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Free Windows tweaker has some rough edges

The beta version of TweakNow PowerPack 2009 1.6.1 provides easy access to dozens of Windows settings and customizations, but not all the program's tools are ready for prime time.

Sometimes it seems like you need to be a software engineer to understand how to keep Windows running smoothly. That's why I appreciate free utilities that collect various Windows settings and make the OS easier to customize.

Last May, I described two utilities that improve Vista's performance: Stardock's $20 Tweak Vista and Iolo Technologies' $40 System Mechanic. A week earlier, I wrote about two other Vista tweaking tools: the free Ultimate Windows Tweaker from Microsoft MVP Anand Khanse and WareSoft Software's $30 Vista Smoker Pro.

All four of these programs have their pluses and minuses, but I clearly preferred the two most expensive options. I'm still looking for a free Windows tweaking tool with the best features of the fee-based apps. I thought I found it in TweakNow PowerPack 2009, but despite some very nice touches, a couple of important features failed when I tested the beta of version 1.6.1.

Dozens of Windows tools at your fingertips
Among TweakNow PowerPack's many tools are disk and Registry cleaners, a memory optimizer, startup manager, uninstaller, and personal-information eraser. The program also makes all your system information easy to find, including your processor model and cache types and sizes, network settings, and Windows configuration.

TweakNow PowerPack 2009's Registry Cleaner
TweakNow PowerPack 2009's Registry Cleaner provides information about the Registry entries it proposes to delete. Tweak Now

If you're concerned about security (who isn't?), you'll find plenty of TweakNow options to your liking. For instance, you can set Windows to shut down after a set period and limit users' access to context-menu items, Control Panel applets, and Windows Explorer's Folder Options. You can also reduce the amount of time Windows waits before shutting down an unresponsive service or application, add or remove items from the Start menu and submenus, and insert a legal notice in the Welcome screen.

When you enable TweakNow PowerPack's RAM Optimizer, an icon is added to the taskbar's notification area (near the clock) that shows the percentage of memory currently in use. Hover over the icon to view your system's free RAM and the percentage of CPU cycles in use.

TweakNow PowerPack 2009's RAM Optimizer
TweakNow PowerPack's RAM Optimizer shows the percentage of memory in use via a taskbar icon. Tweak Now

Mixed up UAC tweaker and an uninstaller that doesn't
There are plenty of features to like in TweakNow PowerPack—I haven't even mentioned the program's ability to brand IE's Title Bar—but ultimately the utility failed in two important areas.

First, my repeated attempts to uninstall a virtualization program came up empty. After running the TweakNow uninstaller, the program prompted me to restart to complete the process. The shutdown took several minutes, but when my test machine restarted, the virtualization program was still in place. I eventually uninstalled the program using the free Revo Uninstaller utility I described in apost last week.

The second failure was more disturbing. After I changed TweakNow PowerPack's User Account Control setting from the default Medium to Strong, I wasn't able to revert to the Medium setting. (The Strong setting requires that you enter an administrator password whenever you attempt to perform an administrator-only activity, while the Medium setting needs only a single click to continue the process.)

I was able to change the TweakNow UAC setting to Weak, which removes the UAC prompt for most administrator operations. However, each time I reverted to the Medium option, the Strong setting was selected when I restarted the PC and reopened the program. I was ultimately able to get the Medium setting back via Vista's own Security Center applet.

Even with these glitches, I can see myself coming to rely on TweakNow PowerPack for most of my Windows maintenance chores—the program's Registry Cleaner is particularly handy. After all, you can't really expect any beta to be flawless, and there's a good chance the vendor will address the program's shortcomings in future updates.