Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

There used to be a software that provided this service, but it required administrative access. Your options may be limited.

Is there a free way to set up a Windows XP machine to delete everything that was added since power up? I'm getting tired of deleting the same old toolbars and spyware. I cannot use limited users because they are not my computers. Self-deleting should be invisible.

In this excerpt from Answercast #20, I look at the issue of an XP machine with problem users and the limited options for removing questionable downloads.

Self cleaning computer

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no.

What's unfortunate about it is that there was a wonderful piece of software that used to do exactly what you just described. It was called Microsoft Windows Steady State. It was meant for use in institutions like libraries; where what you're describing is a very, very common problem.

Individuals would use a computer and they would abuse the computer. They would install God-knows-what on the computer and then leave for the next user to access whatever it is they left behind.

Windows Steady State would allow you to reset the machine to a known state after every use. Unfortunately, Microsoft killed it. I have a link to an article on that. I will include that in the transcript for those of you listening.

It is a link to an article in InfoWorld back in 2010, that basically points out what I just described: Windows Steady State was killed.

Administrative access

Unfortunately, also, Steady State required something you apparently don't have: administrative access to the machine.

My recommendation remains that you use limited users or that you get to some scenario where you have better access to these machines to do it.

If these are not your computers, I don't know of a solution.

Article C5382 - May 24, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

May 24, 2012 6:13 PM

May I suggest a commercial product? Deep Freeze. I run a small computer lab for a small city and had found the only way to clean the computer each and every day was to run this nifty program. It locks down the computer to a certain state and then when it reboots, only things from that 'state' are retained. So you can't save updates or a 100 page Word file, but if anyone messes with anything on the computer, you're just a reboot away from a fully clean computer. You can 'unfreeze' the computer to install updates and or programs by entering a pass code at a certain point in the reboot process.
Check it out, I highly recommend it!

Very cool. Thanks for the recomendation - I had hoped that there would be solutions out there.

May 25, 2012 8:53 AM

I have used a similar product called Drive Vaccine ( to set up about 25 public use computers at our local library. Single PC license is only $39. It can even be configured to allow updates to be made and saved automatically during a specified time and day.

May 25, 2012 11:24 AM

Not free, and possibly no longer available, but Norton Go-back (formerly by Roxio) has an AutoBack option that we use to restore some of our XP machines at work to the exact state they were at when AutoBack was enabled. This is useful since we run a custom OS and LAN with no internet access on top of XP and want to keep XP stable and out of the way, so to speak. I have seen similar setups in hotel business centers, BTW.

May 25, 2012 3:15 PM

MS "Steady State" is still available for XP/Vista (x86 only), from CNET (
From what I've read W7 has a similar built in feature called "Guest Mode", but I don't know that much about it.

May 26, 2012 12:00 AM

There are plenty of alternatives to Steady State.
Mostly commercial or as shareware, but there are a few that are free:
Returnil free version -see comparison chart:

The others below are approx. $39 or so.

Browse below links for more:

At the moment I use the free TimeFreeze from ToolWiz on one machine.Another has the free version of Returnil.
Apart from that I use Sandboxie or BufferZone on other machines and find that can be another solution that works quite well in keeping trash out.

Chris Faulkner
May 26, 2012 2:53 AM

But wait there's more, have a look at Rollback RX. Now you're spoiled for choice.
Good luck.

May 26, 2012 11:40 AM

Hi Leo,
The senior center learning center where I work, uses
Deep Freeze. Not sure about costs.

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