Love Is Fickle

by Jonathan Plutchok

Call me a cad, but sometimes I can’t help stumbling into a new love affair, ending the previous one without ever meaning to. I think I have it all, and then something better comes along and I’m swept away again. I love the hard-working and good-looking ones, and I’m especially vulnerable when they’re cheap too.

I’m talking about utilities, of course. Hey, what kind of guy did you think I am?

Welcome back to Jonathan’s Tool Bar & Grill, where twice a month I share with you my favorite free or low-cost utilities and Web sites. This week I’ll update you on a few newly discovered utilities that I like even as much or more than some I previously recommended.

Startup and Process Managers

A few weeks ago (#11), I devoted a column to startup monitors – utilities that help you see and control all the programs your computer is running, including those that launch automatically when you boot up. These include built-in Windows applets, Startup Control Panel, Starter, and WinPatrol. All these have been my favorites at one time or another.


Since then, I have discovered another great entrant in the field, WhatsRunning. If you’re a true geek and want more information that you can possibly understand about running processes, services, and modules, WhatsRunning is for you. WhatsRunning also shows complete data about all your active IP connections and drivers, as well as general system information. You can start and stop listed programs, and control which ones start up automatically. Another nice feature is the tree view, which shows nested items in their proper hierarchy. You can even save a snapshot of the current setup and compare it to a later setup.

Here’s a sample screen, this one of the Processes view:

WhatsRunning works in Windows 2000, XP, and 2003, but not yet Vista. It is absolutely free for personal use ($25 for commercial use) at The same site also hosts Process Information Central, a database of detailed process specifications listed by name, product, and company. You can dive straight into this database from a right-click on a process in WhatsRunning.

I still like Starter and WinPatrol, but you can’t beat WhatsRunning if you need every last technical detail about the programs on your computer.

SysInternals Process Explorer

However, Sysinternals Process Explorer comes close. If you never tire of technical data about your computer’s processes, services, etc. (snooze), you will appreciate Process Explorer too. It presents a wealth of data, similar to that of WhatsRunning (right-click an entry for more details), though the user interface is less friendly… but Process Explorer already supports Vista.

Process Explorer is one of a plethora of Sysinternals technical utilities that are well regarded in the geek community, and that still are offered for free, even after Microsoft acquired Sysinternals last year. You can find Process Explorer and much more at


Another entry in the free startup manager field is StartRight (why is there so much competition to give away good software?). Once you’ve installed StartRight, you won’t see it again. It launches in the background when you boot your computer, and silently arranges your other startup programs to launch in the most efficient order. StartRight inserts pauses between startup programs too, to ensure they don’t get tangled up with each other in the rush to launch.

StartRight is free (donations are encouraged) from, and does not yet support Vista.

Tray Clock

I have previously recommended several utilities to set your computer’s clock accurately, such as Rocket Time and Atomic TimeSync (#3), and TClockEx to enhance the system tray clock (#4). Now here’s one free program that does both, and much more: AlfaClock.

AlfaClock lets you customize the font, color, and size of your tray clock. In addition, you can display resources, such as CPU usage and three views of RAM. Here’s how I’ve set mine up:

Though I prefer TClockEx’s more compact, graphical RAM usage display (a colored bar), AlfaClock shows more information. But that’s not all.

Like TClockEx, AlfaClock pops up a monthly calendar, which also is highly configurable. And like RocketTime and the others, AlfaClock can synchronize your computer with your choice of atomic clock servers for dead-on accuracy.

AlfaClock also can speak the time and date to you on command or at specified intervals. This feature, too, is highly configurable, except for the slightly mechanical female voice (for example, you can specify silence between certain hours). And AlfaClock offers multiple alarms, in case – like me – you need waking up while at your screen.

AlfaClock is available for free at There you also can check out its little brother (AlfaMini, a free always-on-screen clock and stopwatch) and their fancier big brother (AlfaClock 2, $30).

Do you have a favorite utility you want to share? Tell us about it in a comment below, or mail ]]