I check the running processes on my Windows system regularly to find potentially malicious or unnecessary processes. When I looked at the process listing today I noticed that two explorer.exe processes were running. I remembered that this could be a sign of malicious software disguising itself as a system process. When I checked the process paths I noticed that the location was identical and the standard explorer.exe location in the windows\system32\ folder.
Still, it felt strange that two process were started instead of just one. It took a bit of investigating to find the reason for this behavior.
When you look at both processes you will notice that they act independently of each other. You can see that for instance by looking at the memory usage or cpu utilization.
I'd like to point out that you need to make sure that the two explorer.exe processes, or at least one of them, is not malicious in nature. It is a good idea to check the path first, if you see a different path for one process you may have a virus problem. You can check both explorer.exe files then over at services like Virus Total to check the files for malicious contents.
A settings in the Folder Options configuration of Windows Explorer explains the existence of two explorer.exe processes. Open Windows Explorer and click on Tools > Folder Options. Switch to the View tab there and scroll down until you find the following preference: Launch folder windows in a separate process.
If the preference is checked you have found the reason why two explorer.exe windows are running on your system. You can uncheck the option to have only one Windows Explorer process running at any time on the system.
The core reason for enabling the option is stability. It is usually safe to disable the feature so that only one explorer process is running on the PC.
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