Tossing Junk Out Of Windows

Cheap housekeeping programs can get rid of digital debris without too much fuss

After I suggested recently that buyers of new computers should clear the junk software off their hard drives (BW--Mar. 11), several wrote to ask just how to go about doing it. That's a good question. It turns out that the task of getting rid of Windows programs is harder than it sounds--or than it ought to be.

The bad news is that in order to do a proper job of eliminating unwanted applications, you need to buy an additional piece of software. The good news is that an inexpensive housekeeping program, also called a cleanup utility, will free up space on your hard drive and will help eliminate problems that are caused by duplicate or outdated files.

UNREALIZED PROMISE. I've taken a look at three such cleanup programs: UnInstaller 3.5 from MicroHelp (800 777-3322), CleanSweep 95 from Quarterdeck (310 309-3700), and Remove-It 95, put out by Vertisoft Systems (800 466-5875). All of them are widely available at software stores at a price between $25 and $35. All of them offer Windows 3.1 and 95 versions in the same box, and all perform similar functions well. Truth be told, there's not much basis for preferring one over another, although I found CleanSweep to be the easiest to use, by a narrow margin.

This is one area where Apple Computer's Mac operating system is simpler. On the Mac, simply dragging an icon to the trash can has the effect of throwing the whole program away. Try that in Windows 95, however, and you junk only the icon--while the underlying program stays right where it is. Win95 was supposed to have almost Mac-like cleanup ease, but, as in a number of other fields, the promise hasn't quite been realized. Although displaying the "Designed for Windows 95" logo requires that an application must come with its own "uninstall" routine, it will be a long time before the programs that were written for older versions disappear. Even today, more than half of the newly published software that I see specifies "Windows 3.1 or later," which means there is no assurance that a cleanup feature has been included.

Getting rid of a Windows program by hand is a tedious chore. First, you have to delete the folder or directory containing the program files. Then, you have to eliminate its icon from the Win95 start menu or a Windows 3.1 program group. Even then, you'll probably be left with orphaned files remaining in other directories. And the now-departed program will still be registered in Windows' database of installed applications, a situation that can later cause Windows to try to open a file with a nonexistent program.

LESS SPACE. The utility programs automate the cleanup process, hunting down all unneeded files. Sometimes, there's a possibility that a file may be used by some other program. In these cases, the software wisely errs on the side of caution--unless you specifically tell it to go ahead and delete the file.

These programs perform other helpful services as well: They can search through your hard disk for duplicate files or components that no longer seem to belong to any program and delete them. They will also easily copy a program to disks so that you are able to transfer it to a laptop or a new computer and retain any customization that you may have done. The utilities will also let you compress little-used applications with the result that they take up less space but can be decompressed when needed. One extra tip: After deleting or compressing a lot of files, you should run the Win95 disk defragmenter to finish the job of tidying your drive.

As software written for Windows 95 becomes dominant, the need for program-removal software will fade. But these cleanup programs all add enough utility that they are well worth their modest price.

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