Helpful Windows Computer Tips for the NON-Techie

I get a lot of questions from my Mom, who is as NON-Technical as you get. She loves being on the computer though. So, this article contains tips that I have provided for her over the years about just basic maintenance for your computer explained in a way that you understand what’s being done and why. This article is geared toward Windows 2000 users, but the same concepts apply to Windows XP or even Windows 98.

This article covers the basics of keeping your computer running clean and smoothly. The focus is on basic cleanup and utilities that need to be performed on a regular basis and why. Why being the most important so that you, as a non-technical user, can understand more about this box in front of you.

Temporary internet files – what are they and how do I get rid of them?

Temporary internet files are files that are downloaded to your machine each time you view a webpage. That’s right. Every time you type in a web address, that page displays on your screen and behind the scenes it is copying files to your harddrive which could include images, javascript, cookies or spyware.

The images are harmless and really just aid in loading the page faster the second time you view it. Usually, the other files are harmless too.

Cookies keep track of information in a text file on your machine. For example, if you visit amazon.com you’ll notice that the next time you, the page displays a welcome message to you by name and also offers suggested items that might be of interest to you. Part of that information is retrieved from a cookie on your machine from your last visit and the other part is from Amazon’s database once you login.

Also, when you click something that says “remember my login” or “remember my password” such as in yahoo mail or hotmail login screens, that too is also usually stored in a cookie. If you delete the cookies on your machine and then return to the login screen, you will find that you have to re-check the “remember me” selection because it has now “forgotten” you since the cookie is gone.

To delete these files, just open your web browser. From Internet Explorer, select Tools and then Internet Options.

From here you may set your desired IE startup page (mine is yahoo.com). You may also delete cookies, temporary internet files (including images and javascript, but excluding cookies) by simply clicking the appropriate button.

Clicking the “Settings” button allows you to view more details about where the files are and how many you’d like to store, etc.
You may also view the files in the directory before deleting them just to see what type of files are out there.

There’s also another screen that allows you to cleanup files lingering around, taking up space on your machine. The Disk Cleanup utility allows you to remove temporary install files and temporary internet files as well. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat in Windows. You click Start, Programs, Accessories and then System Tools to get to the Disk Cleanup program.

What is spyware?

Spyware is software that will usually download components onto your machine that will send marketing information whenever you are online. The software can track what sites you visit, items your purchase, etc. Software spyware can also capture your keystrokes, read emails and log contents of chat conversations. (eBlaster is an example of such spyware.)

What is adware?

Adware is very similar to spyware. It’s software that is installed on your computer, usually from free software, that contains banner ads. The difference is that this type of software usually notifies you that the information is going to be shared with third parties. Read the privacy agreement and/or license agreement carefully.

Defrag – what is it? And how often do I need to do it?

When you save a file to your harddrive, the computer just saves it to the most convenient spot at the moment. This may not be the “best” location when we go to retrieve that file the next day. It may be behind a bunch of other non-related stuff that I haven’t looked at in weeks. The harddisk reader sorts thru all that junk to finally pull out my file from yesterday. As you delete files, a new space is allocated that may or may not get used in any particular order either. Kinda like a parking lot. Cars pull in and out at random. At any give time, there may be space close that’s not being used and cars parked randomly on out. What a defrag does is stops all new cars from entering. It takes all the cars from the back and moves them into available slots at the front of the lot. At the end, all the front lots are filled and the open slots are all together at the end of the filled rows.
You should do a defrag if you’ve been moving a lot of cars around – installing software and deleting software and files. It’s a good idea to perform a defrag monthly even if you haven’t been moving around the parking lot much.

ScanDisk
For Windows 98. Run monthly to clean and organize your harddrive.

Chkdsk
For Windows 2000 and XP. Run monthly to clean and organize your harddrive

To start just click Start, Run and type cmd. If you do not see just C:\> at the prompt, type “cd..” (that’s two dots after cd).
Then type “chkdsk” (or ScanDisk – depending on your Operating System) at the C:\> prompt. and follow the onscreen instructions.
If your chkdsk returns errors, type “chkdsk /f” when running chkdsk a second time. This will attemp to fix the errors which are usually just a case of a registry mishap. And again, follow the onscreen instructions.

Registry (regedit)

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go into your registry unless you have SPECIFIC instructions. And even with specific instructions, be careful of what you change. This “registry” is the “index” of your computer. If anything is wrong with the index, nothing can be located. If your computer cannot locate your Operating System, for example, then it cannot boot up and you’ll get a the “blue screen of death”. When that happens, your best bet is to either attempt to boot up in “Safe Mode” to repair the wrong or restore your Operating System completely with your restore disks.

Happy Computing!

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