There's nothing quite like switching on a new PC for the first time. Windows loads in just a few seconds, the machine is empty but full of possibilities and there's a feeling that this time you're never going to run out of hard disc spaceā€¦

Thankfully with the advent of inexpensive multi-gigabyte hard disc drives constantly running short of disc capacity has become much less of an issue, though it certainly hasn't gone away, software applications and files always seem to expand to fill the space available. However, the real problem with large hard disc drives is there's less incentive to clear out redundant programs and the rubbish left behind by freebie magazine CD-ROMs, quite as often as you should. When inevitably the space-remaining pie chart  (My Computer > right-click Drive C: > Properties) is mostly blue the task of freeing up wasted space becomes that much more arduous.

This week, as part of our short series on PC spring cleaning we're going to look at ways of recovering some or all of that lost storage space and how to maximise your hard-disc drive's performance so that all of your applications operate a little more smoothly.

But first a few ground rules. Never, ever remove applications from Windows Explorer by deleting folders unless you know exactly what you are doing. That's just asking for trouble, most programs create lots of extra files that end up inside Windows and deep-rooted system files. At boot up Windows looks for registered programs, if any are missing you'll get error messages or worse!  Where possible always use a program's own uninstaller or the Windows Add/Remove Program utility in Control Panel. Better still get hold of a software removal program like CleanSweep, Uninstaller or WinDelete. Whenever you delete a program or files Windows (or your chosen uninstaller program) only removes references to it on the hard disc, or compresses and backs up the data in case you change your mind. It's a good idea to only remove one or two large programs at a time and always wait a few days before emptying the Recycle Bin or deleting the backup to make sure that your actions haven't affected Windows or any other programs.

The Internet is a major source of clutter; web browsers like Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator hoard almost everything you download in files called caches. Unless the size of the cache is regulated or emptied regularly they will quickly swallow up tens, possibly hundreds of megabytes of hard disc space. Caches can be safely cleared out using the delete function in Windows Explorer. Internet Explorer stores them in a sub folder in Windows called Temporary Internet Files. You will be asked if you want to delete 'cookies' these are small data files that help speed up access to frequently visited sites. You can erase them if you like but since they only take up a very small amount of space (typically around 100 or so bytes) they're not worth bothering about, unless you have a lot of them, or you don't want others to know which sites you have been visiting. Netscape Navigator's cache lives in the Navigator program folder.

The option to control the size of Internet Explorer's cache is on the View Menu under Internet Options, select the General tab and click the Settings button for details. The size of Navigator's cache can be set by clicking 'Network Preferences' on the Options menu and then selecting the cache tab.

A quick way to recover almost 5Mb of wasted space is to delete some large tutorial and animation files that are loaded with Windows, assuming of course that you no longer need them. They can be found in the Windows Help folder, use Windows Explorer to open Help and look for file icons that look like video cameras they're listed as 'video clips'. They can be safely deleted but remember they will be sent to the Recycle Bin and the space they occupied will not become available until after the bin is emptied. Whilst you are inside Windows look for a folder called Temp. This contains temporary files created by Windows and other programs that for one reason or another have been left behind. Providing then have the extension '.tmp' they can be safely zapped. If you have Windows 98 you can clear Temp files and other unused bits of Windows using the Disc Cleanup utility. This can be found on the disc space pie chart dialogue window (see above)

Windows housekeeping and uninstaller programs like those mentioned earlier have additional redundant file finding utilities that can search out and remove duplicate files and fragments of old programs that are no longer needed. They are also worth having because they monitor and log new software installations so they can do a more thorough job of removing them, when the time comes.

Finally, when you have finished clearing your hard disc, and after the Recycle Bin has been emptied, you should reorganise all the files on your hard disc, to make them more accessible and load faster. The first step is to run a Windows program called ScanDisk, which checks file integrity and the disc drive for faults. Before you begin exit all running programs, switch off the screensavers and disable any power-save functions. To run ScanDisk go to Start > Programs > Accessories and System Tools. It's a good idea to choose the 'Thorough' option though save it for a quiet day or lunch hour as it can take quite a while, especially on a large capacity drive. When ScanDisk has finished its work, go back to System Tools and select Disk Defragmenter or 'defrag' but again save this job until you have an hour or two to spare. Windows 98 users can schedule these operations to be carried out automatically -- during the night or any time that is convenient -- using the Maintenance Wizard, also listed on the Systems Tools menu.

It's a good idea to carry out a mini spring clean at least once a month -- more often if your machine is well used -- remove any unused programs then run ScanDisk and Defrag.  

Next week -- networking your PC




Over time the files on a PC's hard disc drive become disorganised, 'defragging' the drive restores order and speeds up reading and writing data


Temporary files, ending in '.tmp' are created by Windows and other programs and normally deleted automatically though some will remain if Windows crashes or is not shut down properly


A program removal utility included with a lot of Windows software; programs with uninstallers are usually (but not always) listed in Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel



If you compose your E-mails using MS Word, or write articles then copy and paste the document into Outlook Express you might like to know there's an easier way. Go to the File menu on Word, select Send To then Mail Recipient. This will open the Outlook E-mail window, with your document already attached, all you have to do is select the address and click Send. You have to make a couple of adjustments to Outlook Express first, however. On the Tools menu choose Options and on the General tab ensure 'Make Outlook Express my default e-mail program' is checked, then put a tick next to 'Make Outlook Express My Default Simple MAPI Client'. (MAPI stands for messaging application programming interface). Restart the PC and it's done.

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