You get a lot of processes when you press CTRL-ALT-DELETE, bring up the Task Manager, and click the Process tab. It's impossible to say with any certainty which ones you can safely close. Although attempting to end any of them produces dire warnings of apocalyptic upheaval, such disasters rarely occur.
Of course, I wouldn't close any of them without saving every open document first. One must take precautions.
But here's a simple rule: Don't close any process without first finding out what it does. One good place to look is ProcessLibrary.com. Just enter the name into the site's Find field, press ENTER, and see what it says.
Actually, the site offers an even easier way to look up a process: ProcessQuickLink. This free program puts an icon next to each process in the task manager. Click any one of these icons, and your browser will open to that process's description in ProcessLibrary.com.
But ProcessQuickLink is itself a process that grabs nearly 5MB of memory, and one of those needless autoloaders I warned you about two weeks ago. So after you install it, right-click ProcessQuickLink's systray icon and uncheck RunProcessQuickLink 2 on Windows Startup. Then manually launch the program from the Start menu when you actually need it.
ProcessLibrary doesn't list every process. If it doesn't have the one you need information on, Bunk of the Answer Line forum recommends another site, AnswersThatWork. And FenderGuy2112 points out that Googling a process name is bound to turn up useful information.
For the original forum discussion, visit http://forums.pcworld.com/message/84370.