An online article that’s making the rounds right now is Aalaap Ghag’s “Guide to Useless Services”, which purports to be a list of the services running under Windows XP that exist only to slow you down (and thus can be shut off without a problem). After giving it a read, though, it seems that Mr. Ghag doesn’t have the slightest clue about the subject, and I’d honestly hate to be in the position of supporting any computer that has the misfortune of having his advice applied to it. Let’s demonstrate with a few examples.

His first entry, for the Computer Browser service, reads as follows: “Contrary to what it may sound like, disabling this service still allows you to browse a network in your office. And of course, you don’t need this at home. Disable it.” Alas, if you (like many homes these days) have more than one computer and expect to be able to share files or printers across them, then you’re screwing yourself; the Browser service is what allows you to use your Network Neighborhood by maintaining the master list of shareable resources on a network and letting computers find those resources. In fact, when he says “disabling this service still allows you to browse a network in your office,” this is only because another computer somewhere in the office is successfully running the Browser service.

Now, onto the Error Reporting Service, which Mr. Ghag addresses as such: “I.e. ‘Send system information to Microsoft.’ No thanks. Disable it.” Sure, that’s a great idea, if you want to cut off your nose to spite your face. When an application crashes under Windows, the ERS allows your computer to send information about the crash back to Microsoft, both to collect data about what caused it and to see if there’s a fix for it. (For example, if a display driver causes a crash, and the manufacturer has released a version that specifically fixes the bug, then you’ll get a link to download the new driver.) This has helped me immensely on more than one occasion, and in any event, if you’ve ever bitched about MS having buggy software, then you shouldn’t turn around and cut off one avenue the company has opened towards eradicating those bugs.

As for the Indexing Service, the advice given is: “Use AvaFind and/or Google Desktop Search instead. Just disable it - no questions asked.” Huh?!? The Indexing Service does a great job of setting your computer up for much easier file searches from right there within the operating system; saying that people should shut it off and use third-party apps doesn’t make any sense to me.

Finally, the kicker is this gem about the System Restore Service: “I prefer trying to manually troubleshoot and fix, or reinstalling Windows in case of a fatal problem. I’ve never felt comfortable with using System Restore to ‘restore old versions of files’ and all that, so I keep it disabled. It frees up memory and a good amount of disk space as well.” Literally, this is like saying, “When I have a flat tire, I prefer to lift my car off the roadway with a series of rocks found in the bushes, and then fashion a new tire by felling a nearby tree and whittling it down to size. It frees up all that space in my trunk that a spare and jack would have taken up!” The System Restore Service is honestly one of the best ways to back out of a system change that’s left you totally horked, and in my experience, the only good that can come out of disabling it is that you’ll become a lot more familiar with the whole system reinstallation process.

I guess my perspective is that if you know enough about how each of these services works, sure, there are probably a million scenarios for where shutting a handful of them off might serve a given user well. But don’t mistake this article for adequate information about any of them, and certainly don’t follow its advice unless you either know what you’re doing or don’t care if your computer becomes significantly less functional.


Of course, even more importantly, turning off services that aren’t actually in use won’t even save you any but a very, very tiny bit of non-pageable RAM, and zero CPU, because non-active processes will get paged out as needed and take up 0 scheduler time.

(Disk space from System Restore is virtually the only actual exception, but at $0.25/GB, and whatever you consider the value of your own labor, it makes no sense whatsoever to save the space and sacrifice the time anyway.)

• Posted by: Eric [TypeKey Profile Page] on Jul 21, 2006, 9:01 AM

Interesting that you defend Indexing Service. I’ve had nothing but bad luck from it performance-wise, and it does a poor job of finding things, compared to Google Desktop. Could be I’m using it wrong, I guess. But I find Google Desktop to be better integrated, faster, and just happier to use.

I can tell you it’s death for large-scale IIS web servers. I struggled for years at my last job to get rid of using Index Server to serve up the web search engine. It gave bad results and totally pegged the CPU (to be fair it was indexing a half a million documents on the same machine that was serving them).

Still, I applaud your larger point. You shouldn’t mess with this stuff unless you really understand the consequences. Losing the Computer Browser would not hurt my family’s home network, but if people don’t realize what they’re doing, they might set themselves up for more frustration.

• Posted by: Dave Adams on Jul 21, 2006, 9:28 AM

Dave, I don’t really have any complaints with the Indexing Service, especially on an otherwise-normal desktop. If I had any experience with using it on larger-scale web servers, I’d probably agree with you — I’m not sure that it’s the answer for a server-based search engine — but that’s another ball of wax, especially since the article in question was geared towards home users.

(It’s also funny to me that the same author who advises against using the Error Reporting Service because it sends info to Microsoft is OK using Google Desktop, which becomes tightly-integrated with a user’s Google account, and can even send the entirety of the search indexes of your personal computer to Google’s servers. It’s a demonstration, to me, of clueless backlash against a company under the guise of privacy issues when privacy clearly has nothing to do with it.)

• Posted by: Jason Levine [TypeKey Profile Page] on Jul 21, 2006, 10:06 AM

There are a lot of services that I prefer to disable in Windows, but of those listed above, only the Indexing Service makes my list. I just don’t do enough searching on my local system to justify its presence. And if I did, my experience has shown that it’s much less bloated that Google Desktop, which would probably be the only 3rd party option that I would even want to think about.

And for Eric’s comment above about the potential savings from disabled services: on a system with very little RAM, every byte counts. On my home systems, I have so much RAM that I could let all kinds of stuff live in RAM and not worry about it, but at work, I have a very limited amount of RAM. I can’t afford to give away 2MB here and there to unused services.

• Posted by: Scott Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] on Jul 21, 2006, 3:28 PM
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