Friday, December 30, 2005

Debugging a Slow System
The first thing I recommend is shutting down and restarting. Many systems are left on all the time and a re-boot can solve a number of issues. It does not eliminate the cause of the slowdown, but it could stop the offending process which was running. The slowdown may have been caused by a process started off the Internet that will never be accessed again.

If an application has been installed in the past few days, it may be the cause of the problem. I try uninstalling it and/or using System Restore to back the system up to a date prior to the slowdown issues. This process restores the registry to a previous point that worked. To use Restore press Win+F1 > Pick a task > System Restore, then choose Restore my computer to an earlier time. Choose a likely date and see if the issue goes away.

Next, I make sure an anti-virus program has been running and do a full scan of the system after downloading the most recent signatures. Then I use an anti-spyware tool to remove any spyware on the system. This usually improves performance greatly.

MSCONFIG is a great command line tool to manage the processes and programs starting when the system turns on. To run it, Win+R to open the RUN dialog box. Then type MSCONFIG and hit ENTER.

Click the Startup tab to view the programs starting each time the system boots. One issue with MSCONFIG is its inability to explain what each startup program is doing, as the names are cryptic. To determine what the program actually does and to see if you should stop the program from starting, try googling its name. For a slow running system, I turn them all off and then turn them back on one at a time until the issue I was debugging returns.

On the same screen, click the Services tab to see what services are started when the system boots. The Essential column shows the ones Windows needs to have running. This does not mean you can shut them all off; the system may boot successfully, but a number of your applications may fail to start without the services they require running. Read the descriptions to help determine what should or should not be running.

One service known to slow down the system is the Indexing Service. On older versions of Windows it was called Find Files. It is responsible for indexing the content of each hard disk to make the Search utility find files faster. Disabling it will usually improve performance.

Another tool to try is the Administrative Tools menu—Right-click My Computer, then select Manage. Locate Services and Applications, click the plus sign to open the list, and then click Services. The list of Services opens in the right window. Click on any service to see a detailed explanation. This list is more detailed than MSCONFIG. Double-click on any one service to open its Properties window.

If I try all of the above and the system is still sluggish, it may be time for a reload. I backup all critical files and do a factory restore. This brings the system back to the way it was when it came out of the box. If it is still slow, there is a hardware problem—hard disk failing, RAM failing, or something else. Remember, after a factory restore SP2 probably needs to be applied, as do all the Windows updates since. Add the anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, and then restore the critical files from backup. Any applications not installed on the factory fresh system must be re-installed. This might be a good time to reassess what was previously installed and not bother with any applications no longer used.

I cannot guarantee the above will work for you. These are the steps I usually take. Before starting any debugging be aware you could do some damage, so always backup critical files before starting, if possible. When asking someone what files are critical, they often forget about their collection of pictures and music. Back them up as well. Recall that some programs do not store their files in My Documents—AOL and Outlook Express are two culprits I know of. Therefore, if I must restore a system to factory specs, I suggest a new hard drive. They are so inexpensive today it is well worth it. The new drive will be larger and faster and all the old data will still be on the old drive. It can be installed as a secondary drive temporarily so you can pull over necessary data and then be kept for a while in case some files were missed.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I just began to use the Maxthon Internet Browser. I like it. Based on Internet Explorer, it is a powerful tabbed browser with a highly customizable interface. It is filled with many efficient features that will take me weeks to discover and experiment with.

One feature of IE I like is the ability to type a Web site name, press Ctrl+Enter and have IE fill in the http://www. and the .com for me. Maxthon adds a Shift+Enter and Ctrl+Shift+Enter to fill in .net and .edu (or whatever .xxx you wish to opt for). Download your FREE copy at

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another Address Bar Shortcut
To jump to the address bar and highlight its content with one shortcut, press Alt+D. Now to copy it to the clipboard use Ctrl+C. Then you can use Ctrl+V to paste it to an email you are composing or add it as a hyperlink to a letter or Web page. If you want to type a new address, simply begin typing. The selected address will be replaced with the typed characters. To navigate in the address bar, use Ctrl+arrow -- right arrow to move right one section at a time and left arrow to move left. Try it. This is easier than using the arrow keys and delete or backspace when modifying an address.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Another Excel Shortcut
To reveal formulas, you probably know about Ctrl+Tilde—that is the tilde key just below the Esc key. Press the combination once and all cells containing formulas will display formulas instead of resulting values. Press the combination again and the display toggles back to values. A slight variation to the keystrokes and you can change the formatting for a cell or a range of cells to General formatting--Ctrl+Shift+Tilde.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

An interesting approach to sorting the every increasing number of emails we receive on a daily basis. SNARF or a Social Network And Relationship Finder uses social analysis to organize incoming email. Read the article at:
SNARFing your way through e-mail