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 Preventive Maintenance

Clearing Computer Clutter
May 2002

Russell James is Operations Manager at BJ Associates of San Antonio. They are an authorized service center for Toshiba and Sony systems. They are the laptop specialist and also handle system builds and parts for desktops. They can take care of any IBM compatible hardware or software problem that you have.

With the amount of time that we spend on our computer these days, it is amazing that we all donít have hard drives that are filled to capacity. Programs take up an enormous amount of space compared to just a few years ago. Temporary Internet files can take up more space than we used to have on our drives. We install and uninstall programs thinking that the writers will be sure to get rid of the files that were put into your system by the installation program. Some of the programs that get installed will add themselves to the startup of your computer. Some of these same programs will not be used but will continue to run in the startup taking precious system resources from other programs that you do use. We need to take the time to clean up the software on our system. Letís take a look at what you can do to help alleviate the clutter.

Letís start with an area that is always at the top of my list. I hate to have items that start every time that I turn on my computer. I believe that if I want a program to start I can click on the icon that the installation program wrote and start it. I donít need a program to run in the taskbar that will allow me to start another program. Put an end to the wasted resources. Those of you with Windows 98, ME or XP can use a program called msconfig to look at the items that are starting every time that your computer comes on. For XP the only areas that you want to change are within the Startup tab. For you Win9x people, you will also have Autoexec.bat and Config.sys. These two should not have much in them. You should know what every item on these tabs is. If there is a program that you donít recognize, search your hard drive for the program and look at the properties. What company made the program and what is it supposed to do. Search the Internet for the name of the program. Does anyone know what the program scam32.exe is used for and why it would be in your Startup folder? Know what you are running on your system and find out if you donít know.

If you have programs that you have installed that you do not use anymore such as trial software that you have downloaded, use the uninstall program in Control Panel to remove them. It is always a good idea to go into Windows Explorer and look for the folder that the program was installed into to be sure that the folder was removed. A lot of the programs will not delete the folder because there will be files that have changed since the program was installed. These files will be left on your hard drive to take up space that some of you can not afford to lose. While we are on the subject of downloaded software, try to use one folder to download programs into. This way you will know that everything in the download folder could be deleted if the space was needed.

The next item we need to look at is the Windows temporary files. When Windows is running, it creates files to swap data between the hard drive and memory. This is called the swap file and should be cleaned out every time your computer is restarted. In a perfect world this sounds like a good plan but it is not the way that it works in the real world. There are times that Windows does not shut down correctly and these temporary files will be left on the system. These temp files along with files that are left over from previous installations will be left in the Windows Temp folder on your system. For those of you that are using 2000, XP or Windows 9x with user profiles will have to look a little harder for your temp files. The easiest way to get to them is to right click on the Start button and then click on Explore. This will take you to the folder that has the files that are specific to the user that is logged onto the system. Under current user there will be a hidden folder called Local Settings that will have your Temp folder. Most of the files that are in this folder can be deleted without causing any problems. The only ones that you will not be able to delete are the ones that Windows is currently using.

The next item that we can look at is the Internet Cache. If you are using Internet Explorer you can use the Control Panel icon to delete the Temporary Internet files. You also have the option of setting the amount of space that your system will allocate to the temporary files by clicking on the settings tab. I have found that the more space that you allocate for Temporary Internet files, the faster Web pages will load. If you are low on hard drive space, this is an area that you could save space by lowering the amount that Windows will reserve. This will be a setting that you will need to change based on your individual needs.

Another area I have found that will eat up an enormous amount of space is the Recycle Bin. By default, every item that you delete from your computer will actually be sent to a holding folder called the Recycle Bin. You have the option to not use the Recycle Bin if you choose not to but I would not recommend turning this option off. I like the fact that I can delete something and then wait a couple of days to be sure that I havenít deleted something that I needed to keep. If after a couple of days there are no problems, I will then clean out the Recycle Bin and then the items will be gone for good. You also have the option of changing the amount of space that Windows allocates for this folder. In Windows Explorer, right click on the Recycled folder and then click on properties. Windows will use up to ten percent of your hard drive space by default. On a ten gigabyte drive, which is small by todayís standards, this could use up to one gigabyte of space on your hard drive. I donít like to have that many deleted files on my system, so I have set my Recycle Bin to use one percent so that only about 100 megabytes of space can be used. This way if I donít empty the Bin manually, and I fill it up, the oldest items will be cleared out instead of taking up so much space on my system.

 The last item we need to cover is your mail program. Every e-mail that you receive takes up a small amount of space on your hard drive. If the e-mail has an attachment, the e-mail will take up as much space as the e-mail plus the attachment. If you forward the e-mail with the attachment you will have the original e-mail with attachment and a copy of the same that will be stored in your Sent Items folder within your e-mail program. If you are hurting for space this would be a good place to look. Most of the e-mail programs have an option to view the folders. You can then look at the individual e-mail to delete ones that you do not want or need to keep. If there is an attachment that you want to keep, you will probably have saved a copy of the file to your hard drive. This is another copy of the file so the original e-mail can be deleted to save space and clean up.

There is a program called Disk Cleanup that will allow you to automate the cleanup process. You can set this program to run on a regular basis with the Maintenance Wizard. If you choose to use this program you will lose the control that you have by doing the items manually. If you would rather have the cleanup taken care of for you then I would suggest using this program. The main idea is that if you are not going to clean up manually, then you should set the Disk Cleanup program to do the job for you. With a regular program of cleaning up your system and then running Scandisk and Defrag you will have a system that will run better and keep you happier.

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