Time for an annual spring cleaning

This year, why don't you extend your spring cleaning to your computer, as well as to your house? Paul Suiter gives you some tips on deleting unnecessary files and freeing up extra space for better performance.

Spring is upon us, and soon it will be time to start our yearly ritual of cleaning. Not only is this the time of year to clean our houses—but also our computers. You’ll be amazed at the amount of “stuff” that can accumulate over a year or, in some cases, years. Cleaning your hard drive doesn’t just help free up valuable disk space; it also improves the overall performance of your machine.

Before starting this project, you need to understand the ground rules. Deleting files is a risky undertaking. Delete the wrong file, and you may not be able to bring Windows back up. To play it safe, you may want to create a complete backup of your system or move the files that you are selecting for deletion to another area, such as a Delete folder. You also could rename your files’ extensions so that they are no longer readable by Windows. That way, if something happens, you still have access to the files and can restore them.

Where to look
A good place to start is in your root directory, where you often find files with extensions like *.001, *.dos, and *.log. The scandisk program places the *.001 files there because they represent data fragments that were found and placed in a file. If you’re sure that these fragments are unimportant, deleting them can create lots of room. The *.dos files are leftovers from Windows 3.1; the only file that you need to keep is Bootsect.dos. If you’ve set up your system to dual boot, however, you must leave the *.dos files as they are. The *.log files are linked to programs that most people don’t use. Some users are even unaware of the programs for which a log file was created. For instance, the scandisk.log file primarily contains redundant information about the problems that scandisk found. If you don’t want to keep a log of scandisk, you can turn it off with the Advanced button on the Scandisk window. You also should consider deleting the Autoexec.bat and the Config.sys files if they are empty.

Another area that may contain many unnecessary files is the Windows directory, where you’ll find a number of files with the extension *.txt. These are usually readme files that contain very little information. However, some may contain information about executable files in the Windows directory, so take a close look at them before you decide to delete them. There are also many *.bmp files in this directory. If you don’t use the bitmap pictures that Windows offers you with its desktop, then this would be a good area to reclaim. You may find *.wav and *.avi or *.mov files in this directory or one of its subdirectories. These files are associated with the tutorials for applications, and different users may or may not want to keep them.

One of the best areas from which you can remove files is your Temp folder under the Windows directory. This folder temporarily stores files that you use. Invariably, many files get left there after you use various programs, especially Office programs. This problem is very prevalent under Win 95. Although many files will have a size of only 0 KB, they still take up space. You may find folders that retain information for the installation of programs, too. In some cases, this information may be useful. It’s best to look through the folders and to try to associate them with an application that was loaded. Then, move the files out of the Temp directory and into their program areas if you want to keep them. Another helpful clue could be the date of the file. If the date is older than your last start of the system, you can be sure that the file is no longer being used.

Another file that just takes up space without purpose is the mscreate.dir file. While running a search on my system, I came up with over 50 of these empty files. I also noticed that the dates of these files were the dates when I loaded Windows 9x. The installation programs of Windows created these files. After installation, they no longer serve any real purpose, and they should be deleted. Help files are another group that some users may not need. There are Help files for many programs that most users don’t need help with. Reviewing the Help files in your system may be a good starting point for finding files for deletion.

Final steps
You can remove many of these files with the Add/Remove Programs interface in the Control Panel. Go to the Windows tab in this utility, uncheck many of the extras within Windows, and remove them that way. It will maintain uniformity within the registry. Later, of course, if you decide that you want these programs, you can add them again—as long as you still have the necessary disks or CDs.

Again, I want to stress that deleting can be risky. You should check a file’s properties for its last accessed date in order to see just how old it is. If it’s really old, then you probably can delete it safely. If for any reason you’re unsure of whether or not the file should be deleted, move it to another location first and see if all your programs still run correctly. You may want to locate the file elsewhere for several days—just to be sure that all is well before you delete the file. Finally, after you’ve finished deleting your files, you ought to defragment the drive(s) as a final step in the cleaning process.

This process doesn’t have to be an annual event. Depending on how you use your system, you may want to consider cleaning even more often. As you load and remove software, you’ll constantly find files that do nothing but take up room. So, as you look forward to the drudgery of cleaning your house, think of how easy it will be to clean your computer system.

Paul Suiter received his first taste of the deadline rush as a photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser, where he earned four photography awards. After receiving degrees in economics and business management from Auburn University, Paul entered the college book business. After managing two bookstores for three years, Paul became a business analyst for EDS. Four years later, Paul continues with EDS, taking its equipment apart, while working with G3 switches and advanced imaging programs. But he’s finally getting back to one of his favorite pastimes—writing. (Of course, he also enjoys spending time with his wife and son.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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