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TECHNOLOGY
The Best Things on the Web Are Free

Why does Windows get slower over time?

By Jay Dougherty 

Washington, April 10 (DPA) If you use Windows, you know the story: the months pass, and your once-snappy computer becomes sluggish, unstable, or unpredictable.
The natural impulse is to blame Windows itself. The phenomenon is so well known and widespread that some in the industry have even coined a term for it: "Windows rot." The idea is that, for lack of a specific cause, Windows just performs worse the longer you use it.

The fact is, though, a lot of Windows woes are preventable - if you know how. Windows rot is the predictable result of actions that users tend to perform without knowing how it will impact their Windows-based PCs. So what can you do to prevent Windows rot? Here are some solutions.

Do not install too many fonts

Every font you install in Windows uses memory. If you go through a period of being font crazy and stuff your Windows system full of every typeface you can find, you'll soon have hundreds of fonts installed - and a very slow computer.

Too many fonts especially take a toll on Windows startup. Systems with many fonts installed can take up to five minutes or more just to boot up, and their hard disks will continue thrashing as programs are loaded and used. Even a Windows computer with one gigabyte of memory (RAM) can easily become overtaxed when several hundred typefaces are called upon to load each time Windows starts.

You may have a lot of fonts on your Windows computer without your even knowing it. Sometimes choosing a "full installation" of popular office, desktop publishing, or graphics programs can choke your computer by installing dozens of typefaces.

To see how many fonts you have installed, open the Windows Control Panel and double-click the Fonts icon. If you're having concerns about performance and your font list goes on and on, you've found the culprit. Select fonts you know you don't need, right-click, and choose Delete.

To keep fonts from impacting your system's performance, don't install more than 200 - 500 tops. If you need more, consider using a font manager that allows you to install fonts in groups and remove them when you don't need them.

Do not install and uninstall lots of software

It doesn't seem fair, but the truth is the more software you install and uninstall from Windows, the more sluggish your computer will get. That's because too many program leave their traces even after they're removed. Those traces exist in registry entries that aren't removed, program folders that do not get deleted, and even components of installed applications that are intentionally left behind when the programs are uninstalled.

And then there are also inevitably uninstallations that go awry, leaving you with programs that were not successfully removed by the uninstall routine and that can no longer be removed completely because the program's entry no longer exists in the Add/Remove programs section - or doesn't work.

Bottom line: If you want your Windows PC to remain in top shape, be careful about what you install - and use only the programs you need.

Do not install "warez" or pirated software from Internet newsgroups or file sharing services.

Aside from the fact that downloading "warez," pirated software, and copyrighted music for free is illegal, it's also dangerous - a sure way to get you a Windows computer that's plagued with all sorts of spyware, malware, and perhaps viruses that will infect your computer and slow it down.

Although you may find pirated software on the Internet that is identical to what you'd buy in the store, other applications are bound to be vehicles that unscrupulous hackers use to get their nefarious program code onto your PC. Why take that chance?

Avoid shady Web sites.

Do you regularly surf the net looking for freebies and great deals? Look at porn or frequent gaming sites? Watch out. Such sites are notorious hangouts for purveyors of adware and spyware. Some of these programs can and will infiltrate your computer when you visit these shady sites, and before you know it, your PC will be moving slower.

If that happens, be sure you use an antispyware tool or run a spyware scanner regularly.

Do not install games you download from the Internet.

Gaming sites - especially those that promise lots of free downloads are tremendously popular - and sometimes tremendously dangerous. As with porn sites, some of these gaming venues harbor spyware and malware - software that will infect your system, run in the background without your knowledge, track your usage of the Internet, and bring your system to a crawl.

Be suspicious of freeware and shareware.

Most freeware and shareware does not contain spyware or other malicious code. But freeware and shareware applications tend to be produced on a budget - or with no budget at all. 

Consequently, testing of applications is sparse or nonexistent, and plenty of free programs are so poorly written that they can negatively impact your PC's performance. So be careful about what you install. Try to read reviews of freeware before you turn your PC over to it.

In general, Henry David Thoreau's golden rule of life - "simplify, simplify" - applies to computer users as much as it does to philosophers. If you can slim reduce what you need on your Windows computer to the bare essentials - and forego the untested and unproven - you'll end up with a computer that works as well on the third year that you have it as well as it did on the third day.

The Best Things on the Web are Free

Washington: (DPA) You spend a lot of time surfing the Internet and working with e-mail. Why not feel sure that you're using the best tools available?
The Web is the one area of technology where free software is almost the norm - and frequently best of class. There are so many free applications out on the Web that help you surf better, work with e-mail better, and also keep your computer safer that the difficulty is in finding the best. While there are plenty of worthy contenders, consensus is moving strongly in favor of the following programs.

Google's Gmail

Google made a splash with Gmail ( http://www.gmail.com) when it originally announced that users would get a whopping 1 gigabyte of storage space with their Gmail accounts. That amount is now up to 2.6 gigabytes - and growing.

What's even better is that Gmail has overcome the bane of most free e-mail providers: spam. Gmail's built-in anti-spam tools really work - so well, in fact, that many Gmail users consider their Gmail address as their primary e-mail account, since most effective anti- spam tools for traditional e-mail programs are fee-based.

Gmail also now offers POP access, meaning that you can configure and use Outlook, Outlook Express, or other traditional e-mail programs to handle your Gmail. The only downside to the whole Gmail experience is the Google ads you'll see reading your mail on the Gmail site. The ads appear to the right of messages - easy enough to ignore.

Firefox

If you're like most people, you've probably heard of Mozilla's Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com) - the Web browser that's giving Microsoft's Internet Explorer a run for its money - but you haven't tried it. There's good reason to change that.

Previous browser challengers seem always to have been bested by Internet Explorer in one way or another. But Firefox really is different. It can be an Internet Explorer work-alike for those giving it a whirl - even brining over your Explorer favorites without a hitch.

But the little things are what set Firefox apart. Firefox tends not to get bogged down over time, beset by spyware or other issues that occasionally prevent Internet Explorer from loading pages correctly - or at all. Firefox also prevents Web sites from annoying you. It's easy to configure the browser to block not only pop-up ads but most ads in general. The browser also prevents other tricks - such as "sticky" sites, status bar tickers, or links that hide where they're taking you.

Firefox is just as smooth and fast as Internet Explorer - and virtually everything can be done with the keyboard as well as with the mouse, making it commendably accessible. The browser is a small download and gets along well on the same system with other browsers, so it's well worth at least a tryout.

RoboForm

Sure, the free Google toolbar has form-filling capabilities, but they're not nearly as nice as those of the veteran RoboForm (http://www.roboform.com). With RoboForm you get more sophisticated form recognition - sometimes Google's form-filler toolbar function refuses to recognize legitimate Web forms - and a host of other Web- related time-savers. Among them is a password vault, complete with encryption, phishing fighters, backup ability, and synchronization. Add in the ability to define custom field names that the normal form filler might not recognize, and you have a power-packed tool that no Web browser should be without.

Mozilla Thunderbird

It's been a while since a world-class e-mail program has come along to challenge the likes of Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express. That's what we have, though, in Mozilla's Thunderbird ( http://www.mozilla.org/products/thunderbird), which does for free most of what users like about Microsoft's expensive Outlook program.

While few complain about the full-fledged Outlook, its best e-mail handling features are matched by Thunderbird. Thunderbird is just as intuitive and provides users with effective anti-spam technology that doesn't require registering to keep current. Thunderbird is strong on search and, like Outlook Express, has a built-in newsreader. Thunderbird actually bests Outlook with its sophisticated RSS feed handling. RSS feeds can be delivered directly to your inbox.

The other usual must-have e-mail capabilities - spell check, anti- phishing controls, and easy configuration - are present as well.

StartUp Monitor

StartUp Monitor ( http://www.mlin.net/StartupMonitor.shtml) is not necessarily a application only for Web users, but it is one that can help you prevent your Windows computer - and your Internet browsing - from slowing down over time.

The main culprit behind Windows computer that become slower are startup programs - little applications that insert themselves into your Windows startup procedure and remain there the entire time your computer is on. Although small, these applications can have a big impact on performance, as they chew up valuable clock cycles and, along with other startup programs, eventually degrade performance of your entire PC.

Startup Monitor sits quietly in the background and warns you whenever a program tries to install itself as a startup process. You'll have the option to allow the process or deny it.

The landscape of free software is constantly changing. Some programs cease to be developed and others go to more of a fee-based system. But the programs here are likely to remain free - and supported - for some time, since they're created by large companies with diverse revenue streams and built on a principle innovation at no cost to the end user.

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