Q: Should I purchase one of the many registry and driver utilities for Windows?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by Danny Ruppert, Bright Commercial Lighting

A: It seems that there have been a rash of utilities being released lately that promise to fix various Windows problems, primarily revolving around the optimization or “cleaning” of the Windows registry. The registry is basically a central database of Windows settings and configurations. It is true that if the registry gets corrupted many problems can result. However, whether any of these utilities actually help or hurt is another question.

Generally, I view with distrust any utility that claims it can automatically keep the Windows registry “clean”. The registry is quite complex and different for every computer. While general techniques can be applied to clean out unneeded entries, the truth is that you can do more harm than good by fiddling with the registry. Even if you do succeed in keeping the registry trim without causing any direct problems, any benefits you receive are probably minimal. In general, only significantly corrupted registries cause any performance or reliability problems, and by that point, most automated utilities aren’t going to help. It generally takes an experienced technician to be able to narrow down and fix a particular problem with the registry. At The Tech Spot, we take the approach of doing a very simple registry clean up with our Computer Tune-Up service. Our thought is that small, periodic clean-ups are most effective at preventing registry problems. In addition, we perform our Tune-Ups only after we’ve done a complete computer backup plus an additional backup of the registry before we clean it. This way if any problems occur we can revert to the backups, keeping your data and computer safe.

Another similar software making the rounds are automatic driver update utilities. These utilities keep you informed of driver updates and may even automatically apply the updates for you. “Drivers” are the software that control various hardware and peripherals in your computer. Similar to my thoughts on registry cleaners, I feel that drivers are best left alone unless you have a particular reason to update. I take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. New drivers, while they can contain fixes and performance improvements, can also introduce new bugs or performance issues. Newer isn’t always better and again, mucking around with drivers can cause more problems than it can solve.

One way you can generally tell if a company’s software is legitimate is by the way they advertise. The more hyped up they make their claims seem, the more I distrust them. Also, if you ever see software like this being advertised by a junk e-mail, be extremely careful. If a company stoops low enough to send spam, I become very wary of any product they are selling.

As usual, please submit any technology questions you may have and your question may be featured in this newsletter!