Q: I was working on my laptop (with Windows Vista) and all of a sudden the “waiting” circle appeared and the screen got a little light and I couldn’t do any work for about an hour? Then everything was fine. What happened?
A: Windows Vista’s “little blue circle” or “waiting circle” basically means that the computer is “thinking”. When too much is happening at once on a Windows system, the waiting icon usually appears. Most likely this icon shows up because of a significant memory-intensive process running in the background, or because a program is frozen or stuck (which is also usually a memory issue).
Two of the memory-intensive things that can frequently cause the circle to show up are 1) windows update running in the background without you knowing it or 2) your antivirus program starting a scan in the background. I say “without you knowing it” and “in the background” because most people have windows update configured to work without notifying the user (which is generally fine) and most anti-virus programs are (as they should be) scheduled to run automatically. The problem happens when you are working on a document and all of sudden the computer slows to a crawl and you’re not sure why.
For instructions on how to check or change your Windows Update settings, view this post.
The other thing to consider is that if the circle happens frequently, regularly and is a relatively new occurrence (and it’s not Windows Update or the anti-virus program running), then you may have a virus, spyware or other program that is newly installed and causing the problem. You should check what system processes are running (or ask someone who knows how to do this) and see if there’s anything that shouldn’t be there.
But if the circle only happens once and a while, it may be ok to just let it go for a minute or two (this happens to everyone) and the system should recover.