Windows 7 : Windows Management and Maintenance - Additional Tools

10/12/2013 7:42:59 PM

Besides the standard Control Panel, Computer Management, Administrative Tools and System Tools categories, there are several other important tools that you can use to manage and maintain Windows.

Task Manager

The Task Manager is one tool you’re bound to use frequently, perhaps more than any other. Whenever an application crashes, you believe you’re running some suspect process that you want to kill, or you want to check on the state of system resources (for example, RAM usage), you can use the Task Manager. Even as nothing more than an educational tool, the Task Manager is informative.

The fastest way to bring up the Task Manager in Windows 7 is to press Ctrl+Shift+Esc or to right-click over an empty area on the taskbar and select Task Manager from the pop-up menu. The Task Manager displays the last-used view by default; the first time you run it, it opens to the Applications tab (see Figure 1). However, if you want to find out in detail what’s happening inside your system, select the Processes tab, which we’ll discuss shortly.

Figure 1. The Task Manager shows you which applications are running and lets you terminate hung programs.

The Task Manager in Windows 7 has six tabs, up from five in Windows XP, but it does not include the Shut Down menu found in the Windows XP version. The six tabs are described next, in turn.

Applications Tab

Click the Applications tab to see a list of the programs currently running on the computer. Not a lot of information is displayed—only the application name and the status (running or not responding). However, this tab does provide a more complete report than you’ll get by glancing at the taskbar buttons or via the dialog box you see if you press Alt+Tab.

You can sort the list by clicking the column heads. If an application has multiple documents open, the application appears only once in the list, probably with the name of the document that is foremost at the time (has the focus). Some applications don’t comply with this single-document interface (SDI) approach, listing each new document as a separate application. Some examples of non-SDI applications are Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

From this list, you can kill a hung application. If an application has hung, it is probably reported in the list as Not Responding (although this is not always true). Click the End Task button to terminate the task. If a document is open and unsaved, and if, for some unexpected reason, the program responds gracefully to Windows’ attempt to shut it down (which is unlikely), you might see a dialog box asking whether you want to save the document. More likely, Windows 7 will just ask for confirmation to kill the application.

The Task Manager Is Stalled

If the Task Manager seems stuck (it doesn’t reflect newly opened or closed applications), it could be that you’ve inadvertently paused the Task Manager. Choose View, Update Speed, and then choose any setting other than Paused. Another approach, if you want to keep it paused, is to choose View, Refresh Now.

Patience, Grasshopper

Before you give an application its last rites, pause for a bit. In general, it’s not a good idea to kill an application if you can avoid doing so. Terminating an application can cause instability in the OS (even though it shouldn’t in most cases because of the kernel design). Or, at the least, you can lose data. Try “jiggling” the application in various ways, in hopes of being able to close it gracefully first. Switch to it and back a few times. Give it a little time. Maybe even do some work in another application for a few minutes, or take a trip to the water cooler. Try pressing Esc while the application is open, or, if you notice that one program seems to stop responding when another program is open, close the other program first.

When executing some macros in Word, for example, I noticed that one of my macros hangs for no apparent reason. It seems to crash Word. So, I killed it from the Task Manager, losing some work. I later realized the solution was to press Esc, which terminated the macro. Having slow network connections and attempting to link to nonexistent web pages, printers, or removable media can also cause apparent hangs. Try opening a CD or DVD drive door, removing a network cable, or performing some other trick to break a loop a program might be in before resorting to killing the program from the Task Manager. This is especially true if you’ve been working on a document and you might potentially lose data.

Some applications will so intensely perform calculations that the Task Manager will list them as Not Responding. If you suspect this, give the program 5 minutes or so to complete its thinking; I’ve learned the hard way to be patient with some applications.

Notice that you can also switch to an application in the list or run a new one. Just double-click the application you want to switch to (or click Switch To). Similarly, to run a new application, click New Task (Run), and enter the executable name or use the Browse dialog box to find it.

Sending the Task Manager to the Background

If the Task Manager doesn’t drop into the background when you click another program, choose Options and uncheck the Always on Top setting..

Processes Tab

Whereas the Application tab displays only the full-fledged applications you’re running, the Processes tab, shown in Figure 2, shows all running processes, including programs (for example, Virtual PC), services (for example, Event Log), or subsystems. In addition to just listing active processes, Windows 7 displays the user or security context (that is, the user, service, or system object under which the process is executing) for each process. Also, by default, the percentage of CPU utilization and memory utilization in bytes is listed. You can change the displayed information through the View, Select Columns command.

Figure 2. The Task Manager’s Processes tab shows you which processes are running and lets you terminate hung processes.


If, for some reason, the Task Manager can’t seem to kill off a program that you started, try logging off and then back on. If it’s still there or if you don’t want to log off, try this procedure:

Click Start, All Programs, Accessories.

Right-click Command Prompt and select Run As Administrator. Confirm the User Account Control dialog box.

Type the command taskkill /f /im program.exe but enter the program’s actual name as it’s displayed in the Processes tab in place of program.exe. Do not use this method to try to kill a system service. Instead, use the Services tab.

Almost any listed process can be terminated by selecting it and then clicking the End Process button. There are some system-level processes that even an administrator doesn’t have sufficient privileges to kill.


At the bottom of the Processes tab is a button labeled Show Processes from All Users. If you click this, you can see not just the processes under your user account and those of the system but also those of other active users. Plus, when displayed, you can also terminate them using the End Process button. This button is protected by UAC.

You might also discover at times that an application will fail to be killed, typically due to a programming error or a memory glitch. In those cases, you should reboot the system. You might find that sometimes a hung application also will prevent a normal shutdown. If your attempt to reboot fails, you’ll have to resort to manually turning the power off and then back on. Hopefully, you saved often and didn’t lose too much work.

Altering the Priority of a Task

In the beginning, all tasks are created equal. Well, most of them, at least. All the processes under your user account’s security context will have Normal priority by default. Most kernel or system processes will have High priority. You might want to increase or decrease the priority of a process, though changing the priority typically isn’t necessary. To do so, right-click the task and choose the new priority through the Set Priority submenu.


Avoid altering the priority of any task listed with a username of SYSTEM. This indicates the process is in use by the kernel. Altering the execution priority of such processes can render your system nonfunctional. Fortunately, process priority settings are not preserved across a reboot, so if you do change something and the system stops responding, you can reboot and return to normal. In some cases, raising the priority of an application can improve its performance. However, increase the priority in single steps instead of automatically setting it to the maximum. Throwing another top-priority application into the mix of kernel-level activities can render the system dead, too.

You can assign six priority levels to processes: Realtime, High, AboveNormal, Normal, BelowNormal, and Low. Realtime is restricted for use by administrators. You should keep away from High because it can interfere with essential OS operations (especially if you have several user processes set to High).

Services Tab

The Services tab separates services from other memory-resident processes. Use it to quickly determine the services installed on your system and which ones are currently running. It lists services by name, description, status, and group. Right-click a service to stop or start it.

Performance Tab

The Performance tab of the Task Manager indicates important conditions of your OS. It shows a dynamic overview of your computer’s performance, including CPU usage, memory usage, and totals of handles, threads, and processes (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Performance tab displays some interesting statistics and a chart of CPU and physical memory usage over time.


If you have a multiprocessor or multicore computer and you want to assign a task to a given processor, right-click the process and choose the Set Affinity command. Choosing this command guarantees that the process receives CPU time only from the CPU you choose.

From the Performance tab, the View menu includes CPU History and Show Kernel Times. The former command is used to show different graphs for each CPU (only useful on multiple-CPU systems). The latter command sets the display to show kernel activity in red and user activity in green on the CPU and memory usage. If your system has two or more CPUs or a dual- or quad-core CPU, you will see a separate CPU gauge for each physical CPU or CPU core. (How cool is that?)


System cache is the total current swap and RAM area allocated for system operations. When your computer has to go to a disk cache to access information, it significantly slows down overall system performance, which is why having more system RAM is almost always better.

Although CPU usage is interesting, the most important of these numbers is memory usage. You can easily check in the Physical Memory area to see how much memory is installed in your system, how much is available for use by applications before disk caching begins, and how much the system is using for caching.

The Kernel Memory area reports the memory in use strictly by the OS for running the OS internals. Nonpaged kernel memory is available only to the OS. This memory is in physical RAM and can’t be paged out to the hard disk because the OS always needs fast access to it, and it needs to be highly protected. Paged memory can be used by other programs when necessary.

In the System section, you can see the number of handles, threads, and processes. Handles are tokens or pointers that let the OS uniquely identify a resource, such as a file or Registry key, so that a program can access it. A thread represents a single subprocess. An increasing number of programs are multithreaded, running multiple subprocesses at the same time. Multithreading applications are designed to run better on multiprocessor or multicore processors such as the AMD Phenom and Athlon 64 X2, Intel Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad, and others.

Most of these size reports are of use only to programmers. However, the charts can offer strong, telltale signs of system overstressing. If you see, for example, that your page file usage is consistently nearing the top of its range, you are running too many programs. If the CPU is topped out most of the time, you also could be in trouble. Perhaps you have a background task running that is consuming way too much CPU time. An example could be a background program doing statistical analysis or data gathering.


When the Task Manager is running, even if minimized, a green box appears in the notification area, indicating CPU usage. It’s a miniature bar graph.

Networking Tab

The Networking tab displays a bandwidth consumption history graph. As network operations occur, this graph will plot the levels of usage. If the system has two network adapters, you can determine which one is active, and separate graphs show activity on each adapter.

Users Tab

The Users tab shows a list of all active users on this system or connected via the network. From here, you can disconnect a network user, log off a local user, or send a user a text message. The Users tab will be visible only if you are not participating in a Windows 2000/Windows Server 2003 Active Directory–based network or have not disabled Fast User Switching if participating in a workgroup.

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