While some anoraks get bent out of shape every time I quote how many people use what operating system, it’s safe to say that currently the majority of New Zealanders use Windows-based computers.

Most machines are bought from appliance retailers and the buyers are stuck with whatever configuration the manufacturers – or even shop assistants – have set up on the machines. I’ll go out on a limb and say most Windows boxes come with far too much fluff installed, usually to the detriment of performance.

Most new machines are powerful and have plenty of memory, which initially masks this collateral damage. But it isn’t long before things go south.

I am constantly surprised at the amount of “extras” pre-installed on some brands of machines – the problem being buyers often leave things alone because they are afraid to disable or delete anything in case something stops working.

Machines often arrive at our workshops sporting pop-up dialogues advising trial versions of software long-since expired, with the client remarking it has been that way for ages and could we remove it.

I also find the methods some computer makers use to sell products a little shady. Many new machines these days come with trial versions of software like Microsoft Office, or anti-virus software. When these trials run out, naive users often buy the product because they think they are obliged to. Documentation is often ambiguous, adding to the confusion.

Usually this is because the reseller or computer manufacturer has cut a deal with the software companies, getting kickback for every title sold. Spread across thousands of machines, the gains are considerable, which is why it is a widespread and apparently acceptable practice among some retailers.

And this isn’t considering the rubbishware installed on many new machines. Instead of being helpful, mostly these programs slow things down. Most of the time services, programs and processes starting up with Windows can be safely disabled and set up to be manually started when needed, thus freeing up valuable resources like memory space and CPU cycles.

If you rarely use a particular piece of software, why have it running on startup? That’s like lugging a sack full of cement around just in case you might need some cement one day.

Typing MSCONFIG in the run dialogue on your computer opens a utility where you can easily disable some of this unnecessary stuff. If something breaks, simply go back and re-enable it.

Feel free to play around; you’ll be surprised how much performance can be enhanced by losing a few extraneous processes. Don’t be too reckless though. Adjust one thing at a time and if all seems fine, try another.

Stay away from Windows processes unless you know what you are doing.

That’s all very well for third-party applications, but what about Windows itself? Different versions have features that may or may not be installed by default. Buried in the “Programs” option in the Control Panel is an almost hidden dialogue that allows you to add and remove Windows features, like extra games, utilities and, on some higher-spec versions of Windows, even a fully- blown web server.

Given that most people never read the manual, just what comes bundled with each version of Windows is often a mystery.

For example, the most recent versions boast far more than the solitaire-type games, offering new titles like Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans and Purble Place.

These games and other features can be installed and others removed using this dialogue, so dig around and have fun making your version of Windows your own.

* Dave Thompson runs a computer-services company in Christchurch. Contact:

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