PC Tools Desktop Maestro 3.0

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As a tool for cleaning an untidy Windows registry, PC Tools Desktop Maestro seems to do a good job, and combines this ability with excellent privacy tools. However, users of Windows Vista may find Desktop Maestro being blocked by User Account Control.

Test Procedure
We began by locating a computer which has been running in excess of 12 months (and is known to have had many applications installed and uninstalled) without the benefit of a registry mechanic or similar software. We ran Sandra Lite benchmarks before and after using the Desktop Maestro to look for system performance improvements.

Secondly we took a fresh, clean Windows Vista system and assessed the registry state. Next we installed Mozilla Firefox 3 and assessed it again. We then uninstalled Firefox according to the proper procedures and assessed the registry again. This process was then repeated, but instead of a proper uninstall, we simply deleted all Firefox files. We hoped that Desktop Maestro picked up problems associated with the second method, but not the first.

We also assessed the intuitiveness of the user interface and briefly reviewed some of the other features of the application.

Features and Interface
Desktop Maestro is a collection of security and optimisation tools in one package. There is a registry cleaner and monitor, a private data cleanser, and disk optimisation tools. The user interface is clean and simple. If the interface has a fault it is in letting the user know when it is active and how to open it.

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Having opened the interface, selecting "Monitor registry" caused the window to be minimised to the system tray, but if you close the window it shuts down completely — including the monitor which should be a background service independent of the application's control panel. To be fair, this was an issue only under Vista — as usual, the User Account Control is more zealous than one would hope for.

The main control panel and the registry monitor interface can both be opened from icons in the system tray. Scans can be set to occur automatically when the system starts, but again this requires user input to get past Windows Account control. PC Tools claim that this is by design, but frankly, what is the point of an automatically scheduled operation if it still needs the user to initiate it?

The registry cleaner seeks out registry entries which are no longer valid and removes them at your discretion. Searches are made in a variety of categories (eg, DLL and extensions) and problems are logged under each of these as appropriate. Invalid entries can make your system unstable and reduce performance.

The privacy tool clears out records of browsing history, caches, cookies, recycle bin and temporary files. Obviously these tasks can already be done by the operating system, but it is nice to have all these tools accessible from one point! Also, Maestro can clear recent file lists used by Microsoft Office and an impressive variety of other third-party applications, including browsers, picture viewers and file sharing applications.

The privacy tool also ensures deleted information really is deleted by "bleaching" unused disk space. When files are deleted normally, the space is simply marked as being free for overwriting and thus still potentially visible to undelete programs. Bleaching offers better security by overwriting a file with zeros, thus completely obliterating the data.

The disk optimisation tools consist of a registry compacter and a custom interface for the existing windows disk defragmenter. There is also a "Tune-up" tool which pares away a range of Windows services that are not needed by many people — this paring is very strict and reduced the graphics interface to a very minimal Windows2000 style. You can select which of the suggested items are modified by Desktop Maestro and additional settings allow you to return to the previous system state or the Windows defaults. Such paring can greatly improve boot times on a PC.

Desktop Maestro combines the features of two PC Tools packages: Registry Mechanic and Privacy Guardian. If you happen to be a Westpac customer in Australia, you might also want to only invest in Registry Mechanic, as Privacy Guardian and Spyware Doctor are available free for 12 months.

Clearly Maestro is effective at finding registry issues. One registry change was logged when Mozilla was installed and one fault was logged after Firefox was uninstalled. When Firefox was deleted instead of being correctly uninstalled there were 28 registry problems logged (and fixed). Imagine what the registry would be like after dozens of uninstalls — especially if some of these are "dirty" as in our second scenario!

We used Maestro on a machine that had been running in excess of two years without registry cleaning — we found 1,290 problems! After rebooting and re-running Maestro we discovered that another dozen were still present, but these were eliminated on this second run. SiS Sandra Lite was used to check the machine's CPU, Memory and File speeds before and after treatment, but we saw no significant change.

The software is designed to be compatible with Windows Vista, XP and Windows 2000, although we feel that the Vista compatibility has been mildly thwarted by Windows security features. PC Tools would do well to have a little chat with Microsoft. Also, remember that you will need to use the software under an account with administrator privileges.

At AU$60, this software is well priced given the potential headaches and frustration that can arise from a slow or unreliable machine. Common technical problem solutions are available online with email support available to solve hairier issues. A variety of other service and sales issues can also be answered online. Users of Windows 98, ME and SE will need to use Maestro 2.