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How to get rid of the junk Windows leaves behind
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

How to get rid of the junk Windows leaves behind

Technofile for Feb. 21, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

I know a guy who collects junk. It's all over his desk.

Some of it must have been important at one time or another. But is any of it worth saving once it's more than a few days old?

Probably not. Every year or so, all the junk on his desk just plain disappears. Whether he finally tosses it out or somebody else does it for him is never clear. But at least the trash gets taken out.

The same thing happens in your PC. The junk just piles up. For weeks. Maybe months. And, if you're like a lot of computer users, the only time it gets hauled away is that fateful time called "Reinstallation."

Don't let the trash pile up like that. Cleaning the junk out of your PC is a lot easier than cleaning it off your desk, and you can do it a lot faster.

The junk I'm talking about is not the same as the stuff in your Recycle Bin. (That's probably junk, too, but it's not related to the other junk.) The stuff I'm referring to comes from all over the place -- from programs such as Microsoft Word, from Windows itself, from something you download and install.

PC junk files are supposed to be temporary, lasting no more than a few minutes. In an ideal world, these "temp" files would disappear in an hour or so when the Windows Trash Collection Agency came along to clean things up.

But there's no such "agency." Windows knows nothing about trash collection. You have to do it yourself. The junk-file problem has been around since Windows was introduced more a decade ago, yet Microsoft has no idea how to fix it. But I'll show you how.

Where does this trash end up? Usually, it's all stuck in one place, a folder called "Temp." It's more or less hidden away inside another folder, but don't worry about the location. My trash-collection method will find it for you.

If it weren't for yet another dumb thing about PCs, we could end this article in one more sentence -- one that said, "Here's how to empty the trash, blah-blah." The whacko thing that keeps us from such a simple solution has to do with the crazy way Windows uses the Temp folder.

And when I say "crazy," I'm not exaggerating. What would you think of somebody who used the wastebasket as a place to keep important stuff? Things like tax returns or checks? Windows does that. Windows actually sticks very important stuff in the Temp folder now and then. That means you can't just toss out the trash any time you want to.

This is very important. Here's why you can't empty the trash at any old time:

When you are installing a program or a game or something like that, you sometimes get a message telling you to reboot the computer. Or telling you the computer will be rebooted no matter HOW you feel about it. (I love messages like that. You click "OK" as if you have a choice, right?) You need to reboot the computer to let Windows change come of its settings -- it has to run into the back room and change its clothes, so to speak. So you have to leave everything alone at that time, just to be safe.

That means you can't always clean out the Temp folder safely at what would seem to be the ideal time -- when the computer boots up. A lot of well-meaning computer users make a big mistake by using an automatic Temp-folder-cleaning method each time their computers start up. They're zapping programs that are trying to finish their installations. (And then they write to me to tell me Windows let them down again.)

So here's what you have to do. My method has only three steps:

First, never do the Temp cleaning when you're installing new software. Do it on a normal kind of day, right after a fresh bootup and before you've started doing anything.

Second, get at the Temp folder by clicking "Start" and clicking "Run" and then typing TEMP in the Run line. Press Enter. The Temp folder will open on your screen. (A colleague tells me that doesn't work on her PC. If it doesn't work on yours, type "c:\windows\temp" instead, without the quotes.)

Third, press Ctrl-A to select everything in the folder, then press the Delete key to delete everything. If Windows gives you a hard time, at least one of the items you're trying to delete is being used for something. Just try again later, right after a reboot.

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