Warning! Some information on this page is older than 5 years now. I keep it for reference, but it probably doesn't reflect my current knowledge and beliefs.
Thu 01 Jul2010
Typically Linux users spend much time dealing with details of their system while Windows users blame all errors on bad Microsoft and Bill Gates, especially nowadays as for more and more people computer usage shrinks only to a web browser. But sometimes it's nice and useful to look into the system, deeper than to the list of files on disk or installed programs in Control Panel / Add or remove programs. Here are some Windows applications that may help with that (use Google to find them by name):
Starting with tools that ship with Windows itself, we have:
Startup - list of programs that start with Windows. You can access it via Run / "msconfig". Many programs add unnecesary entries there during installation. It slows down system startup, so it's worth disabling some of them like the one added by Adobe Reader, Java JRE and OpenOffice.
List of services - special applications that run in the background all the time, like daemons in Linux. You can access it via Administrative Tools / Services or Run / "services.msc". It may be good idea to turn some of them off, if only you know which ones are not necessary.
More information about the system can be revealed with free programs, like:
There is a category of applications that provide comprehensive information about installed hardware and system. In order of being my favourite:
Everest Home Edition, HWiNFO32, System Information for Windows (SIW).
Shell extensions are libraries installed in the system to integrate into file manager (e.g. file context menu). Sometimes they cause problems, like the freeze of Total Commander in my 64-bit Windows 7, which turned out to be caused by a shell extension from Sony-Ericsson. To see the list of shell extensions and disable some of them, use ShellExView. Warning: If you have a 64-bit system, there are separate lists of 32-bit and 64-bit shell extensions. To see the latter, run ShellExView with "/wow64" parameter.
Scanning for malicious software can involve more than using an antivirus application. To look for suspiciuos entries in the system, you can use Spybot Search & Destroy (it looks like antivirus program), HijackThis or a-squared HiJackFree (these just show list of some system items).
Installed audio and video codecs is another system repository where something can go wrong, so there probably exist some programs to manage it. I've never dealt with that, I just install newest version of K-lite Codec Pack. If some movie doesn't work, I open in in VLC - a codecless player.
Performance counters is probably even more exotic topic. I use Samurize to show CPU, memory, network and disk usage as small graphs in the screen corner. Some day counters responsible for network traffic stopped working and that's how I've found out about Extensible Performance Counter List - a program with the list of counters where you can enable and disable them.
Do you know any other tools like these or other types of system information that are worth seeing?