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Monday, August 20, 2001
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Clean up the debrisClean up the debris

As programs and HDD sizes continue to grow, the generation of junk too has been going up proportionately. An average userís system with a 20 GB HDD could easily generate up to 10 to 15 MB of junk in about three months, says Raman Mohan.

YOUR hard disk drive has a soft corner for Windows. It keeps yielding its valuable sectors to junk generated by Win 9x and its other more recent avatars. And, much like our own cities and towns, Windows does not have an efficient garbage removal system. So, in a few months you find your system slowing down as the useful files you access find their way to the monitor screen through the heaps of garbage lying neatly stacked in various folders scattered all over your disk drive. As programs and HDD sizes continue to grow, the generation of junk too has been going up proportionately. You may not believe it yet itís a fact that an average userís system with a 20 GB HDD could easily generate up to 10 to 15 MB of junk in about three months.


The problem has occupied the attention of software developers for as long as Windows has been there. Rather, development of utilities for cleaning up this junk continues to grab more attention with the release of higher versions. Later versions of Windows have inbuilt utilities for cleaning up the disk, but it has been noticed that these utilities clear up only a part of the junk and not all. At times you may even find that these inbuilt utilities do not perform at all.

Before we delve on how to remove all this junk, let us first pinpoint the bins that store this garbage. Here is where you should find most the junk:

TEMP directory: All files in your TEMP directory are basically meant to be temporary only. These files are generated in a number of ways. When you install a program, a number of such files are copied to this directory. Most software have inbuilt mechanism to delete these in the finishing stage of installation, but many freeware leave several files there. Besides, if you exit a program improperly or restart your computer while programs are still running, temporary files are never deleted. The same is the case if you happen to shutdown while connected to the Net. These files are garbage.

Browser cache: The contents of a Web page are downloaded to your system for display as you surf the Net. These could for instance, include text, graphics and Java applets etc. An average Web page has a large number of components all of which is stored by your browser in its cache so that these can be retrieved quickly the next time you need to visit the same page. While most Web browsers monitor and clear this cache periodically, older browsers do not automatically clear their caches. You can clear the cache yourself if you like, and reacquire some hard disk space.

Recycle Bin: In Windows 9x or Me, the deleted files are simply moved to the Recycle Bin so that you can easily recover any deleted file should you later realise you needed a particular file. It means deleted files stay on the disk finding a new abode in the Recycle Bin until you choose to purge them from there on.

Downloaded files: The Internet has a tendency to make surfers addicted to downloading files. These mostly include freeware, graphics, movies, sounds and other such stuff. Over a period these could accumulate and become unmanageable. Thus your downloads folder or for that matter other folders where you store these different formats bloat and you lose track of things. These need to be monitored constantly.

Old data files: This is another area, which gobbles up a lot of space on the disk. Obsolete data about sales, accounts etc. depending upon what you do on your computer, can be forgotten easily since you do not need it anymore. But like body fat these cause obesity problems to your system.

BAK files: Most installation programs as a precautionary measure generate a backup copy of your configuration files prior to attempting any changes to them. But once you install software and check that your computer is functioning properly you need to delete these files. These files mostly have BAK, OLD, or numerical (001, 002 etc.) extensions.

Automatic document backups: Most modern applications have the option of keeping the next-most-recent version of your current documents as backup files. These carry the WBK extension. The problem is once your document is complete and finished; these applications just abandon these files. You need to remove these manually.

Useless programs: The Add/Remove Programs icon in the Control Panel is a great help. It can help you get rid of old software you no longer need. These days we tend to download lots of fancy freeware, which loses charm very swiftly. But it stays in the program files directory though these could also be found anywhere from the Unzipped to Favourites folders also. Most of these programs can be removed from this icon.

Old e-mail: E-mail messages can quickly add up on the disk especially if you receive Spam or are subscribing to newsletters or newsgroups. To save hard disk space and make your e-mail client run more efficiently you must get rid of old email messages at least fortnightly.

ScanDisk junk: Your root directory contains several files with silly names such as FILE0001.CHK, FILE0002.CHK etc. These are legacy files from failed deletion operations and improperly completed file move operations on the computerís part. ScanDisk generates this rubbish. It is a safety measure but for an average computer user these are absolutely useless.

Now that we know where the garbage bins are, letís step through easy and free ways in which we can recover wasted space. Letís begin by cleaning up through Windowsí own tools. To begin with you need to shut down all running applications. Having done that Double-click on "My Computer" and then Right-click on the icon for your C: drive and select properties. Note the "free space" shown in the dialog so you can check up how much space you recovered at the end of this exercise. Now click the "disk cleanup" button next to the chart depicting disk usage. Windowsí Disk Cleanup Wizard will run and offer various options: Select the appropriate option for your system setup and let the Wizard proceed. Close the drive C: properties dialog.

The Disk Cleanup Wizard includes "Temporary Internet Files" (your Internet Explorer cache) in its list of areas it will clean up. But it is usually not effective enough for cleaning those files. Internet Explorer can achieve better results. Launch Internet Explorer, and click Tools/Internet Options. In "Temporary Internet Files," click delete. Youíll get a confirmation dialog offering to delete "all offline content." The average user can safely opt for this. To keep the disk lean and mean you can reduce the storage space for Temporary Internet Files. To do so, click the "Settings" button in the Temporary Internet Files area, and reduce the "amount of disk space to use" to a reasonable figure, say 10 MB which is more than enough for average users. If you wish, you can use the "View Files" and "View Objects" buttons to see whatís in your disk cache, and manually delete the contents. However we need to be careful about cookies. Deleting these wholesale may cause the browser to fail to connect you to a site, though it is a rare occurrence. Besides, improperly deleting cookies may bloat your Index.Dat file.

Another way of reducing the size of garbage bins is to reduce the "History" setting to the lowest number of days. You will find that most of us do not need to remember all sites we have visited over two or three weeks. So make a sensible choice and reduce the number. And then click the "Clear History" button to remove the addresses. This will also ensure privacy if your computer is used by your friends and family members regularly. Many persons even choose to clear the cache, history and Temporary Internet Files folders every time they log off. It is not a bad idea at all.

By default your Recycle Bin consumes 10 per cent of hard drive, which is nonsensical considering todayís disk sizes. Do we really have to allocate something like 200 MB for the biggest garbage bin on the system? Definitely not. So how do we go about reducing the acreage for Recycle Bin? Right click on Recycle Bin and select Properties. Set the "Maximum Size..." of the Recycle Bin to an appropriate number suitable for your disk. Generally 15 to 50 MB is good enough for any disk, however big.

We now come to how to remove the other junk, which Windows inbuilt utilities fail to clear. Most of the junk we have identified above can be safely removed manually. It can be a time consuming exercise but the better system performance more than makes up for it. View the root directory and delete files with extensions described above. Use DOS if possible to find files with these extensions in various directories and delete them.

You can use a number of programs to do this job especially for registry and unnecessary files lying on the system. Many of these are excellent freeware we have featured in our downloads section in the past. But just in case you have missed out on those here are the utilities you can use to keep your machine trim and fit. EasyCleaner www.saunalahti.fi/tonihele, RegCleaner www.jv16.org and Microsoftís RegClean are good options to choose from.

At the end, we come to the question how much or say how frequently we need to cleanup the disk. It depends upon individual usersí needs. Though it is a matter of debate yet we can safely say once a month is safe enough. Also note that once you have done the cleaning up, it is a good idea to defrag your fragmented disk. That way you can keep your machine running flawlessly and speedily, besides getting rid of clingy relatives digging holes in your disk.