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8/9/2005
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Review: A Utility For Cleaning The Windows Registry

AMUST Registry Cleaner intelligently deals with your Windows registry, and offers features that encourage you to use it often enough to make it effective.

Ever since I was introduced to the joys of Windows registry corruption and related operating system crashes a decade or so ago, a personal Holy Grail was quality registry fixer-upper software. Nothing did the job well enough to entrust my workhorse computers to it, so I did the work by hand. After all, if the registry is corrupted, Windows may not run at all. Last summer, I searched for that Holy Grail yet again, mainly because a publisher paid me to do so. But then-available products fell so far short of the mark that we pulled the plug on the story.

Recently I found an excellent tool, AMUST Registry Cleaner, from cleverly named AMUST Software (as in "it's a must"). If you don't run Windows XP, 2000, or Server 2003, the OSes supported by AMUST, I’ll append a couple of lifesaver tips I’ve picked up over the years.

A registry cleaner is only as good as the problems it uncovers -- and the false positives it does not display as problems. When I ran AMUST on a test system it found 18 potential problems while another registry-cleaner product found 250 issues. In my judgment, all of AMUST’s recommendations for fixes were on target, while the competitor’s issues often weren’t problems.

With the competitor, I had the choice between wading through 250 listings or “fixing” them as a group without any real clear idea why -- and in some cases the intended “fixes” were a cure worse than the disease.

AMUST Software calls it's approach SmartScan: that is, if a registry entry is suspect, AMUST looks further before declaring the uncertain entry a potential problem. Gotta love that! It not only saves you time (and thus makes it more tempting to run the utility more frequently), but also avoids removing registry entries that you really want to retain.

Features Make It Easy To Use

On a related note, a registry cleaner must offer some fine-grained choices about what to check in the registry. AMUST offers several such options. While we would like to see more in future versions, they’re adequate.

Registry cleanup can corrupt a Windows computer and make it unusable, since the registry is the heart and soul of recent versions of Windows. So a backup of your registry is essential before each cleaning. Unlike some competitors, AMUST offers a backup feature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t encourage users to create a backup as part of its normal scan-and-clean feature. True, the backup option appears on the main list of features, but if you use the cleanup routine first, using the backup may be too late.

By default, AMUST offered to store its backup on a hard disk on our testbed system. But if the cleanup corrupts Windows, it takes an expert to get into the system to restore the backup. AMUST should encourage you to create a bootable, removable rescue disk for the backup.

Similarly, AMUST offers undo and rollback features in case of problems. But again, if your system is sufficiently corrupted so that you can’t get back into AMUST to undo and restore, that’s not much consolation without a rescue disk.

A registry cleaner is only half done if it doesn’t compact the registry to remove the often incredible amount of wasted space in the registry files. AMUST handles this with aplomb.

The effectiveness of a registry cleaner depends in large part on how often you use it, and AMUST has several features that encourage its use. Speed is one. A utility like a registry cleaner has got to be fast, otherwise you won’t use it frequently enough. AMUST is fast. It also has an excellent, clean, easy-to-use interface that supports everyday needs while providing access to its deeper-level options.

Some Help for Win98 Users

AMUST supports only Windows XP, 2000, or Server 2003. If you're one of the many who are still using Windows 98 it won't help you. But there are a couple of commands on legacy Windows 98 systems that have solved major registry corruption issues for me over the years.

If something bad happens and your PC won't boot because of registry problems, try this: Restart your computer and hold down a CTRL key until the Windows 98 Startup menu appears. Then open a command prompt and enter "scanreg /fix" (without the quotation marks, of course) and press Enter. Windows will process the registry a firm-handed approach that, from my experience, consistently makes Windows bootable again.

After you are returned to the command prompt, you can optimize the registry to remove often-large unused spaces by entering " scanreg /opt". After this runs and the command prompt reappears restart your computer. These commands are no substitute for a thorough cleaning of your registry of the kind AMUS offers, but they can get your Win 98 machine rock-and-rollin’ again.

AMUST Registry Cleaner
Price: $29.99
More Information: AMUSTsoft.com

J.W. Olsen has been a full-time technology author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to other clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at www.jwolsen.com.

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