NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2009
TweakNow PowerPack 2009 –
Comprehensive Free Utility for Windows

By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


Regular readers of this column are well aware that I am a utility junkie. I like downloading PC utilities in the never-ending saga of trying to improve PC performance and reliability. There are many very good performance utilities out there, both free and commercial, which will likely improve the functioning of the PC. Sadly, there are also some utilities that are downright dangerous or are scams that try to separate the desperate computer user from his money. Still, I have this insatiable desire to try these utilities and see what they can do. For safety and security reasons, I always have a current backup of my critical files just in case something goes wrong, which has inevitably happened to me more times than I am comfortable to admit.

I subscribe to several software email lists and RSS feeds where I get the latest software news and information on new releases and updates. One British list that I subscribe to via RSS is Download Reviews (http://www.v3.co.uk/downloads), and its sister site Download Junkie (http://www.downloadjunkie.co.uk). These websites are excellent sources of software news, including occasional announcements about some prominent commercial software publishers that sometimes release full versions of their commercial software at no charge, but which are only available free for a very limited time.

I recently read a review of a free utility that piqued my curiosity, TweakNow PowerPack 2009 (http://www.tweaknow.com). Being the skeptic that I am, I had this inner drive (addiction) to download it and try it. The reviews about it were very positive, and I searched several of the independent computer magazines’ online editions, and found some complimentary reviews of TweakNow products. Verifying that my backups and security software were in order, I installed TweakNow PowerPack 2009 on my Vista 64 machine, as it is more software finicky than my XP machine when it comes to software utilities. I was pleasantly surprised to have TweakNow install smoothly and quickly on the 64-bit machine. The version that I downloaded and installed was 1.6.0000 Beta 2 which appears to be stable and fully functional. It is explicitly written for Windows XP, Vista (32 and 64), and Windows 7 (32 and 64). The interface is clean and intuitive with an even dozen menu items listed on the left side under the heading “System Tools”. Clicking on an item in the left menu opens the main window with a more detailed selection of functions.

At the top of the list is “Disk Cleaner” which selectively searches all attached drives for obsolete and useless files, freeing up space on the hard drive. It has never failed to amaze me how much clutter I often find when I work on others’ computers, and this utility is good at finding that clutter. The “Disk Usage Analyzer” graphically displays the makeup of the directories on the hard drive along with information on the directories. “Miscellaneous Tools” has six tools which can be used to control the processes running on the computer, optimize the memory (many pundits claim that this function is unnecessary), and control how CDs autorun.

As we install and uninstall software and hardware, the Windows registry becomes bloated with outdated and obsolete entries, which at worst can lead to substantial degradation of performance, conflicts between components, and other maladies. Some self-proclaimed computer experts tout that the registry should be cleaned periodically, or at least monthly, to remove the debris and outmoded entries that may be the source of many computing problems. As a safety precaution, it is good practice to create a system restore point or otherwise backup the registry before doing anything to the registry, just in case something goes wrong. The “Registry Cleaner” integrated with the TweakNow PowerPack is also available as a freestanding utility from the tweaknow.com website. Scanning the registry for errors may take a few minutes, and this software uses a green shield icon with a white checkmark to indicate those registry items that are likely safe to delete. As items are written to and deleted from the registry, gaps are created in the file structure which waste space, and may lead to slower booting and shutdown. Included with TweakNow is a Registry Defragmenter which will remove the gaps from the “hives” or sections of the registry, making it smaller and more efficient.

Many computers are slow booting and sluggishly running because too many items are loaded when the computer is turned on, and this consumes system resources. While Windows has a “geekish” MSCONFIG utility that can be used to control what loads when the computer is booted, the Startup Manager in PowerPack makes the process easy by simply unchecking the box adjacent to an unwanted item. If the user changes his mind later, or finds that an item unchecked is desired, simple re-checking the item will load that item at the next boot.

Sometimes it is necessary to know explicitly what is in your computer in terms hardware and the operating system. The “System Information” component displays the hardware components model numbers, firmware versions, driver builds, and other technical information that may be critical to have when repairing, updating, or upgrading the computer, as well as details about the build and version of Windows.

Personal privacy is an issue that many of us are concerned with, and the PowerPack has a “Track Cleaner” which will delete temporary internet files, cookies, cache, and other internet tracks left on the computer. PowerPack can clean tracks left on Internet Explorer up to version 8, and Firefox up to version 3.5, as well as those tracks left by Windows itself. While somewhat redundant with Window’s own Add/Remove utility, PowerPack has a capable “Uninstall Program” function that can be used to uninstall any no longer wanted programs.

One of my favorite features in TweakNow PowerPack 2009 is the “Windows Secret” utility which has eleven sections each containing tweaks that can be used to improve the performance of Windows, enhance the appearance of the desktop, secure the control panel, customize the start menu, and control the way that the Windows Explorer file manager appears and functions. Well over 100 tweaks are available with this “Secret” utility. For those who just want to improve performance with minimal effort, the “Quick TuneUp” offers a single click way to perform the basic tune-up functions, such as cleaning the registry and removing hard drive clutter.

I will be the first to admit that I have made many mistakes when fooling around with computer settings. What is nice about TweakNow is that it automatically makes a backup of whatever was changed, enabling the user to restore or un-do what was done. This is accessed by clicking on “Restore Backup” which shows a directory of the changes implemented, and a single click will restore the selected changes.

TweakNow PowerPack 2009 is a very capable free utility that can do much to enhance the performance of a PC. TweakNow is about to release a low-cost “professional” version with even more features for XP, Vista and “7”, but with a bargain price of only $10. The free version of PowerPack 2009 is quite capable; I eagerly look forward to see what TweakNow can add to a professional version.

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