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Create a backup!
Fine tuning and spring-cleaning your system is all well and good, but make sure you’ve backed everything up first.
You know the importance of backups. But there’s another reason for backing up your data, and that’s when you’ve decided that enough’s enough, and it’s time to wipe your hard drive clean and start from scratch. In this case, you’ll need to do the following first:
Create a boot disk
The first thing to do is create a boot disk with your CD drivers on it. This enables you to wipe your hard drive clean and be able to access your Windows CD when it comes to reinstalling it from scratch. You can create an emergency boot disk in Windows itself – open up the Add/Remove Programs Control Panel and switch to the Startup Disk tab.
Back up your system files
The following files could all be considered vital to the successful running of Windows. If one gets corrupted you might find yourself unable to boot into Windows, forcing you to reinstall it (and from there all your applications).
To protect your system files in case of catastrophe, you should regularly back them up. You can use Windows own Backup utility for this job.
Although many of your device drivers might have been loaded from the Windows CD when you first set up your PC, others – like recent 3D cards or newer soundcards – require you to use a driver CD in order to load in the required driver. In both cases, just make sure you have your Windows CD and respective driver disks to hand.
On the other hand, you might have recently downloaded an updated driver from the Internet. If this is the case, it’s unlikely that you’ll have copied this to a safe place so – unless you want to have to download the same update again after a fresh format and reinstall of Windows, you’ll need to locate it and copy it to a floppy disk.
Open up the System Control Panel, and switch to the Device Manager tab. Double-click on the device in question to open it up, then highlight the device and click on Properties. Switch to the Driver tab and you should see one of two things.
The text No driver files are required or have been loaded for this device tells you that the driver was installed along with Windows, so there’s no need to worry. If the option to view Driver File Details is given, click on it. You’ll see a list of all the driver files which have been loaded, plus where they are on your hard drive. Make a note of this, then copy the relevant files to a safe place.
These files include registration codes (for shareware products and the like) and files that store how you’ve set up various applications. Finding these files can be quite difficult, and in the case of application setups, you’ll probably find customising the application again should you ever have to reinstall it is quicker than trying to find the relevant files now.
Last, but not least, are your precious data files (text documents, images and so on). The question is, where do you keep your data files? Chances are most of them will be stored in the conveniently named My Documents folder. Unfortunately, other applications will prefer to store data files in their own directories so – unless you’re particularly rigid about where you store your data – you might have to go on a little trek around your hard drive to locate them all. If you’re worried about missing any out, load up all your applications in turn and check that you don’t have any files you might have missed out.
Just how important is uninstalling software as opposed to just deleting it? We tell you what you need to know.
If you came over from another type of computer or grew up with the PC’s early MS-DOS heritage, you may well find that old habits die hard – and that you get rid of unwanted applications by simply deleting them as you would a data file. Don’t – under modern 32-bit flavours of Windows, this can be a recipe for disaster. At worst, you could bring your system to a halt, stop other programs from running or even prevent your PC from booting. At best, you end up with a slow, bloated and unhealthy Windows installation.
From Windows 95 onwards, 32-bit applications store key information in a large file called the Registry. Entries range from the simple (a key telling a program where to find its own files, for example) to some of the most spaghetti-like nightmare code ever. When a program installs, it adds these keys, and they may be changed at a later date. An average application may also install lots of DLLs, or take over certain file extenders for itself. Trashing a program leaves it all behind, clogging up the Registry and wasting valuable memory and disk space – and this will inevitably result in a slower and less reliable system.
Windows comes with a tool to remove applications properly – the Add/Remove Programs icon found in Control Panel. In theory, this should eradicate everything a program installed onto your PC, but often, DLL files or other components will be left to litter the hard drive, and an alarming number of applications still seem to leave their own particular detritus scattered throughout the Registry – but it’s still better than dropping a program’s directory on the Trash can and hoping for the best.
What can I do about it?
Read on and we’ll show you how to tidy up the junk that applications leave behind. Plus, learn what other weapons are at your disposal as you fight the Windows flab.
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Keeping a clean Windows folder will save you space and speed up Windows too. This is how to do it:
Your Windows directory and the System directory within it contains a mass of files, even at installation. Every application you install adds its own files and over time the directories can grow to alarming sizes.
Although many of the files are absolutely vital there’s also a fair number that you can get rid of. Even after uninstalling an application, you’ll find that files can be left floating about with no purpose in life. You then lose valuable disk space and Windows also slows down by a significant degree. This is because it spends a lot of time looking through the Windows directory and so, obviously, a smaller directory is a faster directory.
Remember – never delete anything if you are unsure, you can always copy files to a floppy or another directory first if you have any doubts. Take a look below for our guide to what can go and what can stay.
What can you remove safely from the Windows folder?
Knowing what’s inside the Windows folder is the first step to cleaning it up. Here’s what kind of files you should be looking for.
Inside the INF folder File extension: inf
What are they? Information files holding hardware configuration details used when Windows 98 installs drivers from the Windows 98 CD-ROM. Can you delete them? Only if you never want to install the drivers from the Windows 98 CD-ROM; read them first.
Inside the Command folder
File extension: bat
What are they? Batch files, these execute a series of DOS commands when run.
Can you delete them? Read them first, any that refer to deleted applications or those you don’t need can die.
File extension: com
What are they? Executable programs.
Can you delete them? Depends what they are, some are vital and others are junk, only delete if you know exactly what the application is and know for sure you don’t want it.
Inside the Help folder
File extension: hlp
What are they? The main part of the Help file.
Can you delete them? Only if you’re positive that you don’t want to read the Help file again.
File extension: cnt
What are they? Along with .hlp these form an application’s Help files.
Can you delete them? Yes, if you don’t want to use Help for that application.
File extension: gid
What are they? Guide file for the Help files.
Can you delete them? No problem, Windows 98 will just create another when you use the Help file.
Inside the System folder
File extension: drv
What are they? Device drivers.
Can you delete them? No, it’s best to leave Windows 98 to handle your drivers – it knows best.
File extension: acm
What are they? Audio compression CODECs.
Can you delete them? Only if you enjoy total silence.
File extension: vxd
What are they? Virtual device driver files.
Can you delete them? No.
File extension: ocx
What are they? Application extensions.
Can you delete them? Leave them well alone, unless you’re an expert and know exactly what you’re doing.
File extension: cpl
What are they? Applications that appear in your Control Panel.
Can you delete them? Use Windows Setup from the Add/Remove Programs Control Panel to remove any that you’re sure you don’t want.
File extension: acv
What are they? Video compression CODECs.
Can you delete them? Again, only if you’re sure that you’ll never want to watch any video files again!
File extension: ttf
What are they? TrueType Fonts.
Can you delete them? Any you don’t use can go, although some applications put fonts that they use here though.
File extension: scr
What are they? Screen savers.
Can you delete them? Delete any you don’t use.
File extension: vbx
What are they? Application extension, important if you use Visual Basic programs.
Can you delete them? No – unless you’re sure that the extensions were exclusively used by a deleted app.
File extension: wav
What are they? Samples used for Windows sound effects.
Can you delete them? Any you don’t listen to can go.
File extension: 386
What are they? System files.
Can you delete them? Never.
Inside the Windows folder
File extension: dat
What are they? Data files.
Can you delete them? These files contain data used by applications, so leave well alone.
File extension: dll
What are they? Dynamic Link Library, application extensions.
Can you delete them? No – most are vital, although some deleted applications leave unused ones. If you must remove them, proceed with caution, and copy them to a floppy.
File extension: bmp
What are they? Bitmap pictures used for Wallpaper.
Can you delete them? Certainly.
File extension: ini
What are they? Initiation files (configuration details).
Can you delete them? If the application that used the particular file has gone, then yes.
File extension: txt
What are they? Text files.
Can you delete them? Yes, read them to see what they’re on about first though.
File extension: ico
What are they? Icon files
Can you delete them? Yes.
File extension: starting with ~
What are they? Temporary files.
Can you delete them? Yes.
File extension: pwl
What are they? Password List, surprisingly enough, this holds your password details if you’ve set up Windows for multiple users.
Can you delete them? Only if you want to lose your password, obviously enough.
File extension: —-
What are they? Backups, usually of .ini files made during the installation of an application.
Can you delete them? Usually no problem, but copy them to a floppy first if you’re in any doubt as to what their effect may be.
File extension: exe
What are they? Executable files, mostly programs.
Can you delete them? Some are integral to Windows so beware. If you know what the application is and it doesn’t have a proper uninstall routine then go ahead.
File extension: old
What are they? Old versions of files, usually you’ll find they’re configuration files.
Can you delete them? Yes, but copy them across to a floppy first if you’re a bit nervous.
Getting rid of old files and Registry info
You’d be surprised how many old files and Registry entries are left around to clutter up your hard drive. But we’ve got just the solution to clean them out.
EasyCleaner (www.toniarts.com/) is a program on a mission, and that mission is to keep your PC lean and trim by helping you rid it of useless files while keeping the Registry free from trouble.
As the central storage area for all kinds of system information, you would expect the Registry to become clogged up with all kinds of unnecessary stuff, especially since most uninstall programs don’t do a very good job with it. With this in mind, it’s well worth keeping it maintained, and you can do this with one of two programs, MS RegClean or EasyCleaner. Both polish their way through the Registry like dental floss between teeth, getting rid of those awkward morsels of program which have remained even after a thorough system clear-out. Old keys will be teased out and annihilated and the Registry will be made faster too.
EasyCleaner goes much further than this though: it can also find duplicate files and remove them, freeing up disk space. It’ll also ferret out all those junk files like backups, temporary files and so on. Note: before using either program, back up your Registry first. You can do this from Microsoft’s System Information Utility — access it from Programs, Accessories, System Tools on the Start Menu. From the Tools menu select Registry Checker and take a backup before proceeding. If you can’t find the System Information Utility, chances are it hasn’t been installed on your PC. You’ll find it on your Windows 98 CD.
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A leaner, cleaner Internet setup can make surfing the Net a cheaper, quicker and easier experience all round.
>Active Desktop? No thanks!
If you don’t want HTML pages and news tickers eating away your system resources, switch off the Active Desktop. Just right-click on the desktop, and select Active Desktop, View as Web Page.
Get organised (1)
Make sure your bookmarks/favourites are organised so you can easily find them. Take time out to create folders and sub-folders that are easy to navigate, and don’t allow your bookmarks to overflow with rarely visited sites and deadends – remember, URLs change and Web sites come and go.
Get organised (2)
What’s your e-mail inbox looking like? Chances are it’s full to overflowing with mail you haven’t been bothered to file away. What happens when you want to find an important e-mail? You’ve got to go wading through it all, and that can only slow you and your PC down.
The simple solution to this mess is organise it. Create a set of folders you can file stuff into (for example, when a Web site e-mails you your user ID and password required to log on to it, file it away in a safe, easily accessible place). Regularly clear out the trash too – the more mail you have, the slower your e-mail program becomes.
Install only what you need
Be very careful when installing Internet Explorer. Always select the Custom install option, and make sure the elements you select are those you will actually want to use. You can always install extra components should you need them at a later date.
Update your backups!
After installing Internet Explorer, immediately make a backup of your system files. A lot of changes are made to Windows by Internet Explorer, so protect your system by making it capable of resurrecting Internet Explorer after a crash.
Stopping the tyranny of cookies Take your eyes off the biscuit bin – cookies are text files sent to your PC by Web sites when you’re happily browsing on the Web. Here’s how to deal with the more unscrupulous ones:
Cookie files are text files originally used to make it easy to log on to Web sites without having to enter all your details a second time.
Nevertheless, some Web-site operators use them to build up a profile of you so they can them bombard you with useless advertising, which is very thoughtful of them, but not what we want.
If you want to protect yourself from them, do the following: In Internet Explorer, find the cookie folder in Windows and in Preferences, alter it to read-only. From within Internet Explorer itself go to View, Option, Advanced and uncheck the Warn before accepting a cookie option.
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We’ve shown you loads of ways to clean up and maintain your system to its optimum – how to uninstall software properly, monitor the Windows folder and even start again from scratch when you feel your machine is too clogged up in its current state. But there’s plenty of other ways you can keep your PC lean, clean and mean. Just check out these top tips:
Empty that TEMP folder
Items in the TEMP folder are, well, supposed to be temporary. But you’d be surprised just how many files stick around past their sell by date. Make it your life’s aim to regularly check on the status of the Windows\Temp\ directory just after startup, ruthlessly deleting anything you find inside it.
Too many fonts?
Don’t let your Windows\Fonts\ folder fill up with fonts you never use, because all they’ll do is slow Windows down at startup and result in a sluggish system. Move any you’re unlikely to use often to another directory (if you ever need them you can always move them back again). Make sure you leave the raster fonts alone, though – they’re the ones marked with a red ‘A’ – your system definitely needs these.
Use the system tools in Windows 98
The easiest way to keep on top of things in Windows 98 is to use the OS’s inbuilt cleaning tools. Use Disk Cleanup to scan a selected drive for redundant files (downloads, Recycle Bin and Temp files among others) that you can safely delete in one go or – better still – schedule the Maintenance wizard. This will automatically run Disk Defragmenter, Scan Disk and Disk Cleanup at user-defined intervals.
Don’t go overboard with customising
The fact is, you’ve got a simple choice – if your PC is struggling to cope with all the customisations you’ve given it (Active Desktop, installed themes and so on), the best thing to do is cut back. Too much fancy stuff will only bog down Windows and result in a sluggish PC, so to keep it in tip-top condition, be very careful what customisations you add to it.
Think of all those files you’ve downloaded, be they complete packages, registration codes or just program updates. Where have you put them all? Save time and money by storing them on removable disk, so that should you ever have to reinstall Windows you won’t need to go back on-line to download them all again.
Be careful what you install
The more programs you install and uninstall, such as trial versions and time-limited demos, the more you’ll clog Windows up. One way around this is to take a backup of your important system files before you install the trial, test it out over a day or two without installing any other software, then uninstall it and restore your system settings to what they were before you first installed the software.
You can do this with Windows’ own Backup utility, but an easier way to do it is with software like McAfee’s Uninstaller. The program features a backtrack feature which can often return your PC to the state it was in before you installed the software.
How to defragment your hard disk
The best way to keep your hard drive in tip-top condition, and ensure that files are stored together instead of being scattered all over the drive, is by regularly running Disk Defragmenter. You’ll find it in the Start Menu, under Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Oh, and don’t forget to turn off your screensaver before running it – it can take a while, and any disk access during this time forces Disk Defragmenter to start again.
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Sometimes the best remedy is to start again from the beginning. We show you how to wipe clean your drive and start again.
WARNING – READ THIS FIRST: The following procedure will wipe your hard drive clean, removing all of its data. DO NOT FOLLOW THIS PROCEDURE UNLESS YOU ARE 100 PER CENT SURE AND CONFIDENT OF WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
There are times when the old Douglas Adams maxim of “don’t panic!” springs to mind, and starting from scratch with a complete re-install of Windows is certainly one of them. It may seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, but there’s no reason it should be. In fact, we’d recommend that you take the plunge and do it voluntarily at least once per year – or more, if you install and remove a lot of downloaded software, game demos, trial versions and so on. Think of it as colonic irrigation for your PC – not nice, but it does the system good to flush it out periodically.
Thanks to the rapidly falling prices of hard-drive mechanisms and the appearance of disk-imaging programs, a clean install of Windows isn’t the trauma it used to be. An average freshly installed Windows 98 system installed using the ‘Typical’ option takes up around 150Mb. Programs like SnapBack can capture an exact copy to another drive – a cheap hard drive purely for back-up purposes is very affordable these days. With a virgin install of Windows imaged to another drive, you need never look at the Windows install screen again…
Before you begin, make sure you’re properly prepared. If you’re reinstalling Windows on an existing system, make sure you’ve backed up any important data files you can’t afford to lose. As we stressed earlier, formatting your hard drive removes ALL data from it, forever – without a backup, there is no way you can recover your files once the drive has been formatted. Don’t just think about data files, either – if you’re on the Internet, note down all of your Dial-Up Networking settings to save time later. If you’ve registered any shareware or other software on-line, make sure you note down any serial numbers or passwords – you’ll need to reinstall them later.
Once you’re sure you’ve kept copies of everything important, make sure that you physically have everything to hand that you’ll need during the install. Dig out the driver floppies or CDs for every piece of hardware you own.
Windows 98 in particular comes with an impressive list of directly supported hardware, but you should always have the manufacturer disks handy too, just in case. Obviously, you’ll need your Windows Installation CD and serial number, too.
Find a good quality and reliable floppy disk, and make yourself a new boot disk if you don’t have one already. Finally, before you commit yourself for real, boot from the disk to make sure it’s useable – make absolutely sure that you can read your Windows Install CD from your CD-ROM drive while booted from this floppy before reformatting.
Format your drive
Once you have everything you need to hand then you’re ready to format your drive. If your hard drive is split into multiple partitions, each one will have its own drive letter and will be accessed by Windows as a completely separate entity. If your 4Gb drive is split into two partitions of 2Gb each, they’ll be labelled C: and D: and are effectively two individual disks as far as Windows and DOS are concerned. For this step of the procedure, we want to completely reformat the primary boot drive, labelled C:. If you’re not happy with your partition sizes or want to split the drive into multiple partitions, now is the time to do it before you actually format.
After formatting, insert the boot floppy you created, and restart your PC as you normally would. The boot floppy created by Windows 98 will present you with a boot menu, so make sure you choose option 1, to boot the PC with CD-ROM support.
Now switch to your CD-ROM drive by typing the drive letter followed by a colon and hitting [Return] – depending on how many partitions your drives have, the letter for the CD drive may vary, but is usually G: if you booted with a Windows 98 floppy. Type CD WIN98 and hit [Return], then type SETUP to launch the Windows setup application and begin the process. If you’ve never installed Windows before, just select the Typical option.
Once the numerous re-boots have finished, Windows will begin to identify your various bits of hardware and look for drivers for them. If Windows can’t find a driver for a device, you’ll need to insert the disk which came with it, and tell Windows where to find it – just browse to the floppy or CD.
Three steps to a formatted hard drive
Reformatting your hard drive is a simple operation – just follow these steps to an empty hard drive.
When you finally arrive at the MS-DOS command prompt, you’re ready to format the boot drive. Type FORMAT C: at the prompt and hit [Return]. You’ll see a message, warning you that all data on the non-removable disk will be lost, and asking you to confirm the format – type Y and hit [Return] again.
DOS will begin to format your hard drive. If this particular drive has been previously formatted, the format command will take a slight shortcut here, and simply verify that the existing format is okay, rather than performing a complete formatting operation – don’t worry, this is normal under the most recent versions of DOS.
Once the format has finished, you’ll be prompted for a volume label to name your drive or partition. As with a floppy, choose any name up to eleven characters in length, or just hit [Return] for a nameless drive – you can easily change this later once Windows is installed and running, anyway. Congratulations!