Langa Letter: Make Windows XP Self-Maintaining - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
11:18 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Make Windows XP Self-Maintaining

Fred Langa explains how to automate Windows XP tools and tasks that normally require manual intervention.

It started as a small, offhand remark. As part of a discussion on another topic, I wrote, "I let my system do a full automated defrag every night (via Task Scheduler)...." To my surprise, I got a flood of reader E-mail, all along the lines of this example:

I'm using WinXP Pro and I managed to schedule a Defrag using the Task Scheduler, but at best it only opens the Defrag application but doesn't automatically start the Defrag process. How do you automatically start the defrag process using the Task Scheduler? I found one article somewhere in MS Knowledge Base stating that the Defrag application requires user intervention to actually start it.
-- Charlie

The problem isn't in Defrag, which is indeed fully schedulable, but rather in the inconsistent way that Microsoft built front ends for XP's self-maintenance tools. For instance, XP includes a complete, automated "Wizard" for its Backup applet; the Wizard walks you through the process of setting up fully-automated backups via Task Scheduler. But there's no similar Wizard or built-in hooks to Task Scheduler for other tools, like Defrag.

This can create a kind of vicious circle of underuse for those latter tools. For example, Defrag can take hours to run, especially if it hasn't been run in a while. If the only obvious way to run it is to trigger it manually, many users won't bother because it's inconvenient and ties up the PC for lengthy periods. Over time, the PC's files become more and more fragmented--scattered around the hard drive, piecemeal, instead of being stored in neatly contiguous wholes--which leads to a loss in drive responsiveness, extra wear, extra noise, and heat; and which can make some file-recovery operations (such as undeletes) less reliable. Because the drive is getting more and more fragmented, running Defrag would now take even longer to run, so the users put it off even more--on and on.

In contrast, when Defrag is used regularly, it usually only takes minutes, not hours, to run to completion, restoring normal performance and reducing wear, noise, and file-recovery problems. But that first use of Defrag can actually take several hours, so you'd think that Microsoft would have made it easy to run Defrag as an automated task, say, in the middle of the night when the PC wasn't in use and when it wouldn't matter if it took a while to complete.

Microsoft didn't, but we will. Indeed, it's possible to fully automate Defrag and myriad other tasks in XP that don't have a built-in scheduler.

In the rest of this article, we'll start with the basics to make sure everyone, even those new to Windows, are on board. But we'll end with some advanced ideas that can let your PC perform multiple automated unattended maintenance tasks of arbitrary complexity, and in whatever sequence you choose--and all for free, using only the tools built into XP. For example, if you want to have your PC automatically wake itself up every night at 3 a.m., clean up your hard drive, backup all your files, defrag every disk or partition in your system, and then go back to sleep--no problem! In fact, it's easy.

Let me show you how simple it can be, using Defrag as the working example.

1 of 5
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of the Cloud Report
As the use of public cloud becomes a given, IT leaders must navigate the transition and advocate for management tools or architectures that allow them to realize the benefits they seek. Download this report to explore the issues and how to best leverage the cloud moving forward.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of November 6, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll