Computing Basics II

This is a reprint from my Ask a Geek column that appears weekly in the Register-News. It is written for a general audience, and I hope you enjoy it.

Once your computer has booted into the operating system, most people think it is just sitting there waiting for you to tell it to do something. This is not quite the case.

Many programs are already active and doing things you may not even know about. For example, your antivirus and firewall (you do have both, don’t you?) start automatically with the operating system. That is great and they are protecting you just as they should, however there are other programs that you might not even be aware of that do the same thing and slow down your system.

Adobe, RealPlayer, iTunes, Google products, etc. all install onto your system and are free to download. Unfortunately most or all of these programs also make a setting in your operating system that automatically starts them without your input. They do this under the logic of ‘checking for updates’ or ‘quick-starting’ so that you don’t have to worry about these tasks. Unfortunately every one of these tasks will eat up memory (RAM) and processing power that your computer should be using to do whatever YOU want it to do.

The easy way to see this problem is to look in the lower-right corner of your screen by the clock. Almost every one of those little icons is eating up power that will make your PC run slower than it did before. The sneakier of these programs will not even have an icon in the corner, but will run ‘in the background’ without any easy way to see what it is doing.

Personally, I dig into the Windows’ registry and delete these items so that they don’t start automatically, but there is an easier solution for anyone to use: CCleaner ( CCleaner has been mentioned here before to clean out temp files and help clean out your PC, but it will also clean out these ‘autostart’ or ‘startup’ entries so that you can have back the power that your computer has been robbed of without your knowing.

When using CCleaner, you do so at your own risk. It is generally safe to use so long as you read what you are doing, and it even offers to make a backup before performing tasks so that you can restore if you break anything. Still, you can break things if you are careless.

When cleaning out startup programs, everyone will have different choices to make about which programs to remove or keep. For example, you should keep the startup entries for your antivirus and firewall, but probably not Adobe or Apple Update. Some entries will not really say what they do or what program they are associated with in any way. It is advised that you DO NOT DELETE those entries. It is safer to leave something there than to delete it and then have to go back and fix it later.

When you go to download CCleaner, they ask for a donation. No donation is required, but they ask so that the development can continue. If you can, drop them a buck or two if the program helps you. Thanks to Ms. McClintock for reminding me about this fact via email.