By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
I wrote recently about the crazy way Windows handles its own trash. It creates a zillion temporary files and then lets YOU worry about how to get rid of them. It never cleans up after itself.
Since the publication of that article (http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/texts/tec022199.html), I've heard from a lot of readers. The champ in the space-reclamation derby is a reader who got rid of 3,800 files that had been piling up for years in the Temp folder. Another reader freed up 300 megabytes of space.
But I also heard from readers who thought they spotted another Windows flaw -- a place where Windows is hiding even more junk. Many of these super-snoopy readers cleaned out that "other" junk pile as soon as they came across it.
They did the wrong thing.
The "other" pile of junk is actually the browser's cache. Windows does a pretty good job of cleaning out the temporary files stored in that junk pile, and you should leave that pile of trash alone. This is also true on Macintosh computers. (On the Mac, the browser is in charge of the cache, but everything I'm telling you works the same way.)
Let me explain. When your Web browser opens Web pages, they're usually full of things besides words (more than just text, in other words). These pages have pictures and sometimes sounds. They can even have movies and other animations.
A lot of that stuff never changes. The people who design Web pages might change the wording, but they might not change the pictures or sounds. So your browser does something smart. It stores the pictures and sounds and text and anything else it can grab. All that stuff is put in a folder so that the browser can find it later.
What's it do with it? Here's the smart part. When you open a Web page at any other time, your browser does a little checking to see if it's already been to that Web site. If the answer is Yes, it grabs all the stuff it stored so it can stick everything up on your screen real fast. But it's not so dumb that it will show you stuff that's changed, so it also finds out what's changed. If the Web site uses the same picture but has new text, it uses the picture it saved but tells the Web site to send it the new text.
It's a neat system. If you use Internet Explorer, the cache is stored in a folder called Temporary Internet Files. (Inside that folder are other folders, too.) If you use Netscape's browser, the cache is stored in a Netscape folder.
You can fine-tune the way this cache works by checking certain options in the browser's setup menu. And you can tell Windows (or the browser) to keep files a longer time or a shorter time. Check out the options and you'll see what I mean.
But don't just trash the cache. Your browser needs those files to make everything go faster.