Keep your Windows desktop in shape with Task Scheduler

Learn to use the Windows Task Scheduler to schedule routine maintenance to run unattended at set intervals on individual machines

When I worked in a small shop with a number of standalone PCs, I often found myself spending a great deal of time moving from machine to machine, manually performing routine maintenance tasks. Now that I’ve discovered the Windows Task Scheduler, I no longer need to perform these tasks myself; I can schedule them to run unattended at set intervals on each machine.

Unlike previous scheduling programs available for Windows desktops, like the AT command for Windows NT and the System Agent for Windows 95, the Windows Task Scheduler is not only easy to use, but it also works in virtually the same way on all Windows desktops including Windows 95, 98, NT, and 2000. So even if you haven’t standardized on one desktop, you can use the Task Scheduler to schedule tasks on all of them.

Using the Task Scheduler Wizard to schedule a simple task
In this example, we’ll use the Task Scheduler to run a simple Visual Basic program that reminds a Windows desktop user to empty the Recycle Bin at the end of the day, as shown in Figure A. (Rather than running a program that empties the Recycle Bin automatically, this program gives the user a chance to retrieve a deleted file if necessary.)

Figure A

To launch the Task Scheduler Wizard, click on My Computer and open the Scheduled Tasks folder. Doing so displays the window shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Double-click the Add Scheduled Task icon to start the Scheduled Task Wizard, shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Scroll down the list of applications and click on the name of the program you want to schedule. (If the program name doesn’t appear on the list, you can navigate to it by clicking the Browse button.) After selecting your program, click Next, and you’ll move to the dialog box shown in Figure D:

Figure D

The Scheduled Task Wizard inserts the name of the program for the task name, but you may change that if you want. Next, specify how often you want the task to run. In this case, we want the program to run daily. Click the Next button to continue to the window shown in Figure E. Here you can specify the time of day you want the program to run. In this case, we chose 4:30 P.M. You can also use this dialog box to fine-tune the scheduling details, such as whether you want the task to run daily (including weekends) or on weekdays only.

Figure E

The next window asks you to specify a user name and password, as shown in Figure F. The task will then be launched as if the designated user had started it. (This step is not available with the Win 95 and Win 98 Task Scheduler.)

Figure F

We have now successfully scheduled the Recycle Bin Reminder task to execute at 4:30 P.M. each day, as you can see in Figure G.

Figure G

Before clicking Finish, we can elect to view the advanced properties for this task by clicking the check box shown in Figure G. The dialog box shown in Figure H allows you to tinker with idle time, power management settings, and other details.

Figure H

Once you’ve set all the properties, click OK, and the task will be added to the Scheduled Tasks window, as shown in Figure I.

Figure I

You can change the scheduling criteria for this task anytime by right-clicking its icon in the Scheduled Tasks window and selecting Properties. Doing so will display the dialog box shown in Figure H, where you can quickly update the settings.

Where to get Task Scheduler
The Windows Task Scheduler comes with the Windows 98 and Windows 2000 operating systems, but you’ll need to install it on Windows NT and Win 95. If you have the Internet Explorer 4.0 or 5.0 CD-ROM, you can use Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel to install it from the CD. Otherwise, you can download it from the Internet through Internet Explorer by clicking on Help/Product Updates. For more information, see the Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q171229: "How to add and remove Internet Explorer components."

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Have you used Task Scheduler to make your workday easier? Send us an e-mail about your favorite way to use Task Scheduler or post a comment below.


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