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Can't run any programs at all

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I am trying to help a friend get his computer back in service. He claims that the other day he had just clicked on a video of something to do with a car that had the heading "Wait until you see this" or something like that. He said the video started then the screen went blank and the computer rebooted. After the reboot nothing will run, except a few basic games. I assume he has gotten some form of malware, but I have no identifying characteristics.

This is a Windows 7 system.

Here are the symptoms:

- no program will start, we can try to start any program by any method (double click on the desktop icon, from start menu, from the physical location on the drive, etc.) and it seems like it is about to start, but nothing happens.
- by no program, I mean absolutely no program except some of the windows system programs. I cannot run IE, Firefox, Ad Aware, Malwarebytes, AVG, Spybot, CCleaner, etc. so I can't get to the internet or run any scanners
- Task Manager, regedit and all of the windows system programs that I tried will run.
- I can't run anything from any drive, including flash drives, although the I have not really tried to run anything from the CD drive.
- there is no error message, the programs just terminate
- I tried rebooting into safe mode with the same results
- In safe mode, with task manager up, I can see the programs actually start and show in the processes list, then they go away after 5 or 10 seconds (I do not see this behaviour in normal mode).

Any Help with this one appreciated
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