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Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
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With computers getting more powerful and faster almost daily, we often forget that they need a little simple maintenance to keep them running in top form. You don't need to be a computer technician to keep your computer running smoothly, just set aside a little time on a regular basis and think of it as house-work to do for your computer.
Keep it Clean
Just like dust and dirt can build up around the house, your computer will build a collection of bits and pieces of information that you need to clean up.
- E-mail - If you use a program like Outlook or Eudora, your email is stored on your computer's hard drive and not "out there somewhere on the net." Keeping old messages just adds to the clutter on your computer. Set up a filing system in your email and keep only what you need. If you don't need them, delete them. Don't forget to check to see if your email is storing messages that you've sent. Keep only the ones you need to have a record of.
- Internet Browser - A browser is your doorway to the World Wide Web. The three most popular ones are Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Opera, and all have default settings that allow information from websites to be stored on your computer.
- Cache Files are where website information is stored. When visiting a website again it is faster to recall the information from your computer's hard drive than to download it repeatedly. By adjusting your browser's cache settings to limit the size to no more than 80mb and/or limiting the length of time it stores files to no more than 7 days you'll keep clutter to a minimum.
- Cookies are little bits of information stored on your computer that tell a website that you visit that you are returning. Have you ever wondered how a website knows who you are when you return to it? There was a cookie stored on your computer that is telling the website, "Hey, I'm back. Remember me." Some cookies are useful and can remember your username and password for access to a site, others transmit information about where you've been and how often you visit their site; still others are needed to help you navigate some sites. Cookies build up over time but the good news is that they can be safely swept away helping to keep your computer neat and tidy.
- Recycle Bin - I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone say "I deleted it" or "I've moved it to the recycle bin so it's been deleted." Think of your computer's recycle bin like the wastebasket in your house; it has to be periodically emptied. Most of the time a file is not truly deleted until you empty the recycle bin and if you delete a file in error, it can often be recovered from the it prior to emptying.
- File System - Think of it as your filing cabinet in your computer. Check your folders now and then for information you no longer need. Files that you want to keep but seldom use can be archived or compressed to save space. Rule of thumb here is that if you come across something and don't know what it is or what it's used for, don't mess with it. Deleting files from your operating system or programs can cause them to cease to function or worse yet may cause your computer to display the "blue screen of death".
If your house is unorganized it may be difficult to find things you're looking for. The same holds true with your computer. An unorganized computer file system can cause it to take longer to find what you are looking for. Running programs that are included with your Windows operating system keeps your hard disc organized for optimum speed.
- Defragment - Over time adding and removing information from your hard drive can cause the information on it to become fragmented and spread out over the surface of the disc. Running your disc defragmenter allows your computer to organize the files and folders on your hard drive so they can be more quickly accessed when needed. Most Windows operating systems come with a disc defragmenter program that can be accessed on your file menu under accessories and system tools. Often clicking on the program starts an analysis that will tell you if you need to continue to run the program or if you don't need to run it at that time.
- Scan Disc - If you think of the file structure on your computer as a map, running scan disc checks that map for accuracy so your computer will know the best route to take to find a file. Scan disc (also known as error checking) will often run automatically if your computer has crashed or been shut down improperly. If you have installed or un-installed programs, running scan disc re-checks the "map" to make sure the new program files can be found.
There are many utilities programs out there that can do these tasks for you from a central screen or menu and some have added features for advanced users. If you don't want to spend the money or would rather just do it yourself, using this as a guide will help you keep your machine in tip-top form.
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