PC utility Soluto is moving beyond speeding up your boot time and now helps you solve software conflicts and rid your Web browser of unnecessary toolbars, add-ons and plug-ins. The company, also called Soluto, has launched the latest beta version of its free desktop app for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 systems.
Just as it did before, the new version of Soluto gives you an at-a-glance view of your boot time and the processes involved. But now the desktop app is also providing you with similar information about application crashes including historical data about your computer's app crashes and solutions to fix the problem. "We are very glad to be helping users find solutions for application crashes, one of the most frustrating experiences for PC users around the world," said Soluto's chief executive, Tomer Dvir.
The new Soluto beta will also take a look at all the Web browsers installed on your system, and show you which plug-ins, add-ons and toolbars are installed on each browser. The app then helps you make decisions about what you can get rid of and what your browser needs to keep running. Soluto can also help you manage your default search engine for each browser instead of rooting around in your browser's settings.
Here's how it works.
Soluto is able to offer fixes to your system problems by monitoring how you interact with your PC and aggregating that data into a database the company calls the PC Genome. This crowd-sourced solution allows Soluto to monitor how a large number of users deal with problems on their systems such as software conflicts and how the conflicts were solved. Let's say, for example, you discover your browser crashes because of incompatible plug-ins. Soluto gets alerted to your problem and the fix, thereby adding the fix to PC Genome and then sharing the solution with other Soluto users.
The company says it collects anonymous technical usage data from all its users, and never user information such as your browser history, document contents or any other personal data. But if you're not interested in sharing technical information about your computer with the company then Soluto may not be for you.
When you experience an application crash, you can open Soluto to see whether there is a solution for the problem you just experienced by clicking on "Heal crashes." This will show you which of your apps have crashed in the past, how many times they've crashed, roughly when they crashed, and, if Soluto has a solution, what you can do about it. In my informal review, I was unable to crash any apps in a real world scenario. But in several simulated crashes that I ran, Soluto's solutions to helping you fix crashes were relatively easy to understand and implement. But you'll have to wait for a formal review of the app to see how well it can solve problems under more severe torture tests.
Manage Your Browser
The new beta version of Soluto also analyzes your browser to help you tweak it to your specifications. The interface here is similar to what you see when you analyze your boot time. Soluto shows you by name every plug-in, add-on and toolbar in your browser and how many people have disabled each component. Your browser components are broken down into three categories: Safely Remove, Possibly Remove and Disabled. Items found under "Safely Remove" are components you can remove without worrying about your browser crashing or becoming disabled. Items under this category are typically toolbars and add-ons so make sure you don't disable something you use every day.
Components under "Possibly Remove" are items that Soluto is less sure you should remove, but things that many others have disabled. Let's say you're deciding whether to disable the Google Gears plug-in for Internet Explorer. Clicking on the component will show you what the plug-in does, what will happen when you disable it and what percentage of users have chosen to disable it. Then you can decide what you'd like to do. If you ever want to restore a browser component, you can do so by clicking on it under the Disabled category.
In my tests, Soluto did not have explanations for all of my browser's components; it didn't know, for example, what the LastPass toolbar did. But it does have descriptions for most of the major components, and even if you don't see a description, you can still see how many others have disabled each component. I also found that clicking through the browser extensions and plug-ins could be a little tricky. Several times I inadvertently disabled a plug-in that I didn't mean to, but restoring a plug-in is as easy as disabling it so this is only a minor quibble.
The browser feature also lets you manage your browser's default search engine and choose between alternatives such as Bing, Google or Yahoo. It's a handy feature to have in case a toolbar or program tricks you into switching your default search engine. This is exactly what happened to me several years ago after installing a free security program for my Vista machine. The program was particularly obnoxious and wouldn't let me easily change my search engine back. Soluto's new browser feature will come in very hand if I encounter problems like that again. Despite managing your browser's default search options, Soluto does not have an option to change your system's default browser.
Overall, Soluto was very usable, and as long as you don't mind sharing your PC's usage data, Soluto is worth trying out. The new app is also easy to uninstall through the Windows Control Panel should you want to get rid of it -- a problem several PCWorld readers had complained about. But keep in mind that once you delete Soluto any changes you made to your system such as disabling browser add-ons will be lost.
The company says it isn't finished with just improving your boot times, and helping you with app crashes and browser management. Soluto also plans on publicly sharing the data collected in its PC Genome project in the future via a Web app. That could turn out to be a handy guide if you ever want to know, for example, which laptops crash the most often with Photoshop before you head out to purchase your next PC.
You can find the new beta version of Soluto online at Soluto.com/Download.