Even when seemingly idle, your PC runs a multitude of processes. Some perform vital functions—controlling hard drives, for example—but others dont. All expend precious system resources, though, and the more they consume, the slower your system runs. Shutting down unnecessary processes can help return your PC to its former peppy self. But the tool Microsoft gives you for monitoring and terminating processes, Windows Task Manager, gives no clues about what the processes do, let alone which you can safely close.
TaskPower to the rescue. Our latest utility can identify, sort, and manage the applications, tasks, services, and drivers running on your computer. In the past, only the most computer-savvy users were able to understand and tweak these key Windows processes. Now anyone can take control. Instead of jumping among half a dozen folders or more to find out what drivers and services are in use, for example, you can see these processes at a glance, and you can start and stop them from the same interface.
Note that because TaskPower lets you start and stop fundamental processes on your system, the potential for system crashes and data loss exists. Before you perform any action, be sure you have backups of important data and programs and that you thoroughly understand what you are doing.
ZIFFPAGE TITLEInstallation and Setup
Installation and Setup
Once youve downloaded TaskPower from the PC Magazine Utility Library to a folder on your Windows 2000 or XP machine, simply unzip the file Setup-tpower.zip and double-click on Setup-tpower.exe. After the brief installation finishes, a dialog asks if you want the utility to periodically exchange updated task and application information with a central TaskPower database administered by PC Magazine that other users can also access.
Answering yes brings up the TaskPower configuration box, where you enter the e-mail address and password you use to log in to the PC Magazine Utility Library. In the configuration dialog, you can also set TaskPower to be the top Window when running, and you can have the utility check for and download database updates automatically, upload to the database any information you update, and log these exchanges.
Theres even a field where you can enter the number of days to wait between automatic updates. To change your choices at any time, just click on the Config button at the top of the TaskPower window.
ZIFFPAGE TITLEWhat Does TaskPower Monitor
What Does TaskPower Monitor?
Windows runs four basic types of processes, and TaskPower keeps an eye on them all.
- Applications are the programs, such as Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer, that you work with directly. Generally, you have to launch this type of process manually by, for example, double-clicking on the applications icon or selecting the program from the Start menu. Killing an application usually has no ill effects, but when possible, ending the program via its normal procedure (often accomplished by selecting Close or Exit from the File menu) is a better idea.
- Tasks are processes that carry out a programs chores. When a program starts, the operating system launches one or more tasks. TaskPower helps you identify unproductive ones so you can Kill them on the spot.
- Services are the programs that make up the operating system and provide its capabilities, from file management to command interpretation to process management. As such, many basic services an OS runs do not vary from user to user. Some services may be unnecessary and even pose security risks, though. These you can—and should—stop.
- Drivers help the computer control the various devices attached to it such as monitors, hard drives, and the like. Unless you are positive that shutting down a driver will not adversely affect your system, doing so is not a good idea.
ZIFFPAGE TITLEUsing TaskPower
At first glance, TaskPower looks a lot like Windows Task Manager, which comes up when you press Ctrl-Alt-Delete and click on the Task Manager button in Windows 2000 or XP. But TaskPower vastly enhances the information and control you gain, while simplifying the interface.
TaskPowers main window presents a clean, simple interface with no menu and just five labeled buttons—Refresh, About, Config, Help, and Exit—below the title bar. Under the buttons is a tabbed display that lets you choose to view Applications, Tasks, Services, or Drivers loaded in memory. The type of information shown in the viewing pane beneath the tabs depends on the tab selected. An information bar at the bottom of the window shows the total count for each of the four process types.
You can launch TaskPower from the shortcut the installation wizard adds to your Start menu (under Programs). The utility will scan your computer for loaded applications, tasks, services, and drivers and gather information about them from its database or from the programs themselves (this may take a minute or two).
ZIFFPAGE TITLENavigating the Interface
Navigating the Interface
The Tabbed Interface
TaskPower starts with the Application tab selected. Each line of the information display shows the trademark icon and filename of a single detected application, followed by the Process and Handle IDs that Windows assigns the program to uniquely identify it—information of most interest to confirmed geeks. In the far right column, TaskPower gives the program a title, which provides detail about the individual application window (for example, the name of a particular document window running under Microsoft Word). Clicking on a column heading toggles between ascending and descending alphanumeric sorting of entries by the information in the chosen column. This is true for the displays of all four TaskPower tabs.
The Task tab shows you what lies behind the obscure names that Windows gives its tasks. In addition to the ID number of the process and the number of threads the process is using, TaskPower conveniently displays the name of the company that supplied the program file. The rating icon to the left of the filename is assigned based on information in the TaskPower database: a red skull and crossbones, for example, denotes a task that may harm your system. The gray question mark indicates that the task needs rating. If you uncover information on your own, you can share it with the TaskPower community. A key just above the information panel explains the five rating icons.
Each line of the Services tabs display shows the abbreviated name of a service thats loaded and whether it is running or stopped—its state, which is also indicated by an icon to the left of the name. Following this, the Startup field indicates whether the service is always running (Automatic), must be called by the program or driver needing it (Manual), or not on (Disabled) until the user changes the Startup parameter of the service to Automatic or Manual. The Name column shows the full name of the service, and Description gives information about what the service does.
The display for the Drivers tab presents the same type of information as what you see when you select the Services tab.
The Button Bar
TaskPower has a customizable button bar that gives you easy access to important features. Right-click anywhere on the bar to bring up a context menu that lets you select which buttons will show and whether to display or hide their text labels.
Clicking on Refresh prompts the utility to scan your computer for loaded processes and to update the display. TaskPower does not automatically refresh.
To get important information concerning TaskPower—the current version, for example—click on About.
Clicking on Config presents you with the dialog box that lets you customize the utilitys operation, as discussed previously in the Installation and Setup section.
As you would expect, Help gives you guidance on using TaskPower, and Exit closes the utility.
ZIFFPAGE TITLEOpening a Window into
Opening a Window into Your Computer
Now you can tell where your PCs resources are going, but how do you decide which processes are to be or not to be—that is the question. Before you can take arms against a sea of troubles, you need to know which processes you can safely kill—and that knowledge is one of the big guns TaskPower has already put in your arsenal. The information shown by the utilitys tabbed interface helps you hone in on the miscreants. All of the tab displays give descriptions of the processes, for example. And the full process name shown on the Services and Drivers panels can provide an invaluable clue. Note, however, that killing a driver is rarely a good idea. You should do so only if youre completely sure your system will suffer no ill effects.
The rating icons that appear on the Tasks tabs display let you instantly tell which tasks are on the up and up and which are up to no good. Although you see just five icons, there are actually ten ratings. Right-click anywhere on the information for a task, select Describe from the context menu, and a dialog that shows the actual rating (and other information) will pop up. The summary that follows gives the name, display-icon name (in parentheses), and description of each rating.
- System (System). This rating indicates the process is part of your computers operating system.
- Background (System). A task of this nature generally operates behind the scenes without user intervention and is part of your system.
- Normal (Normal). A typical healthy computer would be running this task.
- Major vendor (Normal). The process is part of a package from an influential software publisher (such as Microsoft or Adobe).
- Small vendor (Normal). The task belongs to a program created by a less-influential software maker.
- Unverified (Unknown). A rating hasnt been finalized for this process.
- Unknown (Unknown). TaskPower doesnt recognize this process.
- Suspect (Suspicious). This rating warns that a task may be spyware or malicious.
- Spyware (Dangerous). The process may be transmitting information about you and your behavior to a third party.
- Malicious (Dangerous). The process may be harming your computer.
ZIFFPAGE TITLETaking Control with Context
Taking Control with Context Menus
TaskPowers right-click (context) menus supply your heavy artillery, because you access the utilitys powerful functions through them. The context menus for the Applications and Tasks tabs are identical except for the Bring to front selection found just on the Applications tabs menu. The Services and Drivers tabs right-click menus are completely identical. All four of these menus have an Info selection, which opens a dialog that gives all the information TaskPower has about the selected process. You can also bring up this box by double-clicking anywhere on the line of a displayed process. The two other elements common to all these context menus are a Search selection, which uses your browser to perform a Google search for more information on the selected process, and Open Path, which opens Windows Explorer to show you the folder in which the selected item resides.
Website, a context-menu item for both the Applications and Tasks tabs, will use your browser to take you to the Web site of the vendor who supplied the process youve selected. Describe lets you edit the company, rating, description, and Website information for a process. Clicking on Bring to front (Applications tab only) moves the selected application into the foreground.
Live and let die
Process control is another powerful feature of these four context menus. The Kill option of the Applications and Tasks tabs right-click menus lets you instantly terminate a process. And the Start, Stop, Pause, Continue, Restart, and Startup selections on the Services and Drivers context menus give you tremendous control over the processes on your machine. (Youll find the startup settings covered where we described the Tabbed interface.)
ZIFFPAGE TITLEThe TaskPower Community
—Join the Crowd”>
The TaskPower Community—Join the Crowd
PC Magazine maintains a TaskPower process-information database, and if you subscribe to the Utility Library, you can choose to receive automatic updates from the database and also contribute to it. As noted in the Installation and setup section, all you have to do is click on the Config button, enter the e-mail address and password you use to log in to the Utility Library, check Automatically get updates to activate that option, check Submit any modifications if you want your changes to contribute to the database, and put in how often updates should occur. When you close TaskPower, it attempts to connect, via HTTP, to the ASP.Net Web service we have constantly listening for info from the thousands of TaskPower copies running.
After storing the incoming data in our SQL Server database, we review it and pick the highest quality information to publish to the TaskPower database for distribution to the community. Our Web service scours the database and writes the entire data list to an XML file, then serves this XML file for TaskPower clients to acquire, read, and integrate into their own knowledge bases. When you launch TaskPower, it contacts our Web Service and compares the eTag HTTP header (version number) of its XML file with ours. If the comparison shows our file is newer, TaskPower downloads the file, processes it, and voila! You have the latest information.
PC Magazine collects only the information you have agreed to supply, and as noted, you can choose to supply no information (and, for that matter, to not receive updates).
ZIFFPAGE TITLEBut wait
! Theres More—Templates”>
But wait! Theres More—Templates
Your machine might be an accountant by day but a gamer by night, and you hate having to change the same individual process settings over and over. Weve preconfigured some TaskPower Templates that do the work for you. These templates tailor the processes they turn off to particular uses—gaming, for example.
To use a Template, you just select one from the drop-down menu at the bottom of the Services tab display. TaskPower will display the changes that the Template will make (an asterisk in the startup column of a process means no change), and if you are satisfied, clicking on the Apply button next to the Template menu puts the changes into effect.
Here are the templates and what they do.
- Gaming turns off network options so all local resources can be devoted to games.
- Super Tweak turns off all services except those needed to change machine and OS settings.
- No message popups disables services sending and receiving messages from networks.
- Install configuration restores services to reflect the configuration that was in place when TaskPower was installed.
- Startup configuration matches the services to those at OS startup.
ZIFFPAGE TITLEThe Promise
—and the Delivery”>
The Promise—and the Delivery
If youre like many of us, you find Windows Task Manager both tantalizing and frustrating. It gives you just enough of a peek into your machine to be fascinating, but not enough to be useful to anyone without a lot of time to spend researching. By supplying hard information about what those cryptically named processes do and by giving you control over them—all in the same simple interface—TaskPower delivers what Task Manager only promises.
With a community of users constantly contributing to a supervised process-information database, TaskPower will just get better. And you can take an active role in its success.
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