Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Turn Your Old Computer Into a New One

Before I launch into this week's tech column, I'd like to offer two tech tidbits. After last week's column in which I praised Aardvark, www.vark.com, a human-backed Internet query system, I received some emails in response to my question, "what was that animal that was stealing our Perugina Baci chocolate (and only that)?" Several helpful Aardvarkers insisted that it had to be a mouse. My wife and I set a humane trap baited with Perugina Baci chocolate, but as of today the bait hasn't been taken, so we just don't know the answer yet. Curious. My next Aardvark query may be about hyper intelligent mice that can avoid traps -- could they take over the planet?

Tech tidbit number 2: A few days ago my daughter's cell phone ended up in the wash. This was not a happy moment in our family, but I remembered reading a tip about how soaked electronics can sometimes be saved by immersing the device in uncooked rice. So with nothing to lose, I did just that, and to my surprise, my daughter's cell phone is not only clean, but it works fine. If your cell phone or other small electronic device gets soaked, be sure not to turn it on before you cover it with rice because you don't want the water to cause a short, which would mean permanent damage. Leave it in the rice overnight. Hey, this tip actually works!


Pick me! Pick me! That's what nearly every program that's installed on a Windows computer seems to be saying. Many programs not only install themselves on your computer, but like to be running all the time. They think it's a benefit to you to have the program in your computer's memory so it can load faster. Maybe, but if you only use that program infrequently, the program is just hogging RAM and causing your computer to boot more slowly. The more programs that are running, the greater the chance your computer will crash, too. The only benefit that all these auto-loading programs have is that they give you time to brew a cup of coffee --or two-- while your computer wakes up in the morning.

You can reclaim considerable computer memory and speed up your computer's start time by turning off the automatic loading in these programs. You can do that through a program that's built into Windows, MSCONFIG. In the start menu (for Windows Vista and Windows 7), type MSCONFIG and open it. If you use Windows XP, go to Start, then Run, then type MSCONFIG. Go to the Startup tab. If your computer is more than a few months old, you'll find a lot of programs listed. Uncheck all of those programs that you don't want loading every time you boot your computer. Don't worry about unchecking a program by mistake. You're not uninstalling any programs, you're simply telling programs not to start with Windows. You can always re-check applications you want to run all the time.

How to choose which programs to uncheck and which to let load with windows? Google (or Aardvark) to the rescue. Just search for the name of the program and you'll be able to read about what it does and whether or not that program is important or essential. There's also a handy list with descriptions of the 13,000 programs that like to start all the time with Windows at http://www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php. (Don't worry, not all 13,000 programs will be starting up on your computer all the time, even though it may feel like that.) If you're still uncertain, you can uncheck it and see what happens.

Some programs, such as iTunes, insinuate themselves into loading with Windows every time you update the program. (iTunes adds Quicktime; there's no reason why you need to have Quicktime running all the time.) Another program that creeps into Windows' memory is Adobe Acrobat, which doesn't need to be running all the time, either.

Once you've parsed your computer's startup list, you'll have a faster, spiffier computer. (If you want a shinier computer, you could put it in the wash and then dunk it in rice, but a little dirt is probably a good idea when it comes to computers.) Ditching startup programs is almost like getting a brand new computer.

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