Windows Task Manager is a great tool you can use to perform a variety of troubleshooting and maintenance tasks on your computer. It might look a little overwhelming at first, but once you understand the basics you will be surprised to discover how easy and powerful it can be. Closing unresponsive programs, checking the usage of your system resources, looking at your background processes to see if you can find that pesky ad-ware…. all this is available by pressing three little buttons at the same time: Ctrl, Alt and Delete!
Let’s look at how to access Task Manager first. As mentioned above, the easiest and most common way is by pressing the Ctrl, Alt and Delete keys on your keyboard at the same time. This brings up the following screen (might have slightly different options depending on which version and setup of Windows you are using):
Select the lowermost option “Start Task Manager” and you’ll get your Windows desktop back with Task Manager open as your active window. Another easy way to access Task Manager is to right click your mouse on the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen, and select “Start Task Manager” from the drop-down menu.
Now let’s see what we can do. If you haven’t used Task Manager much, it will default to the list of software or applications that are currently running. These are active applications that you have manually run by double clicking a desktop shortcut or clicking on a Start Menu or Taskbar shortcut. An important thing to note here is that these are completely separate from background processes (which we will cover next). If you close or exit an application it will not appear on this list. This list also shows you the status of running applications. If an application is running smoothly it will display “Running” under the “Status” column to the right of the application (“Task”) column. If it’s crashed and unresponsive, it will display “Not responding” instead. You can use the “End Task” button to the bottom right to end an application if it is not responsive, “Switch To” to make an application active (ie. to the front of your view), or “New Task” to run an application manually.
If you click on the “Processes” tab to the right of “Applications”, you will see the list of background processes that are running in Windows. These include those processes tied to running applications, processes that run silently in the background tied to hidden applications, and system processes which Windows needs to run. Now most background processes are either harmless or necessary, but occasionally you will have a virus and need to close the associated process. In this case you should look for weird process names – such as those that appear to be randomly generated – and process names obviously tied to ad-ware such as “My Shopping Net”.
We will cover more things you can do with Windows Task Manager in Part 2!