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Clean Machines

Is your hard drive getting crowded? Clean it up with one of these uninstall programs.

By Cassandra Cavanah

Software programs keep getting bigger. The latest version of Microsoft Office, for instance, eats up 124MB of hard-drive space. This means it's more important than ever to keep your hard drive free of unused files and programs. Not only does this give you extra space, but, like a well-maintained engine, your hard drive will be able to perform daily tasks more efficiently.

In the good ol' DOS days, cleaning your hard drive was easy. You simply deleted everything from an application's subdirectory and removed a statement or two from the autoexec.bat file. Both Windows 3.x and Windows 95 are much more complicated than that--an application will put files in various subextensions such as .INI, .DLL and .DAT, making it nearly impossible to identify all the files associated with an application. This means even after a good cleaning, a lot of junk is still left on your system, junk that has the potential to slow things down and even cause errors.

When it comes to removing programs, Windows 95 users have a leg up on Windows 3.x users because Microsoft incorporated an uninstall utility in Windows 95. Unfortunately, this utility doesn't offer the depth and detail of a stand-alone product--and it also doesn't work with Windows 3.x. You'll probably be better served by turning to one of the programs we review here. All three come with a 16-bit version for Windows 3.1 users and a 32-bit version for Windows 95/NT systems. Here we review the Windows 95/NT modules.

Cleaning up

CleanSweep 95 from Quarterdeck is extremely easy to use. Its tab interface makes navigation simple, and Quarterdeck's Wizards take users through the uninstall process step by step. CleanSweep warns users not to blindly delete programs and files and encourages backing up files to a directory for later deletion. If files were mistakenly deleted, CleanSweep's Restore function reinstalls them. CleanSweep identifies deletions by time and date, letting users find the appropriate files for restoration, regardless of how long ago the deletion took place.

I did a complete hard-drive cleanup with CleanSweep--deleting programs, removing .DLL files, and getting rid of orphan files (files left behind after an application has been deleted). The process was simple, and I took Quarterdeck's advice to back up files I was unsure about deleting--especially the .DLL and orphan files. This proved to be a useful safety measure, as I inadvertently deleted a necessary file. Fortunately, it took just a few seconds to restore it. As an added safety measure, before CleanSweep removes files, users can view the list and deselect certain files.

CleanSweep also includes general cleanup functions, such as archiving unused programs and compressing them for later use. The Transport Wizard lets you move all pieces of a program from your hard drive to another drive. After compressing the program to one file, the Restore Wizard can reinstall it on another machine. This is a lot less cumbersome than installing an entire program and makes transferring programs and files from a desktop to a laptop relatively painless.

CleanSweep's next version, which should be available by the time you read this, will offer some new features, including automatic updates from the Quarterdeck Web site and a more extensive application database.

Help Is On The Way

UnInstaller 3.5 from MicroHelp works a little differently than CleanSweep. It has many of the same functions, but its interface is somewhat confusing, making it slightly difficult to unearth all its features. Instead of using the tabbed-interface style that makes CleanSweep so easy to use, UnInstaller has drop-down menus. Under the Uninstall drop-down menu, for example, users will find functions for deleting, archiving, transporting and moving applications. Once a function is selected, users search for applications using the familiar Windows 95 "folder" metaphor to find application folders.

When deleting an application, I was surprised UnInstaller never warned me to save a backup. Upon consulting the manual, I discovered that MicroHelp incorporated the backup function into the Preferences area of the program--apparently, the default is to back up all deleted applications and files. (An on-screen message to this effect would have been appreciated.) Before UnInstaller would delete any files, however, it did ask for confirmation of the deletion.

I was impressed with the way UnInstaller and CleanSweep both tidily cleaned up my desktop--deleting folders and icons relating to the removed programs. To compare the two, I ran the duplicate file finder function, a feature that lets users delete or rename duplicate files, and came up with virtually the same list.

Mapping It Out

Micro Logic's DiskMapper is a completely different type of program but offers some of the same functionality of the true uninstall utilities.

In a sense, DiskMapper shows you a road map of your hard drive. It sections off the various folders and files on your drive, laying them out like tiles to illustrate how much space they take up in relation to each other. Position your cursor over a folder or file, and you'll see its full title and how much space it's eating up. Select a file, hit the delete key, and watch it vanish (after some warnings, of course). You can also select entire programs for deletion or compression.

DiskMapper color-codes the various levels of your hard drive--with the drive itself one color, the folders within it another color, the files within the folder another color and so on. With such an intense visual, I quickly saw large, unused files that could be deleted, as well as old folders full of material I knew was dated and unnecessary.

DiskMapper doesn't offer the same kind of detail as CleanSweep or UnInstaller, such as the ability to locate duplicate and orphan files, but it's an interesting utility that gave me a much clearer idea of what was on my hard drive.

After using DiskMapper, I was able to go back and delete files and programs using one of the other uninstall utilities. (You can delete programs and files using DiskMapper, but it will only delete the contents of a folder, not the folder itself. In addition, it doesn't automatically track down stray program files that might exist in other areas of your hard drive.)

Bottom Line

If you're ready to streamline your hard drive, be sure to pick up a copy of one of the two uninstall programs reviewed here. Both are good, but I preferred the ease-of-use offered by Quarterdeck's CleanSweep over MicroHelp's UnInstaller. Then, if you're really serious about digging out all the unnecessary stuff on your drive, check out DiskMapper--you can download a free trial version from Micro Logic's Web site at http://www.miclog.com

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