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    Kicking the crap out of your computer

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver May 8-14, 2007; issue 915

    High Tech Office column

    A friend recently dropped by bearing a new name-brand laptop. His complaint: it took a long time (over two minutes) to start up, a long time to shut down, it and seemed sluggish when it was running.

    Sure it was a low-end model with just the base 512 megabytes of memory. But aside from installing more memory, could it be made to work better?

    The problem is common to most new computers, and not just bargain-basement models. Increasingly users are complaining about “crapware” – software they never requested that comes pre-installed on new computers.

    First thing I checked: the control panel’s add/remove programs item (renamed Programs and Features in Windows Vista for no good reason).

    Compared with many models, this new Dell didn’t have too much to uninstall. All I removed was the pre-installed 30-day trial security-suite software. We replaced it with a free antivirus program and the Windows defender anti-spyware software that was already on the computer. After a restart, it already felt a bit faster.

    Worth checking out: the free PC Decrapifier utility ( This automates removal of a large number of commonly pre-installed software or lets you pick and choose so you can keep any that you want to use. Or do it right: erase everything on your new computer and install a fresh copy of the operating system and your preferred applications. (You did get a copy of the operating system CD with that new computer, didn’t you?)

    Why do we get all this crap in the first place? Software companies pay manufacturers to pre-install trial versions of their software, hoping to get you to buy a full version. A Dell spokesperson recently estimated the company made about $60 per system that way.

    A related problem for many Windows users (and not just users with new computers) is all those programs are set to load automatically every time the system starts. They slow down the startup and suck up system resources. This was especially true on my friend’s system, which started with relatively little memory.

    At the bottom right corner of the screen you’ll see a collection of little icons. Each one represents something running in the background. Besides the volume control, how many do you use?

    Run a utility that lists startup items and lets you disable items while making it easy to re-enable items that you need. Try typing “msconfig” at the start menu’s run command to get the Windows system configuration utility and look at the startup tab. Or if you’re using Microsoft’s free Windows Defender anti-spyware utility, click on tools then on Software Explorer for a less confusing list of startup programs.

    It can be hard to know what in the long list can be turned off. Try Googling unfamiliar names. On my system, I found an item listed as DMXLauncher. A search for “DMXLauncher startup” told me that both Dell and Roxio install it with their media suites and that it’s probably not needed. Apple’s QuickTime, Real Player and more may have unneeded items installed. Even important-looking items from video, sound card and mouse manufacturers and items from your computer manufacturer can usually be disabled with little noticeable effect except that your computer will be perkier. Leave ones from your antivirus software alone, though.

    This is not an exact science. Be prepared to experiment; if you find you’re missing something, it’s easy to put a checkmark back beside an item and restart to get it back.

    After removing unneeded startup programs, my friend’s new laptop booted up and ran noticeably quicker. It would still benefit from more memory, but in the meantime, it’s much more usable.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan