Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How To Free Up Space On Your Computer (and Make It Run ‘Better’)*

And Some Saturday Fun, Too.

The simple and handy Disk Cleanup Tool has been a part of Windows since Windows 95. Today I am going to demonstrate how to use it, and explain why you should.

Tip of the day: Use the Disk Cleanup tool to — in a single step — free up disk space, empty your Recycle bin, “compress” old files, and remove the “temporary” Internet files that your machine picks up while browsing and downloading (improving your privacy/security); and, optionally, remove unused Windows “components” and installed programs.

If that sounds like lot a lot, it is. And it surprises me that Microsoft buries this useful tool under a series of menus — it would make sense to me to have a “one-button clean up” icon in Quick Launch, or on the desktop,.. or in the Start Menu.

As with most Windows items, there’s five or six different methods for getting to the same place, but the route I take is to open My Computer (just “Computer” in Vista/Windows 7) which is usually found by clicking the Start button.

mypc.jpg

Locate, and right-click on your hard drive icon, which typically is labeled “Local Disk (C:)”, and then click on the “Properties” menu selection as shown above.

Now the hard drive’s Properties window will open to the “General” tab, which regular readers of this series will recognize, as shown below.

props.jpg

Click the “Disk Cleanup” button, and a window will open that shows the progress as the tool scans your drive for files that it can safely remove for you…

calc.jpg

When the scan is finished, Disk Cleanup will present you with a list of the results –by category – which will show you the amount of space you can recover. This list of categories is selectable via checkboxes, and some are selected for you by default.

dc_opts.jpg

Accepting the defaults and clicking “OK” is fine, but you can modify it for greater space savings. This list includes all the files Windows says it’s safe to remove, and so, conceivably, you could place a check in all the checkboxes without hurting your machine or deleting important “system” files. But, I recommend that you do not select “Hibernation files” (if it appears on the list) nor “Catalog files for the Content Indexer”, nor Office installer files (“setup log files”).

In the screenshot above, I have clicked on “Offline Webpages” and placed a check in its checkbox, because I don’t use offline Webpages. (Note the “View” button: this allows you to see what is going to be removed.. if you’re the curious sort.)
When you’re finished making your selections (or, going with the defaults), click “OK”.

rusure.jpg

Don’t let this scare you. Click “Yes”. .

prog.jpg

Disk Cleanup will briefly show you that it’s working, and then return you to the hard drive Properties window. In my case, I will have cleaned 117,472 thousand bytes of useless files from my machine. The general rule of thumb is that you run this tool once a week for good hard drive health.

You are now done removing and compressing. But the Disk Cleanup tool allows you to get rid of more stuff you don’t use. There is a second tab, called “More Options”.

moreopts.jpg

Here you can click links (buttons) that will allow you to remove Windows “components” (such as IE, and the fax service), installed programs, and System Restore Points.
My advice on the last — System Restore — is to not save disk space here. Let System Restore itself handle removing the oldest Restore Points, which it does automatically.

The middle button takes you to Add/Remove Programs. The most effective way to give yourself more hard drive space, speed up your PC’s performance, and reduce your machine’s overhead is to uninstall programs that you never use. Forget “optimizer” programs, use this instead.

The Components button takes you to a sub-menu of Add/Remove Programs. Again, you probably don’t need to fool around here… so my General Advice is to ignore the More Options tab; but, it won’t hurt you to look around, and I’ve fulfilled the promise of the title of this article.

* Orig post: 11/7/07

Saturday fun: A reader wrote in and reminded me that, yes, while Mike Meyers is, indeed, “silly”, one should not forget that perhaps there is a “silly”-ier man on the scene: Jim Carrey. Though he has a large body of work, when I think of him, I do so (first) not as a pet detective, but in a skit on SNL.. which started a series of skits.. maybe you remember ..

While someone else wrote in with a vote for Mr. Bean…

Enjoy your weekend, everybody!

And I salute you if you were geeky enough to have noticed that the disk pictured was a 10GB model. Kinda hard to believe there were such things.. my phone has more storage than that! (Here at T4E Headquarters, we use “geek” as a compliment.)

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. <<


July 23, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, Microsoft, PC, performance, software, tech, Vista, Windows, Windows 7, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How To Rip Your CD’s To MP3

MP3 is the “universal” digital music format. By using this format, your music collection will likely play on any music player device, for many years yet to come.

wmp_icon The newer versions of Windows Media Player (v’s 11 and 12) come with the ability to rip (copy from CD) music to mp3 files. Many music players, including Apple’s iPod, will not play the default .wma format,  but by switching to the mp3 format, you ensure that you can listen to your music on any music-playing device.

With these easy steps, you can set Windows Media Player to always “rip” your music CD’s to mp3 files.

1) Open the Windows Media Player (WMP): Click the Start button, then All programs, and scroll down the list (Or, type WMP in the Search pane).

2) Click the downward arrow under the Rip button

3) Select More options. (It should open to the Rip Music tab.)

wmp_opts

4) In the Format section, use the drop-down arrow to select mp3.

4a) * Optional: you can also user the “slider” to set the music Audio quality “bit rate” from lower quality+smaller file size to highest quality+larger file size.
(I have chosen “Best Quality”, as I do not have an extensive music collection, and the size of my library is not an issue for me.)

5) Now click the Apply button, and then the OK button to close out the Settings window.

That’s it. You’re done. Until you go back in and undo your changes, Windows Media Player will always copy your music CD’s to the more portable, and universal, mp3 file type.

Today’s free download: If you are on an older Windows computer, and have not yet “upgraded” your version of WMP to Windows Media Player 12, you can download it here.

Today’s quotable quote: Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. <<


May 20, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, digital music, file system, how to, Microsoft, PC, Portable Computing, tweaks | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tutorial: Using CCleaner

I wouldn’t go anywhere without CCleaner

CCleaner (the “C” stands for ‘crap’) is a free system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up hard disk space. It also protects your privacy by cleaning (erasing) traces of your online activities such as cookies, and your Internet history. Additionally it contains a safe, fully featured registry cleaner.

Cnet_CClnr_rtng

click to read CNet's review/download

I have reco’d CCleaner many times here, and if you surf other geeky sites, you will surely see it mentioned (no doubt, recommended) if you haven’t already. If I could only download 10 tools, one of them would be CCleaner. (If memory serves, it was the first item I recommended here on T4E..) “CCleaner is the number-one tool for cleaning your Windows PC. Keep your privacy safe online, and make your computer faster and more secure. Over 500 million downloads.

Recently, Piriform released CCleaner 3.0, and I have been using this new version for a while. Today I am going to show you how I use it.

How I use CCleaner: If you have not done so already, download and install CCleaner 3.0. Note: during the install process, you will be asked to let CCleaner scan for “good cookies” (good cookies are, like, your email login) – let it (aka answer “OK”).

1) Launch (aka “Open”, aka “Run”) CCleaner.

2) By default, it opens to the crap cleaning tool (the paintbrush), and the “Windows” tab. Here is where you make selections for the “system”, and Internet. My preferences are shown, but you might want to include browsing histories.. (No one else has access to my machines, and use History as a timesaver, to return to previously visited sites, etc.)

Before you begin: Click “Options“, then “Advanced“, and uncheck the “Only delete temp files older than 24 hours” checkbox.

options

We can now go back to the paintbrush.. Note my choices.

settings for cleaner tool

3) Now click the “Applications” tab.

Notice how every “application is checked?

4) Click the “Analyze” button. This will start the cleaning scanner, and generate a report on the items CCleaner will remove. Check this, and make sure nothing you want is accidentally included, then..

5) Click “Run Cleaner”.

Some people do this every night before shutting down. Others, after every “browsing” session. I do it a little more casually than that — I run CCleaner at least once a week, as GP. But I make a point of running it after each time I visit a new website for the first time (which I do several times a day) with a special emphasis on Internet “temp” files. (Those files contain a Trojan.downloader more often than you might think!)
Why not? Running CCleaner’s cleaner tool takes about 30 seconds.. or less.

Now let’s look at the Registry tool: It is very important you understand – so important, in fact, I wrote: Top Tech Tip #2: Leave Registry Cleaners Alone – that one does not fiddle lightly with the Windows Registry. I cannot tell you how many times someone has come to me with messed up systems because they downloaded some “optimizer” hoping for faster Internet, or because their ancient machine crawls along like a turtle. (I reco you take a look at the article now.. it will open in a separate place.)
Registry defraggers/optimizers/”tune ups”/etc. is one of the bigger scams going. And everyone has one for sale. Why? Because the “average computer user” is ignorant of the facts. It’s that simple.

CCleaner is one of the (few) exceptions. And there are certain times when Registry cleaning is advisable (as the article above mentions).

1) Click on the “Registry” icon on the left. Again, note my selections.

—> —> ANSWER “YES”. MAKE A BACKUP!!! <— <—
(I Save directly to C:\, and name the file “regbackup”. To make it easy to find in an emergency.)

Someone will look at this and want to comment on why I have un-checked the first two. Let me answer that now. You do not have to follow my practice. You have made a backup, after all.
But, I do not trust anyone but myself to decide which dynamic link libraries (DLL‘s) I might need; and just because I haven’t used a file extension yet, doesn’t necessarily mean I want to remove a Registry pointer. (And.. I do not think of Help files as “space wasters”.) Yes, CCleaner’s Reg tool is safe, but messing with the Registry can introduce as many ‘glitches’ as it cures, and this habit of mine reduces the chance of that.. IMHO.

My Registry scan shows no “errors”. But yours – most likely – will. Maybe several hundred of them. Go ahead and ‘fix’ them. (I repeat: ANSWER “YES”. MAKE A BACKUP!!!)

2) Run the scanner again. (You do not need to save backups during these additional sweeps, but if you do, label them regbackup2, regbackup3, etc.)

3) Run it again, and again if you have to… until it reports “no errors found.”

This will not turn your turtle into thoroughbred race horse. But it may very well cure those strange “computer oddities” (aka ‘glitches’).

I encourage you to explore CCleaner’s Toolbox as well. I use use the Startup tool instead of msconfig, for example. If you are not already a CCleaner fan, click on the CNet image (top of article): read Seth’s review: download.

I have been using CCleaner for a lot of years, and this new version is everything I’ve come to expect, and more. (I especially like the improved 64-bit support.. one of those invisible “under the hood” items..)
And yes. I meant what I said about ‘go anywhere’. I copy CCleaner from my Program Files folder onto the thumbdrive that is my keychain’s fob.

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. << 


Share this post :

November 17, 2010 Posted by | computers, file system, free software, how to, Internet, PC, performance, privacy, security, software, tech, tweaks | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Backups on a Budget

Sometimes the questions readers write in with are worthy of your attention.. and the answers worthy of an article.

Q: Paul:
I have been following your tech advice for quite some time and recently watched the video of “Don’t be a Billy”. One of the subjects you are constantly telling your clients and readers is to back-up, back-up and back-up. Kind of like Real Estate, location, location, location.

My question to you is I can’t spend the money now on a portable hard drive. CD’s and thumb drives do not have the space to do a full system back up. What is the common person to do if we don’t have servers, or another means to do a back up?
~ L.C.

A: L.C.,
Yes. It’s true. Making a backup copy (on some other media than your hard drive) of your digital photographs, important digital documents, business-related emails, etc. is one of life’s DO IT! items — that nobody does.
FACT: computers/hard drives fail.
FACT: without a backup copy, your files can be gone for ever. Poof! Gone. (Or cost a thousand or so to “recover”.)
FACT: Do the right thing (now) so you won’t be sorry (later) – backup!

OK. To your question:
External hard drives (such as USB-attached) are quite affordable these days and are the preferred destination for large backups – for several reasons. (I have seen deals on these items recently that truly make them hard not to recommend. [<$60])

The next best alternative destination for most people is optical discs – CD’s or DVD’s. (I backup to both discs and an external drive, btw. The redundancy has saved my bacon more than once.) The easiest way to do that is to use a Backup program that allows you to point at your optical drive…

Macrium Reflect

.. as the place to Save to (aka “destination”). You will be prompted to insert blank discs until the backup session is completed; which, depending on the amount of data, can be several discs! (Especially the first backup.. the “full” one.) Be sure to label your burned discs properly.

If your version of Windows Backup, or your current Backup software, does not allow this, simply install one that does. I happen to use Macrium Reflect Free Edition for this job, but Easeus Todo Backup is another excellent choice. Both are free, and both are simple, wizard-driven tools.

So you see folks, there’s no excuse: back-up, back-up, and back-up!

[update: a comment came in I think you should see..

This article is probably some of the most important advice that can be given to a computer user.  Backup, backup and backup!” ~ Rick Robinette]

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. << 


Share this post :

October 14, 2010 Posted by | advice, Backups, computers, file system, how to, PC, security | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What You Need To Know About "Delete"*

Folks, today is a busy day here at Tech–for Everyone Headquarters, and today’s article is a re-posting.

I don’t know how long it was that I worked and played on computers before I truly understood that when I deleted a Word document from my My Documents folder it was not gone forever.

chalkboard_eraser - CopyI believe it was only natural to think it was “deleted”. It was gone, as far as I could tell. It didn’t show up no matter how I searched for it nor how desperately I needed it back. And believe me, there was many a time that I wished I could get a deleted letter or homework assignment back. If I cannot see it…and my machine cannot see it…and my machine says that the space it took up is now ‘free’…it is gone, right? I certainly thought so.

I think it’s rather important that you understand, if you don’t already, that when you drag something into the Recycle Bin, it isn’t really erased. Instead, the name/path entry in the file allocation table (FAT. The directory used to locate and ‘find’ files) is altered in a way that tells Windows to no longer display the file and that this (memory) area is now available for future storage.

The same thing happens when you take the drastic step of formatting your hard drive — it isn’t “wiped” like taking an eraser to a chalkboard: the Master Boot Table and the file directory are similarly altered, and once that occurs the machine can neither find your files nor your operating system — the rest of the 1′s and 0′s are left in place.

It is because of this fact — that files aren’t erased, but their directories and names are altered — that undelete and unformat utilities can perform their miracles. Instead of ignoring or treating these altered entries as writable space, they (attempt to) deliberately seek them out and rename them back to a recognizable formula, which restores the operating system’s (Windows) ability to ‘see’, find, and display them.  (If you need to recover files, please see, How to recover your lost files)

Tip of the day: Never assume that your data has been erased.
In fact, I suggest thinking in an opposite manner: assume that no matter what proactive measures you’ve taken, your data is on that hard drive. Tell yourself that a knowledgeable person with the right tools, if they get their hands on your hard drive, can read it. (There are some people in this industry who insist that your files aren’t really gone until your hard drive has been melted in a blast furnace!) Particularly keep this in mind when the time comes to donate, or otherwise get rid of, your old computer.
[note:
this applies to any device with “memory”, such as a cell phone.]

If you are security-conscious, and you want to ensure that when you erase something it’s really and truly erased (or you are about to donate your old PC) I recommend that, if you don’t already have one, you download a free file shredder utility (I will put one as today’s free link) and to choose one that offers multiple methods of shredding.

What a “shredder” does is it writes new data, and it does it in multiple passes. Typically writing all 1′s on one pass, all zeros on the next pass, and then a completely random pattern of 1′s and 0′s, and so on. It is generally recognized that your shredder should make 6-12 passes.

If you do this, you can donate your old PC comfortable in the knowledge that only a several thousand-dollar restoration, performed in a sterile lab, might render your personal information readable again. (If you are a corporation, and it’s time to throw out your old hard drives, and there’s highly sensitive data on those drives, melt them.)

Today’s free download: Zilla Data Nuker 2 (Please note: this program is an exception to my rule of always having run and tested the programs I suggest. I have not ever needed to download a file shredder as I’ve always had one bundled into the Utility Suites I have on my machines. However, this application is 5-star rated by Cnet, and I was unable to locate it on any “blacklists”. It is the one I would try first.) From Cnet, “This powerful program helps you shred important files & folders so that they cannot be restored & prevent attempts to recover sensitive deleted files from your hard drive by data recovery or forensic software. Shredder allows you to purge, wipe & erase data with methods that far exceed US Department of Defence standards for file deletion (DOD 5220.22). Easily automate the cleaning process with batch files, shortcuts and scheduler. Supports complete folder deletions including subfolders.

*Original post: 6/22/07

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. << 


Share this post :

October 12, 2010 Posted by | computers, file system, how to, PC, privacy, security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where Did My File Go?

It’s a beautiful day here, and a holiday (Aplus is open for business, however) so kindly forgive me for re-posting today. This tutorial has helped many people since it was first published~

Our computers really are just a collection of files. These files are sometimes pictures, or documents, and sometimes they’re programs (aka “applications”). These files are sorted into folders, which often have folders inside them (called “sub-folders”, in a “folder tree”).

There have been occasions when I was not paying attention, and I saved (and/or downloaded) a file to some location I didn’t intend. What’s worse, I wasn’t watching closely enough to notice what and where that location was, and the file was effectively gone. Of course, my misplaced file wasn’t really gone … I just had to find it again. That’s when a desktop Search tool comes to my rescue.
Sometimes, though, the search comes up ‘empty’, or otherwise produces unhelpful results, and that’s what I want to address today.

Tip of the day: Find that file by using the proper search tool, properly. Windows comes with a built-in search tool, and there are “better” tools available (usually as free downloads) as well. But let’s start with the tool you already have. Windows Search is located in your Start menu (Start >Search) and is the magnifying glass icon.

If you cannot see a Search/magnifying glass: right-click on a blank area of your Taskbar and select Properties. Now click the Start Menu tab and click on the “Customize” button and select the Advanced tab. Scroll down and place a check in the box marked “Search”, as shown below.

Launch the Search tool and click on the “All files and folders” option in the “What do you want to search for?” area, and then — and here’s the trick — click on the “more advanced options” down arrow, and place a check in the top three checkboxes.[note: this is specific to XP. In Vista/Win 7 you need to glance at the top for the address bar to see the location, and change it from your User name to “Computer”.]

Adv_Search There are several “hidden” folders in the Windows filing system and it’s possible your file was moved into one of these (particularly downloaded emails) and if that happened, it will not show up in a “normal” search. Selecting the “subfolders” option ensures that your search is as thorough as possible. Now enter the file name and click the “Search” button and enjoy the cute antics of the animated ’search puppy’.

Bonus tip of the day: Often, I cannot remember the exact, or complete, name of the file, and that’s when the use of the wildcard symbol becomes very useful. Windows uses the “*” to represent “any”.

Let’s say, for sake of example, that I found a neat picture of a rose on the Internet (not copyrighted, of course!) and downloaded it. The actual file name is “DSCredrose16.jpg”, and being the incredible complex and super-busy human that I am … I download it to someplace other than where I expected. Searching for “rose.jpg”, in this case, produced no results (sometimes it will).

If I use wildcards, I don’t have to worry about an exact match. Typing in “*rose*.jpg” (no quotes) will find it, because I told the search to ‘match’ any letters before the characters r-o-s-e and any characters after them as well, and to show me only JPEG’s.

If I’m not certain the picture was a JPEG, and that it might be a GIFF, or a TIFF, or a PNG, or a Photoshop picture (.psd), or a bitmap (.bmp) …I substitute a wildcard for .jpg, like this: “*rose*.*”.
If I type *.* into the search for box, I will get a list of every file on my machine — because I told it to ‘match’ every file name, and every file type.

Bonus bonus tip: Recently I was able to play Hero when my sister called begging me to help her “find” my niece’s homework assignment. Normal Search techniques were only showing very old (early) versions of the project, and so they were scared that all their hours of hard work had vanished.

If you look just below the “Look in: Local Hard Drives” drop-down, you will see in bold “When was it modified?” This allows you to search by date (or date ranges). I used this to limit the search to just yesterday’s activity. I quickly found the missing school project– it had been Saved to a browser’s obscure “Temp” folder (because it had been e-mailed, and she had “Opened” it instead of “Save”-ing a copy to her Desktop).

Today’s free link(s): If you want a faster/better/more capable desktop search tool than the one built into Windows XP (and if you spend a lot of time searching for files on your machines, you may), the top three downloads are Microsoft’s Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop search, and Copernic. I must warn you that there are some privacy and security issues revolving around Google Desktop that may or may not remain valid — that debate still lingers. I can also tell you that Copernic is the geek’s choice.

* Original post: 7/26/07

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. <<


Share this post :

September 6, 2010 Posted by | computers, file system, how to, Microsoft, tech, Vista, Windows, Windows 7, XP | 2 Comments

Strange Case Of PC Slowness…*

Someone called my biz asking for my help with a very slow computer, that was also “acting odd”.  Nothing unusual there; a lot of my calls start that way. What was unusual was that my investigation revealed that all the usual suspects were not at fault, and I really couldn’t detect anything “wrong” with the machine. That was unusual.

volume_props So I looked further and I found a possible culprit (ahem) — their rather large hard drive was totally, absolutely, and completely full. Oops. Not good. I won’t bore you with the geek, but I will tell you that Windows needs “free space” in order to function properly.
My caller had none. Zip. Zero. Nada.

My questioning, and looking at the file system, revealed that the caller had set their computer to record their favorite television programs – much like a TiVo or DVR does – and had not really been too good about actually watching the recordings, or deleting them when finished with them. And Windows Media Center had just kept recording and recording…

Tip of the day: Limit the amount of space Windows Media Center can use for recordings, and prevent hard drive fill-up syndrome.

1) Open WMC and scroll the menu down to Tasks, and then left to Settings, as shown below.
WMC1

2) Scroll down to Recorder and then over to Recorder Storage.

3) Use the (minus) sign to reduce the Maximum TV limit number to a reasonable fraction of your available space. And then click Save.

To finish my caller’s story.. I deleted nearly 100 Gigabytes of recordings (some the caller couldn’t even remember setting the schedule for..) which gave Windows the free space it needed, and the machine started behaving like normal again. I then did the above steps so that it would not happen to them again.

Related links: Your hard drive, and the “file system” it contains, needs some routine maintenance to keep performing in tip-top form (often called “optimization”) and your computer comes with the tools (called “utilities”) you need to perform those maintenance tasks. I demonstrate those in this article: Revitalize Your PC With Windows’ Utilities*

Today’s free download: The tool I used to quickly analyze my client’s file system was WinDirStat (Windows Directory Statistics) which provides a graphical image of what size your files and folders are.. so you can quickly find the ginormous ones.

* Orig post: 11/24/09

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


>> Folks, don’t miss an article! To get Tech – for Everyone articles delivered to your e-mail Inbox, click here, or to subscribe in your RSS reader, click here. <<


Share this post :

July 7, 2010 Posted by | computers, file system, hardware, how to, Microsoft, PC, performance, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , , | 10 Comments