Last month I compiled a list of the best troubleshooting tools for Windows, the result of many years of sifting through and trying out many such programs. One of the problems with assembling any such list is that a lot of good stuff always gets overlooked. It's like a movie buff being asked to pick only 10 favorite films: It's so hard to limit yourself!
To that end, here's another batch of tools that didn't make the first cut, but are still enormously useful. Even better, they're all free, and they can be carried around on a thumb drive when you're stuck making PC house calls for yet another user in trouble -- or when you're in trouble yourself, for that matter.
Windows Installer Cleanup
Whenever Microsoft makes a useful tool for Windows, it tends to go unsung compared to the bevy of third-party productions out there. That's a shame, because many of Microsoft's internal creations are incredibly useful. To wit: the Windows Installer Cleanup utility.
Originally written as a support tool when Microsoft's .MSI installer technology was still new and a bit raw, Windows Installer Cleanup was devised to allow people to manually remove the entries that .MSI installations create in the system's installed-applications database. This was, and still is, useful if a program installation goes south -- if the installer crashes, for instance -- or if the program refuses to uninstall correctly. Consequently, this program is useful for troubleshooting broken application installations by letting you start the install from scratch.
When you install Windows Installer Cleanup, it creates an icon in the Start Menu under All Programs. Run it and you'll be presented with a list of all the apps registered in the Windows Installer database. To remove a program from the database, just select it and hit Remove. Note that this does not delete the program's directory -- it simply removes any references to it from the .MSI database. Then you can rerun the installer without the computer complaining that said program is already installed.
Note that if you can't find an entry for a particular program in Windows Installer Cleanup, but it still appears in the "Uninstall or change a program" section of the Control Panel, chances are the .MSI database entry for the program has been removed but that the Registry entry that makes the uninstaller available was left behind. You can remove this manually with CCleaner, another of InfoWorld's top Windows tools.
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