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Take Out the Trash Once A Week In Windows.

Windows accumulates trash. Folders that are supposed to empty themselves don’t. Ultimately, these slow down the computer. There are many Windows cleaning tools and tricks floating around the Internet, including some very exhaustive ones that search out every available temporary location. In practice in the field, though, 99% of such problems are taken care of by cleaning just two folders. The following routine, in my experience, is the most time-efficient and provides significant gains in system performance. It resembles changing the air filter on your car — things just run better after you do it! In fact, this routine is so efficient for computer health and performance matters that I usually call it “the usual cleanup.”

  1. Close all running programs. Give yourself a clean working space for what follows. It may even be a good idea to restart the computer first, just to have things a little more pristine.

  2. Purge the Temporary Internet Files (TIF) folder.
    METHOD A: In Internet Explorer, click Tools | Internet Options. In the “Temporary Internet Files” section, click Delete Files, then OK. Then click Delete Files again, check the box to “Delete all offline content,” and click OK. (You have to do it twice to get everything cleaned.) Then click Delete Cookies.
    METHOD B: In My Computer, go to the Temporary Internet Files folder, type Ctrl+A to select everything, press the Delete key on your keyboard, and confirm the delete of everything when asked.

ADVISORY: On Windows 95/98/ME, use Method A above if possible, and save Method B for when the TIF is so overloaded that your system hangs on Method A. For Windows 2000/XP, method B works fine and is very fast and efficient, but you might want to occasionally do Method A also just for the heck of it. Why this convolution? Method A also updates an index file that brute-force deletion doesn’t update. In 2000/XP this either causes no problem, or so rare a problem that I’ve never seen it yet. But in Windows 9x this can cause more trouble. On the other hand, Method A can miss a vast amount of data and, as mentioned already, can freeze the computer with a badly bloated TIF.

NOTES: Should you delete the cookies? The general answer is “yes.” They can usually be rebuilt on revisiting a site. But if you rely heavily on certain cookies, then you have to be more circumspect. Most people don’t have to worry, and should wipe them all out periodically. Don’t I have to delete the Index file in TIF from a command prompt startup and let it rebuild? Only necessary in extreme cases of particular problems. The method given here will suffice most of the time. Where is my TIF folder? In the Internet Options box mentioned above, click Settings and it will display the file location. (On some IE versions you have to click the Move Folder button first.)

  1. Purge the TEMP folder. Close all running programs. In My Computer, go to the TEMP folder. Type Ctrl+A to select everything, press the Delete key on your keyboard, and answer Yes to any Yes/No question you are asked.

NOTES: Special rules for TEMP folder: If any file in the TEMP folder is presently in use, Windows won’t let you delete it. If it is not in use, then it shouldn’t be there any longer and can be deleted. Therefore, if presented with any Yes/No choices in this, you can safely pick Yes. Exception: When you are part way through an installation that will require a reboot, files may be in TEMP that are needed in the reboot. This isn’t a good time to purge the TEMP folder! It says some files are in use and won’t let me continue. What do I do about that? Click OK on the notice box, hold down the Ctrl key, and click on the first file in the upper left of the My Computer window. This will be the one that is in use and couldn’t be deleted. Clicking it in this way deselects it, and leaves everything else selected. Press Delete again to continue. Where is my TEMP folder? This depends on your Windows version and whether you’ve moved the file’s location. In Windows 95, 98, and ME the default is C:\Windows\Temp. In Windows 2000 and XP it is usually in C:\Documents and Settings\{your profile}\Local Settings\Temp. Local Settings is a hidden folder, and you won’t see it unless you have hidden files and folders displayed from Tools | Folder Options | View.

  1. Purge the other TEMP folder. Click Start, click Run, type TEMP, click OK. Depending on your Windows version, this may bring up a different TEMP folder. If so, clean it as you did the one above.

  2. Clear the browser History. In Internet Explorer, click Tools | Internet Options. In the “History” section, click Clear History and confirm. I recommend setting the number of days that History is retained as low as is convenient for your style of browsing — perhaps as low as 1 day, preferably no more than 5 days.

NOTES: If you usually rely on History to get back to a page you found previously, start using Favorites instead.

  1. Empty the Recycle Bin. On the Windows desktop, right-click on the Recycle Bin folder and select “Empty Recycle Bin.”

  2. Reboot the computer. Let everything reload without the clutter.

That’s it! You’ve just done “the usual cleanup” regimen.

There are, of course, other folders you can clean out, though these are the ones most likely to affect computer health. While in the Internet Options box, you might want to click the “Clear History” button. If you rely heavily on the browser History function, then you may not want to do this. If you rely heavily on auto-complete of URLs you type in the browser Address field, I recommend you save frequently accessed URLs as Favorites instead, and keep the History folder pretty skimpy. Also in the Internet Options box, in the TIF section, click “Settings” and reduce the amount of space allocated to the TIF folder to 20-30 MB. This, remember, is 1,024 KB worth of files that often are only 1 KB in size! Windows systems often come, by default, with hundreds of MB allocated — then users wonder how their Temporary Internet Files folder can accumulate tens of thousands of items! This was important back in the days of 14.4 modems (or slower!) when we really didn’t want to unnecessarily reload page contents. Today, even on dial-up, this isn’t really an issue (and on broadband, not an issue at all!). The only reason for allowing any significant space at all is for the use of Windows updates and certain other brief, legitimate purposes.

TweakUI ver. 1.33 has a “Paranoia” tab which lets you set many different stores of temporary information to be purged on each computer startup. Though originally conceived as a personal privacy option, this has some very good uses for maintaining computer health as well. Some folders that you might consider having it clear at history are: Documents (actually this is the Recent folder, which can get pretty clogged) and Internet Explorer’s History folder (though some may wish to control this simply by reducing the number of days History is retained — again, in the Internet Options box).

Additionally, in Windows 98, ME, 2000, and XP, you can run Disk Cleanup periodically by launching CLEANMGR.EXE from a Run box. Personally, I don’t use this because it doesn’t clean all that much that is useful; but for a user who doesn’t delight in wending his or her way through multiple folders and locations, Disk Cleanup is a handy way to do at least a bit of this sort of cleanup.

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