SlimCleaner 3 crowd-sources PC maintenance

The other day I was asked if I wanted to take a look at a free PC cleaning utility called SlimCleaner 3.0. I'm a reasonably careful Windows user but I have friends who work in IT and I hear the stories of machines that wind up at the help desk, crippled with bloat and malware, so I'm a fan of any utility that can help people fix their own systems.

SlimCleaner 3.0's hook, so to speak, is that it is "Community-Powered." This means that you can get crowd-sourced advice on what programs and files are safe to purge and which ones you should keep from within the program, at least in theory. When I find a suspicious process consuming a lot of resources on my system, the first thing I often do is Google that process to see what the Internet has to say about it. Having this built into a program seemed like a good idea.

As I said, SlimCleaner 3.0 is free. In order to keep it that way, it comes bundled with some add-ons from AVG. When you run the SlimCleaner installer and choose the recommended Express Installation, you'll find you're also installing the AVG Security Toolbar and AVG Secure Search. You probably don't want to do that, so choose Custom Installation and un-tick the checkboxes next to the AVG stuff.

It's kind of ironic that a program designed to help you clean your computer tries to junk it up during installation, but that's the business of free software, I suppose.

Anyway, SlimCleaner 3.0 has a few main sections. The first is Cleaner. When I ran the Analyze option, Cleaner found about 3 GBs of files it wanted to nuke. You have to be careful here. Cleaner has a row of 5 tabs: Windows, Applications, Browsers, Advanced and Registry. Click on each tab and see what the program is looking at by default. Make sure it's not going to "Clean" something you actually want deleted. In my case, it was going to nuke my browser caches, history and cookies and I didn't want it to.

It's a simple enough matter to unselect browser caches, history and cookies. My problem was that, for whatever reason, I thought the Clean command was just going to act on the Tab I was looking at. Operator error, really, but I thought I'd share. I do wish the various lists of options has "Select All/Select None" tools. Still, Cleaner is a great tool for purging log files, memory dump files, left-overs from Windows Update and things of that nature.

The next section is Optimize. The tabs here are Startup, Services and Restore List. Optimize is the first place you'll encounter the community features. At the top of the window is a filter widget. You can use this to isolate programs/service that the community has deemed Unwanted (the far left of the slider) or move the slider right to see both Unwanted & Optional, or finally to see everything.

Each item in the list gets a community rating, and you can click on a little "More info" button to get a pop-up about that program or service. For instance the first thing in my Startup list was Adobe ARM. That's Adobe's updater program. Clicking More Info takes me to a page that says the program is optional and "You should keep Adobe ARM in startup if you don't know how to check for updates on your own. It's another waste of your computer resources." I can give this recommendation a Like or a Dislike.

Farther down the window more recommendations are offered, and you can break them out by "Reasons to Keep" and "Reasons to Remove." Just to be clear, these are all community solicited opinions and the more Likes a recommendation gets, the higher up in the list it appears. I found them helpful but I wonder if a true neophyte wouldn't find the conflicting opinions to be just another source of computer confusion. "So should I keep Adobe ARM or not?" The Services tab offers the same kind of info for services, and the Restore List let's you put back something you've removed.

The next main section is Software. This is basically your "Programs and Features" Control Panel with the added benefit of the same Community Rating and More Info data seen in the Optimize tab.

The next section, Browsers, let's you manage extensions and plug-ins for IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari. You can also change home pages and search providers from this section.

The next secyion is Hijack Log. It will, unsurprising, generate a HijackThis log with two options, Novice or Expert. The Novice version feels a bit redundant with the Optimize settting. Instead of seeing program names you're seeing process names but otherwise you're getting most of the same stuff. The Expert version gives you an indepth look at what's going on in the guts of your computer at a level of detail higher than my pay grade as a lowly web developer and blogger. This is a tool for the IT wonks, to be sure.

The next section is Disk Tools. It offers a Disk Wiper that lets you blow away an entire disk, or wipe clean empty space, as well as a Shredder that lets you securely delete files. In both cases these utilities should prevent data from being recovered; a good security measure before getting rid of an old computer. Disk Tools also offers Disk Analyzer which offers a great overview of where your disk space is being used.

And finally, the last section is Windows Tools, which is essentially an alternative front end to the Windows Control Panel.

Phew, that was verbose, wasn't it? As I said, I'm not an IT professional, nor am I Windows certified or anything along those lines, so this should definitely be considered a layman's look at SlimCleaner 3.0. I am a fairly careful user though, and the program didn't find much to gripe about on my system. I'd love to run it on a machine that was having problems, just to see what it could find, but unfortunately I don't have such a beast at-hand.

The only "problem" I had with SlimCleaner 3.0 (other than the AVG stuff in the installer) is that a community-driven service is only as good as the community driving it. The advice you get via "More Info" is very inconsistent. Sometime you get really obvious advice and other times you get some pretty in-depth help. Hopefully the idea will take off and the advice database will grow more robust over time.

So is SlimCleaner 3 worth it? I guess the best indicator I can give is that, now that I'm done writing this post, I won't be removing it from my system. It probably won't be something I use constantly but the next time I find my system feeling bogged down, SlimCleaner 3 will be one of the tools I use to try to fix the problem. And it's hard to argue with free, right?

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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