We all love freeware, but someone has to pay the bills. That means sponsors who want you to try their products. You can decline optional downloads, but every now and then, unwelcome programs appear. The answer? More freeware, of course! Xplode's AdwCleaner is portable freeware that targets and removes adware, toolbars, browser hijackers, and other potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). It's lightweight and fast, making it ideal for quick, regular preventative maintenance. It's Windows 8-ready, too.
We extracted and ran AdwCleaner on an ordinary Windows 7 PC with typical protection. AdwCleaner's logo-dominated user interface is small and generally easy to figure out. The controls are limited to Search and Delete buttons, though an unobtrusive Help feature in the upper-left corner accesses not only the program's options, which basically let you remove browsers and other items from the scan, but also the developer's site, where you'll find more information about AdwCleaner and PUPs, too. Clicking the Uninstall button completely removes this portable program from your system. That's a great feature if you're disinfecting a computer for a friend or relative since it leaves no traces behind, but it also deletes the executable file, so we suggest simply closing the window when you run AdwCleaner at home. When you're cleaning someone else's PC, simply copy AdwCleaner from your USB drive to the host machine and hit Uninstall when you're done.
We clicked Search, and a progress bar tracked AdwCleaner's scan. The scan finished quickly and turned up a small litter of PUPs whose pedigree AdwCleaner listed in a text file. While none was a serious threat, we were only too happy to send the whole bunch packing. AdwCleaner required a reboot to finish the job, which is usually a good sign, because a reboot is often required to thoroughly purge persistent PUPs, not to mention adware, toolbars, and other unwanted yet hard-to-eradicate software. But before and after we cleaned up after the PUPs, we also ran some similar freeware cleaners. AdwCleaner found things the others missed but also missed some minor items other tools found. That was more than enough reason to add AdwCleaner to our regularly scheduled maintenance.