Now tidy up your computer

Hard-disk clutter has become a serious nuisance for PC users, but a best-selling program can detect and zap useless files safely, says Joseph Gallivan
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If owning a television is like having an open sewer running through your living room, owning a PC is like having a nappy bucket in your bedroom. Waste has become one of the biggest problems facing computer users, as unused programs clutter hard drives and slow down systems. In the physical world, clearing your desk can take just a sweep of the arm. Doing the equivalent with your computer files (and who, emboldened by a magazine article or a visit to the pub, has not fiddled with their .INI, .SYS and .TMP files late at night?) can lead to a total wipe-out.

That is why the fourth best-selling program in the US for the past two years has been Microhelp's Uninstaller - a program that gets rid of unwanted software ... safely. Version 1.0 was written by 30-year old Ken Spreitzer in his spare time. Version 3.0 was released this June.

The trouble with programs written for Microsoft Windows is that they come with hidden elements. Given that earlier this year a survey showed 60 per cent of Windows users thought a window was gone for good once it went behind another, it is no surprise that there are people who think deleting a program icon in Programme Manager will get rid of the program itself. Deleting .EXE files and their neighbours in File Manager does free up a lot of space, but for the real neatness freak there is more to do.

Installing a Windows application (program) sprays information over more than just the path you think it is being copied into. Many applications add lines to your WIN.INI and WIN.SYS files which can linger, slowing down performance. Uninstaller displays these.

Many share Windows system files with each other, such as .DLLs (dynamic link library) files, .VBXs (visual basic extensions) and drivers. Obviously, you do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so Uninstaller performs a search of your hard drive, called SmartLinks, to work out what goes with what. On its simple graphical interface, it can bring up a list of duplicate files, and those that are "orphans" - ie, totally disconnected.

CD-Roms are the biggest culprits in clogging hard drives. They install countless fonts you will never use again and differing versions of viewers, the most notorious being Apple QuickTime for Windows, which is always being upgraded. Typically, a CD-Rom installs 2 to 5mb of information during its set-up, then draws on the CD for the rest as you use it.

Nowadays you can buy whole gigabytes of zipped (compressed) shareware on CD-Rom, which means you can spend hours making your icons move across the screen or speak in French when prodded. But they also give you more junk to remove later.

The most enjoyable part of Uninstaller is Windows Cleanup. This lists everything on your hard drive. After eight months of use, I finally got the message that my 425mb drive was full. This was the time to claw back some space. Cleanup showed me that Windows 95 took up 110mb. One cannot do much about that, but I found 12mb of temporary files (.TMPs), which are created as you work solely in case your system crashes. They had to go.

Ten megabytes of sent faxes that had been stored were eating up space. Clip art - instant images - took up acres of space too. I also found long-lost letters and bitmaps (.BMPs) in paths I did not even know existed. Everything can be backed up in compressed form, just in case.

If your computer is wired up to the Internet through an online service, the chances are you that have piles of abandoned shareware and freeware in your digital basement.

Remember all those artistic JPEGs you downloaded from erotica.blondes but which, upon opening, you found were just a screenful of textual gibberish and so you abandoned them? (You did not have the right viewer, you later learnt.) You will find them, eventually. If you have a Web browser, you probably have a few megabytes of unneeded Web pages stored in the cache.

The numbers in File Manager never seemed to add up, but on Uninstaller they do. By the end of my session I had saved 53mb of space, saving me a trip to the hard-drive retailer. Not bad for $50.

As for the competition? Well, commercially there are Remove-It and Clean Sweep, and as shareware there are Rosenthal Uninstall and WINformant, but Uninstaller has the edge for thoroughness and ease of use.

Microsoft decreed that anyone making software for Windows 95 would have to include an easy uninstall process in their application, but this does not worry Microhelp, which thrives on the confusion created by upgrades.

Uninstaller itself takes up a generous 5.29mb. But at least it is an honest 5.29mb - and it can be uninstalled itself at the touch of an icon. For which it deserves to stay.

Microhelp e-mail For shareware uninstall utilities consult the libraries of an online service such as CompuServe (GO WINSHARE or GO PCUTIL).