Software // Enterprise Applications
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1/7/2004
02:48 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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The Explorer: Resource Leaks, Part Three

Five Steps That May Plug Your Leaks, Once And For All.

Step One: Kill The Bad Apps
If your car had a tire with a slow leak that adversely affected your car's handling as the tire deflated; and eventually caused you to have to stop and refill the tire when it eventually went flat, would you say, "This stupid car is impossible to drive! What lousy handling! This car is junk! I keep having to reboot -- er, refill -- the tire!"

Of course not. The car isn't the problem -- it's the tire. You'd repair or replace the tire, and the problem would be solved.

We can debate forever whether Windows should be able to overcome a severe memory leak caused by a bad application, but the fact is, if you avoid the most notorious software -- the ones with the worst memory leaks or that are resource pigs -- you avoid the worst most memory problems, simple as that. So: Step One is to identify any very leaky or resource-hogging apps you have; and eliminate them if you can.

The various resource-measurement techniques described in Part One will let you identify any seriously leaky or piggish software you have. Some special areas you may wish to focus on include graphics programs (readers mention Adobe Photoshop a lot); suites of apps that were not originally written for Windows but were "ported" at a later date from some other platform (the Corel WordPerfect suite gets mentioned quite a bit in this regard); streaming media apps (RealPlayer gets fingered a lot); and various instant-messaging apps (AIM and ICQ top the list of reader-identified problems here).

If you find a bad app on your system, make sure you have the latest version and all patches and upgrades. Check with the vendor's FAQ or Web site to see if there are work-arounds or other fixes. If, after all that, it's still leaky or is still a pig, then you have to weigh the benefits offered by the program versus the trouble it's causing you: Is this "bad tire" worth driving on? If it isn't, dump it and find an alternative.

Or maybe you'll decide your bad app is worth the trouble it causes. That's up to you; at least you'll know what's going on, and will be making an informed decision about the app, rather than getting frustrated with seemingly mysterious problems, or perhaps blaming something else that isn't really the source of the problem.

Or maybe you'll find an app that's causing problems, but that you can't get rid of: For example, perhaps a corporate mandate forces you to use a leaky or piggish program. If you carefully document your test results and present the results to IT management, you may be able to bring about change: IT departments want system stability, too, and if you can demonstrate that dumping a bad app will improve stability, you'll be making their lives easier, too.

As you check your software, don't forget about those that auto-start at bootup: Use MSCONFIG (or navigate to START/PROGRAMS/ACCESSORIES/SYSTEM TOOLS/SYSTEM INFORMATION/TOOLS/SYSTEM CONFIGURATION UTILITY/STARTUP(TAB)" and make sure that your system is auto-loading only apps your truly want and need. Some readers have almost entirely solved their low-resource problems just by weeding out leaky or resource-hogging junk from of their startup sequence.

In any case, the following steps will help further stabilize any system, with or without very leaky apps:

Step Two: Take Control of Your Virtual Memory/Swapfile
On its own, Windows uses automatic settings for your virtual memory -- your swap file -- that are at best just OK. If you're willing to take a little time, you can do better. The column, Real-World Answers About Virtual Memory, runs through all the whys and hows of setting up a swap file that's faster and requires less housekeeping that the standard Windows variety. Spend some time getting your swapfile right and you'll reap the rewards for a long time to come.

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