How the mighty have fallen: TuneUp Utilities 2010

How the mighty have fallen. I was in awe of TuneUp Utilities when I first found it in 2006. It looked beautiful, was packed with useful functionality, and every tool was logically placed and easy to find. I’ve upgraded almost every year since then (skipped version 2008) but sadly, I regretted every upgrade more, as the product turned out progressively worse.

The original layout was clear and logical. In version 2009 the distribution of tools was rearranged in the control center, so that I no longer knew where to find the tools I needed. Things that took one click now took several, as TuneUp displayed the nice-looking but ultimately irrelevant diagnostic messages on the main screen – and oh, now it took ten seconds or so before the UI became available, as it was busy performing the various system checks which should only be done at user request. As a result, I didn’t use TuneUp nearly as often as I did before, and finally only ever used the Startup Manager, which you managed not to spoil.

Meanwhile, the tools that were truly useful were not seeing much improvement. The registry editor hasn’t changed since 2006. System Information pales in comparison to what applications like Everest (previously Aida) can reveal. The Registry Optimizer always breaks MS Office 2003 installation, so much so that Word asks for the installation disks as soon as I press F1 or try to use the task panes — it’s been that way since the earliest TuneUp version I used. And the Process Manager lags behind competition lamentably — just compare it to Process Explorer or AnVir Task Manager Pro.

And then there was that funny thing about TuneUp update. The program has a “check for updates” feature, which reminds you to check for a new version every now and then. I do not remember if it was first introduced in version 2006 or 2007, but I do know that it has never ever found an update available. I even learned about the pay upgrades through the website! What’s the point of having an update checker, if there are never any updates?

So I had my little gripes, which detracted a little from the overall satisfaction with a commercial package, but there was still a lot of useful greatness under the hood… and the hood looked awesome.

TuneUp Utilities version 2010, however, is a new low. The hood may be prettier than ever, but what hides underneath is a lemon.

Now all the utilities have been hidden, so that it’s completely impossible to tell where they are or how to find them. Is my favorite Startup Manager under “Maintain system” or “Increase performance”? I can’t see where it is, so I’ll have to hunt and peck every time. And why is “Defragment hard disks” located under “Maintain system” instead of “Increase performance”? One could argue that both categories are suitable — but if so, then the categories were badly picked in the first place.

Yes, the individual utilities can be accessed via the Start menu, which is their saving grace. This doesn’t excuse the confusing mess the control center has become.

System performance advice is next to useless, sorry. TuneUp is telling me I have many programs installed. Well thank you, I do have a bunch. I use my computer for a lot of things. At the same time TuneUp installer adds as many as three new always-on services, and a tray icon. All for the sake of keeping the computer running smoothly, it seems.

The tray icon, by the way, adds insult to injury, as it has no “Exit” command. Major blunder, developers, not to let me close a program peaceably! Killing processes makes me feel bad, you know? Not mommy-I-broke-the-window bad, but Edward-Scissorhands bad!

I react emotionally to software. That’s a good thing in general.

Before I had a chance to read the docs and to configure (i.e., disable) all the automatic maintenance features that will do who knows what to the computer, TuneUp is doing outright silly things on its own. I check the report and see that TuneUp forcibly lowered the process priority of Total Commander, because it thought TC was behaving selfishly with the CPU. Well, TC was busy doing my work, gentlemen. It was searching for text in a large directory of files. By lowering its priority TuneUp ensured I had to wait longer for the result — is that a bug or a feature?

All this automated magic is not helpful at all; it is not smart, it does the opposite of what would be logical. It presumes to know better than the user and makes the wrong choices. What happened to the idea of asking the user whether a program is important (so boost it) or a background drone (so keep it tame)?

After such start, I was just curious to see what chicanery lurked inside the “Turbo Mode”. The description reads, “In Turbo Mode, all unwanted background programs and services are disabled to ensure individual programs run smoothly”. I couldn’t help but check what programs and services TuneUp considered “unwanted”, and whether it was going to make that determination by trying to read my mind, or whether it would just make a wild guess.

As I tried to click the “Configure Turbo Mode” link, two things happened. First, I did not manage to click that link, because as I approached the link with the mouse, the sliding information panel kicked in and switched to the “TuneUp Live Optimization” slide. As a result, I inadvertently clicked the “Configure Live Optimization” link instead. Just as I tried to click the link, it was replaced with another link before I had time to react. At least this is what I think happened. Congratulations for the innovative UI design! Maybe next we’ll see sliding OK and Cancel buttons, too?

The second thing that happened was that LiveOptimizer.exe crashed.

Then I tried again, this time making sure I clicked the correct link. Another crash from LiveOptimizer.exe:

TuneUp LiveOptimizer buys the farm

TuneUp LiveOptimizer buys the farm

And the worst thing? The worst thing is we’re only getting warmed up here.

I ran Drive Defrag. It analyzed two of my physical drives, and when I clicked the other drive in the list, the process froze. I had to kill it with Task Manager:

TuneUp Drive Defrag has lost it

TuneUp Drive Defrag has lost it

I ran Disk Doctor. It started scanning the filesystem, then I left the computer unattended for a while. By the time I came back 10 minutes later, DD had consumed over 330 MB of memory (was it trying to load the whole filesystem, or what?) and stopped responding. I had to kill it, too.

Oh, and then I found out that uTorrent.exe was semi-frozen. Busily churning bits just moments before, it was now sitting blankly, vacantly, as if it got clobbered over the head with something solid. When I shut it down the UI disappeared, but left behind the zombie process running. Another kill.

Now, it may have been a coincidence. Then again, µTorrent had never crashed on my system before. Never. Not once in years. My wild guess is that it did not survive some of the TuneUp’s new process-managing, smoothness-ensuring little games.

Speaking of unwanted programs… Maybe I could play my own silly game and turn the Turbo Mode on itself… Nice thought — if only it ran, rather than crash!

Time to bid TuneUp Utilities good-bye. Wish I had not spent all that money on upgrades, but for that I only have myself to blame.

(Windows XP SP2, running smoothly otherwise).

TuneUp Utilities 2010
Price: $49.95 new customer, $29.95 upgrade (licensed for up to 3 PCs)
Free trial: Yes
Verdict: You’ve got to be kidding!

(This review was first posted at DonationCoder)