By Lindsey Thompson
As the winter comes to a close, you’ll find yourself getting ready for your yearly spring-cleaning marathon. While your list probably includes sweeping, mopping and vacuuming, one thing that it probably doesn’t include is cleaning up your computer.
Your computer is like your car in that it needs regular maintenance to function properly, so it should be on your spring-cleaning list! Maybe it wasn’t added to your list because you don’t know what to do to maintain your computer. If that’s the case, this article is a good place to start.
Backups. The most important piece of computer maintenance is to back up your data. Nearly everyone keeps data on the computer that would be irreplaceable if the computer’s hard drive crashed. There are a number of ways to back up your data. You can copy files to a thumb drive, CD or external hard drive manually, but the best way is an automatic, recurring backup to an external hard drive that runs, preferably, nightly.
Most modern operating systems include backup utilities. If you are using a Mac running OS X 10.5 or later, you can use Time Machine. Visit Apple’s Time Machine support page for more information (http://www.apple.com/support/timemachine/). If you own a PC running Windows 7, you can use the built in Backup and Restore utility. Visit Microsoft’s website for more information (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/features/backup-and-restore). If you find these utilities hard to use, however, you can either use the software that comes with most external hard drives for backup or purchase backup software such as Mozy.
Disk Space. Every computer needs “working” space on the hard drive to function properly. Without this working space, the computer’s operating system will become corrupted, requiring a complete reinstallation of the operating system, reinstallation of all software and a restore of backed up data. To avoid this, make sure that you always have at least 1GB of free space on your hard drive. If you don’t, you can either remove applications/programs you no longer use, move personal files to external hard drives or CDs, or install and run a disk cleaning utility. If you decide to install a disk cleaning utility, ALWAYS check to make sure it’s reputable. Many malware and virus programs masquerade as clean up or speed up programs. If you’re in doubt, don’t install!
Anti-virus. If you are using Windows, you MUST have a reputable, up-to-date anti-virus program installed to help protect your computer from malware and viruses. This includes anti-virus programs such as TrendMicro, AVG, Avast, Norton and McAfee, among others. It’s very important to renew your anti-virus subscription before it expires and leaves you without protection. Viruses and malware will not only cripple your computer, they may steal your personal information as well. You should set up your anti-virus program to update daily and run a weekly scan of your computer to make sure it stays virus free. Also, if you are ever in doubt about a file or program, don’t download or install it! This will help keep you virus and malware free.
Updates. All computers need updating from time to time. This is how computer manufacturers fix security holes that may allow unauthorized access to your computer and its files. If you are using a Mac, occasionally you will see a dialog box that tells you that updates are available. At least once a week, you should tell the computer that it is ok to install those updates. If you use Windows XP or a later version, you can set your computer to receive updates automatically from Windows Update at a scheduled time so that you do not need to worry about it.
While these four steps probably look like a lot if you are unfamiliar with computers, doing them will only take about 15 minutes. If you take the time to follow these simple steps, you will find that your computer will not only run better, but that you will avoid having to take your computer in for expensive service and repairs. The 15 you minutes spend maintaining your computer now can save you hundreds of dollars, hours of trouble, and lots of headaches later!