Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

A Little History; A Lot of Stupidity

The previous post (part three of four) is Naming Names (and Hiding Them) .

The icons you now see in what Windows refers to as the Task Bar were once known (in the days of DOS) as TSRs. This acronym stood for Terminate and Stay Resident, meaning the program ran (or just loaded) and stayed in memory. Which is exactly what these now-called tasks do. Why are they sitting there in memory? So they can run (or at least start to run) more quickly than if they had to be loaded from your hard disk. The question you need to ask—of each of these tasks—is, Do I really need this to sit in memory so it can run quicker?

Let’s look at one simple example (common to all of us) from Microsoft: the Master Volume control. How often do you need to adjust the sound volume (or change its settings)? Does it really need to sit in memory all the time? Well, I actually have TWO task icons for sound, the other is for my system’s SoundMax controller. And how often do I need either? At most once a week, after some stooge program has reset my sound levels. On the other hand, I do need access to these, so I could take them off the task bar and put them on the desktop. However, it would be simpler if they were accessed by looking at Programs, then Accessories. And why couldn’t I have been asked where I’d like them when they were first installed?

My netbook has a slow processor (1.6Mhz) and only one Gig of memory, so it’s not just an annoyance to discover so many tasks in memory: they take up well over half—551 out of 1024 Megabytes! By comparison, similar tasks take up a full 708MB on my 2Gig main computer! However, cramping the already smaller memory of my netbook slows it down more than the larger chunk taken out of my main computer. (The industry’s recommended solution to this wastefulness is that we buy more memory.)

What’s really stupid about unnecessary tasks using memory, is that the OS always creates additional virtual memory—on the hard disk! In other words, if a program needs more memory than the actual memory hardware, it will use the hard disk. So what’s the advantage of putting these irrelevant task-bar tasks in memory if other necessary tasks and programs have to be run from the hard disk due to lack of actual memory? I don’t know if that sounds stupid to you, but it does to me.


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