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Occasional Computing


Background Tasks

Whenever a PC is running, there are many tasks that are executed "in the background". That is, you may not see any evidence of their actions: There may be no window showing on the DeskTop, and no Tab in the Taskbar. There may also be no icon in the System Notification Area. However, be assured, there are many such tasks executing or standing-by in your machine.

Additionally, some programs, when first started, connect to databases on the internet to ensure that they are up-to-date, or have up-to-date information, and thus perform tasks which are not obvious.

A common example of this is some web browsers now have 'safe surfing' and/or 'anti-phishing' options which, when turned on, must obtain current information before they are fully functional.

Continuous Computing

For a computer that is running all the time, and always connected to the web, this is usually not a problem. If the tasks have been scheduled to begin at reasonable times (very late at night), they will not interfere with your work.

As an example, many anti-virus facilities schedule a weekly full-scan of all local hard drives to detect any problems. Typically, then, at the scheduled time, the program will start, query some website for any pending updates, download the updates, then scan the drives. This may take anywhere from minutes to hours to complete, depending on the size of the drives, the efficiency of the scanning program, etc., etc.

If the task is scheduled to begin at, say 4:00 am, then when you sit down to web-surf at 9:00 am, everything will be fine.

Occasional Computing

However, let's say that your computer isn't always on (it's either off, sleeping, or hibernating), or isn't always connected to the web: You only occasionally turn it on and use it for relatively short periods of time...

So, you start the computer and experience annoyingly slow response.

Here's what might be happening:

Scheduled Tasks
In order to ensure that the scheduled tasks perform their duty, they are often created with the options to:
What this means is, that while you're trying to do a quick Google search for a telephone number, your computer is busy trying to catch up on it's maintenance tasks (possibly several), for possibly many days, each time you restart it.

Then, when you're finished with your work (but the scheduled task's work has not completed) and you shutdown/sleep/hibernate the computer, the process is set to pickup where it left off the next time.

Recommendations

Therefore, if your computer usage is in the "occasional" category, I suggest the following:

Microsoft Windows Update

You can modify the default setting for Windows Update and select to "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them" (or some similar wording).

Other Software

There are many software packages that install scheduled tasks: Adobe Reader, iTunes, Sun Java, etc. If you can determine which are active on your system, and tune them as described, you'll experience improved responsiveness.

Warnings

Note that some of the suggested changes may produce warnings: For example, since Microsoft recommends fully automatic updates (rather than you choosing when to perform the updates), some security-checking programs will report that your security "may be compromised".

Just remember the changes you've made are legitimate deviations from the 'normal' situation, and enjoy a more responsive computing environment.
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