Friday, December 16, 2011

Step Right Up For Your Dose of Snake Oil!

The phrase “snake oil” originated with a preparation made from the Chinese Water Snake used by Chinese laborers to treat joint pain. The preparation was promoted in North America by travelling salesmen who often used accomplices in the audience to tout the benefits of the preparation. The snake oil peddlers would scat out of town before their victims caught on to the fact that they were scammed. Today's version of snake oil persists as “computer optimizers.”

More and more of our clients bring their systems in with all sorts  of “registry boosters” and “computer optimizers” that are supposed to make your system “run like new again.” Many buy this stuff hoping it will cure whatever ails their computer then end up paying more money to us because the product did not work.  Many of these are sold in retail stores and advertised on TV.

Just like the snake oil salesmen from the past, they TV commercials have “happy clients” who tout the benefits of the claims. The products go by names such as “” or “Speed up my System” or “Registry Booster” and many others. These products do “do” a few things to your computer but the things they do are nearly worthless.  Among the tasks performed are deleting temporary Internet files, optimizing your registry, deleting cookies and defragmenting your hard drive.  

Let’s take a look at the claims:  Deleting “temporary Internet files” is something my technicians do regularly on a computer that has been infected with a virus.  After we clean the viruses, remnants of the virus can remain in the temporary Internet files folder and can come back to haunt our clients. The flip side is that temporary Internet files actually speed up your Internet browsing experience. When you visit a website, temporary files are stored on your hard drive so that when you visit the page again, the files are already on your computer and can be fetched quickly rather than re-downloading them to your computer.

Cookies are (usually harmless) small text files that on your computer that often identify your computer to a website. Deleting them will not, in any way, speed up your system.

The Windows Registry is a database on your computer that stores configuration settings and remembers settings for various components and applications. Think of the registry as the brain stem of your computer. The brain stem is not something you want to mess with unless there is a prevailing reason to mess with it.  Again, my technicians regularly clean up the registry to address specific errors and viruses issues but, generally, it is best to leave the registry alone if your computer is otherwise running OK.

Many of our clients seem to think “disk defragmenting” is a cure-all for whatever ails a computer.  The snake oil salesmen capitalize on this notion. Defragmenting is a process of organizing the data on your hard drive so that it may be accessed quickly. The fact is that older systems running Windows XP might benefit from a defragmentation once every year or three. But newer systems running Vista or Windows 7 actually defragment all by themselves.

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