Here is a well known fact – windows crufts itself over time. When you do a fresh installation it runs like a dream. Then it deteriorates. Even if you take a good care of your machine – you keep it clean of infections and spyware, regular day-to-day usage will still slowly but surely degrade your performance. There are a myriad of reasons for this – badly written software, crappy system drivers with memory leaks, disk fragmentation, slow but steady growth and littering of the registry hive, orphaned services, badly written DRM, security suites that incrementally bloat with each update…
And of course there is spyware, addware and all the stupid applications that insist that they start with windows. It seems that every printer these days ships with some sort of printer manager, printer update service manager, toner monitoring manager, paper monitoring manager and automated error reporting service – each of which starts with windows and runs as a self contained process with an icon in the task bar. And if you disable all of them, the printer still works – in fact, it works faster.
Not to mention that 1 in 4 of these things will have some sort of a persistent memory leak – so if you don’t reboot your computer that often you will find yourself utilizing Pagefile.sys which is Windowsspeak for swap file.
This crufting and slowing down of the system is a fact of life. If you are cluefull individual, or if you retain such individual in your household you can probably delay this process or stall it altogether via regular maintenance, cleaning, pruning and de-lousing. Most people however do not have the time or resources to do this, and so their computers slowly deteriorate.
This behavior is so prevalent that there are businesses built around it. Yes, people actually make money basing their sales pitch on the sole premise that Windows will cruft itself and become sluggish over time. Foe example, I see this ad during pretty much every commercial break on most of the channels that I watch these days:
FinallyFast.com 2 Minute Commerical by Blaxxx2
It is a horrible commercial, I know. The actors are obnoxious, the faux errors shown on the computer screens are laughable and clearly added in post production. I will leave picking apart this piece of cap as an exercise to the reader (hint: in this comment thread we make fun of finallyfast.com). Also, it it is immediately apparent that finallyfast.com service is a total scam.
But the premise of the add is familiar and it resonates with most viewers. It starts with bunch of computer users stating a simple fact: “When I bought my computer, it was really fast. Now it is really slow! What happened?”. It is a common complaint, and millions of people out there can relate to it. The add promises to remedy this issue – it claims to sell a silver bullet that will end all your computer problems in an instant. And people buy into it. If they didn’t, then I doubt the company would have the funds to play this commercial every 15 minutes on every single channel.
Of course the finallyfast.com service is snake oil. All the stuff they claim to do (virus and adware removal, registry cleaning, deteting temp files) can be done with free (or proprietary tools). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if their whole service was not a bundle of free tools along with a hefty heap of bundled spyware.
But despite a horribly bad sales pitch they continue making money because they found an easily exploitable niche. Most telemarketers these days must invent imaginary problems that can be solved by their products. For example, has anyone seen the Snuggie commercials? Correct me if I’m wrong here but Snuggie seems to be a robe… that you wear backwards. Most people actually posses a part of a brain that can apply logic to marketing pitch and arrive at a logical conclusion that the item sold is actually a piece of crap.
But there are few people who know why exactly does every Windows machine seem to slow down to a crawl after a while. I don’t think there exist an easy answer to this question. It’s pretty much one of these things that needs to be resolved on a case-by-case basis. It is a common problem that is very poorly understood – and therefore easily exploitable.
Recently I was talking to someone who was telling me about some crazy setup he once saw that was devised to alleviate this particular problem. The company in question had a few dozen workstations. Each of them would have 3 partitions – system, data and image. First one would hold the OS files, the second would hold all the user files and the third one would contain a read only image of the OS partition and re-imaging software. There was an automatic script that would run and re-image the OS partition on a weekly or by weekly basis. Whenever there was a major windows update the IT staff would create a new image file and push it out to the workstations.
It seems like a very extreme approach, but if you think about it this type of setup allowed this company to keep their windows machines running in peek condition and virtually removed the need for reactive IT services that dealt with common windows crufting issues such as infections, spyware, registry rot, disk fragmentation and etc.
Also, I can tell you from experience that restoring a partition image with software such as Norton Ghost is actually faster than running a virus scan or defrag routine.
I don’t have any specific solution or recommendation here – I’m just bringing it up as something to think about. We can’t deny that Windows has this problem – the scams like finallyfast.com are common and effective and that is as good proof as any that this issue exists and is firmly rooted in public awareness.
Interestingly enough, I have never experienced Linux or Unix crufting. I’m going to put it down to better design: modularity, no central registry, non-fragmenting file system, sane security model etc.