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Computer Hygiene - Take Out The Trash!
by: Earl Gooch
Do you find that your computer exhibits one or more of the following behaviors?

- Inexplicable message or warning pop-ups

- Frequent unsolicited reboots

- Your favorite application often crashes

- Applications now start up sluggishly

- Your computer seems to take forever to boot up

- You find new software running which you did not expressly install, and you cannot explain it's existance

Your computer may simply have become cluttered with software to such a degree that all those programs now fight with each other for resources, or a particular type of software installed (with malicious intent or otherwise) could produce adverse side effects and may even compromise your system's health and security. Even if your PC does not appear to suffer from any of the symptoms above, chances are over time one or more of these issues will surface.

So where should we look to find the root cause of such problems? In short, we can attribute this abnormal behavior to:

1) Our not being vigilant in monitoring the list of software running (or not running) on our system

2) Not being sufficiently mindful of how the installed software got there and why

Let me explain further. When one purchases a computer (or you inherit that “hand-me-down” from your relative) you will typically find a potpourri of software already installed. Furthermore, you will probably never use 80f it. In addition, you may find yourself unable to resist the temptation to download and install freeware/shareware from the internet.

All too often we really do not need the programs we download, but refraining from doing so can be difficult due to the software's enticing promo. And regardless of the utility of these programs, many times we don't bother to uninstall them, thinking we may find a use for them in the future.

Just recently while browsing through a forum, I saw a post with the following opening line: I just had to reformat the family computer for the second time in three months because of my brother's blatant ignorance of general computer hygiene. I can assure you that such behavior is commonplace. The various computers in my own home are a prime example. On numerous occasions my two children, who by the way, are old enough to know better, downloaded and installed software which essentially rendered their PCs unusable, thus costing me hours of work to get them back into working condition.

If you take nothing else away from this article, try to embrace the following two thoughts:

- Not being aware of every program installed, and particularly which ones get invoked by default at startup time, could cause your system to become highly unstable, resulting in frequent crashes, loss of data, or possibly even irreparable hardware damage.

- Try at all costs to refrain from installing non-essential software.

While you may very well find an overabundance of non-essential software installed, even more important is the fact that there may NOT be antivirus, firewall, or other security/protection software running. Consider this point CRITICAL. The absence of such software or it being improperly configured can set you up for disaster! In an upcoming article we'll discuss the various “sleuthing” techniques for determining just what software resides on your computer.

The object of the second point above is to simply use good judgment in deciding which software goes and what stays on your computer. Sure, there's no harm in keeping reputable software around such as that favorite game or multimedia player, given that you know where it came from and you do at least use it occasionally.

OK, let's summarize our discussion. Start thinking now about your current software and which programs you consider as really important to you or your family. Remove everything else you can bear to part with. Furthermore, of the types of software you feel you must keep, evaluate it's “utility”. Some programs you may have obtained and installed, and others were probably just pre-installed on your PC. You may want to consider upgrading existing packages, or particularly in the latter case, other similar software may exist which has a better feature set that can serve you better.

Now go ahead. Take out the trash!

Stay tuned for the next installment coming shortly.

About the author:
Earl Gooch is an engineer who has been involved in the high tech industry for over 23 years, working in various capacities including design of both computer hardware and software, web development, system engineering, customer support, and marketing.

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