CCleaner: Kick the Crap Out of Your PC

By Joseph Moran
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It's an accepted axiom that there's an inverse relationship between security and convenience when it comes to computing. To wit, a great many of the operating system features and applications most of us rely on have a real potential to compromise system security to some degree.

CCleaner (CrapCleaner) is a handy little utility designed to clean out a system and enhance privacy by getting rid of much of the potentially troublesome flotsam (better known as crap) that inevitably accumulates on computers with regular use.

Getting Rid of the Crap

CCleaner can identify and remove a variety of files and types of residual information in three basic categories. For the operating system and browser, it can erase cookies, URL history and cached content from both Internet Explorer and Firefox. In the case of the former, it can eliminate additional treasure troves of information by deleting the AutoComplete form history and the various index.dat files used by IE (none of which are deleted when historical information is purged via the normal browser procedures). CCleaner gets rid of things like temp and log files, the list of recently accessed documents and Recycle Bin contents as well.

CCleaner also promises to get rid of temp files and MRUs (most recently used entries) for a number of third-party applications and utilities, including all the major media players (Quicktime, Real, Windows), WinZIP, Adobe Acrobat, Google Toolbar and even Microsoft Office XP. Finally, CCleaner can additionally scan for and remove extraneous or orphaned Registry entries. (Note that when you tell CCleaner to clean out your Registry, you do have the option of making a backup.)

After launching CCleaner, you're presented with three tabs that let you individually analyze and scan your system for items in each of the aforementioned areas. (The tool also reports basic system info like CPU type and speed, amount of RAM and graphics chip present.)

Destruction the Way You Want It

For many people, particularly the paranoid or those short on time, blowing away huge swaths of historical information is the best (and certainly the most efficient) way to keep your system up to snuff. However, if you want to approach the task of system cleanup with a bit more prudence, you can tweak some of CCleaner's default settings to reduce the likelihood that you'll wipe out something you may want or need later.

Case in point: While deleting all browser cookies will preclude them from tracking your Web activities, it will also ensure that you need to re-enter your login information and/or lose customization settings on all the legitimate sites you frequent. To avoid this, one of CCleaner's option menus lets you peruse your list of cookies and set aside the cookies you want to retain. CCleaner remembers the cookies you selected for protection in future sessions, which makes it a lot easier to parse the list the next time around.

You can also tell CCleaner not to delete temp files that are less than 48 hours old, since they can often be crucial to the recovery of, say, a Word file if the application hangs or crashes unexpectedly. It's also worth noting that by default CCleaner won't concern itself with anything that's not in a system or application folder, but you do have the option to add your own folders to the areas CCleaner will scan.

Quick, Easy, and (Mostly) Effective
CCleaner's initial OS/browser analysis of our test system took a bit less than three minutes and uncovered about 2.9 GB worth of files to be eliminated. The actual cleaning process took around two minutes and reported an actual amount of 2.5 GB of space cleared (which we verified by checking the increase in available space on the drive). Application and Registry analyses uncovered innumerable items to fix as well (though they didn't free up nearly as much space).

A detailed post-cleaning examination of our test system indicated that most all the information CCleaner purported to clean had indeed been expunged from the system. Temp files had disappeared, browser history lists had disappeared into the ether and the Recycle Bin was empty.

Perhaps as important, those sites whose cookies we had saved continued to behave as they always had. We did notice, however, that MRU lists for Microsoft Word XP unexpectedly remained intact.

Other Features

Another useful feature of CCleaner is its ability to manipulate the Add/Remove Programs List. For example, you can use the utility to rename any entry in the list. This can come in handy when an application you installed doesn't provide a sufficiently descriptive title for itself, which can in turn lead you to accidentally delete a needed program as a result of thinking it's superfluous or perhaps spyware.

And for those occasions when an application gets deleted but its Add/Remove Programs entry stubbornly refuses to budge, CCleaner can excise it with a single click of the mouse. You can also directly initiate the uninstall process for any program from within CCleaner.

Like Windows' built-in MSCONFIG utility, CCleaner also gives you access to the (usually lengthy) list of startup programs. This feature is of limited usefulness, though; while MSCONFIG gives you the option of merely disabling a startup program, CCleaner will only let you delete it, which can lead to problems if you're not absolutely sure of what you're deleting.

Another relatively minor complaint is that the only documentation takes the form of a sparse online FAQ, which people looking for detail on the various settings will find insufficient.

CCleaner is compatible with Windows versions from 95 through XP and is available as a free download (at a mere 468K, it's a quick one, too) and is also free to use indefinitely. According to the author, a suggested donation via PayPal of 10GBP (about $18.55 at the time of this writing) will get you future updates to the utility in advance of public release.

CCleaner is definitely a handy program to have in one's system utility repertoire. It provides a level of discriminate system cleaning the Windows operating system doesn't provide, and even though some of CCleaner's capabilities are built into Windows or the host applications, CCleaner still saves time by providing a centralized launch point for myriad housekeeping chores.

Pros: Quickly, easily and effectively removes unwanted and/or potentially private information from you PC; freeware tool; offers cleaning support for a wide variety of apps; useful uninstall tool

Cons: Sparse help/documentation; test version didn't effectively remove Office XP MRUs

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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This article was originally published on May 27, 2005
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