Software // Enterprise Applications
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11/4/2004
04:48 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: A New Way To Slim Down Windows XP, Including SP2

A classic tweaking tool that began life as the freeware 98 Lite gets updated to work with XP SP2. In tests, it helped slim down a Windows XP installation by more than 50%.

Windows has a well-deserved reputation as a large operating system. A standard installation of Windows XP (with nothing else installed) can easily occupy something in excess of 1.5 Gbytes of disk space. In part, that's because Windows is a general-purpose operating system. As such, it's a kind of kitchen sink software, with all manner of tools, capabilities, and functions thrown into the mix.

That trend started almost a decade ago when Microsoft built HTML rendering functions into Windows: What had previously been part of a separate application--a stand-alone browser--was now inside the operating system and available to any application or utility that wanted to use it.

That sounds like a good thing, and indeed it can be--sharing common functions can be a fine way to reduce overhead and simplify setup, installation, and maintenance. But there are downsides, too:

For example, users who installed a stand-alone browser (e.g., Netscape) ended up with needlessly complicated systems, carrying both the unwanted Internet Explorer code buried in the operating system, and the code for the stand-alone browser that duplicated many of the operating system functions.

More seriously, code-sharing also means problem sharing: Any coding errors, security flaws, or other problems in shared code can affect any or all of the components that access and make use of that code. This, in fact, is one of the reasons why Internet Explorer and Outlook Express--distributed together, and sharing some common code--became the primary infection vector for huge numbers of worms, viruses, and other malicious code.

So, why not just delete the offending software subsystems; for example, the browser engine? Microsoft originally asserted that the browsing subsystem couldn't be removed from the operating system without wrecking it, but a developer--Shane Brooks--proved it could be done. His elegant little hack became distributed as the freeware "98 Lite," and is still around today, along with some companion software that lets you add or remove other deeply buried parts of Win98 that otherwise can't readily be changed. (See examples.)

Over the years, Brooks' original tools gained polish and sophistication, growing into a family of "98lite" products. Incredibly, this now includes a tool that can trim Windows 98 down from its normal installation size of around 400 Mbytes to as little as 9 Mbytes! This ultra-lean version of the operating system is highly restricted in what it can do, of course; it's really meant for use in embedded controls and the like. But another version of 98lite can produce a desktop-capable version of Win98 that weighs in at only about 40 Mbytes, or about 1/10th the normal size. The whole 98lite software system works "on-the-fly," letting you select whatever combination of components you want at any given time; and all changes are reversible. (It's all available here, and 98lite costs $25.)

Windows 2000 and XP, with a different genealogy and core structure, were more of a challenge for the developers, but "lite" tools eventually were produced for them as well. (And with the extension of "lite" technology to these operating systems, the company changed its name to the more general "LitePC.")

Just last month, LitePC released a brand-new version of its XPlite software; this being fully SP2-compliant.

Given that XP is a fairly large operating system to begin with--and made even more so by SP2--I wanted to see what the new version of XPlite could do.

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