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Old 09-29-2005, 08:57 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2007
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Default 'Hidden' files and registry entries that also should be cleaned up

Many Pocket PC users have noticed that (see for example this thread), if you uninstall, and then reinstall a trial version of an application, it will notice on the second reinstall that it has already been installed on the given Pocket PC once. This is certainly not 'magic' applications like these just use either the file system, the Registry or WinCE databases. This also result in unecessary memory consumption and generic slowdown of the Pocket PC.

In this article, I discuss how these registry entries/files can be spotted so that they can also be eliminated to free up memory / make the PPC faster and more stable.

Note that this tutorial is part of my tips on freeing up Pocket PC memory. I've written quite a few of articles of this type feel free to do a generic search over at Windows Mobile Technology or at Tips forum of Pocket PC Mag. If you do what I recommend in my relocation/cleanup-related articles, you can clean up most of your RAM memory. For example, even with the heaviest application load, you can only have 1-2 Mbytes of your main RAM occupied by totally unrelocatable applications/data files (for example, the ThinkOutside drivers or the Pocket Controller client-side files), as opposed to the case of not trying to relocate anything. (Then, your Pocket PC RAM memory would fill up really soon.)

1. Registry entries

The most widely used place to put registry keys in is the Registry. If you want to avoid these kinds of 'secret' registry keys/files taking up far too much memory/system resources on your PPC, you must find them yourself. It's actually much easier than you think. No, you don't need to do any manual registry search it'll be futile. Just make a registry snapshot (with any Registry editor capable of exporting the entire registry please read my roundup of the available Registry Editors I also scrutinized their exporting capabilities); then install and start (!) the application and then, exit it and make another snapshot. Compare the two snapshots with a decent tool; for example, WinDiff (see below). This will show what registry keys have been written to the registry. Some of them won't be removed when you unsinstall; they must be removed by hand.

Incidentally, this has all been explained in my article on using WinDiff to compare registry snapshots.

2. Files

The same stands for (mostly hidden) files, mostly in \Windows. If you always install and uninstall apps, their number (as with the hidden info in the Registry) can become quite large, which has a very controversial effect on the overall speed/responsiveness on your Pocket PC. Therefore, it's always useful to look into the \Windows directory on your PDA after you install and start the app. To do this, I recommend Total Commander with the WinCE FS plug-in, which makes it possible to access the file system of Pocket PC's on the connected desktop computer.

In addition to the usual stuff (help HTML files, DLL files, .2bp/.gif/.jpg files belonging to the help, .unload files, a DLL/some other files in \Windows\AppMgr please do read my other articles on deleting/relocating them all!), these apps may create small files, mostly in \Windows. (Please note that it's not only their filesize that count but also their number. That is, if these apps create and, upon uninstall, leave, say, a cumulative hundred files in \Windows, your Pocket PC will become noticeably slower: the more files in RAM, the less responsive/quick Windows Mobile-based devices are. Again, please read my comments/quantitive results on the big speed hit caused by a lot of files in RAM.)

To find these files, start at least once the trial program, fire up Total Commander (TC) on your desktop (make sure hidden files are also visible that is, Configuration/Options/Layout/Display/Show hidden/system files (for experts only!) is enabled), navigate to \Windows and switch to sorting by Date. You'll see at once the new file right at the top of the file list (or, right at the bottom, if you use the other sorting direction).

Why can you just look for the latest files? Because when the newly installed/started apps create their hidden files, these files will get the current timestamp. That is, they can be easily found if you just look at the list of the files with the most current date/time.

An example of these kinds of programs is Thunderhawk (TH). It creates its user PID file, winsys.bat, in \Windows; this file won't be rdeleted upon uninstall.

This is how the most recent file list looks in \Windows, before installing / starting / logging in with TH:

TC filelist shot

And, after you install/start/login:

TC filelist shot

(I've highlighted the usual .unload file and the additional, well-disguised (noone would actually think this file stores the PID of the user because it looks like a system file, albeit with a bit non-WinCE-friendly extension (.bat)) winsys.bat)

See? It's this easy to spot file system-based extra files created by apps and not removed after uninstallation.

3. Windows CE databases

The third type of storage, the Windows CE database area, is very rarely used by any kind of trial software to leave garbage in. Therefore, it's in general not desirable to compare its contents before and after installing and starting the app. If you still want me to elaborate on this subject, let me know and I will do so.

4. SKTracker comes into picture...

You can save all this work if you get a very handy tool, SKTracker, from the authors of the most powerful system maintenance application, SKTools. It does everything I've described above automatically. Unfortunately, it's a commercial application; this is why I've described everything you need to know about finding files/registry entries not deleted upon the 'official' uninstalling of programs, instead of just recommending SKTracker.

With that app, you can be absolutely sure there won't be stale registry entries or files slowing down the system/making it unstable. Again, please note: if you do learn how you can effectively hunt for the two (or, three, if you also take into account in the Windows CE databases) types of automatically not removed information.

5. Disclaimer

Please note that the entire PPC community should purchase apps that they use. Therefore, any kind of trial-version-reinstalling instead of purchasing is undermining the future of the entire platform (remember what happened to, say, the Commodore Amiga? It was killed by piracy and the consequent decline of sales. You can't possibly want the same to the Pocket PC platform!). Therefore, my current post is only meant for people that would never want to use the trial version again OR do purchase the app in question. This also means I'm in no way supporting piracy of any kind. I, author of several articles discussing how lethal the Registry size / RAM-based file number growing to the Pocket PC feel it necessary to point to files and Registry entries that also should be considered garbage-to-be-cleaned-up after uninstalling the programs that created them.
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