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August 10, 2007

Cleaning Up Your PC


Software “Leftovers”: It’s Time to Take Out the Trash!

As a computer user, it is more than likely that you surf the Internet, install an occasional program, do Windows Updates (or, let’s say, should do Windows Updates) and perhaps decompress files using standard programs such as WinZip and WinRAR.

Maybe you use Front Page to work on a webpage or plug in a thumb drive (an alternative to that antiquated devise known as a floppy drive) after you bring it back from a friend’s house to copy some files.

All of these things that you do on a daily basis have one outcome that you might not think about or even realize: nothing cleans up after itself.

Every one of these actions leaves footprints, or garbage, on your hard drive as a reminder that they were there. The bottom line is that someone will have to clean up after them. And guess who that someone is?

But, don’t sweat it, because cleaning your hard drive of clutter can be done easily and in a short amount of time. Better yet, the amount you dedicate to cleaning up after yourself (not to mention after some un-named software programmers) will pay you big dividends.

Time to Get the Mop and the Pail and Start the Drudgery of Clean Up

There are two methods to do this: manual and automatic. No matter which one (if any) you are now using you will free up a lot more disk space if your disk-cleaning combines both methods.

Before we start our cleaning process, however, we need to do one thing: make sure that we can work with all of the files and folders on the hard drive. Remember, Windows hides whatever files and folders that it thinks you can ruin the OS with by changing, deleting or moving. The work-around here is to:

  • Open Windows Explorer.
  • Then, select Tools from the top menu toolbar.
  • Click on Folder Options.
  • Then click on View.
  • About a third of the way down under "Advanced Settings" you will see "Show Hidden Files and Folders"; click on this.
  • Two boxes below, you will see "Hide Protected Operating System Files"; you should uncheck that option.
  • When you are done making these two changes, click Apply and OK.

If you are uncomfortable with the ability to see all of these files, do not do this — it’s never a good idea to do things with your computer that make you cringe. However, if you are careful and just follow the instructions below, you won’t break your computer!

Let’s begin with the automated method of cleaning the hard drive.

  • Open My Computer or Windows Explorer, whichever way you feel more confident about your file management capabilities.
  • Highlight the C Drive, and right click.
  • Choose Properties from the context menu. This will bring up the graphical representation of your hard drive, which is shown in the pie-chart illustration below.
  • Under the pie chart, you will see Disk Cleanup which starts the Automated Process and gives you the option of cleaning the following "leftovers" — Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Office Setup Files, Compress Old Files (NTFS Only!), Recycle Bin, Setup Log Files, Temporary Files, Web Client/Publisher Temporary Files, and Catalog Files for the Content Indexer. All these options will save disk space.
  • The one thing that you should definitely uncheck is Office Setup Files to save you some aggravation in the long-run. If you delete your Office Setup Files, you will have to dig out your original Microsoft Office CD-Rom each time that you run an office update for the never-ending security updates or the occasional service pack.

It's Time to Take Out the Trash - Cleaning Your Hard Drive

One of the options which will free up the biggest chunk of your hard disk drive space is hiding under the More Options tab. The bottom area of this tab is System Restore which will delete obsolete System Restore points that are kept by your PC until either the end of time as we know it, or until YOU choose to delete them.

How much space can this free up? Up to a whopping 12 percent of your hard drive! With a 100 GB drive, this translates to a sizable 12 GB; change that to a 200 GB drive, and you save up to an earth-shattering 24 GB.

This is an unbelievable amount of space on your hard drive. It is also one that comes with a caveat: you should ONLY delete these obsolete points when your computer is running perfectly and after you have manually created a restore point.

Don’t Forget About Your Restore Point …

Creating a restore point is easy:

  • Simply open System Restore by clicking Start on the Taskbar.
  • Click on Programs.
  • Then Accessories.
  • Then click on System Tools.
  • And finally click on System Restore.
  • When the program starts, choose Create a Restore Point and name it something that would remind you of what it is; for example, "Pre-Cleaning".

At this point, the automated process has been taken care of. But if you want to really clean up your drive, you should add some of the manual elements to your process.

Surprise, Surprise! Windows Won’t Do All of the Work For You …

The next few steps will take a short amount of time, and will definitely free up some extra space as well as help your operating system work just a little bit better.

The first step of the manual method is to clear the contents of one of the directories that Windows uses for a dump directory:

  • Click Start on the Taskbar.
  • Select Run and type: %temp% in the run dialog box. This will bring up the contents of C:\Documents and Settings\Your Login\Local Settings\Temp folder.
  • Navigate up to the menu bar, choose Edit and then Select All.
  • After you have selected the contents of this folder, choose File on the menu bar and select Delete.

You will be asked if you are sure that you want to delete these files and folders. Not to worry, everything here can be safely deleted.

Likewise, Windows (and a number of programmers that write code) like to use the C:\Windows\Temp directory for "program droppings." You can use the same process that is listed above and remove the files in this directory.

Windows also likes to dump temp (*.tmp) files all over your hard drive, so another cleaning process is to:

  • Click Start on the Taskbar.
  • Select Search.
  • Click on the All Files and Folders option.
  • Type in *.tmp in the "All or Part of the File Name" area.

In one of my more recent Disk Cleanups by following the steps above, this search yielded an extra 102 files that were safe to delete.

One Last Thing …

Last but not least, two other programs leave a myriad of files in a number of places, depending on your computer’s configuration. The culprits for this are WinRAR and Microsoft Office (versions prior to XP).

WinRar uses temporary files to extract, add and move files into or out of a WinRAR archive. The safest way to deal with WinRAR is to use the same directory over and over to extract files to, and then place them on, the hard drive to their final destination.

Personally, I use a directory called 1 — it’s easy to create (especially if you are a bad typist), and easy to remember. If you get tired of using directory 1, you can always create directory 2. Do you see a pattern beginning to develop here?

This is a bit of a "golden oldie", but if you haven’t upgraded your Office version in a while, doing so can come in handy.

Microsoft Office once used a feature called Find File Fast, and left files in your Windows root directory that begun with ff. A simple search for all files and folders using the *.ff* wildcard will find these, and of course, all are safe to delete.

The results of a little bit of time and work to clean house will help you on a daily basis by removing thousands of files that just get in the way. You don’t need them, so why leave your computer littered with unnecessary files?

Take out the trash! You do it every day in your home; why not on your PC?

About the Author

(VP of IT Pro Content) heads up the IT pro curriculum at Pluralsight. He brought his expertise over from TrainSignal, where he spent eight years helping to grow the company into the leader in online IT training. Gary has a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems from University of Iowa and brings hands-on experience with computer hardware, networking and administration, as well as a passion for education, to the Pluralsight team. You can follow him on Twitter: @garyeimerman.