Windows · December 30, 2006 3

How to replace your Task Manager & handle processes better

Lets face it – the default Task Manager (taskmgr.exe) in Windows 2000/XP is of very limited calibre and doesn’t display a lot of critical information – like the originating path of a process, parent-child relationships between processes and specially the DLLs used by each process. All this information really comes in handy when dealing with misbehaving processes as well as for development and debugging of Windows based applications.

Trying to gather all that information involves continuous hopping between Task Manager, Services Explorer and several other applications and can get very frustrating in the long run.

Thus, the search for a free but more powerful task manager alternative brought me upon two great tools …

Both the tools are packed with features, though Process Explorer (by Sysinternals software, which was bought over by Microsoft) is the more powerful one.

Process Viewer:

Process Viewer Screenshot

This one can act as a replacement for users with beginner and/or intermediate computing skills and won’t take you on an information overload trip. It’s really compact & light-weight, the disk footprint being approximately 850KB and loads far faster than the standard Task Manager.

The default view is similar to that of Task Manager with a couple extra columns like PID (Process ID), Full Path to the Process executable etc.

The toolbar contains a whole bunch of cool tools ranging from the option of saving a running processes list as a text file to detailed file information.
There’s are option to view modules (DLLs in use along with full path), active threads, detailed information on memory usage and base address of each process/DLL as well as an editor for Startup Processes.

There’s something called Process Monitor, which can act as a good substitute for the EventLogger and keeps track of all processes run on your system along with start and end times and the account used to run them.

If you’re more comfortable with the command-line interface Process Viewer offers you a command-line tool too, with which you can perform all the aforementioned tasks.
All in all this software provides you with a great collection of related tools all under the same roof.

No installation is required – you can simply download the software and unzip the content into a desired folder.

There’s a registry tweak, by which you can make this your default task manager, enabling you to fire this up instead of the standard Task Manager when you press Ctrl+Alt+Del.

Fire up your favourite registry editor (if you’re looking for a good alternative, you might consider using Registrar Lite: A really Powerful & Free Registry Editor) and browser to the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\taskmgr.exe

  1. If the key called taskmgr.exe doesn’t exist simply create one.
  2. Under this key, add a new String Value.
  3. Name this Debugger. Anything other than Debugger won’t work.
  4. Set the Value Data of Debugger to the full path of Process Viewer’s executable. For example, C:\Program Files\PrcView\PrcView.exe.

Next time when you press Ctrl+Alt+Del, Process Viewer will pop-up instead of Task Manager.

Note: In case you want to revert back to the original Task Manager at a later point of time, just remove (delete) the taskmgr.exe key.

Download Process Viewer for free.

Process Explorer:

Process Explorer Screenshot

This is an excellent product by Sysinternals Software which was bought over by Microsoft and hence this tool can be downloaded for free from Microsoft site itself. Process Explorer is targeted more towards advanced users.

The default interface is an Explorer like 2 pane view with the active processes listed in a parent-child relationship format on the left pane and the detailed process information on the right. A third sub-window can be brought up at the bottom half on request displaying either the process handle or the DLLs used based on the mode of operation.

Process Explorer also has a powerful search capability that will quickly show you which processes have particular handles opened or DLLs loaded. Even DLL version information is displayed.

This tool can be used to a great extent for tracking down DLL version problems and handle leaks and can be very useful for developers to gain an insight into the inner workings of Windows applications.

Moreover, Process Explorer can explore each individual process, as the name suggests. You can see events, files, devices, and registry keys being accessed.

Process Explorer works on Windows 9x/Me, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Server 2003, and 64-bit versions of Windows for x64 processors, and Windows Vista.

This tool is considerably larger than Process Viewer and takes up about 3.5MB on disk. Similar to Process Viewer, it’s available for free download.

Download Process Explorer