It's hard to like the Windows Task Manager. It's clunky, makes drilling into computer's processes nigh impossible, and offers little help into what's going on. Like most native Windows tasks, though, there are freeware replacements available. Today we're looking at three of them: Process Explorer, Security Process Explorer, and Process Manager 2 Lite, all of which have recently received updates.

Process Explorer is less polished but offers a ton of information.

All three of them have a lot to offer. Process Manager provides the most features and Security Process Explorer offers the simplest interface, with Process Explorer striking a balance between the two. They all have an option to replace the Windows Task Manager outright, so that hitting the Task Manager brings up one of their freeware interfaces.

From there, though, they begin to differ. Only Security Process Explorer and Process Explorer let users Process Explorer perform instant Web searches on a process, but only Process Explorer's Web search uses Google--Security Process Explorer takes you to their proprietary analysis of the process. However, they all let you drill to the exact file being used, Process Explorer doesn't give you option of opening the folder containing the file--it only shows you the path within the program. You have to open the folder yourself.

Security Process Manager hides most of its info for a clean display.

They all show the process name, the memory being used, and the CPU time, but it can be a bit confusing trying to determine which one supports the features you're looking for. Process Manager has a much more polished look to it, with a proliferation of buttons on the top and a flurry of options at the bottom of the window, but has some stability issues. The Services List showed nothing, and getting the Window info on a process caused the program to crash on multiple instances.

Security Process Explorer offers a simple spreadsheet format, with a familiar Windows-style top row of buttons and process information in a bottom pane. Process Explorer gives you a file tree, although you can change the view so that related processes aren't connected to each other. All offer context-menu options such as killing the process and setting the process priority.

Process Manager looks professional but is plagued by stability issues.

Until Process Manager can resolve its stability concerns, I'm a bit reluctant to recommend it. Security Process Explorer is definitely for users interested in replacing the Task Manager but don't need to know the rarest bit of minutiae about the programs currently running, while Process Explorer is for advanced users or those who don't like the corporate feel of the other two.