How windows works

Some things are best left alone, and you would be forgiven for thinking that this rule applies to Windows Services. But the usually unobtrusive processes that secretly govern the way your PC’s applications interoperate really aren’t that scary, if you know what you are doing. In fact, you can free up RAM, improve your system performance and ultimately make them work for you. So it is time to open up the Windows Management Console labelled Services and see what is running.

How windows works

Services are a fundamental component of the architecture of Windows, and their number and variety has grown over successive releases of the operating system. Many people have no idea they are even there, and those that do tend to be afraid to touch them.

This is no bad thing given that stopping the wrong service can reduce your system to ashes. But hopefully, by the end of this feature you will see that they are mostly benign components that go towards ensuring Windows functions effectively. As well as looking at the most prominent services in Windows XP Professional, we have picked out a few you might not have installed.

That may lead you to tweak a few services for a more efficient system, but even if you decide your default settings are generally sufficient for your needs, you will feel more comfortable with your knowledge of how Windows works.

What is a service?

In many respects, a service is not particularly special; just like a normal application it runs within Windows and consumes resources and CPU time in the same way. The difference is that services tend to perform background system-level tasks and therefore need to be slightly better protected from being shut down at random. Consequently, they do not show on the taskbar and can only be directly manipulated safely from the special Services panel (see Getting Started below).

Get the message

For the most part, you can go about your daily business without being aware that services are there, but there are a few exceptions. The Windows Messenger service famously leapt into the public eye when it was identified as a means of getting pop-ups onto your Desktop. Spammers exploited that, and many ‘experts’ urged people to disable it.

However, there is a large amount of interoperation within Windows. Many services rely on others to function properly, so you often need to be aware that switching off one may have a big effect on apparently unrelated processes.

Those that disabled Windows Messenger were none too happy to discover that it affected the communicating abilities of other services. So, ensure you make backups and set system restore points before doing anything with a service.

Getting started

There are two ways of accessing and manipulating Windows Services, but only one of them provides a safe way to do it.

The first is the Windows Management Console labelled Services, and that’s the program you should always use. There are several ways to reach this. You can go to Start, select Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and then Services. Or go to Start, select All Programs and then Administrative Tools. I prefer a shortcut, so I place the Administrative Tools menu on my Start button menu. To do that, follow these steps: Right-click on the taskbar, select Properties, click on the Start menu tab and then on the Customise button. Click on the Advanced tab and then scroll down the Start menu items list. At the bottom is an entry labelled System Administrative Tools.

It has three sub-options and I use the one labelled Display on the All Programs menu and the Start menu.

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