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Issue #147: May 16, 2010

Q: I use XP Home Addition, and watch Windows Task Manager as the OS loads. My WTM has two windows; “CPU Usage” and “PF Usage.”, and four boxes marked; “Totals”, “Commit Charge (K)”, “Physical Memory (K)”, and Kernal Memory (K). 

Could you briefly explain what each of these mean?  Thanks.

– Bill S.
Shalimar, Fla

A: Yours is one of the Geekier questions I’ve answered lately, Bill.  It will require a correspondingly Geeky answer, so you other readers who don’t want to have to try to interpret a lot of jargon might want to skip this question.  Let’s start at the top.  “CPU” is short for “Central Processing Unit” – a rather antiquated term that refers to the main processor in your computer.  This box simply shows what percentage of your CPU’s computing capacity is being used.  During boot-up, this will almost certainly be at 100%.  It varies at other times, often reaching 100% when you open new programs, send things to the printer, or perform other activities which require your computer to do a lot of “thinking”.  “PF” is short for “Page File”, and this box contains indicators of how Windows is currently using memory.  Windows uses two types of memory: “physical” memory, which is memory in actual memory chips in your computer, and “virtual” memory, which is memory that is simulated by the operating system by using part of the hard drive.   The “Commit Charge” represents the current total amount of physical and virtual memory being used by the system, while the Kernal Memory shows the part of memory being used by the Windows Kernal itself, which is the resident part of the operating system, and does not include things like the Windows graphical interface, desktop, etc.  By the way, the (K) means that all the measurements are in kilobytes, which is 1024 bytes.   You asked for brief.  If this is too brief, check out this page for a more comprehensive explanation:

Q: Inclosed is a file that Wig Gig said to install to better and safer internet.  I did not install it because I do not want to lose my aol bar or favorites folder, etc. Is this a good thing to install or not?  Can I install it and still keep my original info? I am not good with computers; still learning.

– Zorina F.
Fort Walton Beach, Fla

A: Zorina, the “file” that you enclosed was not actually a file, but rather a link to the page on the website where you go to install the Firefox web browser.   Firefox is a web browser alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and yes, it is perfectly safe to install.  Whether it’s “good” or not is a matter of personal choice, and you’ll only be able to make the choice by trying it out.  I can tell you that many people (especially those who don’t like having to run exclusively Microsoft-written software) opt for 3rd-party applications such as this whenever they have the choice.  Some will make the case that alternate browsers are less prone to the type of security problems that plague Internet Explorer.  If you switch over to Firefox, you will indeed lose your AOL Toolbar, and any any other browser add-ons that you use, but that’s not a big deal.  They are all free, and you can just go and download the version for your new browser.  The browser installation will almost certainly offer to import your Internet Explorer Favorites list, so you won’t lose any of that.  Finally, yes, you can install it and keep Internet Explorer intact.  Just be sure you don’t let the new browser become the default, or it will be tricky for you to switch back if you decide you don’t like it.  By the way, there are lots of other browsers out there besides Firefox that offer alternatives to IE.  If you find you don’t like Firefox, but don’t like IE all that much either, go ahead and check out some other browsers too.

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