Tweak Windows Vista services the right way

Greg Shultz shows you how to create a snapshot of the current state of the Microsoft Windows Vista services on your system and explains how you can take advantage of this technique when tweaking services.

There are countless articles on the Web that tell you that you can improve Microsoft Windows Vista's performance by disabling unnecessary services. While some of these articles simply provide explanations of the services and leave it up to you to decide which ones to disable, others point out specific services that are generally unnecessary.

However, almost all these types of articles contain a disclaimer of sorts that mentions that not all systems are alike and so certain services that are unnecessary for one user's Vista configuration might be required for another user's Vista configuration. In addition, there are differences between the Vista versions. As such, you are essentially on your own when experimenting with disabling services on your particular Vista system.

In most cases, disabling a required service won't harm your system -- it will usually yield some type of error message. However, in some situations disabling a required service may prevent Vista from starting up. While this sort of problem may cause your heart to miss a few beats, it's usually not a fatal condition. You'll just need to start the computer in Safe Mode. When you do, any core services that are required by the operating system are started, regardless of any changes that you have made to the service settings. Once in Safe Mode, you can then re-enable the required service(s).

Even with this built-in safety net, you can save yourself some pain by creating a snapshot of the current state of the Vista services on your system.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to create a snapshot and explain how you can take advantage of this technique when tweaking Vista services. Along the way, I'll pass on some other valuable information.

This blog post is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Creating a snapshot

Before you even touch one setting in the Services tool, you should create a snapshot of your system's existing service settings in a spreadsheet. Fortunately, doing so is easy.

To begin, launch the Services tool by pressing [Windows]+[R] to access the Run dialog box. Then, type Services.msc in the Open text box and click OK. When the Services tool launches, right-click the Services node in the console tree and select the Export List command, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Select the Export List command from the menu.
When you see the Export List dialog box, leave the Save As Type option set at Text (Tab Delimited) (*.txt), as shown in Figure B. Even though there is a Text (Comma Delimited) (*.csv) setting, which is easier to import into your spreadsheet application, the CSV option doesn't produce a clean listing of the services --the descriptions bleed over into adjacent cells.

Figure B

Make sure that the Save As Type option is set to Text (Tab Delimited) (*.txt) in order to get a clean listing.
Once you export the file, open your spreadsheet application and import the text file using the tab-delimited setting, as shown in Figure C. Once you save the file, you'll have a record of the current state of all the services on your Vista system. This allows you to be able to return your services to their current state if you run into a glitch or are unsatisfied with the outcome of your changes.

Figure C

Use the tab-delimited setting when importing the text file into your spreadsheet application.
If you save a second copy of the file, you'll have a version that you can work with as you investigate which services you want to experiment with disabling. For example, you can sort the list, use color coding to highlight specific services, and take notes, as shown in Figure D. I call this the Vista Services Log Book.

Figure D

You can use color coding and notes to help you keep track of changes that you make to services.

No hardware profiles

In Windows Vista, Microsoft decided to do away with hardware profiles, which came in handy when experimenting with disabling services in Windows XP. So, if you used this technique in Windows XP, don't bother looking for similar hardware profiles in Vista -- they aren't available.

Hardware profiles were designed to provide you with a way to work around non-Plug and Play systems (standard HAL), which were unable to query the system for information about hardware. The current crop of ACPI systems on Vista-capable systems can interact with the hardware dynamically. As such, hardware profiles are no longer needed.

A few no brainers

Even though I began this article by telling you that there are countless articles on the Web that tell you that you can improve Windows Vista's performance by disabling unnecessary services, I thought I would share with you some of Vista's automatically running services that you can easily determine whether or not to disable.

If you decide to disable these services, be sure that you document the changes in your Vista Services Log Book spreadsheet.

1. Windows Error Reporting Service

This service allows errors to be reported when programs stop working or responding and allows existing solutions to be delivered. It also allows logs to be generated for diagnostic and repair services. If this service is stopped, error reporting might not work correctly and results of diagnostic services and repairs might not be displayed.

If you never again want to be prompted to send an error report to Microsoft, then you can disable this service.

2. Tablet PC Input Service

This service enables Tablet PC pen and ink functionality.

If you're running Vista on a desktop or a standard laptop, then you can disable this service.

3. Offline Files

The Offline Files service performs maintenance activities on the Offline Files cache, responds to user logon and logoff events, implements the internals of the public API, and dispatches interesting events to those interested in Offline Files activities and changes in cache state.

If you're not saving your data on a file server, then you can disable this service.

4. IP Helper

This service provides automatic IPv6 connectivity over an IPv4 network. If this service is stopped, the machine will have only IPv6 connectivity if it is connected to a native IPv6 network.

Unless you're connected to an advanced network, chances are that you only need IPv4 connectivity and you can disable this service.

5. ReadyBoost

This service provides support for improving system performance using ReadyBoost.

If you're not using a USB device to enhance performance, then you can disable this service.

6. Remote Access Connection

Manages dial-up and virtual private network (VPN) connections from this computer to the Internet or other remote networks. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

If you're not using a dial-up or a VPN connection, then you can disable this service.

What's your take on services?

Are you planning on disabling services in Windows Vista? Will you create and use a Vista Services Log Book spreadsheet? Have you disabled services in Windows Vista? Please drop by the Discussion area and let us know your thoughts.