How to clean out your computer

I just finished doing some summer housecleaning on my computer. I noticed that programs and operations had seemed to be slowing down. I knew that this can happen when there just is too much stuff on the computer. So I decided that it was time to clean things up.

On my Windows 98 machine, Microsoft includes a feature called the Maintenance Wizard that can be found under Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools. The Maintenance Wizard tackles the common problems associated with computer clutter. It eliminates unnecessary files, performs a Scandisk and finally Defragments the hard drive.

The unnecessary files usually are temporary files that programs establish as they operate. Unfortunately, they seldom eliminate or delete these files when they no longer are needed. It is possible that dozens of these files remain on the drive. To check, go to Start, Find and type in "*.tmp" (that's star dot tmp, without the quotation marks). This will cause a list of all temporary files to appear. It is safe to remove or delete all of these files that have the extension .tmp. I simply highlight them all and hit the Delete key. Removing these files can speed up computer operation. Incidentally, if you try to delete them all, Microsoft may tell you that some cannot be removed. So just leave those alone.

The Maintenance Wizard then performs a Scandisk on the hard drive. Scandisk is a program that looks at all the files on the drive and tries to find any which appear to be incomplete. An incomplete file is something that can be created when computer operation is interrupted like after a power failure, improper machine shutdown or a lockup. Finding and removing these file fragments can speed up computer operation. In fact, Windows will run Scandisk after you restart a machine that has been improperly shut down.

Finally, the Maintenance Wizard will run the Defragment program. If you use many computer programs that save files to the hard drive, the mechanism that saves these files may scatter them around on the disks that make up the drive. Thus, when you go to open a file, the hard drive may have to look all around its surfaces to retrieve these files. This can slow things down considerably. The Defrag program goes over the entire hard drive surfaces, finds any files that are scattered and brings them all back together again. Then when you go to retrieve the file it is all in one place on the drive. For most home use, defragmenting usually is not much of a problem. I defrag maybe twice a year.

The Maintenance Wizard I am describing is on my Windows 98 and Windows ME machines. I am sure that Windows XP or Windows 2000 have similar programs. On older machines, each of these operations can be performed separately.

The result of my summer housecleaning is that my machine is running faster. The whole operation took about 30 minutes. Incidentally, if your computer is on all the time, shutting it off and turning it back on can also speed up operations. Many things get loaded in the background and shutting down and restarting clears these out.

If you would like to hear more about computer housecleaning, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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