For a long time Microsoft’s Process Explorer has been my process manager of choice – it provides much greater detail and control than the limited Windows Task Manager.
However, I stumbled across System Explorer recently and it has deservedly usurped Process Explorer in my flash drive toolkit – it is now my system manager of choice.
Why System Explorer? For starters, it is a free (for personal and commercial use) program available as a standard installer or as a Portable version – ideal to pop onto a flash drive. It’s also small (the entire Portable program weighs in at just 5MB) and available in 29 languages. However, so far, that doesn’t set it above the venerable Process Explorer.
Where it does excel is in the variety, yet depth, of features – it includes detailed information about Tasks, Processes, Modules, Startups, IE Add-ons, Uninstallers, Windows, Services, Drivers, Connections and Opened Files – far more than Process Manager, or any other system utility I have used.
The sheer range of information provided could threaten to overwhelm but the program layout is excellent – it offers an easy to configure tabbed interface (like a modern web browser) so you can choose to display as many or as few tabs as you wish – just 4 tabs are enabled by default:
Another big draw for me is the ‘File Check’ feature – right click any process, dll, service or driver within System Explorer to enable a choice of automatic file submission to Virus Total or Jotti’s (VirusScan) websites. These sites use multiple antivirus scanning engines – an ideal and quick way to check if a file is infected.
When troubleshooting malware this feature saves so much time checking if a file is suspicious – no need to visit those websites first and then browse through Windows directories to try to find the file to submit – if you can even remember where it is located…
Using System Explorer – Download from the developers here – the installer version is compatible with XP through to Windows 8 but I prefer the Portable version which can be copied to a flash drive and used on any PC so I’ll cover the Portable version below.
After downloading, unzip the file and run SystemExplorer.exe to start. Accept the License terms then choose whether or not to run the program every time Windows starts.
The main program window opens with 4 main tabs – Tasks (similar to Applications in Task Manager), Processes (similar to Process Explorer), Performance (similar to Performance in Task Manager) and History:
Press the + icon to add any of 14 more tabs – these include Autoruns, Connections, Drivers and Snapshots – the ability to create a snapshot of files, registry or both, and compare it to another snapshot. Clicking the x on a tab closes it so it is easy to keep a manageable number of most used tabs on display – your tab display settings are remembered for the next time you use the program.
There are too many tabs to cover in depth but some of the main features they have in common include:
1. Mouse over an item to display a popup information box:
2. Right click an item to display a context menu specific to that tab e.g. end/restart/suspend a process, jump to the file directory or file Properties window, File Check via Virus Total or Jotti’s etc:
3. Also in the context menu, File Info Search launches a search of Google or System Explorer’s own File Database in a web page – an online resource offering detailed information on over 18 million files.
4. Similarly, the Processes tab offers a security ‘Check’ link for each running process – this opens the online file review and updates the Security Icon with a safety level.
5. Most tabs have a Windows icon at the top which acts as a toggle to display or hide Microsoft system entries – useful to remove genuine Windows entries from display and leave only third party entries to investigate and review.
6. When System Explorer is closed, it minimizes to the System tray where it provides a (user configurable) mouse over display of CPU/RAM usage, battery life/charge and system uptime etc – you can disable this if required:
System Explorer is a powerful combination of tools – it may contain some features that most users will never need but it is simple to configure and remove unwanted tabs so that you keep only the most useful displayed.
It’s the most complete system information and process manager I have used and easily surpasses Process Explorer which looks bereft of features by comparison.