Is there any way to keep Windows from spoiling?
August 31, 2007 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Is there any software or technique that will help me keep my Windows installation clean and manageable over the course of a year or two? I am sick of reinstalling Windows!

It seems every year I go through a cycle where I have to reinstall Windows from scratch due to all the "crap" that accumulates on the computer. Over the years, there's some software I install, like small shareware programs, which behave like a nice houseguest. But other software is like the legendary rock band that trashes the hotel room, adding numerous drivers and processes, adding mysterious services, making massive registry changes, and so forth. Itunes and VMware would be examples.

I find that one too many of these "rock band" installations eventually bogs down the OS to the point where I either begin having performance or reliability issues or I begin losing track of which processes and services are legitimate and start suspecting malware. Generally it takes about 9 to 18 months before my computer gets to this point. Then I find myself flushing the toilet and starting fresh.

So here I am, starting from scratch again tonight. Install Windows 2000 Professional, apply Service Pack 4, install DirectX, so on and so forth.

Any words of wisdom? Are there any third-party programs that can help keep the crap from backing up, or at least organize it, so that my registry, winnt/system32, etc isn't a steaming heap after 12 months? Does it make sense to create different user accounts to do different tasks (i.e. a login for video editing, a login for tinkering with shareware, etc), or will this be futile due to too many programs trashing HK_Local_Machine?

Windows 2000 specific help would be appreciated -- sorry, it's what I use.
posted by zek to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Separate partitions? OS and apps in one, data in the other. Then make a disc image of the fresh install. When Win2k gets crudded up, just revert to the clean image?

Lifehacker just had post on this. Be sure to check the comments for more ideas.

Oh. Maybe it's a good time to move on to XP? I'm using Win2k here, too, and I'm starting to hit snags with video card drivers and etc.
posted by notyou at 6:32 PM on August 31, 2007

Ha ha, I'm at this point right now and I'm this >< close to dumping it all and getting a MacBook. XP is not too different from 2kPro in having your problems so we're all in the same boat. The only sure-fire fix is not to use Windows.
posted by rhizome at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2007

I'd reccomend CCleaner(previously 'Crap cleaner') used regularly.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:08 PM on August 31, 2007

For my Win machines, I routinely use jv16 Powertools to clean residual crap from my registry - for all those seemingly "uninstalled" apps, it can find the dingleberries that are still clinging to the OS's sphincter. This includes context menu entries, obsolete file extension references, etc. The newer versions require purchase, but the older, freeware version worked reliably for me back in the day, and should give you an idea of its capabilities.

Only caveat, of course, is that you're messing with the registry and in the app you can easily delete stuff from that was necessary and should NOT have been deleted. It does a pretty good job of judging what is safe to remove, though. And apparently, you're no stranger to installing the OS from scratch, so at least there's that to fall back on.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:12 PM on August 31, 2007

Suggestion 1:
Image the drive once you've set everything up. Use something like Norton Ghost. Use Microsoft Sync Toy to keep your "My Documents" folder/data backed up on an external drive. Restore the drive image occassionally, copy your data from the backup.

Suggestion 2:
Install Microsoft Virtual PC, setup a virtual pc, install software there, once you're sure you can't live without it, install it on your main OS.

Personally I've decided to switch to Ubuntu Linux, and run all my apps on a Windows XP virtual PC, since I already have the windows license it's a cost-free alternative.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:53 PM on August 31, 2007

About 2 months ago I had to reformat two computers after running the same install of Windows for a year and a half. There MUST be an easier solution. So after doing some digging I established a plan.

Enter Acronis® True Image:
Step 1 - Backup all documents and files you need to off the old install.

Step 2 - Reinstall Windows on the machine(s).

Step 3 - Install all drivers.

Step 4 - Purchase and install Acronis® True Image. Create the Bootable Disk that you are prompted about.

Step 5 - Image the machine and label the image something like '1_Fresh Install incl Drivers.' (We now have the first of several images that we can come back to if we have further issues. This image will be helpful if we have problems from what we do in the next step.)

Step 6 - Install all Windows Updates.

Step 7 - Image the machine again and label the file something like '2_Fresh Install incl Drivers and Updates.' (Now we have image two. If we have problems in the next step, we can come back to this image.)

Step 8 - Install all programs that you religiously use on your PC - Browsers, MS Office, E-mail client, etc... Make sure you get all the settings and preferences just the way you want them. Since you probably downloaded some stuff, clear all browser cache and cookies before proceeding to the next step. ( can you guess what that step is? )

Step 9 - Another image. Label accordingly.

Step 10 - Install other software that you may have kept out of the last image. Repeat as needed.
There are a lot of steps here, but if you are like me it takes a couple days time to get everything tweaked just the way I want it. Now, three months down the line, if I need to 'clean things up' I break out the boot disk and reload the image with all my programs installed and configured. If you make a good list of what you need to have installed and make sure you have them before you make your image, you will save yourself a lot of headache. Another tip is to backup your documents and files to an external drive or some other media. I do not store any documents on the partition holding Windows so that when I revert back to a previous image, I lose nothing and everything is always in the same place.

Hope this helps.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 7:53 PM on August 31, 2007

Give up. Seriously. Give up. Failing that, re-install one final time, add your must have programs, and make a disk image that you can re-install from later.

I've spent the last 10 years or so evil-overlording over 40k or so student/faculty Windows users. You have to be *omg* Windows geek elite to escape from the re-install cycle. Use Windows, even with firewalls and virus scanners and all that... you'll still end up having to re-install due to cruft. The best option is to re-install and add patches and needed programs and make a backup that you can re-install from. Keep C: and a D: partition separate, move your data to D:. Keep backups of your data.

I do keep a Win2k install on VMWare using the snapshot function to keep a sane install, and only using the one or two programs that I must use that are Windows only. My Win2k has lasted 4 or so years without any problem. If you actually *use* Windows, be prepared for the inevitable re-install. It's unavoidable.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:56 PM on August 31, 2007

Maybe I'm just lucky, but I've had the same computer for over 5 years and I've never had to reformat or reinstall. There are four people who regularly use this computer, and two of them are teenagers, so that's saying a lot... I have WinXP Home, SP2, with all the recommended updates and patches. I use the Firewall that came with Windows, I have Avast running in the background for virus protection, and I regularly scan and remove nasties with AdAware and Spybot. Whenever I've run into any really scary problems, I run Hijack This. (I use the free versions of all of these programs).
posted by amyms at 8:10 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the OMG must reformat feeling is different from what you're talking about, amyms. If Adaware or Spybot actually found anything besides cookies on my computer, I would scrub myself with bleach or something just from the ick feeling.

There's really no substitute that I've found for reformatting yearly or so. But you can make it go faster if you use nLite to slipstream in updates+drivers and set up all of the Windows options...stupid little things like your timezone, stuff that really gets to you when you have to do it every install. It can even NOT install some of the basic crud that comes with Windows. It's really amazing.

Also try and move any profiles you can (i.e. Firefox) off to d: or whatever partition or drive you're using for storage, it's easy to forget to back them up otherwise.
posted by anaelith at 9:13 PM on August 31, 2007

I do keep a Win2k install on VMWare using the snapshot function to keep a sane install, and only using the one or two programs that I must use that are Windows only. My Win2k has lasted 4 or so years without any problem. If you actually *use* Windows, be prepared for the inevitable re-install. It's unavoidable.

I've just begun doing exactly what zengargoyle is doing, down to using Windows 2000, and I'm hopeful that I, too, will not be reinstalling Windows ever again. That's partly because Ubuntu Linux is good enough, and has good enough applications, that I am mostly maintaining this Win2k "virtual machine" as a security blanket. So far I only use it for the occasional visit to Photoshop for something I haven't figured out how to do in The GIMP, and mail merges in Microsoft Office (the only thing about that seems really broken to me). Once you figure this option out, Windows basically just becomes a big file in your Linux installation, and you can take a snapshot of it as a backup to which you can revert if anything goes wrong.

Bottom line: This is a real option. A bit of a learning curve, but not impossibly steep (or I wouldn't have scaled it) -- and then you've got the whole crazy Windows thing conquered.
posted by gum at 10:17 PM on August 31, 2007

Really, this is becoming an old trend. Some of the later versions of XP were quite good (with IE7) and pretty rock solid from both a stability and security standpoint.

Give it another re-installed with a slipstreamed version of XP and stick with IE7 or Firefox with AVG as anti-virus and you should get a considerably longer lifespan than before.

I kick the hell out of my XP machine at work and it has withstood it for over 2 years now.
posted by purephase at 10:18 PM on August 31, 2007

I also don't understand the need to reinstall every x[time]. I let run all kinds of dodgy software after only an AVG scan and visit sketchy websites (latest firefox).

I simply can't understand how people can cruft up their XP installs other than visiting really dodgy sites (ie., secretaryfilter, myfirstcomputerfilter, &c) and installing "fun" stuff or running with abandon through the pirate link-mazes and run everything that pops up.

If you're installing (and uninstalling) lots of shareware or trialware - it might be worthwhile to look into sandbox/virtual machines.
posted by porpoise at 10:22 PM on August 31, 2007

Get your system to a stable, productive point with all the apps you use installed. Make an image. Keep data on a separate partition. Reimage often. End of conflict.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:57 PM on August 31, 2007

porpoise, AVG should be used to catch stuff you didn't know about, not stuff you did. Running dodgy software even with a virus scanner is risky. Just because AVG says its ok doesn't mean it is. I'd start using those virtual machines (hey, VMWare's free now) a bit more aggressively if I were you.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:59 PM on August 31, 2007

I keep a base O/S installed and then run anything I'm likely to crapify in a VMware image that I can snapshot and restore as needed.

Prior to this I had a drive strictly for OS, a drive or partition strictly for data and a drive strictly for applications. Generally speaking just the host O/S drive needed to be rebuilt on a regular basis.
posted by iamabot at 2:10 AM on September 1, 2007

I use HijackThis and pay special attention to O4, the registry Run key stuff that starts programs on login. Everybody piles crap on here--quicktime, real, printers, etc endlessly.

These can cripple a PC, especially one with too little memory. A naive friend had over fifty entries here. Booting took 15 minutes.

I leave only AVG and ASUS probe (a motherboard temperature watcher)
posted by hexatron at 6:26 AM on September 1, 2007

SVS, software virtualization...

Creates a layer between applications and the OS. You can uninstall applications and reinstall them again all in about 4 clicks, whenever you want. Free to try. I think if you find the older version there is no trial expiry on it.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 11:17 AM on September 1, 2007

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