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CCleaner and Norton - A Report
Four weeks ago I was fixing a friend's computer. She had been having problems with her new HP printer, one I had selected for her. The problem? Every time she booted up, the HP console (called Solutions Center) tried to reinstall itself. The installer would complain about needing an installation CD; she would click cancel; it would unwind; then it would start again. Finally, after two or three cancellations, it would stop trying to install; and she would have access to her computer.
There were no adequate solutions online and having dealt with HP customer service I doubted I would find anything there, so I decided to uninstall and reinstall. It sounded simple enough - although anyone who has ever done this will tell you just how much time it takes!
First, I uninstall. Thirty minutes for this. Then I reboot. Oops: there's an HP icon still appearing in the systray. How can that be. Then I open ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS and HP Solution Center is still in there. But when I click to remove it, it can't do it.
I figure that somehow, there was an aborted initial installation or second installation that somehow put two copies of Solution Center on the computer, some components distinct, some overlapping. My uninstallation removed most, but not all, of the threads to the program.
To test that theory, I double-clicked the icon in the systray. Another oops! The product launched. Not the solution center, but the link to the online HP support page. Auggh!
With nothing to lose, I did a deep system search for all HP folders and tried to delete everyone of them. Some I could, but a few I was locked out of, even in Safe Mode. Within these folders, I was able to delete all but three or four files. These files were protected in all modes, including DOS level (I know it's not really DOS, by the way) and I couldn't change the protection level, at least not readily. I checked ADD/REMOVE and HP was still listed and still unlaunchable.
Enough. I launched the Norton WinDoctor to find any registry faults. None were found. How could that be? Time, I thought, to try the big guns. WinDoctor is remarkably conservative - something I ordinarily like in registry cleaners, but now I needed something aggressive. I downloaded the free CCleaner from their website. Despite a high recommendation (one of the best free apps) from such sources as ZDnet and Cnet, it was still in my mind a dubious product. Googling it had come up with a number of unhappy users. Still, what else was I going to do?
Download of this remarkably small package took mere seconds. A dialup connection could do it in mere minutes. Installation I clocked at about 10 to 15 seconds. I launched it and it popped up instantly. When I clicked on the registry tab, then on the "Scan for Issues" button, I expected to sit back for anywhere from two to five minutes, as I am required to do with WinDoctor. The entire scan was completed in less than a minute. The difference between WinDoctor and CCleaner is that WinDoctor looks for a variety of fixes (re-establishing links, deleting entries, finding missing files) while CCleaner only offers deletion. CCleaner's logic seems to be "don't second guess the programmers" - if they wanted a certain link or file, then they should have made it happen. Symantec's logic is that broken links and other problems might not be the fault of the programmer and that once they happen they might be repairable. I approve of Symantec's attempt, but I have in general found it unworkable. Anyway, in this case WinDoctor wasn't finding anything to fix. And CCleaner did! There they were: numerous erroneous registry entries, all referring to HP. And something else, numerous erroneous errors referencing Symantec and/or Norton.
Okay, deal with HP first. I unchecked all entries, then checked only HP specific entries; then clicked on FIX. I did this one more round in case anything else appeared, and sure enough some new HP entries appeared. Same thing; but this time there were no other HP references.
And now I could remove those last vestiges of HP folders. The false ADD/REMOVE listing of HP had been cleared off by CCleaner. I reinstalled the HP software and it finally works as intended. Four weeks now and not a single problem. Hooray!
But back to that day. What about those Symantec and Norton errors? What were they about? I didn't want to touch anything having to do with these products until I knew what was going on. Back to my house where I checked my own machines. Yep, CCleaner found a number of similar Symantec and Norton "errors" in my registry. When I checked where the entries pointed (when given), they were all to nonexistant folders. Seemed safe to remove them, but I remembered that a number of products (Adobe, AOL) like to create files while they are active and then to delete them on closing and that they create registry entries regarding those files. Might Symantec be doing the same?
I got my chance to test that theory. A client with a virgin machine. Wiped harddrive and Windows installed from scratch, with me doing all the work. I installed NIS and NSW for the client (my usual recommendations) and then ran CCleaner just to see if I got the samely ghostly Symantec and Norton errors in the registry. Not one. I gave it three days of constantly usage and updating, etc, then rechecked. Still not a single Norton or Symantec error in CCleaner's registry check.
Back to my house. I decided to run the test on my daugher's machine. I simply cleaned all the errors CCleaner found, Symantec or otherwise. No problems. Then to my machine. Same thing. Then to my friend's machine. Same thing. Then my wife's and son's machines (my son has the only Vista OS). No problems. Three weeks and no problems - nor do the errors reappear. Yes, the Adobe entries and AOL entries come back (there's about five of those), but nothing from any Symantec product.
So I started using it on my client's machine. After all, I made sure they regularly got backed up. Worse case, I would be using my own time to rectify any errors I caused. Again, no problems.
Then, yesterday, I spent the afternoon and early evening bringing two computers up-to-date that hadn't gotten an update (Windows or otherwise) for three years! The client lives in a rural area and her high-speed connection was not that much faster than dial-up. Those who've done this know how long the Framework downloads and installations take. Still, my strategy of not installing security software first, but instead going for the most recent and most important updates next (Conversion to MS Update, IE8 over IE6, SP3, Framework) paid off because these updates contained a large number of fixes that would have been pointlessly installed otherwise; and I saved a lot of valuable download time.
One machine had a valid and smooth running McAfee and the client insisted on keeping it until the subscription expired - client's choice. The other machine had had an expired NAV of 2006 vintage and even vestiges of an earlier year, 2002 I think. I uninstalled the 2006 product, and found that ADD/REMOVE showed a Live Update artifact that it couldn't uninstall, but wouldn't drop from the list. Time for the NRT (which I would have used anyway). I ran it, rebooted, ran it, rebooted; and the artifact was still there. Well, this time I knew what to do. I installed CCleaner, ran it, and yes it found a pot-full of Symantec/Norton artifacts in the registry. I cleaned those, which fixed the ADD/REMOVE problem; then went after all the spurious Norton/Symantec folders that dotted the computer, most of which were in various temporary folders. Finally, I installed the NIS 2009 and the installation was totally slick and error free. I downloaded the current version and installed using the activation code of the 3-license product I had gotten her for $20 last week. (I bet after she compares the two machines for a month, she'll let me pull the McAfee and install the Norton.)
So what are my conclusions, about CCleaner and about Norton?
First of all, it is worth mentioning that after using CCleaner, I felt the machines tended to be faster. This is only anecdotal, though. I didn't time anything.
The Norton/Symantec errors I fixed absolutely had no immediate consequences. I think three weeks of smooth running on seven machines is a good indication of that. I think the Symantec lab engineers should themselves run CCleaner after using NRT on a machine - they should do this to find out just what items and files NRT is missing; because that could be what is causing a problem for other people.
Has CCleaner caused any problems? None yet; but that doesn't mean it is absolutely trustworthy. A number of entries CCleaner removed reappeared after rebooting. In other words, some products want those "ghost" entries and will constantly make sure they are there in the registry each time the product is launched - but Symantec is not one of those companies.
Has CCleaner fixed any problems for the posters here? The only problem I have had is the occasional slowdown that simulates a freeze. CCleaner hasn't fixed that for me - I have my own temporary workaround that does work. I have recommended other users try CCleaner for various problems, but have only heard back from one poster and that poster said it didn't do anything to help. There simply isn't enough data yet.
And that's where we are at the moment.
A humorous-but-related footnote:
Last week, I had another client with a similar HP problem as the one I mentioned above. I decided to see what HP had to say in a chat session. After a half-hour, I was informed that the problem was because we had recently updated to IE8. I pointed out that I had experienced the same problem on another person's computer earlier and that that computer had only had IE7. Nope, I was told, HP's Solution Center did not support IE8 and if I wanted the problem solved, I'd have to revert the machine to IE7.
So I uninstalled HP software, found I had similar artifacts, ran CCleaner and fixed all that, reinstalled HP and now have a smooth running machine.
Once again, the support provided by a company consists mainly of pointing the finger at someone else. How often have we experienced that here?! Some company will say the problem is clearly because of Symantec. That is the most recent change you made to your computer, so Symantec is the culprit. Most of us here have found that while Symantec may often be the catalyst, it is seldom the problem.