message saying
Sometimes you get the dreaded message that Windows can not disconnect the device right now. This usually means that you have a file open from a folder in the device (say, you opened a Word file directly from the flash drive — and still have it open). Close the program and you can probably eject the drive. This is one of those cases where I’ll use a program called WhoLockMe to figure out the culprit. Unlocker will also identify the culprit.