April 07, 2004

Spring Cleaning for Your Systems

As spring is desperately trying to arrive in Wisconsin (and not a moment too soon!), I'm reminded that it's also a good time to do some electronic spring cleaning.

There's actually a number of simple things one can do to better organize and clean up a cluttered system. Power users have been doing these things for years, but they work and are worth repeating:

1) Run Standard Maintenance Programs:

Run Scandisk (or similar features) to find hard disk errors and reclaim lost space, and a hard disk defragmenter which will definitely help put a spring in your PC's step. A fragmented hard drive is still one the best known performance bottlenecks in PCs today.

2) Bail Your E-mail:

If your e-mail doesn't auto-purge itself or you just save everything, sort it by subject or sender to see which messages and threads you really don't need anymore. Because they are grouped together via the sort, it's very easy to highlight and delete them in one quick click. Don't forget to purge them from the trash. Naturally, be mindful of any document retention policies or regulatory requirements in this regard.

3) Blow the Dust Off:

Literally. Who wants to take computer components apart to clean them? A can of compressed air is by far one of the easiest ways to evict your dust bunnies. Consider it a mini-leaf blower for your PC. Dust is nonconductive, but it is insulative, which means it can contribute to heat build up. Considering the serious heat coming off today's fast CPU's and video boards, blowing out the dust is a cheap and easy way to extend your PC's components.

4) Give Your Eyes a Break:

Clean your monitor. After all, you've probably pointed to it enough times when collaborating, troubleshooting or adjusting it. All those smudges add up and blur the display. My favorite product is the wet/dry wipe combo that quickly dissolves the gunk and leaves it looking brand new, but be careful as some monitors have delicate coatings for which you might just want to use a soft and slightly damp cloth. Ditto for your keyboard and mouse -- let's face it, they're dirt and food magnets. It's also a major turn-off to go into someone's office and see a dirt-encrusted or dingy keyboard, mouse, and/or monitor. Same goes for laptops. Just because you're a road warrior doesn't mean your laptop has to look like the road. It's also a good time to remove all those post-it notes that just seem to breed on monitors. Enter the information into Outlook, your PDA, case management system, or whatever you use. Besides being unsightly, leaving them attached to your monitor or laptop is a huge security risk.

5) Delete Those Temporary Files:

Over time those files add up and can occupy a fair amount of hard drive space. Particularly look for *.TMP files in your temporary directories with dates other than the current date. Sort the files by extension in Windows Explorer, then highlight and delete the *.TMP files in one shot.

6) Empty Your Web Browser Cache:

Over time, these local copies of web site pages can grow and get corrupted, thus adding to some strange results when trying to download web pages. Each browser generally has a feature for deleting this cache, and it's also a good habit to get into for security and privacy reasons. Consider the same for your browser history from time to time, and selectively deleting cookies you don't need.

7) Perform a Full System Scan Using Your Antivirus and Anti-spyware Programs:

While most antivirus "autoprotect" features should stop most things, there's always a chance you have something lying dormant on your hard drive, waiting to "byte" you when you least expect it. I'm partial to Norton Antivirus, Ad-aware, Spybot Search & Destroy, and PestPatrol for these purposes.

8) Limit the Number of Auto-starting Programs:

It seems that nearly every new program I install nowadays wants to run something at Windows startup, usually as a hidden service or visible in my system tray. Take a good look at your Windows Startup group as well as using tools built into Windows for unchecking programs that automatically load from the registry. Obviously things like antivirus are essential, but do you really need all of the multimedia applets (e.g., Real and QuickTime) running in your system tray all the time? Besides freeing up CPU and memory resources (resulting in less hard drive thrashing for swap files), you might actually enjoy having less clutter and more room on the taskbar for the things you do use regularly.

9) Empty Your Recycle Bin:

You know it's there, and it's probably chock full of old files you'll never need again. Time to take out the trash.

10) Run Windows Updates:

With security threats popping up daily, you need to harden your system against those sneaky attacks. Even the best firewall in the world won't stop everything, because we intentionally open holes in it to communicate with the outside world. Windows and Internet Explorer need to be patched regularly, and Microsoft has made it relatively easy via the free Windows Update service. In particular, make sure you have installed the latest cumulative patch for Internet Explorer, which by definition includes all prior patches in one step. Even if you don't use IE for your browser, many of your installed programs do, and that makes them just as susceptible.

11) Don't Let It Get Cluttered in the First Place:

As much as I wanted to end with ten tips, this one is golden. While at TECHSHOW, Fred Faulkner, the ABA's tech guru, mentioned the seven day rule during our blogger dinner: "If after seven days of use on a trial period, if I don't like what I'm using, I will uninstall it to keep my new laptop clean. If I find that I'm using it for those seven days and it is effective, I will purchase the full version." We've all seen what happens to various Windows systems after loading too many programs.

As you can see, none of these items are difficult to do, nor do they need to be done all at once. So the next time you have a few minutes to kill, you might just want to check one of these items off the list.

Topic(s):   Feature Articles  |  Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard