Spring cleaning your computer

Are you getting the most out of your operating system? Not the sexiest question in the world but extremely important to the vital statistics of your computer. If you use Windows, you can do some simple things to your system to run at peak efficiency. Think of the following as a gentle form of colonic irrigation.

Performing routine maintenance on your computer is not hard; just identify the files you can safely remove, and then use Windows Explorer or My Computer to get rid of them. Freeing your hard disk of unused files will not only give you lots of extra space, it will help Windows run faster.

A Brief Message to All Windows 98 Users
Windows 98 comes with a very useful utility called Disk Cleanup, which identifies most of the unwanted files in the following list and then deletes them for you. Just choose Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Cleanup to start it.

However, even if you use Disk Cleanup, you may want to scan the following list for other files you can remove. You'll find another utility on the System Tools menu as well: the Maintenance Wizard. The Wizard can schedule many of the maintenance tasks that will be discussed throughout this four-part series.

The Files You Should Look For.
Here are some places to look for files you don't really need:
The Recycle Bin
If you use Windows 95 or 98, when you delete a file it hasn’t really been removed from the hard disk. Instead, it has moved to the Recycle Bin, where it stays until you 'take out the rubbish' - empty the bin.

That allows you to get files back if you later discover that you've deleted them accidentally. On the other hand, it also uses up a lot of valuable disk space on files that you wanted to get rid of a long time ago. To empty the bin, right-click on the Recycle Bin icon (it's on the desktop) and select Empty Recycle Bin, then click Yes to continue.

You can double-click the Recycle Bin icon to view the files in it before you delete them permanently by emptying the bin. If you see something you want to save and not delete, just right-click it and choose Restore.

The TEMP directory
This directory is usually found in the Windows directory, although it can be anywhere. Its purpose is to serve as a temporary holding area for files that programs only need for a short period, such as an unsaved copy of a letter or other document.

The idea is that files in the TEMP directory are not supposed to be permanent, so each program deletes them when they are no longer needed (when you save your letter to disk, for example). But if you exit a program improperly, or restart your computer while some programs are still running, then these temporary files will never be deleted. Since they are not needed, you should get rid of them. Be sure to exit all programs first, then start Explorer and delete any TEMP files you find.

Your Web browser's cache
A cache is also a temporary holding area for files, this time for your Web browser. You see, before you admire all the nice graphics, animations and so on that make up a typical Web page, your browser has to download all the necessary files to your system.

It stores those files in its cache directory so that they can be quickly retrieved if you leave the page and return to it later on. Although most browsers remove the oldest files from their caches when they get full, none of them typically delete the files in the cache altogether. Since the files can always be recopied to your hard disk should you revisit the associated Web page, removing the files won't cause any problems with your system and can often get you several megabytes of free disk space.

To clear the cache in Netscape Communicator, open the Edit menu and select Preferences. Then click the plus sign in front of Advanced in the Category list and click on Cache. Click the Clear Disk Cache button and click OK to continue. To clear the cache in Internet Explorer 5.0, open the Tool menu and select Internet Options (in Internet Explorer 4.0, try the View menu instead). Then, on the General *tab, click the Delete Files button.

Other downloaded files
While we're on the subject, there are other files from the Internet that you could get rid of -- all those sound, video, graphics and other files that were downloaded because you just had to have them.

Months have passed, and the sound file of Cartman saying 'Sweet' isn't as funny as it once was, so you might as well get rid of it and free up some more space. Hopefully, you're in the habit of storing the files you download in the same directory, which will make it easier to find and delete them.

(Actually, you should probably download the files to a Zip disk or other large-capacity drive if you have one and then check the files with a virus detection program before you use them.)

Old .BAK files
When you install some programs, they'll make a copy of your computer's configuration files as a precaution. Once the program is installed and everything's still running properly, you can safely remove these backup files, which usually end in the file extensions .BAK, .OLD, .001, .002 and so on. Since these backup files may be anywhere, use Explorer to search the hard disk for them and delete the ones you find.

Automatic backup files
If you use Microsoft Office, you may have a lot of unneeded automatic backup files on your hard disk. You see, while you're busy creating a monolithic masterpiece, Office is busy protecting you from losing it. Every 10 minutes or so, Office will create a backup file of your document, so that the most you can lose at any given time is 10 minutes or so of work. It's a nice idea, but Office does not delete these files, so when you've finished a document and closed your program, you can safely get rid of them. The files end in .WBK, and you'll find them in the same directory as the original file.

Stuff you just don't need anymore
These files might include old data files (such as last month's sales report) that you simply don't need any more, old programs you no longer use and old email messages.

To get rid of old data files, copy them onto a floppy disk as backup, then remove them from the hard disk. To get rid of old programs in Windows 3.1, use the program's uninstall utility (if there is one) or simply delete the program's directory and remove its icon from Program Manager.

In Windows 95/98, double-click the Add/Remove Programs icon in the Control Panel, then select the program you want to remove and click Add/Remove. If you don't see your program in the list, try looking for an uninstaller called UNINSTAL.EXE in your program's main directory, or the SETUP.EXE file, which should present you with an uninstall option when you run it. To get rid of old email messages, you'll have to start your email program and delete them one at a time.

ScanDisk files
If you've used ScanDisk lately, it may have created some files that end in .CHK in your root directory. These file segments are from improperly completed deletion and move operations (on the computer's part, not yours).

ScanDisk converts this gibberish into files when it comes across them, supposedly with the idea that there might be something inside you may want to save for some reason. Unless they are parts of simple text files, they won't contain anything you'll be able to make sense of, so you might as well delete them.

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