Hands on with Microsoft’s own PC Cleaner and Utility Toolkit – Microsoft PC Manager

Microsoft PC Manager isn’t an overly well known tool. It came out in 2022 and according to the offical website it will “Safeguard your PC in a quiet and reliable way”. It’s not included in Windows, instead needs to be downloaded and installed… and it sounds like the many other tools (both well meaning and malicious) that have been around for many years; so what’s the deal with PC Manager?

The app downloads via the Microsoft Store and has a 4.5 rating from 22 reviews. Or, it has a 4.2 rating from 402 ratings depending which PC I checked from. A few clicks and you’ll have it installed on your Windows 10 or Windows 11 device.

I’ll take you through a bit of a journey on using the app. There is some good stuff in here, but at the same time a lot of it seems quite puzzling in what they’re trying to achieve and who the target audience is. I’ve been running Microsoft PC Manager for a while, but when I open it up, here’s what the home area looks like:

There’s a few things going on, but I do like the overall dashboard, and the reminder of what Windows Phone used to look like before it’s untimely demise. Let’s go through some of the options to see what’s going on.

PC Manager suggests that I have a lot of temporary files and should clean them up. The Deep Cleanup link scans the computer and offers up suggestions on what to delete. Not all options are ticked by default.

Options include areas like Windows Update files, Edge Cache, temporary files etc. For me, it skipped Windows Update files as they were in use. Unsure why, as I have no pending installs or reboots. Going back to the home screen, we see a new suggestion around making the PC more accessible.

The ‘Discover more tips’ takes me to a website that also calls out I can do these accessibility functions, with a button to tell Edge to go back to my Windows desktop and open the accessibility settings. Doing this doesn’t clear this home page ‘tip’ and there’s no way to close it, so I guess it’s stuck there until Microsoft decide to change what that banner is. The most ironic part is that after adjusting the text size, PC Manager becomes unusable. You can’t resize the PC Manager app – it’s stuck at it’s small size and can’t click on a corner to expand, and there’s no maximise window:

Moving down, we’ve got a giant Boost button. Clicking it generates a little rocket ship flying through that same button, and within a few seconds my memory usage has gone down from 68% to 53%, and all temporary files removed. Why those temporary files weren’t removed on the first step where I cleaned up unused files, I do not know.

Moving to the Health check, which I’ve never run before, it suggests two types of things, cleaning up files (again??) which this time are all ticked by default, and shows startup apps that can be disabled. For items to clean up, it shows the size – and for startup apps, it just says ‘High’ or ‘Unknown’ with no indicator on what that means. If you’re familiar with Task Manager through, you’ll probably know that’s the startup impact. Task Manager will also let you go straight to the executable in case you want to know more, but that’s not possible here.

I was about to click ‘Proceed’ but noticed the ‘Reset Edge defaults’ option – hovering over the question mark reveals that it will ‘Restore Search Engine to Bing’. So is it restoring multiple default options, as the plural suggests – or is it just changing my search engine back to Bing? Who knows, but it definitely does change the search engine to Bing. Recently, PC Manager was prompting with the suggestion to change the search engine to Bing https://www.theregister.com/2024/05/16/microsoft_pc_manager_bing/ – maybe there’s an argument to say Bing is safer with your data than Google (one that Google would dispute I’m sure) but it’s another layer of the confusing goal of this tool.

Moving on to ‘Process’, it purely shows the same applications I’d see in Task Manager, again with less details. It suggests to terminate application processes to speed up your computer, and also end these apps if needed. This must be confusing to someone who doesn’t know better – is it teaching people to end every app thinking their PC will be sped up? What defines an app needing to be ended? There is no indication on the impact of an app beyond it’s memory usage, and if I’m only now using 53% because of the magical Boost button, there’s no need to even do this.

The ‘Deep Cleanup’ area is the same as what was suggested at the start, so we’ll jump to the Startup area instead. Alright, now we’re seeing the same information that was in the Health Check area, except it does say that it’s a Startup Impact. Why did we even have the other area?

Jumping to System Protection, we have a big blue ‘Scan’ button for ‘Virus & threat protection’. This opens the same named area of Windows Security and triggers a quick scan.

Windows Update however triggers the update process from inside the app, and shows the progress there. There’s a lot of blank space on this page, so a tiny Windows Tip is used in that space.

‘Default browser settings’ shows a single setting that shows you your current browser, and a Change button. The resulting screen really makes me think this isn’t a polished product.

‘Taskbar repair’ feels like it’s two options aimed at a hijacked computer that’s had a bunch of taskbar settings modified. For me, I had nothing to repair.

‘Restore default apps’ is a bit of a weird one – again, I feel like this may be targeted at a hijacked PC. The ‘Change’ button next to PDF documents just takes me to the Windows Settings Default apps page, and that’s for me to work out what to do from there. It does the exact same thing as the ‘Set defaults for applications’ link below it, which for some reason doesn’t appear as a button.

‘Pop-up management’ sounds interesting – I haven’t blocked any pop-ups yet, but hopefully one day I will. ‘Custom block’ I can’t really work out what it is from that name, and the information for it says ‘The shortcut key is , you can change it in the settings’. I get a feeling the shortcut key isn’t actually a comma, but isn’t set. The first time I clicked the ‘Select on-screen’ button , a message popped up about joining a program. I closed that to come back to it, but the next time I clicked the same button, it instead started functioning and wanted me to select a window to block. After checking from another PC, it was a feedback program where you could provide extra information to help improve PC Manager in the future around this feature. From what I can gather, you can pick whatever window that pops up to block that popping up in the future. Again, this feels like it’s targeted at a compromised computer, and I’m not sure hiding popups is a safe and secure solution when there’s malicious code running on the device, but maybe there’s more to it.

Moving onto the ‘Storage’ area, we again have that ‘Deep cleanup’ option that was on the home page. Makes sense to have it here too, so let’s check the other options.

‘Downloaded Files’, ‘Large Files’, and ‘Duplicate Files’ all open another PC Manager window which has tabs for the three functions. This one’s actually pretty neat. Although ‘Downloaded Files’ just takes you to your Download folder, it sorts by size, you can pick what sort of file such as Video, Audio, Picture etc. Large Files just looks for big files anywhere on your PC and sorts by size, with you being able to specify what a Large File is (default is >10MB, but you can change it to >50MB, >100MB, and >1GB ). You can’t be more specific on the location beyond which disk you want to check. Duplicate Files is the same, where it’ll scan one ore or more disks for identical files. There is a little ‘Smart select’ link you can click which choose which of the duplicate files to delete which is a bit hidden, and I could see someone accidently deleting both duplicate files for the results and being left with nothing.

The last option under ‘Storage’ is ‘Storage Sense’ which just takes you to the same named Settings page, but I already had the option enabled.

Next up is ‘Apps’. In this area, ‘Process management’ is the same as the ‘Process’ button, and ‘Startup apps’ is the ‘Startup’ button that both were on the ‘Home’ area. ‘Manage apps’ just takes you to the ‘Installed apps’ section of Windows Settings, and ‘Microsoft Store’ opens Microsoft Store. Microsoft Store excluded, the naming of pages and areas of PC Manager is a bit all over the place.

‘Toolbox’ is a bit more interesting. From first glance, it looks like it is a bunch of tools, which is a bit different from what the rest of the PC Manager app has been focusing on:

If you like little programs that hover over everything you’ve got open, then ‘Show toolbar on the desktop’ is the option for you. It contains the same links as per the six Windows Tools in this section, and you can choose which of the six you see as buttons. The 66% below is the available memory, and clicking it appears to do what that original ‘Boost’ button did. I am sure there’s some use case for wanting to see what your memory usage is all the time, but not care about other data like CPU usage, but I feel like that’s an edge case and maybe it’s time to get some more RAM.

The six Windows tools just open the relevant programs. Once I hadn’t realised was in Windows now, is Captions – and after testing a few Australian YouTube clips, I was impressed by it’s accuracy – worth checking out.

The ‘Web tools ‘ section has ‘Edge Quick Links’ are the same quick links you’d see when opening Edge, and ‘Bing Translator’ opens your browser to the same Bing Translator page. ‘Currency Converter’ just does a text search on Bing of that term, so you can use the inbuilt converter. Finally, the ‘Custom Links’ section is just an area you can add your own URLs into and display extra buttons for those links.

Going further down the menu list, the ‘Restore’ button appears to look for default settings that have been changed, and lets you reset them back. In this case it’s detected that after testing a previous option’s tickbox of setting Bing as my search engine, “someone” has changed it away from that. This is yet another option that feels like it’s trying to remediate something malicious, but not actually fixing whatever caused it.

Last on the list is ‘Settings’. In here we have ‘Boost setting’ which is a Smart boost option – instead of having to click that Boost button, it will trigger a Boost when either 1GB of temporary files are detected, or high usage of RAM.

We also have “Shortcuts setting’ which while grammatically I can’t accept, the option also can’t accept Ctrl+F2 as being the shortcut combo for that previous ‘Custom block of pop-up management’ which raises two points: I knew it wasn’t a comma, and why is the word ‘of’ in that sentence? Strangely, clicking the box and pressing Ctrl-F2 made the error go away, and that key combo now works for ‘Custom block’.


That took a lot longer than I thought to go through all the options, but it brings me to a bit of a conclusion. I don’t know who this tool is for, or what it’s really trying to be. There’s elements that are aimed at your standard home user that maybe has a PC not running too well, and they can manage some bits and pieces themselves to try to improve their experience. But, there’s not really any safety rails in the potential mess they can cause by stopping all apps from starting up, deleting a duplicate file that might really need to be in the location it was in, or constantly killing off processes because they think that’s required to use their PC.

The toolbox function doesn’t need to exist – it could be in it’s own program, and be a lot more useful. The protection area does very little protection wise beyond triggering a virus scan, which should trigger regularly anyway.

The idea of what problems Microsoft PC Manager was built to solve I can see – that all in one PC cleanup/improvement program – but it’s partially black box, partially missing things like ‘What program is using all my CPU’. It feels like a side project that someone made which then lost momentum from what the end goal should be, and tried to do a bunch of things that were easier. The other question is, why isn’t this functionality built into Windows itself if it’s needed? I would rather see the core cleanup and repair type actions just be a part of Windows, than need to download an extra program to do it.

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