Operational Excellence with Technology

Background Clutter

With 18GB of RAM memory and a quad core CPU, I rarely need to worry about what programs are running in the background of my desktop computer. My thin and light laptop is a bit more limited (4 GB RAM, dual core CPU). But my netbook only has 1GB RAM and the modest Atom processor. Having a bunch of relatively useless stuff running in the background can make a real difference in how it performs (actually how all my computers perform).

I was trying out some new backup software and as a matter of course looked to see what was running on my computer at the time. I was a bit surprised to find there were 93 processes running at the time, taking up about 24% of the computer's memory. Actually there were over 120, but I had Google's Chrome browser open at the time and it runs each tab as a separate process so if one tab/website crashes it doesn't take all the other tabs with it (less of a problem as fewer websites use Flash).

A process is a computer program that is in memory either running or waiting to run. So when I have Outlook and Microsoft Word running, as I do know, there are two processes, one for Outlook and one for Word (actually Outlook occasionally has a second process). If you'd like to see the processes running on your Windows computer, press Control-Alt-Delete (all at once) and select the task manager option. One of the tabs in that window will show you the processes that are running.

But those are applications I'm using at the time.

What about the 90 other processes? About 30 are related to the operating system, such a the process that does antivirus scanning, or a process to manage your wireless internet connection.

But there are a lot of processes for application programs I may only use occasionally. For example, there are at least 4 processes that identify themselves as being part of Adobe Acrobat. I know these processes are not vital to Acrobat displaying my PDF files, because I can kill the processes and Acrobat works just fine. I know one of the processes, taking 4 MB of memory, is there just to check for updates to Acrobat, as if it is of some vital importance that I know within seconds of when the next version is available. Why not just check when the program starts and give me that small part of my memory and CPU back?

There is a disturbing trend of applications automatically installing a permanent process that is always running in the background. A lot of those processes, often shown in the system tray on the lower right corner of your screen, do nothing more than open the program and/or check for updates.

What's worse, they don't give you the option of whether to have them run when you are installing them. In fact they don't even tell you they are installing a background process, or what it does. And they frequently have names so obscure you need to Google the process filename to find out what they do.

If your computer is running slow and you suspect it's because there are too many processes from programs being loaded during start-up, you can take control if you're a bit adventurous. Windows includes a program called MSCONFIG, which you can run by clicking Start and Run (usually in the accessories folder). Once MSCONFIG is running, select the start up tab. There you will be given a list of programs that will be run during startup, you can uncheck the boxes of any you don't think you need. MSCONFIG will require a reboot of your computer when you are done, and the programs you deselected won't be loaded. If you make a mistake and something isn't working, you can always go back into MSCONFIG and re-select the program. And don't be surprised if, during some upgrade, the program puts yet another entry in the start up program list, Acrobat is famous for doing that.

It's unfortunate that so many programs feel the need to have some small part of themselves running all the time. Often whatever that part is doing isn't really needed and it's just clutter in your computer's memory.

Take some time and clean up the extra process clutter and your computer will run faster. And if you are ever "talking" to the software company (e.g. tech support), let them know you don't appreciate hidden background clutter. Maybe if we all start saying "we're mad as heck and we're not going to take it any more" the software companies will stop cluttering our computer's memory.

Tech Bit 87b 

Tech Bit 87a

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