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Wow This Computer is Really Running Slow Today!

I was patiently waiting on the phone, trying to make a service appointment with a company, when the receptionist came back on the phone and apologized for the delay. She fretted how her PC was taking forever to load the pages of their scheduling software, but finally managed, with further delays, to get me booked.

The other day, I was listening to a talk show on Sirius satellite radio, when an ad came on, extolling the virtues of a product that was guaranteed to “remove the sludge from your PC” and have it running in peak condition in short order. For a second, I almost thought I was listening a promotional spot about an oil additive for your car.

Of course, the “sludge” that announcer was talking about included corrupted registry files and other ills, such as adware, that conspire to bring even the most powerful Windows PC to its knees.

I can think back over the past few weeks, visiting banks and other PC-dependent companies and encountering the very same symptoms. An employee is trying to get some very simple work done, such as scheduling or processing a transaction, but the computer seems to have a mind of its own.

Now in some cases, such as a bank, slowdowns of this sort might be the result of congested network traffic. In that case, the source of the problem may lie in an entirely different location, at a server farm that manages the complicated financial manipulations in which banks traditionally engage during the normal course of business.

But when you’re visiting a small company, with at most a handful of PCs, and store traffic is slow, you don’t expect such issues to occur. None of the applications they typically use are CPU or RAM hogs, so even a basic PC ought to be able to handle the tasks smoothly.

I then think back to a visit I made to a client in a nearby city a couple of years ago. He had just received a PC, passed off to him by the spouse of a deceased relative. Running Windows XP, this particular computer, a Gateway, was no more than a year old, and was a mid-range model, with more than sufficient processing power and memory to support email and Web browsing. It should have been lightning quick, but even the most basic tasks seemed to take forever to complete. For just a second, my mind drifted back to my feeble attempts to run QuarkXPress on a Mac Classic way back in 1991.

Well, I ran some malware detection software on that PC, which supposedly cleaned out a number of infections involving spyware and other afflictions, but improvements were minor. No, I didn’t try one of those so-called “sludge removers,” though I grant that restoring the system might have set things right.

As that radio ad states, though, this appears to be a frighteningly normal situation in Windows land. A computer runs great out of the box, but after a year of regular use, it gradually slows down to a point where it may actually seem considerably slower than the model it replaced. Not good.

Yes, there are fixer-uppers out there that, if run periodically, will probably restore performance to reasonably normal levels. That’s what helps the companies who develop those utilities to stay in business and afford those visits to the gas pumps.

While I try to act cool and professional in those situations, I sometimes ask a local businessperson encountering such difficulties if they ever considered a Mac. Alas, that’s not such an easy choice. Bank processing software and many of the standard retail point-of-sale and general office management applications are strictly Windows based.

Even where there may be Mac equivalents, the bill of particulars can get fairly expensive. It’s not just the new Macs, but the software licenses, installation, and retraining. There may even be an extended downtime in order to transfer data from one platform to the other — and if they can’t do that, the migration simply isn’t worth the bother.

These are business sectors where the Mac frequently has little if any presence. They are also ripe for the picking, simply by building a laundry list of the troubles business owners and their system admins frequently confront and demonstrating how the Mac can solve them.

Alas, Apple doesn’t really do much in the way of direct promotion to many of these businesses. Do you even know, for example, of a bank run by Macs? I’m just asking.

Yes, Apple does have a great story to tell these companies. They even have areas on their Web site that cater strictly to businesses, offering compelling solutions that can address many needs, particularly for smaller companies. Some of these products are turnkey solutions. They can be easily installed and deployed without the need of having an IT department with the appropriate certification certificates.

I rather suspect that the growth of the iPhone as a business tool, and the increased market penetration of Macs in the enterprise will help this sad situation. But I don’t expect to stop hearing those complaints about slow PCs at the office anytime soon.