Software running in safe mode is usually marked with several distinctions, like a dark background with the words “safe mode” written in each corner of the screen. The name and version of the software is also usually visible. With the exception of Windows 8 and 10, in which the feature can be initiated from startup settings, it is generally accessible through advanced booting options. If Windows is able to start and run normally, however, changes can easily be made to the system’s configuration to access it otherwise.
Operationally, safe mode is very similar to an operating system’s normal mode—the only exceptions being the aforementioned details, as well as other services which may not function or perform at their full potential. There are usually three (3) main options a user can choose from based on the problem domain:
- Safe Mode
- Safe Mode with Networking
- Safe Mode with Command Prompt
The first option is the most basic of the three, in which the operating system is started with the absolute minimum of drivers and services needed to run without error. Users would opt for this feature when access to the Internet is not required. Generally speaking, this diagnostic mode is good for manually removing viruses and rogue executable software that rely on networking capabilities to carry out their agenda.
The second option enables networking. In theory, this also makes it possible for a stealth virus to hide and avert detection by an anti-virus (AV) utility and its automatic and manual scanning operations. This diagnostic mode starts the operating system in a fashion similar to its predecessor, but includes all necessary services needed for connecting to the Internet. Users typically opt for this mode when the operating system doesn’t start or run properly, and may require a driver or update to be distributed from a remote location.
Finally, Safe Mode with Command Prompt loads the operating system’s terminal window as the primary user interface (UI). In the case of a Windows operating system, the cmd.exe program replaces the default Windows Explorer (called File Explorer in Windows 10) graphical user interface (GUI). A user would choose this option when the other two do not properly load the task bar, start screen or desktop.
Apart from these three (3) types of safe mode, there are many other flavors which can be encountered, particularly as the number of computing devices grow, and modern applications begin taking on the complexities of operating systems. Even smartphones are known to incorporate a variety of features for diagnostics and troubleshooting. The basic idea is to be able to start and run software without any issues, and easily troubleshoot them if or when encountered.