To read the advertising by Windows maintenance suite vendors, you'd think Microsoft sells technologically challenged operating systems that will function properly only with the grace of third-party intervention. For XP, and to a lesser extent Vista, there might be a grain of truth to that--a very small grain that can be easily addressed without a suite. Windows 7 or 8? They run just fine with only occasional, minimal intervention.
In truth, the utilities that Microsoft has included with all its operating systems since XP, a select freebie or two, and a modicum of knowledge are all you need. (And if you can automate some maintenance tasks, all the better.) Here's how to keep Windows humming as sweetly as when it was first installed.
If you don't use it, ditch it
One of the major performance sucks on any system is software you don't need. It's not the applications themselves, which only waste disk space when they're idle, but the background processes and start-up overhead they create that's the problem. Even useful and popular applications spawn unnecessary stuff, but we'll get into that later.
Some vendors litter their PCs with "branding" software that duplicates Windows functionality, but has the vendor's name on it. You don't need a Wi-Fi connection utility--Windows has its own. It's quite elegant. The same goes for disk and device management. Branding apps can be removed for a cleaner, faster-booting Windows.
To remove useless or redundant software, open the Control Panel and go to Programs>Programs and Features. Peruse the list and uninstall anything you don't require. How do you know it's something you don't require? If it's an application you don't use, and it doesn't belong to Windows, it's quite likely dross. But you'll need to do some research on the web for software you don't recognize. Information is readily available and you may, of course, re-install if you make a mistake.
The number one post-purchase cause of pointless software bloat is blindly clicking through installation routines. It seems that these days, every piece of free software, and even some pay software, wants to install a browser toolbar or reset your home page. They get paid if you do, and probably even if you don't. Step through installation dialogs carefully and decline any offers, which will usually be selected by default.
There are third-party uninstallers that do a slightly better job of removing traces of uninstalled software, such as directories, files, and registry entries that for some reason vendors don't or can't remove. However, a cleanup program such as Piriform's CCleaner and Wise Registry Cleaner will take care of these traces as well. Both are free and standalone, i.e, they don't annoyingly integrate themselves into Windows as many do.
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