Are Registry Cleaners Worth It?

Mark Ostruszka asked the Answer Line forum if he should use a Registry repair program.

There's considerable controversy on this subject. These programs examine your Windows Registry, looking for pointers to non-existent files and other problems. Then, with your permission, they "fix" the problems, usually by deleting the keys.

Many experts are absolutely opposed to such programs, arguing that they do little or no good and can cause considerable harm. Others, myself included, find them valuable, with some serious caveats.

The vast majority of errors these programs correct are harmless and don't actually cause problems. Other than making the Registry a little bigger, these Registry keys are not hurting anything. On the other hand, removing them doesn't hurt anything, either.

But that's not always the case. if one of these programs "corrects" the wrong key, you could break an important part of Windows. And if they correct the right one, they can be a big help. One of them (I'll identify it below) once saved me from having to reinstall Windows.

So here's my advice: Don't make Registry cleanup a part of your regular maintenance routine. But if Windows is acting in odd and undesirable ways (more so than usual), give it a try. It might help.

But back up the Registry first. Any decent Registry cleaner does its own backup, but just in case, create a System Restore point first. (If you don't know how to create a System Restore point, and can't figure it out on your own, you probably shouldn't be fiddling with Registry cleaners.)

Now for some software recommendations:

CCleaner: You know me. I always like to recommend free solutions,

and this isn't the first time I've praised Piriform's little wonder. In addition to helping you control cookies and clean out temporary files, CCleaner does a quick and simple job finding errors in your Registry.

Reg Organizer: This $40 all-around Registry tool is the program

that once saved me the hassle of reformatting and reinstalling Windows. (Of course, there were other times when it didn't help, but it has yet to make things worse for me.) In addition to automatic and manual Registry cleaners, it also has the best Registry editor I've ever used, with a truly useful search and replace function.

As I said earlier, there's a lot of controversy on this subject. You'll get a taste of that by checking out the original forum discussion. You might find this discussion of interest, too.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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