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Tidying up the registry

David Strom reviews and explains how to use RegClean to clean up that messy registry.

Category: Registry checker
Name of tool: RegClean v4.1a
Company name: Microsoft Corp.
Price: free
Windows platforms supported: 95, 98, NT, 2000, Me
Quick description: A utility that checks and cleans up your Windows registry.

*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool

Extremely easy and straightforward to use. No options to choose or confuse.

It lacks a way of seeing what the tool is about to cleanup and change in your registry before it does the deed.


If users on your corporate network install and uninstall lots of software on their computers, chances are their registry needs some tidying up.

The registry keeps track of what software is on a particular machine, but sometimes it gets confused. When you uninstall some products, they don't always clean up after themselves, and they might leave a few droppings of their presence on the hard disk. This could cause problems if you are trying to automatically open particular files that are associated with certain programs, or if you are trying to accomplish object-linking and embedding tasks with some software products.

There are two ways to keep the registry clean: a manual editing of the registry, or by using an automated tool that Microsoft has thoughtfully provided, called RegClean.

The manual method isn't really very realistic: the registry contains hundreds of entries, and using the registry editor can be very intimidating. Indeed, whenever I use the editor, I am always holding my breath and hoping that I won't mess things up more. And if you don't have a lot of experience with the registry, you don't want to be in there with an editor mucking things up: you could easily prevent a computer from booting if you change the wrong thing.

So the alternative is to use the tool, which you can quickly download, and run the most recent version from Microsoft's Web site. Older versions were included in various Microsoft resource kits, but I would stick with the downloaded version.

It is a relatively simple tool: you don't have any options other that to start the thing and have it do its work. And that is one big drawback. Ideally, I'd like to see some sort of report showing you the things it found in the registry before it attempts to fix them. Of course, this report might not be very useful, since the information contained in the registry is pretty obtuse to begin with.

The tool doesn't do everything. For example, if the registry has become so confused that you get all sorts of error messages when you boot Windows, then you are in need of more surgery than RegClean can provide. But it does do something that all of us from time to time need, and it does it quickly and well.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

Bio: David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant, and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at

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