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78. Dig deep to fix system slow-downs

By Mark Alberstat

System running a bit slower these days? Did you install those new programs you received for Christmas and your computer hasn't quite been the same since?

Chances are you have programs running in memory that you don't need, and they are affecting the performance of your computer. Icons on your Windows desktop are not the problem. These are, for the most part, simply shortcuts to the programs and are merely quick ways to start your most commonly used applications.

However, down in the right-hand corner next to the clock, you will see a line of small icons. These are programs that are running in the background system This area of your computer screen is called the system tray. To see all of the programs running in the background, you may have to touch the arrows next to the few that may be showing to unhide the others. This little auto-hide feature helps to unclutter your system tray but also gives the unknowing computer user a false sense of what is truly going on with his or her computer.

Although many of today's computer problems are jokingly blamed on Bill Gates, the programs running in your system tray have to be blamed on the user who installed them on the machine. During installation, almost all programs will ask users whether they want the program installed in the system tray. Unfortunately, most users in their rush to install their latest program will rush through the installation, hitting Next and Continue blindly without fully understanding or reading the associated menu.

Programs are installed in the system tray as a convenience to the user and to keep the computer always checking whether an associated piece of equipment, such as a camera, is plugged into the system. Although there are advantages to having programs always on alert like this, the general overhead on your computer's system is not worth the expediency.

There are only a few programs that should run at startup. Your always up-to-date anti-virus application should start up and, if you use them, anti-spyware and firewall applications should also be running in your system tray.

To see what programs are in your system tray, hover your mouse over the icon. You should get a small explanation of the program. You should then be able to click on the icon and within that program go into its properties or settings. Somewhere in this menu system you will find a line about putting this program in the system tray or starting it upon startup.

Uncheck this menu item if you don't think this program needs to be running at all times. You may even find some programs that you no longer use and can uninstall them completely from your system.

Once uninstalled, or when the system tray option is turned off, your computer's sluggish behaviour could well be a thing of the past.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 19 February 2006


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