Tuesday, 19 February 2008

WHS, Vista, Startup Profiles and Task Scheduler

...well sort of anyway. This is going to be a bit of a rambling post but if you aren't already using Vista's Task Scheduler as a kind of startup profile manager then you might need to read on...

I've had a Windows Home Server set up since the days of the beta programme, and I have to say I'm pretty happy with it. One of its most important jobs is to back up my laptop, so naturally the laptop has the WHS connector (client software) installed. My laptop, however, gets used outside of my home. If I'm at a friend's house I might connect to their wireless network, I may use a 3G card or wireless hotspot when I'm out and about, or I might work offline. Any of which leave the WHS connector doing nothing useful.

My laptop is a lovely lightweight skinny little thing. The downside of that is it doesn't run too quickly. I also have the power-saving options set to get the most time out of a single charge which slows things down even further. It's mostly bearable once it's up and running, but the startup time and the time to recover from hibernation were pretty unacceptable.

The thing that bothered me most was waiting for apps that ran on startup that required the network. If I was off the network (or on a different network to the thing that app wanted to connect to - which is why WHS is in the title of this post) I'd be sitting waiting not only for the damn things to load, but to figure out they couldn't contact the server they wanted to, in some cases complain about it (I KNOW!), then sit there using CPU and memory anyway. Irritating in the extreme when I need to get to some file on my laptop in a hurry. I considered downloading a startup profile manager utility, but couldn't find anything that quite met my needs. On my old XP laptop I made do with a script to start and stop various services depending on where I was, but that was far from perfect.

Anyway, today I finally got so fed up with all the OEM crap taking forever to start on my Vista laptop that I took some time out to fix things. (Shame on you Sony, nobody needs all this junk to run all the time.) In the process I found out that under Vista more and more Startup apps have been added to the Task Scheduler instead of the Run keys in the registry or our old friend the Startup group. I should probably be ashamed to admit I only found that out today, but hey... I got there in the end. But this was where my revelation occurred - I already kind of knew that Task Scheduler was a lot more sophisticated than old-style Scheduled Tasks, but it hadn't really occurred to me how I could use it at home to make my life easier.

The long and the short of it is that I'm now using Scheduled Tasks as a kind of Startup Profile Manager. The WHS Connector has come out of the Startup group and now runs as a Task to run on startup with a condition that it only runs if I'm connected to my home network. My two apps for downloading TV content only run if I'm connected to a network and only if I'm plugged in to mains power and idle for 2 minutes first. I killed some of the OEM ballast and now have things like driver update checks run once a month rather than every time I start up.

My startup time is now pretty reasonable for a slow little machine, and it's improved my temper no end. And all thanks to Task Scheduler.

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