Every year, it seems as though software becomes more and more bloated. Take Microsoft Office for example. What fit on a few floppies about 10 years ago will soon ship on almost a dozen CDs. My point is that because applications have become so bloated and complex, it can really rob your system of a significant amount of resources if your uninstaller is unable to completely remove a program.
Even if you meticulously uninstall unused applications, there are probably program fragments, such as registry entries and DLLs taking up space on your system. This is where Ashampoo WinOptimizer Platinum Suite (Ashampoo, for short) from German software maker ashampoo GmbH & Co.KG can be handy. Ashampoo is a suite of applications designed to give your system a thorough cleaning.
Before you send me a lively e-mail, I do, in fact, recognize the irony of installing an entire application suite to remove application fragments. I also realize that many of the tasks you can perform with Ashampoo can be performed with built-in Windows utilities or shareware applications. Ashampoo, however, allows you to perform all of your optimization tasks from one single interface, making for an easy clean up.
You can download a trial version of Ashampoo from Download.com. The trial version consists of a 7.89-MB self-extracting executable. You can also purchase the full version from ashampoo's online shop for $49.98. Upgrades to the most recent version of Ashampoo are also available for $39.99.
Ashampoo is designed to run on Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP. Internet Explorer 5.0 or above is also required. The manufacturer doesn't make any specifications as to CPU or memory requirements, but simply states that any computer capable of running these operating systems at a decent speed should be able to run Ashampoo. The software requires 20 MB of disk space for installation but requires additional disk space for use because the software frequently backs up parts of your system before performing a cleaning operation. For this review, I am using a 1 GHz Pentium III with 512 MB of RAM, running Windows XP.
Once you have downloaded the self-extracting executable file, double-click it to begin the installation process. When you do, you'll see the Ashampoo splash screen complete with a copyright warning. Click Next and you will see the software's end user license agreement. Click Yes to accept the license, and the Setup program will prompt you for the folder in which you want to install Ashampoo. Make your selection, and click Next.
At this point, Setup will ask you which Program Manager group you want to place the shortcut into. The default option is to place the shortcut into the Ashampoo\Ashampoo WinOptimizer Platinum Suite folder.
Click Next and you will see a ReadMe screen that outlines the Ashampoo system requirements and the technical support contact info. Click Next and Setup will give you a few more options, such as creating a shortcut program on your desktop, creating a shortcut in the quick launch bar, launching the program after installation, and installing Ashampoo'sPopUp Blocker.
At this point, Setup will inform you that you are ready for installation. Click Next and Setup will copy all of the necessary files. When the installation completes, you will see a nag screen indicating that this is a trial version that will expire in 10 days. You are given the option of getting a free trial key that will add another 30 days to the trial, buying the full version, or just continuing to use the product.
When you run Ashampoo for the first time, the program displays the simple, but effective, user interface. This interface, shown in Figure A, has links for each of the eight optimization applications. There is also a giant button in the center of the interface for a one-click optimization.
|The Ashampoo user interface allows for a one-click optimization.|
The first of Ashampoo's components is a hard drive optimization utility called Drive Cleaner. This utility is designed to go through your hard drive and remove files that are no longer needed, such as TMP and CHK files.
The thing that I really like about this utility is that it is designed to be completely safe and can be launched with a single click. On the other hand, there is an Options button that you can use to custom configure the utility. In doing so, you can control what types of files you want to remove and on which drives. In addition to removing temporary files, you can choose to remove things like orphaned shortcuts and PIF files. You can see one of the four option screens in Figure B.
|More advanced users can choose the types of files the Drive Cleaner will remove.|
The next application in the Ashampoo suite is the Registry Cleaner. As the name implies, the Registry Cleaner gets rid of unnecessary registry entries. Like the drive cleaner, the Registry Cleaner is designed to be perfectly safe by default but gives power users lots of options for removing specific types of registry entries. If you look at Figure C, you can see that the developers at Ashampoo put a lot of thought into what types of Registry entries could be removed.
|The Registry Cleaner allows you to remove unnecessary registry keys.|
The Internet Cleaner option is exactly what you would expect. It provides an interface for deleting browser histories, cached files, and cookies. Normally, I would say that such an application is completely unnecessary because these capabilities are built directly into Internet Explorer. However, this application does have one nice feature. You can selectively delete cookies.
Internet Cleaner allows you to create a trusted cookie list. When you clear the cookies, any cookie that isn't on your trusted cookie list is removed while trusted cookies remain.
The Internet Tuner is an application designed to optimize your Internet connection. The problem with this application is that when you select it, there is a strong warning not to use the program if you pass through a network to get to the Internet or if your computer is configured as a server.
What really bothers me about this is that the main user interface contains a one-click optimization designed to optimize everything automatically. I wonder if the one-click optimization would just assume that it is safe to run Internet Tuner. Since my test machine is connected to a network, I really don't want to click this button to find out.
One of the applications that I really like is the File Associator. This application allows you to control which file extension is associated with which application. Although Windows allows you to do this without an application, I found the process to be faster and less prone to error when done with File Associator.
In case you are wondering why I like this one so much, it's because applications are notorious for hijacking file extensions. For example, Microsoft Word uses the DOC extension and has for years. Recently, though, I installed a utility that stole the DOC extension for its own use. I had to set it back manually just to get Word to function again.
Changing file associations comes in handy in other situations as well. For example, on one of my machines, I have the JPG extension registered to Adobe Photoshop. Sometimes, though, I would like to just be able to view a JPG without having to wait for Photoshop to open. By using the File Associator, I can associate the JPG extension with a lower-end graphics program that loads more quickly.
The DLL cleaner is a handy, but dangerous, application. It is designed to remove redundant DLL files from your system. The idea is that if a DLL exists in the Windows DLL Cache, then you don't need a copy anywhere else on your system.
The problem is that some programs expect a DLL to be in a specific location or to have a specific version. Deleting such DLLs will cause the related program to stop working. As a solution, the DLL Cleaner is designed to automatically clean DLLs that are known to be safe. At the same time, though, it provides lots of riskier options for more advanced users.
The File Wiper is a secure delete utility. The idea is that, normally, when you delete a file, there is a way to get it back. Secure deletes prevent others from gaining access to deleted data but also ruin your chances of recovering anything that might have been deleted accidentally. While I like that this utility comes with File Wiper, I hate the thought of this utility running automatically every time I run a one-touch optimization.
The final application in the suite is StartUp Tuner. StartUp Tuner allows you to see which applications run at system startup and where these applications are being launched from. You can then deactivate an application if necessary.
While this utility offers a great way of finding malicious files or files that are just wasting resources, you have to be careful when using it. A couple of years ago, I used a similar utility to delete an unknown program and my scanner quit working. Just running the scanner installation software didn't get it back. The only way I was ever able to fix the damage was to reinstall Windows. Even so, this is a great utility as long as you use it with caution. You can see the configuration screen in Figure D.
|StartUp Tuner helps you figure out what's running at startup.|
Definitely worth a look
What I really like about this software is that, while it is designed to be perfectly safe for novices, it still allows serious power users to really roll up their sleeves and get dirty. The one thing that I would like to see added to future versions would be an installation option to control whether the application is available to all users or to the Administrator only. Although I find the program to be relatively safe, it would still be nice to have a tighter degree of administrative control over who is allowed to use the program.
All in all, I liked the program and would recommend it to anyone. The one bit of advice that I would give people, though, is to stay away from the one-touch optimization. It's much safer to run the various applications individually on an as-needed basis.