Microsoft is big.  No, it’s gigantic.  Humongous, maybe.

It’s so big that Starbucks doesn’t even have a word for it.

For instance, they have roughly forty billion dollars in their cash reserves.  Billion with a B.  That’s bigger than the GDP of Iceland, Panama, and Swaziland.  Combined.

So what do they do with the money?  Pay some dividends, sure.  Pay on some lawsuits, probably.  Buy their employees more corporate T-shirts than you could shake a used clothing store at.

But they also buy companies.  Sometimes they do a terrible job of integrating them into corporate culture and products, and they just disappear.  Sometimes, though, they do it just right.

Mark Russinovich created SysInternals back in 1996 to peek inside what Windows is doing.  It has a lot of parts to it now, and does a lot of cool things.  The one I’m going to look at today is Process Explorer.

All the things running on your computer are processes.  Sometimes they are for you to see, like Office or Solitaire.  Sometimes they are behind-the-scenes stuff, doing the housekeeping and maintenance so things work right.  You can see these with the Task Manager (control-alt-delete, then Task Manager), but Process Explorer lets you look deeper.  Not for everybody, but cool if you need/want it.

Download it, extract the program and the help (the .CHM, for Compiled Help Module), and drop them into a Utils directory – no other installation needed.  Run it, agree to the license terms, and you’re off and running!

And so what?  Glad you asked.  The default view shows what programs called what other ones, in a tree structure.  Helpful for tracing back why something is running.  You can also sort the columns, showing who is using up a lot of CPU

(Answer: Nobody.  The “System Idle Process” is similar to the car being in neutral.  When the PC isn’t doing anything, that’s where the time goes.)

You could also sort by working set to see how much memory is being used by each task:

or sort by company name to see who’s running stuff on your PC

If you’re adventurous, you can turn on the lower pane (via View) and see more details about a process

Finally, the long windows up at the top can show you how much memory and CPU is being used.  The windows are smart, too, and show more information as you hover your mouse over them.  This is from starting up Picasa after loading on some new pictures.

(I had the mouse sitting on the little green bump).

Process Explorer is definitely a geek tool, and also very useful.  Thanks, Microsoft, for keeping it freely available.