Identify mystery apps installed on your PC

Even the best auto-cleanup utilities can't help you tell the useful programs on your system from the bloatware.

I'm always looking for a little bit more performance from my PCs, so I regularly use Piriform's free CCleaner utility to clear out the clutter on my systems' hard drives. (Note that CCleaner is donationware, so if you find yourself using it regularly, drop a few ducats in the virtual coffer.)

The last time I ran CCleaner on my XP test machine, it freed up almost 2GB of hard-drive space by removing temporary Internet files, sweeping out the Recycle Bin, and deleting various Windows updates and other system and application files I no longer needed. Then I clicked the program's Tools option to view the applications installed on the PC.

Piriform Software's CCleaner uninstall options
Use CCleaner's Tools options to view the programs installed on your PC, and remove those you no longer need. Piriform Software

Along with the programs I expected to find on the list were two names I didn't recognize: "Otto" and "PS2". CCleaner wasn't any help identifying the programs, nor was XP's own Add or Remove Programs applet. After searching the Web for both "otto.exe" and "ps2.exe", I figured out that the former was a game that accompanies Windows Media Center Edition, and the latter was a keyboard utility from the PC's vendor, HP.

That was all I needed to know to decide that Otto could go, but PS2 should hang around lest I someday plug in an "enhanced" keyboard and might actually want to use the specialty control buttons on the top row. These are the buttons that let you open apps or your favorite Web pages, control the PC's volume, and perform other system operations, such as putting the system into sleep mode.

It would be nice if Windows provided some clues about the programs it lists in XP's Add or Remove Programs and Vista's Programs and Features. For example, Programs and Features on my Vista system lists the Viewpoint Media Player, but it offers no hint as to where the program came from, apart from the date it was installed. From what I was able to gather after a Web search, the utility is related to the display of 3D effects in AIM.

Since I use Trillian and Google Talk for my IM sessions, I don't need the Viewpoint player. A bigger question is how the program got on my PC in the first place. It didn't come preinstalled on the machine, and no other programs were loaded on the same date as it was. Still, the next most recent software installation was AIM itself, which had an installation date one month later than the Viewpoint player.

However the program managed to slip onto my PC, removing it freed up more than 7MB of hard-disk space. At least the Viewpoint player wasn't in my auto-start list. I'll take a paring knife to that roster in a future post.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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