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NirSoft’s UserAssistView shows which programs are being launched on a PC

02 April 2012, Mike Williams

If you need to check how your kids, employees or anyone else might be using a shared PC then you could install a complex parental controls or monitoring tool to record every detail.

Or, alternatively, you might just download NirSoft’s UserAssistView. It’s free, and a tiny 35KB download, but is still powerful enough to show you which programs are being launched on your PC, and when.

The program works by reading Windows’ own tracking data, as recorded in the UserAssist Registry key. When you launch a program Windows stores its details there, including the launch time, while also maintaining a running total of how many times you’ve run this particular application. (Which sounds a little intrusive, it’s true, but the system needs to do this to figure out which programs need to be placed in the Most Recently Used area of the Start menu.)

Which programs were last run on your PC, and when? It's all here.

UserAssistView only offers the core tracking details. On launch you’ll see an “Item Name” column which contains the name of each application, for instance. “Count” tells you the number of times it’s been run, and “Modified Time” when it was last launched. This is more than enough to be very useful, though, especially if you click on various column headers to sort the list.

Click “Modified Date”, say, and you’ll see the programs sorted in their order of execution, valuable if you want to track what someone’s been doing recently.

Or clicking “Count” will show you the most frequently launched applications, which can also be interesting, although it’s trickier to interpret (the number of times you fire up a program isn’t always a good indicator as to how much you use it; you might launch Outlook only once a session, say, but then leave it running until you close down).

UserAssistView offers a simple and lightweight approach to PC monitoring, then, which has a lot of appeal. But if you think the whole idea of tracking program use this way is an invasion of your privacy, then you could reduce chance of others using the same trick on you by simply cleaning up the UserAssistView Registry key on a regular basis. CCleaner, for instance, is just one of the tools which can handle this for you: check “User Assist History” in the Advanced list to wipe the relevant keys during cleaning (although keep in mind that your Start Menu will no longer update to show the most recently used applications).

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