The Danger of Tinkering with Windows Too Much

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I come before you today with a Hassle-Free PC Public Service Announcement (or HFPCPSA).

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a very unhappy reader who decided to run a rootkit-removal utility I'd written about -- even though his system exhibited absolutely no signs of rootkit infection. He'd done it as a precautionary measure. The unfortunate result was a system that would no longer boot.

The other day I received an e-mail from a user who wanted to know how to delete fonts from her system. Why? Because the default font in Excel had somehow changed, and she thought that by deleting the new default font, that would solve the problem.

Today I heard from a reader with an even more bizarre request:

I run a basic system, meaning I have my own pointer, use no background pics, and my screen saver is just a black screen.

Therefore, I don’t need all of the cursors and pics that come with the OS. I have tried to delete all of the cursers and pics that come with the OS, but I get the "unable to comply" because I don't have the rights.

This reader, Val, asks how to get the administrator rights necessary to delete Windows' mouse pointers and wallpapers.

Do you see the common thread here? Windows is such an open, tweakable operating system that users sometimes go overboard in messing with it.

That first user, who was already running overlapping security tools, tried to fix a problem that didn't exist. Granted, it shouldn't have hosed his system the way it did, but there's such a thing as going overboard with security software.

The reader looking to delete fonts might have deleted one or more important system fonts, causing some programs -- or even some areas of Windows -- to display improperly.

And deleting Windows' pointers and wallpapers? What on earth for? Granted, the wallpapers consume a smidgen of storage space, but they're not impacting system performance in the slightest. And deleting pointers, while probably harmless, could muck up Windows in unexpected ways. There's absolutely zero value in doing so.

After years -- no, decades -- of solving computer problems of all kinds, I've become a firm believer in the old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Unless you have a very specific reason for doing so, don't monkey with Windows fonts, pointers, system files, or the like. Very often you'll do more harm than good.

And for heaven's sake, make regular backups. You never know when some anti-rookit utility you shouldn't have run in the first place is going to turn your system into a boat anchor.

End of rant.

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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