Keeping your computer in top shape is important—doubly so when you’re responsible for managing multiple computers across a company division, or even an entire enterprise. Many products in the industry claim to fix everything that ails your computer. Some tout incredible performance increases, using marketing materials that show users beaming beside their computers because the miracle product has cured all their problems. I recently tested System Mechanic Business 10 from Iolo Technologies to see how it performed against the company’s claim to “fix and speed up your PC...automatically!”
I had my choice of OS to work with, because the product is compatible with Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003. Initially I planned to install the software on a Windows 7 machine, but I wanted to give the product a really thorough workout, so I downloaded and installed it on a 2-year-old test laptop: a Lenovo ThinkPad T61 running XP SP3. The system was working well, but because of its age and the myriad of software that had been installed on it and uninstalled from it during testing, I assumed that System Mechanic would be able to find and fix more errors and problems on this system compared with, say, an out-of-the-box factory-fresh PC.
The executable file that I downloaded from Iolo’s website didn’t install the product directly. Instead, it let me create a customized Windows Installer file with various installation options already set (e.g., product key, file paths to install to). This .msi file can then be deployed to user desktops using Group Policy Software Installation (GPSI) or another tool, such as Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Being able to build a Windows Installer file in this fashion was a nice touch; however, there’s currently no way to change any of the settings after the product is deployed, aside from building a new .msi file with the deployment tool. An Iolo representative told me that improvements to this process are in the development pipeline.
The customized Windows Installer file that I created consisted of no changes other than adding the product key Iolo provided for the review. When I ran the .msi file, the product installed quickly and successfully. Eager to see what the product would do for my aging laptop, I started the software and was greeted with a colorful interface stating that I should analyze my system.
The initial analysis completed quickly, informing me that I had “7 problems and 1 warning,” as Figure 1 shows. I was offered two options: Repair all the problems or view them. I wanted to see exactly what problems the software found before I made any changes, so I selected the option to view the problems. At first glance, this option provided only a high-level overview of the problems found, such as “4 Registry problems.” What I wanted was a detailed list that I could quickly review before I made any changes, but I could find no way to get such a report. Stymied, I reluctantly told the software to fix all the problems it found, hoping I would be provided with a report later on that showed me exactly what was found and what was fixed.
To make sure that I hadn’t missed an option somewhere, I contacted Iolo to ask if this was indeed the process to find out exactly what changes the software would like to make to a system. Fortunately, it isn’t—but the correct process isn’t nearly as well-defined as it should be. After the software completes a system analysis and you select the View Problems option, each problem area (e.g., “4 Registry problems”) is identified. Each problem area also has a Repair option and a drop-down arrow that exposes additional options, such as the wizard option. For a registry problem, for example, you can select Start Registry Repair wizard. Descriptive text states that the wizard can be used to “inspect and repair the problems yourself.” Likewise, selecting the Repair option presents two additional options: Repair Now and Inspect problem. The heading next to the Inspect problem option states: “Resolve problem using advanced options.” The Inspect problem option subsequently launches the repair wizard.
The first time I explored the software, I didn’t notice either of these options, primarily because the heading text isn’t descriptive enough. I did click the drop-down arrow and saw the Start Registry Repair wizard choice, but my thinking was, “I don’t want to run a wizard; I just want to see a list of the problems”—so I ignored it. Likewise, blindly clicking the Repair option was the last thing I was going to do. To me, “Repair” suggests that the problem will be repaired immediately, not that you’ll be presented with two additional options. Furthermore, what if clicking the Repair option merely performed the repair without any confirmation whatsoever? The software desperately needs a way for users to view a detailed list of the problems found, including recommended fixes, as soon as an analysis is completed.
I explored the rest of the UI and saw such interesting items as the ability to speed up my Internet connection and remove unneeded startup services. I ran the Internet speed optimizer, which apparently modifies items such as the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) on your Ethernet adapters—but I didn’t notice any increase or decrease in perceived Internet speed. I ran the tool that identifies and offers to remove unneeded startup services, and I was likewise disappointed. The first service the tool identified as “typically not used” was the Windows Automatic Update Service, as Figure 2 shows. The software also includes the ability to tweak various parts of the Windows shell, just like the TweakUI PowerToy that Microsoft offers as a free download.
The reporting that System Mechanic Business provides is mediocre, offering only a high-level history view, as Figure 3 shows. I searched in vain for a way to export or email reports. Likewise, there’s no centralized management console that you can deploy and use to monitor systems that System Mechanic is installed on and generate reports or approve or deny potential changes. According to Iolo, both report exporting and emailing capabilities and a centralized management console are in the development pipeline.
In its current form, System Mechanic Business is perhaps best suited to the small business owner who is “unofficial IT” and who isn’t interested in the nitty-gritty of what changes the software is making as long as he is able to undo what was done if there’s a problem. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the owner of a small-to-midsized business (SMB) will have the technical skill set to build a Windows Installer file using the included tool, let alone deploy it using Group Policy or another method. An SMB owner might also take the product’s “advice” and disable a service such as Automatic Updates—something that definitely wouldn’t be a good move even if the user didn’t recognize it as a poor decision.
For enterprises, System Mechanic’s lack of quality reporting and a centralized management console are huge barriers to adoption. However, because of the controlled nature of most enterprise environments, the need for tune-up software such as this is typically low.
Overall, System Mechanic Business is extraneous for nearly everyone. The parts of the software that are worthwhile are easily handled by other (typically free) utilities. Combining these tools into one piece of software is the product’s greatest strength, but the product’s weaknesses severely outweigh its lone benefit.
System Mechanic Business 10