When you turn on the computer, programs automatically start up and continue running in the background - offstage and behind the scenes.
Some are essential or useful and need run. Antivirus and Internet security programs are good examples. Others are optional. Your digital camera or scanner, for instance, may have assumed that you want constant access to the device. So it told those programs to run constantly.
Others are snoops, such as spywear programs that send information about your computer to spammers over the Internet.
Non-essential background programs can be troublemakers.
They hog computing power that could be used elsewhere, making a computer run slowly and take forever to load programs. These delinquents can cause computer misbehavior such as lockups, crashes, refusal to run certain programs, difficulty connecting to the Internet and staying connected.
By some estimates, programs running in the background cause more than half of all the problems that occur on a typical computer. Few computer users know it, of course. They often blame viruses, faulty hard disk drives, or other hardware problems related to a computer s age.
The problems can be frustrating enough to make people trash a perfectly good computer and shell out hundreds of dollars for a new system.
So how can you tell what programs are running behind the scenes? How can you tell which are essential and which are optional? How can you target the troublemakers?
For a general idea of what programs are running, check the icons in the System Tray. It s the outlined area opposite the Start Button and near the system clock. Let your mouse pointer hover over each icon to see the program s name.
Right clicking on the icon can stop some of those programs. Then select stop or exit in the popup menu. Don t shut down security programs or your Internet connection. If you don t know what a program does, let it run.
However, others are optional, like those that keep a seldom-used digital camera or scanner ready for instant action.
For a more complete view of your computer s background programs which computer people term tasks - use Windows Task Manager. Access it by holding down three keys at the same time: Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Do it just once or you may reboot the computer.
It would be great if Microsoft designed Task Manager so you could right click on each task and get a description of the program, what it does, and whether it is essential or optional. No such luck.
However, there are lists and explanations on the Internet. One of the oldest and best is at answersthatwork.com. Compare your list to theirs, highlight unneeded programs with a mouse click, and click the End Process button.
AnswersThatWork also sells The Ultimate Troubleshooter (TUT) the most popular program for automatically telling whether background programs should be stopped (answersthatwork.com).