04 October 2006

Vista - How you can make Windows run even slower

So Vista is coming and the PC manufacturers are hoping to grow fat on your largess as you upgrade everything to stay fashionable. But you don't have to wait for Vista!

Maybe you laugh at my intolerance for Windows sloth. You've got an dual-processor or maybe an AMD64 and you've got cycles to burn baby! So how can you make it run slower (but possibly prettier) ?

Use more powerful themes: take a look at the Stardock site for info on WindowBlinds and other desktop themes or shells, some rather radical (and some just radically unstable).

Run lots of .NET and Java applications: I love Java but both .NET and Java are semi-interpreted languages. Pick one or two favourite applications, and try to stick to either Java or .NET because that way they will share more code in memory. There are lots of useful Java apps, the only .NET app I ever used was SharpReader and I've switch to Sage in Firefox for reading RSS feeds so it's goodbye to .NET from me (that's another reason why Firefox is cool; once you are running the Mozilla platform (Gecko, etc.), your extensions (which are really mini applications) share the code in common with Firefox itself. It's a pity there isn't a user-oriented Java application that achieves the same (though tools like Intellij IDEA, Eclipse and JEdit do pretty well at providing an application platform for software development extensions).

Use Windows Desktop Search and Google Desktop Search: I'd love to be able to search my desktop, but I don't want to run even one of these things because they are so slow (maybe if they would run overnight and then shutdown my desktop when they've satisifed themselves that they've probed every nook and cranny). But if you've got cycles to burn, use 'em both and compare the results. Meanwhile, I'll continue to use baroque folder structures (which I continually reorganise, increasingly using tag-style names rather than old-fashioned hierarchies) to hoard my precious bits and bytes.

Run lots of anti-malware programs: there are so many free anti-adware, anti-spyware and anti-virus programs out there, it's easy to give up whole chunks of your CPU to try to achieve safety and privacy. My recommendation: choose one or two quality apps and dump the rest. But if you like the warm fuzzy feeling of having an army of anti-malware tools attempting to control the horizontal and vertical on your desktop, go ahead.

Use a local mail client: Gmail convinced me that a web-based client could do what I needed, so Thunderbird now languishes unused (except for occasional "backups" of my web mail over POP3). Outlook Express - don't make me laugh. So now Google provides the hard drives and the cyles to store and search my mail. But by all means, run a local mail app (or two) - and of course you might have to anyway for very private or work-related mail.

Use Windows Media Player: Yes, WMP is a charming beast. You'd be better off saving memory and CPU by running Winamp. But dash it all and don't spare the horses - use the latest and greatest (well, largest) WMP and while you're at it, use GForce (actually though, GForce is so pretty that it doesn't matter that it likes your CPU; you won't be doing anything else but watching the darn thing go through it's fractal gymnastics).

So give that little lot a try and let me know how you get on. If you've still got any CPU to spare, drop a comment here and we'll see if we can find anything else to keep your desktop busy.

Reasons to stay with Windows XP despite Vista

Sticking with Windows XP: The Case Against Windows Vista is a nicely written article that shows how to achieve many of the features of Vista under XP.

Actually I'm having a Douglas Adams moment; not pondering if my ancestors should ever have come down from the trees (or out of the water) but wondering if I should ever have stopped using Windows 2000. Here's how you can get some speed back.

Microsoft continues to innovate with the desktop, but a lot of what they add is just pretty fluff, and it's not necessarily coded to be light and fast. If you can live without some of that fluff, you might be surprised by how Windows can move with a little more alacrity.

I had the suspicion that XP's native theme is a bit sluggish and I knew I hated the XP File Search wizard with it's ostensibly cute but actually acutely annoying analogue of the Office paper clip, the famous search puppy. Instead of wagging it's tail and running round in circles, it'll have you clicking again and again, and cycling back and forth with Back and Next until you eventually find what you're looking for or finally lose your reason. Please Microsoft, no more "agent" technology, it's even less illuminating than conversing with a chatbot or (I suspect) one of your support people.

So here's what I've done to speed things up on XP:

Lose the search puppy (send him to catch a long ball off a short pier); credits to the Elder Geek:
  1. Open regedit.exe using the Run (WinKey+R) dialog box.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software
  3. Right click in the right pane and select New > String Value
  4. Name the new string "Use Search Asst" and press enter
  5. Double click the string name and enter "no" (lower case) in the Value Data: line. Click OK
If you want to bring it back, just delete "Use Search Asst". But if you're just nostalgic for the little guy, the little picture should satisfy you (or remind you why you turned him off in the first place).

Don't use a desktop background: it still brings up Active Desktop if you do, so pick a nice colour and live with it (who looks at their desktop background anyway?). Oh wait, I do. Oh well, I don't when I turn it off, which definitely improves my performance.

Disable the Windows XP theming engine: hit the Logo key and press R, then run "services.msc", scroll down to Themes, right-click and select Properties, change "Startup type" to "Manual" and finally hit the Stop button. It'll look ugly for a while, and then you'll just notice that windows, menus and dialogs pop into place that little bit faster.

Tell Windows Messenger to take a message: you're just a few changes in the registry away from ending this little beast (if you're not a regular user of the registry, make a backup first).

Kill any autoruns you don't need: Sysinternals Autoruns will show you what Windows starts automatically when you login. It's probably safest to look at the Winlogon tab, a lot of other items are really essential. Before disabling anything, you might want to try using the Processes tab in Windows Task Manager (or just use Process Explorer) to kill the application first (that way, if you kill anything essential, you just need to restart your Windows session to get back to normal).

Use a fast tabbed browser: Since Firefox introduced tabs, I'm an full-on Fx fan (IE is just ridiculously outdated, and IE 7 RC 1 caused my desktop to hang after login). I had a brief look at Flock but it's features didn't strike me as compelling enough to step off the Mozilla mainstream and I even glanced at Opera (now free, no adware), which almost convinced me to switch because it was noticably nippier, but I would miss my extensions (especially Adblock, DownThemAll, and Del.icio.us tagger).

Tabs are much easier to manage than windows, I do all my browsing in just two windows now (and the other window is a separate Firefox process to allow me to use multiple identities with Google services; just set the MOZ_NO_REMOTE environment variable to 1 and run Firefox with the -P option so that you can create and use a separate profile for the second process).

Mmm, also get rid of any viruses that might be eating your CPU: if your anti-virus isn't helping, take a look at one of my earlier posts on how to murder a virus with your bare hands; a symptom of some kinds of malware is that Windows Explorer CPU will go up to 99% and stay around there.