Windows sidebar.exe Memory Leak

As a sysadmin I like to know what is happening on my computer. Knowing what processes are running and how much memory they’re using seems to be a common pass time for a lot of people. While I run Linux servers and nothing else, my preferred workstation operating system is Windows. Currently I’m running Windows 7, but I’ve noticed this problem also exists in the Windows Vista version as well.

Quite some time back when using Vista, I noticed the sidebar.exe process generally consumes vast/large amounts of memory. My Googling concluded consumption varied depending on degrees of usage, what gadgets are being used and the system uptime. This blogger recorded 1.3Gb of RAM hogged by the sidebar.exe process. I just wanted to make a blog post though and say, if you’re reading this… you’re not alone in your confusion brother.

What is this all about? If looking in task manager and running the Windows Sidebar application, you might notice sidebar.exe using lots of memory. There’s a lot of confusion over why it uses so much memory and what the cause is. When a process eats into available memory and doesn’t release unused memory to the point of exhaustion – it is called a memory leak (more at Wikipedia).

Most people will tell you, just “restart your computer”, “kill the process”, “just don’t use it” or “delete the gadget” and it will fix the problem. Well… I have to stop right here and have a rant… Any person with a lick of common sense will tell you it doesn’t fix the damn problem!! It’s infuriating to read posts by n00bs who honestly have no idea what they’re on about, suggesting these dumb ideas. There is a problem! Covering your eyes and saying “I can’t see it” doesn’t fix it!

Some people (including myself) actually value the easy accessibility of information the side bar can deliver. There are lots of great gadgets out there which will give you cool key information about your system, operating environment and access social networking feeds like Twitter, etc.

So what is the deal with this memory over consumption thing anyway? Well I found this excellent blog post by Mark Russinovich, “The Case of the Frozen Clock Gadget” which takes a detailed look into the problem. He concludes the problem is “down to a leaky Sidebar API” – which doesn’t seem surprising considering Microsoft.

Being Microsoft, and knowing this problem has prevailed through both Windows Vista and Windows 7 now – I’m getting the sense we’ll be lucky to ever see this sidebar memory leak problem resolved. To think, just a minor tweak or rewrite of a function could potentially spark spontaneous celebration and world peace should it even appear on Microsoft’s radar. A little bit of me dies each time I think about it – knowing if Windows was open source, we’d all have this problem nailed by now.

So what can you do to fix this problem? Nothing it seems. While others have suggested you can simply not use Windows Sidebar, restarting the process (killing and starting again), or restarting the computer will temporarily recover your lost memory, it isn’t a long term fix. Really though, considering the amount of RAM we’re running on these days it doesn’t make that much difference personally to my usage. Even if my overall usage does get extreme, the operating system should page/swap the unused memory from RAM to disk. The only downside to that is temporary degraded performance during swapping/paging.

If we’re really lucky, we might see an update in the distant future patching the sidebar API… and then again, the US might catch Osama Bin Laden – it was a pleasant thought while it lasted.

UPDATE (7 March 2011): Thanks TED for your suggestion. I’ve implemented it and confirmed it works on Windows 7 – see the blog post How to Stop sidebar.exe Using Lots of Memory.

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8 Responses to Windows sidebar.exe Memory Leak

  1. Pingback: How to Stop sidebar.exe Using Lots of Memory |, SysAdmins, Server Administrators and IT Consultants

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