An irregular series of XP Myths involving speedup, reliability and optomization issues. Next in the Series: RAM Optomizers.
Registry Cleaners -- Avoid them
Mark Russinovich (Author of the "Bible", Windows Internals, co-founder of Winternals and Sysinternals, and since both companies were bought by Microsoft, now a senior Microsoft employee) was asked:
Hi Mark, do you really think that Registry junk left by uninstalled programs could severely slow down the computer? I would like to 'hear' your opinion.
His reply fairly captures my own view:
No, even if the registry was massively bloated there would be little impact on the performance of anything other than exhaustive searches.
On Win2K Terminal Server systems, however, there is a limit on the total amount of Registry data that can be loaded and so large profile hives can limit the number of users that can be logged on simultaneously.
I haven't and never will implement a Registry cleaner since it's of little practical use on anything other than Win2K terminal servers and developing one that's both safe and effective requires a huge amount of application-specific knowledge.
To which you can the additional problem: applications installed on a machine that is used by more than one person can creates entries for each user in their private registry store: HKEY_CURRENT_USER. Because registry cleaners (and REGEDIT.EXE) operate under SYSTEM permissions with the logged-in user security token, they cannot access these other registry entries.
Quoting Mark Russinovich again:
Uninstallers typically delete their application’s system-wide settings from the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE part of the Registry and any per-user settings of the user running the uninstaller from HKEY_CURRENT_USER. But what happens to the per-user settings of the other users that used the application? You guessed it, Registry junk gets created - and possibly file system junk in the application's Application Data folder in the \Documents and Settings directories of other users. An uninstall is only thorough if the user performing it is the only one that used the software.
So you have these issues with a registry cleaner:
If an application is installed and used only by one user, a registry cleaner run by another user will remove "invalid" entries in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and disable the application from working by the other user(s);
If an application is installed by User #1, and used as well by User#2, the registry cleaner operation run by User#1 cannot remove the instances of the application created by User#2.
On top of these technical issues that should scare you away, there is the central argument made by Mr. Russinovich: only if the registry cleaner has a sophisticated database of all application software installation registry changes would it have a chance of being safe to use. There is to my knowledge no such animal out there.
Though the Microsoft Knowledge Base has a lot of articles on how to repair the damage created by using these utilities.
Will using Registry Cleaners speed-up my system and make it more reliable? It will have no effect on system speed. There is an excellent chance it will make your system less reliable.
So what should I do about the registry?
The best thing you can do is to enable System Restore and add to your Autostart applications a registry backup. Strongly recommended for this is ERUNT (freeware):
But I backup my registry reqularly using REGEDIT.EXE.
You might as well not have bothered, the backups created by Regedit are of no use to you.
Neither does it export the whole registry (for example, no information from the "SECURITY" hive is saved), nor can the exported file be used later to replace the current registry with the old one. Instead, if you re-import the file, it is merged with the current registry without deleting anything that
has been added since the export, leaving you with an absolute mess of
old and new entries.
It would be foolish to argue with someone of Russinovitch's caliber and a downright dumb double dare to dispute the way this has been presented by Bill.
Enter the dumb fool ............
I've seen a lot of true garbage programs that claim to be good medicine for registry maintenance, however, given the choice of no registry cleaning application versus a good registry cleaning application, I'll stand on the wrong side of the fence regardless of my repect for the opinions of either Mr Russinovitch or Mr Castner.
Personally, I wouldn't be without something like jv16 PowerTools or RegSeeker. To clean up a system after uninstalling an unwanted application, I'd recommend either one to most users who have moved beyond rookie status and understand some basic fundamentals about Windows and its architecture. Ditto with periodic maintenance, registry searches and "fixing" certain types of problems. I'm pretty comfortable with both of these tools and quite frankly, would be lost in some situations without them.
To any who read this, my recommendation would be to follow the advice and guidance that Bill and Mark have offered - these guys have forgotten more than I'll ever learn, even if I had a houseful of tutors courtesy of Microsoft.
And, my own course of action - I'll stick with what works for me until I find a better way. You might think I'm a little hard-headed but that would be a hasty observation because I'm real hard-headed. I appreciate reading anything that provides guidance relative to understanding Windows and I'm not afraid to try almost anything, but I also know what has and hasn't worked for me regarding a host of different software and hardware issues on a lot of different machines. That translates to, "I respect your most knowledgeable opinion but I'll continue using RegSeeker and jv16 PowerTools."
Well then .... I have the $30 Reg Mechanic which tells me it's 'fixed' a couple hundred 'mistakes'. Can't tell any difference in performance but I'm very gullible(sp?) about these matters. I decided a couple of weeks ago to follow the advice on this board as it's been very helpful. If I go into 'remove programs' and remove it, it's sounds as if I'll be better off in the long run? Don't be hesitant about answering, please, the $30 is no big deal.!!
I can make an example of my own computer (and one belonging to a friend). It had Norton Internet Security 2003 and Norton System Works 2003 and Norton Ghost 2003 installed since the most recent clean installation. When the subscription for NIS expired, I uninstalled NIS 2003 from add/remove programs, rebooted and checked that Norton Anti Virus was no longer listed in NSW 2003. After that, I installed NIS 2005, was prompted to reboot again (which surprised me) and there has not been a single sign of trouble.
A friend has a similar setup (not Ghost) and when I helped him upgrading NIS, I followed the same route but when all was done, NIS 2005 had the same old expiry date. I had to uninstall NIS 2005 and run jv16 (the old free version) to find and remove all traces of NIS 2003, NAV 2003, NIS 2005 and NAV 2005 (I wanted to keep NSW 2003). After that, an installation of NIS 2005 was successful.
My take on this is that reg cleaning for its own sake is not to be recommended but in case of trouble, reg cleaning of specific entries may be the solution.
Neither a definitive NO nor a definitive YES but a conditional MAYBE ... ... !
If you go to the Norton/Symantec site, they offer small utilities to clean up after an Add/Remove if the process was not thorough enough.
I would much rather have you do that that use jv16 (an excellent product). But for the moment I do want to distinguish between registry cleaning as some sort of regular ownership ritual using automated tools; and the search and removal of known and identifiable entries by an experienced computer user.
I can see the latter use, if no other option is available to you. I think it high-risk, but I can understand why it could be needed.
But what in particular I want to dispel as a "Myth" is that these automatic cleaners need to be run with any regularity. And I wanted to dispel as a "Myth" that they are safe to use.
Before ever using one, I hope folks have enough sense to:
. create a manual System Restore point;
. And have ERUNT or similar installed and the registry stores current.
"... I do want to distinguish between registry cleaning as some sort of regular ownership ritual using automated tools; and the search and removal of known and identifiable entries by an experienced computer user..."
That's me, the ritual bit. I'm probably among the great majority of this forums readers: the ones that don't know beans about the workings of the machine but are interested in the advice of the experts on the questions we do have.
So...... is that a Yes, No, MAYBE or SUIT YOURSELF
Well, that makes it almost too close to choose, so ...... I'll do what any reasonable, thinking person would do: If the Seahawks beat the Cowboys I'll take it off but if Romo will settle down with his throwing and T.O will quit dropping those passes and they win, I'll take it off.!!
Nah, I'm not gonna take it off even tho the Cowboys (Romo) blew it. After a careful reading of the previous posts your 'unabiguous no' was rather ambiguous following your 1st post: ie. "..His reply fairly captures my own view.."
"..If it does no good, and could possibly do harm, a reasonable man would choose not to use them at all...." (or let the NFL choose?)
But I have to say that I still have no idea whether the PCtool is helping me or not but I do know it won't hurt me any or you would have given me an unambiguous 'YES'.