When you support Windows 9x or Windows Me systems, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration if you show users how to work with the Resource Meter to avoid the most common cause of system lockups and crashes—the complete depletion of system resources. Resource Meter allows users to keep track of system resources when they’re running more than one application at a time. I’ll show you how to install Resource Meter and describe how it works. Then, I’ll explain how a user can prevent system crashes when multitasking by employing Resource Meter to keep track of Windows’ system resources.

Installing Resource Meter
The Windows 9x/Me Setup doesn’t install Resource Meter during a normal installation procedure, which means that you must install it manually using the Add/Remove Programs utility in the Control Panel. Once you have the Add/Remove Programs Properties dialog box open, select the Windows Setup tab. On a Windows 98/Me system, select System Tools in the Components list box and click the Details button. On a Windows 95 system, select Accessories in the Components list box and click the Details button.

When the resulting dialog box appears, scroll to the bottom of the Components list box and select the System Resource Meter check box. To complete the procedure, click OK to close the dialog box and again to close the Add/Remove Programs Properties dialog box. Windows will prompt you to insert the CD and then install Resource Meter.

Getting started with Resource Meter
Before you roll out Resource Meter to the Windows 9x/Me users on your network, spend some time experimenting with it to learn more about it, and discover how it will work with the applications that are in use on your network. To begin, I suggest that you restart the system so that you can start your experimentations with a full system resources pool.

As the system restarts, hold down the [Shift] key to prevent anything in the Startup folder from loading. Immediately launch Resource Meter from the Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu. When you run Resource Meter for the first time, you’ll see an introductory splash screen that you can disable by selecting the Don’t Display This Message Again check box and clicking OK.

Once Resource Meter is up and running, you’ll see its icon in the System Tray on the taskbar. Hover your mouse pointer over the icon and you’ll see a pop-up display that breaks down the actual amount of available system resources into three categories: System, User, and GDI (Graphics Device Interface), as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Hovering your mouse pointer over the Resource Meter icon will produce a display of the currently available system resources in three categories.

Diving into the system resource pool
The three sections into which the Windows system resource pool is divided provide the following:

  • ·        The System section provides all of the base operating system functionality, including file I/O (Input/Output) services, virtual memory management, and task scheduling.
  • ·        The User section allows input from the mouse, keyboard, and other input devices. It also provides memory for the graphic user interface items, such as windows, dialog boxes, buttons, icons, menus, and other user interface-related components.
  • ·        The GDI section manages all the graphical elements that appear on the screen, including fonts, drawing primitives, and overall color management. It also provides graphical support for printers and other output devices.

If you prefer a graphical display of the system resources, double-click the icon and you’ll see the Resource Meter dialog box, as shown in Figure B. As you can see, when Windows first launches, almost all of the system resources are available (keep in mind that the actual amount of initially available system resources will vary from system to system). To dismiss the dialog box, click OK.

Figure B
The Resource Meter’s graphical display uses bar graphs to show you the amount of available system resources.

Running some tests
Once you have Resource Meter running and have a good baseline, go ahead and start launching those applications that your Windows 9x/Me users will typically run on a daily basis. As you do, keep an eye on the status of your available system resources. After you load each application, you’ll see the green bars on the Resource Meter icon slowly drop, indicating that the available system resources are being used up.

To continue your tests, use the applications to open and close files. As you do, more than likely you’ll notice that the amount of available system resources fluctuates with each operation you perform. Now, try closing a couple of the applications and keep an eye on the Resource Meter icon. You should notice that system resources are replenished as you close each application. If you close them all, chances are good that while the majority of the system resources will be replenished, the ending value won’t be the same as the beginning value. You can write off the difference as lost system resources.

If you were to perform the same tests again, it’s possible that you could end up with even fewer system resources. With the results of this series of tests in mind, you can see how system resources can be completely depleted and lead directly to a system crash.

Keeping track of system resources
Now that you have a good idea of how system resources can be depleted, let’s use the visual cues provided by the Resource Meter to look at the evolution of a system crash caused by the depletion of system resources. When you performed the above tests, you noticed the green bars in Resource Meter’s bar graph display a drop. Under normal operating conditions, you can expect the system resources to drop to around the 40 or 50 percent mark. When they do, you’ll notice that Resource Meter’s bar graph display shows two green bars. At this level, you can continue to use the operating system with little fear of a system crash.

Once you drop below this level, you’ll see only one green bar in the bar graph display. If you continue to use the system after that point, the single green bar could turn yellow, which indicates that you should proceed with caution. If you continue using the system beyond this point, the bar will turn red and you can bet your bottom dollar that the system is going to crash. This series of events is depicted in Figure C.

Figure C
The evolution of a system crash caused by the depletion of system resources

Managing system resources to avoid a crash situation
Let’s now turn our attention to learning how you and your users can use Resource Meter to avoid such system crashes. You’ll want to have Resource Meter available all of the time. Place a shortcut to Resource Meter in the Startup folder so that it launches automatically each time your users turn on their systems.

Explain to your users that the basic strategy for managing system resources with Resource Meter is to begin closing open applications once they notice that the system resources are running low. You can tell them that, as a general rule, when only one green bar is showing in the Resource Meter icon, they should begin closing applications. When they do, they should see most of their system resources return and the green bars on the Resource Meter icon rise. At this point, it’s safe to assume that the user can launch another application or open another document and the operating system will remain stable.

If a user does not feel that enough system resources were recovered after shutting down the applications, he or she can completely replenish the system resources pool by closing all of the applications and restarting the system. And, if the Resource Meter icon turns yellow or red, the user definitely will want to close all open applications and restart the system (if it is not too late).

Other signs a system is about to fail
In addition to a hanging Windows 9x/Me operating system caused by low system resources, you should be on the lookout for other signs of system distress. If a user complains about slowing system performance, error messages during booting, or that the computer has a slow screen update, a system resources problem could be the culprit. Unfortunately, the Windows 9x/Me operating system has a built-in disposition to crash once the system resources begin running low. By installing and using the Resource Meter to monitor system resources, your users can avoid system crashes by keeping the limited amount of system resources in check.