- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

The announcement, on June 26, that the Human Genome Project has assembled a working draft of the sequence of the human genome the genetic blueprint for a human being made global headlines, as could be expected. Among the predictions was that major medical breakthroughs lay just around the bend.
While such advances are fervently hoped for, computer users are getting a better handle on some mysteries of their own. These inscrutable elements aren't as complex as the key to human genetics, perhaps, but finding out some of your PC's secrets can make life a whole lot easier.
Take the start-up of a personal computer, for example. Last week, I was having no luck getting a new multifunction printer/fax/scanner to work properly. And I had tried everything or so I thought. A chat with a person from the printer company's tech support unit directed me to a program buried deep within my PC, called the Microsoft System Configuration Utility, or "msconfig.exe."
To run the program, go to the "Start" menu in Windows 98, select "run," type "msconfig" and hit enter. Now, you can use the Microsoft program to figure out what's loading when you start your PC and get rid of programs or elements you don't need.
Be warned, however, that this feature is bare bones: a click on the System Configuration Utility's "Start-up" tag will give you the name and location of a given program, but not much else. You'd have to search out the programs loading at start-up, one by one, if you weren't aware of what each program did. (Those seeking to earn or enhance their PC prowling "chops" can muck around with the guts of the Windows Registry, but only if you really know what you're doing a mistake can crash your system and yield untold grief.)
Now, contrast this with StartUp Manager, a $19.95 utility from Kissco Software Corp., Tustin, Calif. (www.kissco.com). The software is designed to detect the multiple applications a PC loads during system start-up. Load too many, and it reduces the amount of memory and resources available to the system for more important computing tasks, slowing the PC down or, in my case, preventing a device from functioning.
Moreover, the software which can also be run as a Web-based application for free will also tell you where each item hails from, when it was installed, and give you enough information to make a more informed judgment about whether or not to keep it. If you buy the product and install it on your PC, an "Installation Alert," feature will give you an automatic notification when applications try to "sneak" themselves into your PC's start-up roster.
Having this knowledge can make a PC run faster, and keep it running smarter. StartUp Manager is a simple little program that doesn't eat up too much memory or money, and it's worth having especially if your PC's performance is sluggish when it was once sleek.
At the same time, Microsoft Corp. and some hardware makers are realizing that the days of slow-starting computers must fade away: Internet "appliances" with embedded software and built-in connections can put people on line in the time it takes to start some PCs. Thus, as part of the "Windows Millennium Edition" upgrade due later this year, the firm is working with hardware makers to produce "fast boot" PCs.
A "fast boot" machine is defined by Microsoft as "one that starts up in 30 seconds or less." Dell Computer, Austin, Texas, (www.dell.com) will introduce a "fast boot" Dimension PC by the end of this year, Microsoft said recently.
For those who won't be buying a new computer then and for those of us running Windows 95/98 or Windows 2000 it would appear that StartUp Manager is a program worth getting and using. The price is negligible and the benefit of not having to sweat over performance is, in my view, well worth it.
By the way, if you want to probe even deeper into the mysteries of personal computing, Bob O'Donnell's 1999 book, "Personal Computer Secrets" (IDG Books Worldwide, $49.95 list) is 936 pages of powerful information about making your computer work better overall.
Mr. O'Donnell, an industry analyst, also hosts a personal computer radio show in San Francisco and has for over four years. He knows what he's talking about, and his book is a gem worth having. You can find out more about it at www.everythingcomputers.com/ book.htm. The book is also available at on-line resellers and in stores.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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