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Basic Windows Maintenance
Certain basic computer maintenance and housekeeping chores need to be done by all home PC users. Procedures are discussed for this basic task.

A large fraction of the population now uses a computer at home. Unfortunately, large numbers of these home users do not seem to understand that a computer is a high-maintenance device that demands much more routine care than the usual household appliances. Also, many home users are unwilling or unable to spend the time and effort required to learn some elementary knowledge about how computers function. There is no question that many ordinary home PC users would benefit greatly from just a modicum of basic knowledge on the subject but I also know from experience that there is a lot of inertia and considerable reluctance to learn that basic knowledge.

It’s a shame because I have encountered many instances where a PC user tells me about a problem that could have been fixed in 10 or 15 minutes with a little basic knowledge. Instead he or she loses many days waiting for a friend or relative to fix it or spends a fair amount of money for a technician. (Or in some cases even buys a new computer.) What I will try to do in this article is to outline the basic things that I think would be of use to all PC users whatever their technical background. True, you could go through life and never need any of this stuff. On the other hand, a little preparation might just save you from a peck of trouble.

Updating anti-virus protection

Most computers nowadays come with an anti-virus program. However, many people fail to keep their database of virus definitions updated. All the major anti-virus programs come with an update feature that should be used regularly. Having to update daily is now routine since new malware appears constantly.(Note that anti-virus programs actually protect against a variety of malware, not just viruses.) Unfortunately, the major companies no longer provide unlimited updates but have started charging after one year's (or even less) usage. Many people let their subscriptions expire. If you are unwilling to pay for protection, there are free programs. The excellent site Tech Support Alert keeps tabs on the best free programs.

Updating anti-spyware protection

These days, anti-virus programs are insufficient to guard against all malware. Anti-spyware programs are also needed and like anti-virus programs must be updated regularly. For freeware in this area, also go to Tech Support Alert. Those who can afford the annual expense of a subscription should consider a security suites from one of the major companies. See the links at Safety on the Internet.

Preparing for disaster

Unfortunately, hard drive failure is not all that uncommon. If it occurs, everything that is on the drive is lost (unless you resort to an expensive recovery service). Also, if you do get a virus, a lot of your disk may be wiped out. Or, in a variety of other ways, files may be corrupted or lost. Botched software installations, system crashes, or just plain carelessness can lose valuable data. Thus, backups are essential. Ideally, the whole system should be backed up to some external storage device. At a minimum, all files such as passwords, favorite places, address books, financial and tax records, important documents and correspondence (including e-mail), and any other personal data that has more than transitory value should be backed up to some place other than your hard drive. Windows XP System Restore and programs like GoBack are not sufficient since they write to the main disk.

There are a variety of strategies for regular backup. I prefer an external USB drive and one of the imaging programs like Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image. However, since many PC users will balk at anything that isn't as simple as possible, I have also written an article on some minimum backup procedures. Those who are willing to invest in a more complete strategy can read this article for detailed ideas. I do not personally care for it but Windows XP comes with software for backup. I have described its use on another page.

Using System Restore

It does not replace a regular backup procedure but the Windows XP accessory System Restore is a valuable tool that can remedy many common problems. All PC users should learn how to use it and its use is described on a separate page. There is also a Macromedia Flash tutorial on a sister site.

Disk Maintenance

Making sure that your hard drives are healthy is an important part of maintenance. The Windows tool Chkdsk should be run periodically to check file and folder structures as well as the disk sectors. Its use is described here.

Windows XP does not seem to need defragmenting as often as previous Windows systems but regular maintenance should still include running the system tool Disk Defragmenter. It use is described on this page. and a tutorial is at this link.

File Maintenance

A certain amount of file housekeeping will help your system to be more efficient and stable. Windows programs use a lot of temporary files, which can accumulate at an alarming rate. In particular, the folders Temporary Internet Files and certain Temp folders can really build up. Keeping these and some other system folders clean is discussed on this page. Making use of the Windows system tool Disk Cleanup is described here.

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