How-to: Increase the Reliability of a Windows PC

Windows LogoOr: Realising You’ve Installed Too Much Software

There’s an urban myth that any version of Microsoft Windows has and effective ceiling of about 30 concurrently programs, after which the whole thing becomes an unstable mess. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it does appear true that the more software you install in Windows, including the current Windows 7, the more unstable it becomes.

Out-of the-box, the basic install of Windows will carry on behaving itself pretty much for life. If you can get by on Internet Explorer, Wordpad, Media Player and Paint, install nothing and worry not. But that’s not how life is.

Install almost anything else – third party or Microsoft’s own – and you add layers of libraries and executables all competing for system resources such as memory graphics and disk. These have all been programmed by thousands of individuals around the world, in different languages, using different compilers, to different standards. Testing may be more or less rigorous for each package. Bug fixes change software behaviour and can introduce new and different bugs. The behaviour of any given package on your individual machine with it’s combination of hardware and drivers is difficult to predict.

For all that Microsoft offers an optional certification program for software and hardware in Windows 7, this still won’t – indeed cannot – test against how a specific piece of hardware or software will interact with other hardware and software, particularly those packages that haven’t been through the optional certification.

Two things amplify this uncertainty effect:

  • Windows is a semi-open platform in that anyone, including the enthusiastic amateur, can write applications for it.
  • Private companies and organisations also produce custom-made software for internal and public use, little of which goes through Microsoft certification since it is not provided under commercial licenses.

The miracle is not that Windows crashes with predictable frequency (about the only thing you can predict), but that Windows actually runs at all!

There is some advice frequently touted by Microsoft and others aimed at reducing the likelihood of crashes. Just consider the efficacy of this advice in light of what we’ve just said:

  • ‘Don’t buy any hardware that has not passed Windows 7 certification and does not carry the Certified for Windows 7 logo.’
    That doesn’t guarantee the quality of the drivers software or the reliability with your particular system
  • ‘Avoid shareware and freeware that’s written by small software houses and individuals if you can.’
    Why? Individual programmers who are either hobbyists or dependent for their livelihoods can produce higher quality software than commercial hacks pushing their x-hundred lines of code out the door each week
  • ‘Avoid installing trialware that will sit unused on your PC and expire after a while.’
    Well, that goes for the ‘crapware’ that the PC manufacturers and commercial software vendors pre-load and bundle as up-sell offers. Stop it! You’re part of the problem!
  • ‘Install only software that you’ll actually use!’
    This is true; you can increase the reliability of any Windows PC by decreasing the layers of potentially incompatible software applications, particularly those that install what we once called ‘terminate and stay resident’ components to the SysTray.

So our advice is to audit your own software and thin the inventory to the minimum number of packages you need to carry out your daily tasks. This isn’t so easy on a shared or family PC, but it’s even more valuable to try. AJS

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