Convenience and PC Privacy
More people are starting to question what gets left behind when they browse the web. These remnants vary based on which web browser you use. These traces often include cookies, temp files, typed web addresses, history and so on. In the case of Internet Explorer, you also have a hidden system file called index.dat that catalogs the web pages you visit.
As you can guess, there is a trade off between convenience and privacy. Certainly, the saved history allows you to find a site you couldn't remember. Cookies allow you to personalize sites like Yahoo! and make shopping easier. The same goes for cached files which make it easier to browse sites without downloading files multiple times. These same conveniences can leave traces behind on your PC. Some people are worried others could look at the info and others worry about the number and size of these files.
These traces aren't limited to web browsers. Other applications including multimedia players and Microsoft Office also leave traces. Usually, the information is limited to the files showing on your MRU (Most Recently Used) lists although you could have data in temporary files.
Finding the Remnants with CCleaner
One program that does a good job of finding and removing the remnants is CCleaner. This is a free utility produced by Piriform, a software firm based in London, UK. They describe the program as a system optimization tool. Some of the more descriptive fans refer to it as ?crap cleaner? since it removes many unwanted files.
One reason I like this program is I can select what to remove and see the results before the deletion. This feature makes it a nice learning tool if you want to check an option and see the results. For example, if I select Internet Explorer and Cookies, I can see which cookies will be deleted. I've seen too many registry cleaners and system optimizers which make it too easy for the user to get into trouble.
The program has a clean layout which I appreciate. There are four main functions represented by buttons on the left side. Clicking a button changes the right side of the screen. The buttons include:
Cleaner - allows you to remove files or objects from Windows and other installed applications. This is the function you will most likely use the most.
Issues - this sections checks your system registry files and various shortcuts. It's not as robust as some registry cleaners I've seen, but it is fast. It also allows you to backup entries you delete.
Tools - this section allows you to uninstall programs or remove their entry from the list. If you remove a program, it will look for the application's uninstaller program. This option loads much faster than Add or Remove Programs which you find in Windows Control Panel.
Options - this section allows you to refine your program settings such as the method to delete files. It is also where you mark any cookies you want saved.
Although the program does a good job of providing alerts and notices, one area that could improve is the online help. It seems this area was kept to a minimum to reduce the size of the installer. I think there are ways to provide more help into the program and still keep the size small. As example, the program could include tooltips or pop ups so when the user mouse over an item such as Old Prefetch Data, they would have a better idea of the item.
The Cleaning Process
The cleaning process is straightforward. Initially, the program checks entries it figures you want cleaned. Typically, when I test these types of programs, I start slow and then build up so I can see how the program works.
I first checked the box for Internet Explorer on the Windows tab. By doing this, all related items were checked. This action produced a series of alerts. The first one concerned index.dat. It warned me that the file wouldn't be deleted until my next reboot. The next alert concerned Autocomplete Form history and how I would lose any saved passwords. As you can see, the program does try to ensure you don't do something you'll regret.
One aspect that may throw first time users is that the program will clean files based on your selections on the Windows tab and the Applications tab. The Applications tab shows many of your other programs such as browsers, Microsoft Office programs and so on. There is not a separate cleaning process for the Applications tab.
Once you make your selection, you can hit the Analyze button to see which items will be deleted. If any of the programs you selected are opened, the program will tell you to close them first. The program also shows you the estimated file size and the deletion method based on your options.
In the screen snap above, the progress panel shows all the items that will be deleted. If there were items you didn't want deleted, you could deselect the appropriate checkbox. For example, if you spotted a cookie you didn't want deleted, you could uncheck Cookies and go to Options to save the specific cookies.
To finish the clean up process, you click the Run Cleaner button. Again, CCleaner informs you the files will be permanently deleted when you click OK. The program will start to delete the files and a progress bar displays at the top. The program eventually displays a listing of the deleted files and states the cleaning is complete. You can also save a listing of the deleted files by right-clicking in the right pane and selecting Save to text file?
The Issues section works in a similar fashion. The user selects which areas the program should check and then clicks the Scan for Issues button. One difference is there are several options available when you right-click such as Select All or Deselect All. You can also open an item in RegEdit.
Since many questions people asked me dealt with removing their internet tracks, I wanted to see how CCleaner did in removing index.dat. If you're not familiar with this file, it's a hidden system file that catalogs every web page you've visited with Internet Explorer. Actually, it's a collection of files as you have one for cookies, cache and history. You can get more details about these files from the Answers.com topic index.dat page
Most people have never seen the contents of their index.dat file. If you want to check yours, you can download a free utility called Super WinSpy. It allows you to view the contents, but not delete anything.
After rebooting my system, I confirmed the contents were removed. Using CCleaner to remove the index.dat files is easier than rebooting the system into Safe Mode and deleting them.
Suggestions for First Time CCleaner Users
Below are some suggestions for people starting with this program. These are the type of suggestions I would give whether you're using CCleaner or a commercial application.
1. Read the beginner's guide the company posted on their website. It gives more information on the program. The company also has a forum area where people can post questions.
2. Find out which cookies you want to save before doing your first cleaning.
3.Always use the Analyze button before Run Cleaner. It doesn't take that long to glance at the analysis to see what will be deleted.
4. Don't go hog wild and delete everything on your first try. I would start with one category and see what the analysis shows.
5. Pay attention to the alert messages. I would be inclined to backup any registry entries if prompted.
6. Don't feel compelled to delete everything just because an option exists. If you're not comfortable with an option or don't think it would help, don't use it.
7. If you remove large amounts of data or files, defragment your hard drive.
If you're looking for free tools that can help clean your system or remove tracking information, this one is well worth your time. It's fast, clean and allows you the ability to decide what to remove. It may not have as many options as commercial programs, but it certainly alleviates your privacy concerns and clears the unwanted files from your computer.
- Version Reviewed: 1.30.310
- Cost:Free, but donations accepted
- URL: www.ccleaner.com
- Rating: ★★★★★
Last Updated (Wednesday, 09 September 2009 21:49)