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Issue #561: April 22-28, 2018

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Q: Long time reader although most of the problems and solutions are beyond my understanding. I have a 6-7 year old Dell laptop running Windows 10.

My problem is the system seems to be very slow and if I’m moving from Google mail to Google news, the system hangs and I get a “page not found” window. Strange because if I try to open Microsoft news it usually opens without a problem. I know Google and Microsoft are competitors and wonder if Microsoft is somehow favoring their news product over Google and causing these errors.

– Charles D.
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

A:  Thanks for being a long time reader, Charles.  I’m happy to hear that at least someone besides me is still around 561 columns into this endeavor.  I must be failing in my task somewhere along the line though.  I often hear from readers that share sentiments similar to yours that my column is essentially over their head.  My goal is to streamline and, if you’ll pardon the term, “dumb down” my solutions so that one needn’t be a computer scientist to understand them.  That’s one of the reasons why I like the name “Geek”.  It implies – to me at least – that one has expertise, or lacking that, at least is enthusiastic about the subject matter.

It’s no small secret that Microsoft has competition.  One need look no further than the issue of It’s Geek To Me from a couple of weeks ago (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #559, April 8, 2018) to see that there’s a whole world of people who are offering inexpensive, even free products that are designed to do the same job as the products that are Microsoft’s bread and butter.  Google is no exception.  After forming in the 1990’s, Google quickly became the de facto standard for search engines, being the first to actually rank pages by the number of other pages that link to them, rather than by the conventional wisdom of the time, which was counting how many times the term being searched appeared on any given page.  It wouldn’t surprise me one little bit to find out that Microsoft execs were looking on with jealous eyes when they put together Bing – Microsoft’s answer to Google – in mid-2009. 

Does Microsoft directly compete with Google, or even cheat to favor their product?  Well, I’m not sure there are many indisputable facts of the type that would stand up in court, but in 2011 Microsoft was pretty much caught red-handed copying Google’s search results and serving them up as its own.  Microsoft never denied the accusations, instead, responding with something akin to “So?  What if we are?”  Beyond exposing it for public scrutiny, I’m unaware of any serious action ever taken in response to this so-called plagiarism.  I do know that for many years Microsoft has had something of a reputation for being very sensitive to competitors sharing what it considers its own market space.  In many cases, they have either bought competing companies outright, or used business practices which, legitimate though they may be, have driven other companies out of business.  Considering Google’s size and value, both of those methods would seem rather impractical.  Also, you may not be aware of it, but there are plenty of 3rd party laboratories, groups, and individuals that invest quite a bit of time analyzing software, checking it for legitimacy, and making sure it’s not doing anything it’s not supposed to.  Covert activity that cripples the competitions’ software wouldn’t stay hidden for very long.

As far as technical solutions to your problem go, the old adage, “If nothing else works, try turning if off and back on again,” applies here.  Problems such as yours could be caused by many things, including malware, slow or intermittent Internet connection, hard-disk space running low, not enough RAM, and more.  I sometimes have a similar slow-down on my personal machines, and upon checking with the Task Manager, I’ll find a browser that I accidentally left open has consumed several gigabytes of RAM.  This can result in what’s called hard drive thrashing.  Windows uses virtual memory which is a chunk of space on the hard drive.  If memory gets over-taxed, the system has to constantly swap data to and from the drive, which slows the whole system to a crawl.

Bottom line: Although Microsoft and Google compete, if Microsoft was actually using nefarious techniques to advance their services over Google’s, I’m sure someone would have discovered it by now.  The more likely cause is something happening locally on your machine.  Check that memory usage, and remember, when all else fails, reboot!

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