The Windows Task Manager is a functional but basic tool for keeping an eye on applications and activity on your computer. If you want to go beyond the built-in tool and get a closer look, check out today's offerings.
Note: Clicking on the screenshots below will enlarge the screenshots to their original size.
Process Hacker (Windows, Free)
Process Hacker is the only open-source offering in today's Hive. When using Process Hacker you're not just able to view your applications and services in more detail but to interact with them in a variety of ways—many well beyond the scope of the standard task manager like hex editing the contents of a process' virtual memory. Process Hacker allows you to alter process security levels, terminate, suspend, resume, and restart them. For those "What is this?" moments, you can right click to search online for the identity of a given process and what it might be up to.
Anvir Task Manager (Windows, Basic: Free, Premium: $US39.95)
Anvir Task Manger is available in a range of editions ranging in cost from free to $US89.95 for a full security suite. The free edition however has quite an array of features that make it more than satisfactory as an alternative to the default Windows tool. From within Anvir Task Manger you can manager your startup applications and delay their startup to improve your boot time, and check processes against a virus database. In addition to common features like the ability to alter the priority of a process you can also right click on any process and hide the window it is running in within the system tray. Although you have to install it to unpack it, once installed you can turn Anvir Task Manager into a portable application.
Process Explorer (Windows, Free)
Process Explorer is the free and portable offering from Microsoft. Process Explorer is like the standard task manager on steroids. You still get a list of processes, you still see charts of your usage, but both give you significantly more information and control over the information. Unlike the default manager, Process Explorer makes it easy to track down which file is being held by which program and get to the bottom of computer mysteries like why a certain DLL or DOC file simply cannot be deleted. It also shows which service is performing which function so you'll never look at a long and repetitive list of Windows system executables that are indistinguishable from each other—every one will be associated with its function.
Extended Task Manager (Windows, Free)
If you want more than the default task manager can offer but you're not sure if you need some of the advanced featured offered by other nominees in this week's Hive Five, Extended Task Manager is a great compromise. Extended Task Manger can display locked files and which process is locking them, help you terminate specific processes to free files, provides a summary overview of your resource usage, and allows you to pause and resume processes. Note: we ended up having to test Extended Task Manager on one of our Windows XP machines after it failed to launch in Windows 7 64-bit. Whether this is a result of being launched in Windows 7 or in a 64-bit environment is unknown.
System Explorer (Windows, Free)
System Explorer lived up to its name by not only allowing you to explore system processes but which applications autorun on startup, system add-ons, drivers, services, and more. It doesn't have the most elegant interface we've seen so far, but it does pack in an enormous amount of information and functionality. You can manipulate processes, search for additional information online, check them against virus databases, and hunt down which process is locking which file or causing system instability.
Can't believe your favourite didn't make it? Shocked you've been using the default task manager for so long? Sound off in the comments below.