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Computer Browser

Psst… Wanna compete with Best Buy?

Best Bait-n-Switch is offering a service where they’ll remove crapware from a PC for 30 bucks.

You can offer to do the same thing for 30 bucks, but do a better job. Here’s how.Of course, the first thing you do is go into Add/Remove Programs and remove everything in sight, unless it’s something the client actually wants. That’ll take about 20 minutes, tops, and it’s probably the extent of what Best Buy does. That’ll help, but it doesn’t bring back all of the new PC peppiness.

Next, you need to install and run a couple of utilities. Start out with CCleaner to remove any stray registry entries that may linger behind. Hopefully there won’t be too much. Then grab the unbeatable Donn Edwards bundle of JK-Defrag, NTREGOPT, and Pagedefrag.

Run NTREGOPT to remove the slack space from the registry, then run Pagedefrag and reboot. You’ll end up with a defragmented pagefile and a fresh-as-a-new-install registry.

Finally, run JK-Defrag to move all the useless data to the end of the drive, and all the stuff people actually use to the front. It’ll do a much better job than Microsoft’s built-in defragmenter, even on a new system.

The tuneup should take less than an hour, and most of it is time you can just walk away from the system and let it do its thing. You can advertise your service as better than Best Buy’s and compete solely on that, or beat them on price by a few bucks while providing a better and more worthwhile service.

If you’re feeling really industrious, you can even consult the appropriate Black Viper services list and disable unnecessary services to free up a little RAM and CPU time. If you don’t want to do a lot of reading, Computer Browser and Remote Registry are two services that always make sense to disable in home environments. My personal list used to be a lot longer, but Windows’ defaults are a lot more optimal than they were 5-8 years ago. The other stuff I always used to disable is disabled by default now.

And here’s one last piece of valuable advice you can give your clients. Rather than buy the Norton or McAfee antivirus product that’s probably installed on their computer as trialware, delete it and have your client buy NOD32 instead. The price is comparable to the other products, but it consumes a lot less CPU time and memory than the rest. So if you want antivirus protection but also want the computer to stay peppy, that’s the best choice in town.

Squeezing some life out of an aging Windows 2000 PC

I can safely say I really did write the book on Windows optimization (Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics and Multimedia, O’Reilly, 1999, ISBN 1565926773) but that was five years ago and covered Windows 95 and 98.

Windows 2000 and XP are a different animal, and are as similar to the obscure OS/2 operating system from IBM as they are to Windows 95/98.

Here’s what I did when my work computer slowed to the point that I could no longer do much work.Clear some disk space. This is a biggie. NTFS, Windows’ file system, really doesn’t like it if the amount of free space on a disk drops below 15 percent. That’s stupid, but it’s reality, and since I don’t have Mr. Gates’ phone number I can’t do much but live with it. I went to Start, Search, picked Files and Folders, typed *.* in the name field and Drive C in the Look in: field, then hit Search Now. When it finished, I clicked on the field that says Size, and scrolled all the way down. I found lots of big files I didn’t need. I found a mystery file that was 600 megs in size. A Google search revealed that some obscure application I had used once had created that file. That was nice of it. After five minutes’ work, I had freed almost a gigabyte of disk space.

Uninstall old printer drivers. I had a bunch of printer drivers installed for printers I don’t use anymore. They were taking up disk space and memory. I only have 192 megs of RAM and most of it was in use by the time the computer booted, before I’d even loaded any programs. That’s no good. So I removed the drivers for my girlfriend’s Epson color printer (in the Add/Remove Programs control panel) and then I went into Printers and deleted the network printers of old clients and other printers I can’t remember ever using (in most cases you can just delete the printer and it will offer to remove the drivers).

Stop unnecessary services. If you right-click on My Computer and hit Manage, then double-click on Services and Applications and then on Services, you’ll find all sorts of stuff that Windows runs just in case you need it. Most of it is necessary, but for me, several were just chewing up more RAM than I could afford.

Computer Browser. This service, despite what you hear elsewhere, has nothing to do with web browsing, My Network Places, or anything else useful. All it does is permit your computer to participate in browser elections. What are those? It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that on a Windows network, one computer gets to keep the list of computers on the network, and every time you turn a computer on, the computers running the Computer Browser service fight over who gets to keep that list. Sound useless? Unless you’re in an office network with a file server and a very small number of computers, it’s very useless. Most of the time it’s just chewing up between 2 and 8 megabytes of your precious RAM. Forget that.

HID Input Service. I plugged a USB mouse into this computer once and it loaded this. Next thing I knew, my available memory had dropped by 6 megabytes. Six megabytes! For a stupid mouse? I use a USB mouse occasionally, but not every day, and certainly not often enough to be able to afford dedicating 6 megs to something that sits there waiting for me to plug one in. I’d leave it if I had 512 megs of RAM but I didn’t, so I disabled it.

Automatic Updates and Background Intelligent Transfer Service. I keep Automatic Updates turned off because it doesn’t work with our firewall, but whether the option is turned on or off, these services are loaded and chewing up memory. So I disabled these services. I have mixed feelings on Automatic Update. If you can’t remember to visit the Windows Update site once a month, you should leave it turned on. But since it won’t work for me anyway, I have to leave it turned off, so I might as well recover the memory.

Remote Registry Service. This allows a network administrator to connect to your computer and make changes. In a home environment you won’t use this. At work you’ll probably get your hand slapped if you disable it. It uses about a meg.

By trimming some of this dead wood, I was able to gain almost 32 megs of RAM.

Uninstall programs you’re not using anymore. I had several programs that I hadn’t used since Clinton was president that were taking up space on my drive, and some of them had been so nice as to install services that were running all the time and chomping some of my very scarce system RAM. Clearing those out gained me a couple hundred megs’ worth of disk space and nearly 20 megs of RAM.

Clear the browser cache. Internet Explorer keeps pieces of web sites on disk in case you ever visit them again, because it’s much faster than downloading them again. The problem is it does a terrible job of cleaning these up, so the result is you have, in all likelihood, tens of thousands of tiny files, if not hundreds of thousands, that you’ll never use again. Right-click your IE icon on the desktop, hit properties, and click Delete Files. You’ll save yourself some disk space, but more importantly, you’ll make this next step a lot faster and more effective.

Defrag. I used to be really good about defragmenting my drives but it looks like I’ve been lax lately because my C drive was in bad, bad shape. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools and pick Disk Defragmenter. Run it once a month.

My drive, as it turned out, was hopelessly fragmented. The system was much peppier after I ran it.

I hope these steps will be helpful. It’s not as good as getting a new computer, but it’s much easier to live with now. If your system is bogged down, and like mine, it’s an old laptop that uses scarce and expensive memory and is out of slots anyway, this will make it easier to live with.

Optimizing Windows networks

My church’s IT czar asked me a good question the other day. His network performance was erratic and Network Neighborhood was messed up. Some computers saw different views of the network, although if you manually connected to other computers, that usually worked.
There are probably 35 or so computers on the network now, so it’s no longer a small network. He asked a few good questions, and the tips that came out of the discussion bear repeating here.

1. Establish a master browser. There’s supposed to be one and only one keeper of the Network Neighborhood’s directory, if you will. Whenever a Windows computer comes online, it calls for an election. Usually the winner of the election makes sense. But sometimes a computer that has no business winning the election wins. Or sometimes the computers seem to get confused about who won the election.

Networks shouldn’t be like the U.S. political system.

Windows NT, 2000, and XP boxes run a service called Computer Browser. Ideally, you want one master browser and a couple of backups online all the time. So pick four computers who are likely to always be on, and who are running Windows 2000 or XP, preferably (since they’re likely to be newer computers). Then turn the Computer Browser service off on all but those four computers. Browser elections and related bureaucracy can chew up 30% of your network bandwidth in worst-case situations, so this can be worth doing even if you’re not yet experiencing the problem.

2. Use WINS. Unless you have an Active Directory domain and you’re running DNS on Windows 2000 or 2003 Server, Windows boxes have to broadcast because they don’t know the addresses of any other computers on the network. All that broadcast traffic chews up bandwidth and can cause other unusual behavior. WINS is basically like Windows-proprietary DNS. Set up WINS on one of your Windows servers, if you have one, or on a Linux box running Samba, and you’ll end up with a faster, more reliable network.

If you’re running a home network with fewer than 10 PCs, this probably isn’t worth the effort–especially the WINS server. The Computer Browser service might be worth disabling but more because it’ll save you a little bit of memory. If you’re a large enterprise with hundreds or thousands of computers running that service, the freeware PSTools suite from Sysinternals has some command-line utilities that can help you turn off services remotely, to avoid the daunting task of visiting every desk.

School’s out, school’s out!

School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out! Those that didn’t leave on their own free will, thta is. I’d do a comprehensive review of the class, and maybe I still will, but I think this says it all. There were 36 people enrolled. By the time the second afternoon break was over, 14 remained.
I got addresses of a few useful Web sites, but they’re in my car and I’m not. I’ll post those later this week.

I’d post all the new secrets I learned so my readers didn’t have to take the class, but frankly I didn’t learn anything that isn’t already common knowledge. I think I’ll post some of the things that were left out though.

Like this: If you don’t want a particular NT/2000 workstation to participate in browser elections or force elections, shut off the Computer Browser service. This will reduce network traffic and give a very slight increase in workstation performance. Remember, you need to have one browse master and three backup browsers per network segment, so be sure to leave the service enabled on four machines per network segment.

If you don’t want your 95/98/Me PCs participating, go into the properties of the File and Print Sharing for Microsoft Networks and clear the Participate in Browser Elections checkbox. You don’t want one of those machines serving as a browse master.

Windows NT on hardware it has no business on

A partial retraction. OK, Southwestern Bell isn’t responsible for all my missing mail. I had a second POP3 client running that I forgot about, which was grabbing some of my mail. But my computer couldn’t find a DHCP server all day, so even though one problem wasn’t their fault, another one was. So I’m still gonna write Casey Kassum with a request and dedication: Todd Rundgren’s “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP,” dedicated to my beloved Southwestern Bell.

Running, uh, no, executing Windows NT 4.0 on a Pentium-75 with 16 MB RAM. Disclaimer: Before you start thinking things that include my name and words like “crack” or “LSD,” let me state emphatically that this was not my idea. I was only following orders. (I’m not on drugs. I’m not nuts–I’m certifiably sane. I’m not even depressed.) All that clear? Good.

That said, the stated minimum hardware requirements for NT 4 are a 486 CPU with 12 MB RAM. And I did once build a print server out of an old IBM PS/2 that had a 486SLC2/50 CPU and 16 megs of RAM. Hey, I was young and I needed the money, OK? Besides, it was a very experimental time and I didn’t think anybody would get hurt…

OK, I’m done turning druggy double entendres.

Needless to say, NT on this machine is anything but pretty. (And I’ll put a marginal machine into service as a server where no one ever interacts with it directly long before I stick one on an end-user’s desk.) The video card in my flagship PC has more memory and processing power. But we’re out of PCs, and this poor girl needs a computer on her desk (though she’s never done anything to deserve this fate), so here’s what I did to try to make life on this machine more tolerable. These tricks work much better on fast machines.

  • Pull out all network protocols except TCP/IP. I also double-checked all TCP/IP settings and made sure the closest DNS server was first on the list.
  • Use a static IP address. The DHCP service uses memory and CPU cycles, and on machines like this, every byte and cycle counts.
  • Remove Office Startup, Find Fast, and LoadWC from Startup. The first two are in the All Users start menu. The last is in the registry. All eat memory and provide no useful functionality.
  • Move the swap file to a second physical hard disk. This machine happened to have a second drive, so I put the swap file there for better performance.
  • Turn off unnecessary services. The Scheduler service and Computer Browser service normally aren’t needed. If the network never sent out notifications (ours does), I’d also turn off the Messenger service.
  • Remove unnecessary fonts. I won’t do this without her present, since I might inadvertently nuke her favorite font. But if she doesn’t use it, it’s gone.
  • Keep free space above 100 megs. Windows slows to a crawl when forced to live on a drive that’s as crowded as a mosh pit.
  • Defragment! Making matters worse, this drive didn’t seem to have a single file on it that wasn’t fragmented. I ran Diskeeper and there was more red on the screen than at a Cardinals game when Mark McGwire’s chasing home run records.
  • When you have two drives, put the OS on the faster of the two. Unfortunately, the OS is on an ancient Seagate 420-meg drive, with a 2.1-gig drive in as the secondary drive. The roles really should be reversed. When in doubt, the bigger drive is usually faster. The newer drive almost always is. I may just Ghost the OS over to the 2.1-gig drive, then switch them.
  • Switch to Program Manager. She’s probably not comfortable with the old Windows 3.1 interface (I’ve only ever met one person who liked it) so I probably won’t do this, but that’ll save you a couple megs.

Yes, even with these adjustments, it’s still awful. So I’m gonna see if I can dig up some memory from somewhere. That’ll help more than anything. But as tempting as overclocking may be, I won’t do it.