If your computer is getting slower, one of the things that helps is to shut down programs running in the background. We use TUT, (“The Ultimate Troubleshooter”) to check up on those. This costs $29, from .

In a recent check, Bob found 46 programs running the background of his Windows XP computer. He stopped the five worst offenders (the ones using the most memory and processor time), which still left 41. That seems like a ton, but actually it’s pretty normal. The TUT program informs you about whether a program running in the background is part of normal operations or not; these are color-coded with “safe” and “not safe” readings.

Joy had 57 programs running in the background of her Vista computer, many of them having something to do with Apple’s iPod and Adobe’s Creative Suite 3. Since both the Creative Suite and the iPod are seldom being used, she removed them from the Start menu. Other pointless programs were from Apple’s QuickTime, Google’s toolbar, and a “LeapTag” browser assistant we installed for testing and forgot to remove. The TUT program informed her she had only 37 percent of the computer’s memory available for other tasks. And for a while her CPU usage was 100 percent. Time to get out the axe.

If you don’t own TUT, you can use Windows Task Manager to see what’s running in the background. Hold down the “CTRL”, “ALT”, and “DELETE” keys in that order to launch the task manager. Then click the “process” tab, highlight a process on the list and choose “end process–” if you can figure out what that process is doing.

The nice thing about TUT is that it provides a description of the running programs (though sometimes it doesn’t recognize a program) and tells you whether or not it’s wasting the computer’s time and yours. If you want to kill the worst offenders, you can click on the “Tasks” tab at the top of the TUT screen and remove them. If you’re worried about removing them, you can choose “suspend,” which does just it sounds like, and reactivate them when you think you need them. This is a new feature. The new TUT also launches faster, works with Vista and removes bits and pieces left behind after you uninstall a program.

One last, and important comment about TUT: At the bottom of the main screen, there’s a little box that tells you how many other computers currently have access to your computer. If that number is not zero, it could be very bad news.

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