SlimCleaner crowdsources power cleaning

Overpowered and cluttered, SlimCleaner nevertheless presents a power user's dream of useful Windows cleaning tools while rolling in some crowdsourcing to help you make sure you're not making mistakes.

Take an overpowered Windows cleaning utility and wed it to the crowd, and you've got the free SlimCleaner 1.6 (download). The cleaning utility can do just about anything you can think of, from deleting browsing tracks to uninstalling programs to cleaning up the assorted file detritus that daily use of your computer creates. What makes this particular program interesting is that, like Soluto, it draws on anonymously contributed data from its users to help keep your system running like a well-oiled machine. Unlike Soluto, SlimCleaner is really for advanced users, people comfortable mucking around in Windows system settings.

SlimCleaner's main window will probably cause confusion for beginning users and even some intermediate ones. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Although the collection of tools here is robust, and the scans are surprisingly fast, the crowdsourced utility is what makes SlimCleaner interesting. The program uses an in-house process called "authoritative ranking" to evaluate each user's ranking submissions. A user's ranking is rated against that person's previous levels of accuracy, and then weighed against other users who are known to have highly accurate rankings. Evaluations that are too far outside the mean get flagged.

The program is divided into six sections: Cleaner, Optimize, Uninstaller, Shredder, Hijack Log, and Windows Tools. Most people will be concerned with the first four components. The Hijack Log provides an interactive list of running components on your computer. This includes toolbars, services, start-up entries, ActiveX components, drivers, and codecs. The list is useful, but it's a diagnostic tool that only advanced users will be able to parse without assistance.

The Cleaner is also the program's main landing page. The tool is designed to delete data that gets automatically stored on your computer, such as temporary files and browsing tracks, and so the first thing you see is a bulleted list of categories that you can clean. Although the program launches into a list, you can toggle cleaning each one individually via a radio button next to the listing. There are also three categories that can be cleaned: Windows system, Browser, and Applications.

It's on the Optimize and Uninstaller pages that you first begin to interact with SlimCleaner's ratings and on-the-fly help options. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

SlimCleaner has a robust selection of tools, yet there isn't a lot of obvious guidance for newcomers. The phenomenal selection is made up of options that are easy to use if you know what they mean or don't mind looking them up. Unfortunately, most people will find the program obtuse and confusing, and that makes it hard to navigate because it's not readily apparent where you are or what you're doing.

While the Cleaner is for removing tracks, SlimCleaner's Optimize feature is where the Startup and Services managers live. From here, you can toggle which programs and services run on start-up. Conveniently, there's a Restore list as well, so items you disable can easily be re-enabled. This is also where you'll see the community ratings first come into play, as each item has a color-coded community rating and a More Info button. As micromanaging Windows functions can be complicated even for people with experience, the additional resources are an excellent idea.

The Optimize and Uninstaller sections have nearly identical layouts, which makes sense given that their functions are similar. There are two RAM and CPU usage gauges on the top, followed by the list of items to toggle or uninstall, the aforementioned community rating, and more info buttons. There's also a search feature so you can easily sift through long lists.

Like other free file shredders, SlimCleaner's Shredder gives you four levels of file deletion. You can choose from a single overpass for basic deletion, a three-pass option, a seven-pass option, and the Guttman 35-pass level.

All these features combine to make for a robust Windows cleaning utility that just lacks a better layout and more on-the-fly explanations of what some of the options do. While the crowdsourcing aspect is innovative, SlimCleaner faces an uphill battle in getting users to care enough to spend time rating utilities when there are far more interesting things going on in the world.

Then again, maybe what the Windows utility world lacks is an alternate reality game for system tools.