Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Favorite Ways to Clean Up a Windows Computer

My computers all have huge hard drives and large amounts of RAM, but that doesn't mean they can hold everything and do everything and still run smoothly.  Computers, Windows computers at least, run better and are much happier the less stuff they have on them.  Here are my favorite ways to clean up my computers and improve performance and security:

1) Delete old restore points.  This isn't obviously presented as an option and isn't possible unless you've got administrator privileges. But it can reclaim a lot of hard drive space.  Restore points build up each time Windows Update installs or updates anything on your computer.  I haven't found an option that auto-cleans them up, so here is the method for manual deletion.  These instructions are for Windows 7, but there is something very similar in Windows Vista and even Windows XP Professional.

A) Open a Windows Explorer window (windows key + E) and select your computer in the left pane, so that the hard drives are visible in the right pane.  For fun, make note of the free space on your hard drive.

B) Select the main hard drive, right mouse button, and select properties.  In the window that pops up, find the button that says Disk Cleanup and click that.

C) Even if you are logged in as an Administrator, you need to do this step.  On the new window that pops up, find the button that says "Clean up system files" and click that.  If you aren't logged in as an administrator, you have to give administrator permissions to do this.

D) Windows recalculates things, and pops up that same window as before, but this time there is another tab to choose from.  Go to the More Options tab.  Find the "System Restore and Shadow Copies" section, and click the button that says "Clean up..."

E) Yes, you are sure.  Click Delete.  (That doesn't actually do the deletion, it just sets the option that you WANT to do the deletion.)  Back at the window, go back to the main Disk Cleanup tab.  Review the options in the list and make sure you agree with the other checked items.  Then click OK.  Yes you are sure.  Click Delete Files.  Now you can close out of the properties dialog box and Refresh the view in Windows Explorer to see how much space you have regained.

2) Don't put an office suite on your computer.  This makes the most sense for laptops with smaller SSD hard drives and computers that are mainly used for entertainment instead of work.  Instead, use a free web-based office suite.  The Google Docs suite has been an option for a while, but now even nicely functional versions of Microsoft Office products are available.  I wouldn't recommend this for a business computer, or if you always need the ability to open a spreadsheet even if the internet is down.  But it saves a lot of space and hassle with updates if none of this lives on your computer.

* Microsoft Office with Sky Drive.  This was a pleasant surprise to find online.  You sign up for an account and get 7 GB of free cloud storage to use with online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote.

3) Delete programs and plugins without mercy.  Update everything else.  Go into Add/Remove programs, and start going down the list.  If you don't use a program, uninstall it.  If you do use a program, open it and check for updates - usually this is in the Help/About menu or screen.  Uninstall all the versions of Java you see in the list, and reinstall just the freshest version from their website.  Uninstall all the browser toolbars, all the partially functional software that came with the DVD drive, and all of the virus scanning and security software that isn't Microsoft Security Essentials.  Do get MSE if you don't have it.  It is free, unobtrusive, and has worked well for everyone I know who uses it.

4) The outside of the computer can be cleaned, too.  A slightly damp microfiber towel works very well to scrub grime off of mice, controllers, and laptop surfaces.  Dry microfiber cloths will remove dust.  Start with clean cloths and don't press down to avoid scratching displays.  I have used the CyberClean product, and find it helps most on standard keyboards because it gets between the keys. 
Just noticing your computer is sticky or discolored and doing something about it can make a huge difference in how new it seems.

Finally, resolve to keep your software up to date and set up an online backup service.  I paid for CrashPlan+ service, which I consider a bargain - only $139 for four years of unlimited backup from one computer.  That is cheaper than one external hard drive, which in my experience will either fail or run out of space in less than four years.  Sorry if most of this post is obvious or things you already knew, I hope it helps a few people with maintaining their computers.


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