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Sometimes if you're having a pleasant little social gathering or party then you won't mind if the odd 'plus-one' or 'extra' turns up - not that people in the parties I go to are actors or anything. Indeed, if they are, they're likely to be nothing more than an extra. However, when a big group of bad-boys turn up that you're not particularly fond of, you may just have to ask them to leave, albeit ever so politely and in an understanding and friendly way that doesn't insult them in the slightest. Thankfully, you don't have to be quite so friendly on a computer when someone turns up that you secretly have a passionate hate for. Yes, this is just one of my rather odd metaphors for another piece of software, in this case I'm slyly introducing you to 'Process Explorer'.
When you turn on your computer (I'm talking Windows here - so you could say when you open your curtains) a whole array of processes begin to start up in the background (that is, when loading from dead, not from standby or hibernation etc.). The more software you have on your computer and the less attentive you are to what is lingering on your hard drive, the more processes there are that will be present.
So let's flash back to the start of the (computer-turning-on) party shall we? So the guests start arriving (you've just turned the computer on). You see a few good friends; there's your mate Nor Ton sitting in the corner, though he looks like he's caught some sort of virus, not looking well at all. Meanwhile a little green man has arrived at your door claiming to be a Messenger. You ask him what the message is. He says that your wall is on fire; turned in to some sort of Firewall. For goodness sake.
Anyway, the party's well under way (everything's loaded up), so you start a few games (open up some applications). Things soon get nasty though; there's Ite Oons having an odd little fight with your Hi-Fi that's on the window-sill (aka your Windows Media Player...), and you've only just put out the fire on the wall before you notice a fox prowling around that has also somehow caught fire. It's talking too! Says it's just a Firefox. Goodness gracious me.
You've seen it all before though; it only starts getting serious when you notice some people you don't recognise. There's some sort of spy waltzing around, claiming to be known by his enemies as Spy Ware, whilst yet more animals are arriving; now it's a Trojan Horse. I've had enough of this. I need someone to sort this party-gone-bad out. I need an explorer to help me who knows what he's doing. Hmmmm.
Hmmmm no longer! It's Process Explorer, the most experienced party-goer who's ever walked this earth. He's seen every party crasher that's ever attempted to ruin a good old gathering of golly-goers, and can assassinate them too.
Process Explorer is Windows software, although exact platforms that it works on is unclear. The maker's website (which is actually Microsoft) states 'Windows XP and higher' - I use XP and it works very well indeed, and is the platform that I think this software was originally aimed at. Saying that, I recommend it on any Windows operating system, so if you Vista or 7 users are slightly sceptical thus far, I recommend you to stick with me. At least for a little while longer, anyway.
One of the great things about this software is that it is absolutely tiny. If it were a person you could fit them inside a suitcase. Funnily enough, in the computer world he actually comes within a little zipped up suitcase (ZIP format), rather than the traditional .exe, which is your standard installer. The reason for this is that it never actually installs anything. Once you've downloaded the 1.5mb zip file, you unzip it, select the programme file and are away. The only other two files in the package are the EULA (user license agreement) and the help file. I'd recommend you create a folder somewhere appropriate and unzip the files into there, just for the sake of tidiness. Remember: a tidy computer, is a happy computer. Fact.
Moving on, and you might have been wondering what makes this process explorer anything better than the Task Manager you get within Windows already; for that, ultimately, is what it is. That is what I shall now explain, for there are numerous reasons.
I will however, get the worst out of the way first. The interface, as a whole, isn't great. It looks pretty terrible in all honesty, with graphics of minimalistic quality. However, this was never supposed to be an art gallery. Saying that, if you could press Ctrl+Alt+Del and get an art gallery it would be very good indeed; and quite funny at the same time. To conclude that point, it's not an art gallery. However, the general design is effective, if a bit simple. Who says simple can't be good though?
Not me. It's the design that sets this apart from the ever so outdated Windows Task Manager (well, at least in XP - 7 could probably learn a few lessons too though). What makes this explorer so distinctive is the way in which it displays processes. On the left-hand side of the main body you have your processes in a tree format, meaning they are actually sorted into categories that make them far more accessible. For example, one of these categories is 'explorer.exe'. This is your desktop, and branching off from this tree are all the applications you have starting up when you turn on your computer; that's (hopefully) your anti-virus, firewall etc. This makes finding a process far easier and is much more effective than the original task manager. Furthermore, you have another simple and yet ingenious feature; programme icons. So incredibly simple and yet such a great idea. It's extremely useful as it allows you to easily recognise the programmes that you're familiar with, and easily pick out those culprits that have sneaked in naughtily.
By default you'll have four other columns, the first of which is 'PID' (process identifier). This is literally an ID number for a programme that is used by the programme (as far I'm aware) and is of no use to you whatsoever. I did some research as I was intrigued, but found nothing of use within the help section, and nothing much online. I've no idea why it's there to be honest, it's just a bit annoying really, and often gets me confused as I mix it up with other columns. If you delve deeper into Windows Task Manager then you'll find this column there too, so I think it must just add a sense of authenticity to the process - perhaps relatively useful then. The next column is your conventional 'CPU' column. This percentage figure basically gives you an idea of how much your processor is having to devote to running a programme, allowing you to see which are the best performers, and which need a kick. The last two columns are 'Description' and 'Company Name', which do just what they say on the tin, though are very useful nonetheless. For XP users this will be a wondrous sight as we're not as privileged as Vista and 7 users, who get a nice little description themselves. They don't get company name though, so we shouldn't feel too aggrieved. These columns help identify lesser-known process names, and are another very useful feature of the design as a whole.
You may be wondering where that other column is though, 'Mem Usage'. By default, it's hidden away in the column options. Again, I'm confused, especially after the inclusion of that ever-so not useful PID column. Anyway, heading into the 'Select Columns' options, and then the 'Process Memory' tab, you can tick the 'Working Set Size' to have this figure in your main interface. It's an annoying process (no pun intended) and why it's not included by default I shall never know.
So it all looks well and good and pretty and handsome (kind of), but what's it like when it comes down the all important take-out; that is, the assassination; that is, killing the process? Well, before you can do any sort of killing you need to know what you're killing. Some pieces of less well-known software for example, will not have a company name, and therefore no description either, so if you've not got a clear process name (if it's dodgy then it probably won't be clear) then you've no real way of knowing what you're doing. Apart from simply taking a shot in the dark, that is; which you really don't want to be doing. So what's the solution?
It's a 'Search Online' option, accessible by simply right-clicking on a process. This opens up a new window in your default browser which searches Google with the process title. What does Google know though? A lot (well, the Internet knows a lot, I should say). Before I used this software there was an occasion where my parents' computer was subject to multiple viruses, and an imitation of a genuine anti-virus had been installed on their system (it was trying to look like AVG - not a bad disguise either), under the name of 'Personal Antivirus' (never install this if you come across it). I looked in Windows Task Manager and noticed a process I didn't recognise (pav.exe), Googled it, and found out several ways to easily remove it. The fact of the matter is that it's extremely unlikely you'll ever be the only victim to an attack, so online solutions are practically always available. There are several online libraries which cover every process out there by using user feedback to decipher whether or not these processes are genuine or not. You'll soon know what you're dealing with, and if it is bad then the first process in removing it from your computer will most likely be to kill the process. In 'Personal Explorer' just hit the cross button on the main toolbar and, should the option still be ticked as default, you'll be asked to confirm the kill, before waving goodbye.
Of course this programme can also be used for processes that you feel are just taking up a bit too much memory for your liking. Or perhaps you've had a bad day at work and feel like taking it out on someone; let that someone be your computer. Just make sure you know what it is you're taking your frustration out on before you get too trigger happy. There are a good few other options available within this little gem of a programme but I don't want to give any spoilers, so I'll let you find them for yourselves.
In terms of accessibility, it's just a case of running the .exe file that you get in the zip package. You can easily assign 'Process Explorer' to 'replace task manager' from the options menu, and this is a seamless procedure, and a very useful one too. Updating, as far as I can tell, has to be done manually online, but isn't exactly a regular occurrence so don't worry to much about keeping up with the times on that one. As with any piece of software it does take up memory itself, though I found it never peaked 10k which is perfectly reasonable. In an application like this I feel it's also important to consider the help section; it's not the best, but considering the size of the programme it is reasonable. As with most Microsoft help sections I find it can be quite tedious, with what appears to be bundles of information, but, conveniently, never actually what you're looking for. Nonetheless, it's still a decent reference for first-time users.
Overall I can't really fault this programme too much. When you consider that it's completely free, it's tiny, and it adds so much to such a simple part of a Windows operating system, you do begin to really appreciate it. A simple and yet very effective design makes for easy process management, and the online searching facility is another piece of genius for me. It's a top piece of software and one that I'd fully recommend you take advantage of - if you've had enough of those computer crashers thinking they're all that, then your solution is here. No joke.
On the other hand, I walked down a street where the houses were numbered 64K, 128K, 256K, 512K and 1MB. That was a trip down memory lane...
Process Explorer is, once again, a free application I have downloaded off www.download.com, one of CNET's websites. The purpose of this piece of software is give more information than the standard Windows Task Manager, and even to replace it if you so wish. The file on Download.com is 1.5MB, and with broadband only takes seconds to download. The programme is from Microsoft, although actually made by a company called Sysinternals that Microsoft 'swallowed'. On a side note there are a couple of other useful programmes available on their website. The programme is unfortunately not compatible with Vista but is fine with XP. It is hard to go into a huge amount of depth with this review for the simple reason:
* I am limited by my computer knowledge- Process Explorer has a lot of functions for advanced users that I won't even pretend to understand.
That does not sound like the basis for a recommendation, but it is a worthwhile and useful programme for intermediate users and I will explain why!
So what's the benefit to using the programme? Well, the first major difference I noticed is that when you load up Process Explorer you are shown everything that is currently loaded up on your computer (ie. all applications that may be idle in the background). Ever wondered why your computer is slow or your hard disk is working overtime and Task Manager shows no applications are running (I have)? Well, Process Explorer will show you- broken down into the programmes themselves. It really couldn't be clearer. I have often looked at Task Manager thinking which file (under processes) is linked to which programme and again Process Explorer tells you. You can even get further detail in the form of the dll files and threads that are linked to a particular programme- although to be honest we are moving into unfamiliar territory for me.
Process Explorer colour codes processes and also shows CPU usage, company name, version of the process, if it is verified and other information. One glance told me I had a file loading from software I wasn't using, yet was using resource anyway, so I uninstalled that software. It is easy to see if every process is one that you have loaded yourself and should be running, or you know nothing about ('own' applications are coloured purple) and hence enable you to identify possible spyware etc. You can even right click on anything and Google it to find out more information (although this was always manually possible before). A lot of software may be running in the background and slowing your system without you even realising- process explorer makes it easy to see this.
There is an option to replace Windows Task Manager with Process Explorer, and I have used that option as I believe it to be a far superior piece of software- it gives more information and allows you to delve into what processes are running on your system (if you are interested?!). I haven't *had* to use it that often because, touch wood, my system has been stable and running efficiently. But, it addresses many issues that I have had in the past when Task Manager has not been up to the job. It is definitely of more interest to advanced users though- the more advanced the more I think you can get out of it. Being an intermediate(ish) user myself, I have still found it useful, and can see that it is an excellent tool. Process Explorer is free and highly recommended, as behind a somewhat old school appearance is an up to date and useful programme.
Note: Comodo Firewall Pro (see my other review) also lets you see a list of active processes to let you know what is going on behind the scenes.
Shows information about which handles and DLLs processes have opened or loaded.