Since Windows 95, Microsoft has included the Windows Task Manager in all of their operating systems to help users troubleshoot problems or just see how much of their precious memory is being used. Easily opened by a combination of hot keys (ctrl+shift+esc, or ctrl+alt+delete), this small tool isn't good for much other than killing processes.
It is because of this that many developers started creating their own versions of this utility, many of which added new features or refined the features Microsoft had already set as standard.
For many years, the Windows Sysinternals crew has offered the best product in this category, but the last couple of years has brought some great free and open source projects that are very deserving contenders for the top spot.
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System Explorer was referred by a site visitor and was new to me, although it has been around a couple of years. It did not take me long to appreciate all that this program has to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to use.
This application has some truly useful features available, such as the ability to take and compare snapshots of your files and registry, to upload files to Virustotal, and to perform an online look up of files or processes straight from the GUI. This handy process viewer also gives you mouse over information on known files, as well as many options to further manipulate processes, files, and services. Everything you need to get to is organized in a left-hand column and you can view everything from your services and processes, Internet Explorer Add-ons, to protocol filters and handlers for Windows Explorer.
I admit a lot of this stuff you might not use very much and some software can get kind of bloated when there are this many features but it is no problem here, and everything fits together very nicely. In my opinion, System Explorer is absolutely the best free process viewer available even if it is missing a few of the more advanced features.
Process Hacker and Process Explorer share a very similar interface, the only difference being the drop down information bar in Process Explorer. However, this is the only feature that the SysInternal's crew wins at. Process Hacker is a feature rich application with the ability to terminate those pesky processes that you are not allowed to kill in the Windows Task Manager and even Process Explorer. It can also sniff out some hidden processes, allowing you to find some basic rootkits if you are infected. This tool offers loads more features than I have mentioned, and contains almost everything you will ever need in a process viewer.
I had a hard time moving Process Explorer from its top spot, and what it finally came down too was the lack of features. I'm sure some average users who just want to tame a process, kill a hanging program, or check on memory consumption will appreciate the lesser amount of features. The bottom line is that while this application did fall a few spots, it will remain one of the best and most solid choices for anyone who is looking for a little more than the Windows Task Manager offers.
Another tool that has been around for a long time is the AnVir Task Manager Free, which offers a ton of features. Unfortunately, by forcing all of these components into one unorganized interface it was very hard to figure out where everything was and I found it a little difficult to use. However, if somehow you can find a way to get familiar with everything and get past the clutter then you will soon realize the enormous amount of power, and possibilities that this tool has to offer.
Alternatively there is another choice for users who are just looking for a simple replacements to the Windows Task Manager. Auslogics Task Manager has all the basic attributes of a task manager plus it adds another column to the GUI that tells you if known processes are trustworthy or not. This program also has a component that gives a list of all open files and tells you if the open file is locked and which process or service has it locked, and it offers the ability to unlock the file. This application is good at what it does, which isn't much, but users looking for something simple and intuitive may appreciate this software.
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Auslogics Task Manager
AnVir Task Manager Free
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