Computer Kindness in 14 Steps

How my desk looks maybe once a year...

Old friend…

My laptop was my best friend. Purchased in 2008 and installed with Windows Vista, it was lagging, and I replaced it at the end of 2014. I was faced with installing all my most-loved programs and transferring all my files to a new machine. I have in-house support (Rom is an IT Guy) but I pride myself on not needing it too much!

Even though I take good care of my electronic friend, the old laptop still needed a cleanup, so I wouldn’t transfer its problems to a new home. For those who don’t do computer clean-ups, regular or otherwise, I will share some tips.

Before we begin: You have time for these little actions! It’s not serious restorative work: it’s just a bunch of settings (and habits) to keep things humming along.

My new PC also has Windows. Don’t judge me! The following list will be only of selective use to Mac users.

  1. Highest Priority: Turn on Windows updates! I know, I know. They always want to install themselves at inconvenient times, and they make us do a restart. Do them anyway! They are meant to fix problems including serious security concerns. We need them.
  2. If the computer is running perfectly, get assistance to set a restore point now! Then, if a nasty computer failure occurs, it can be reset to this lovely point.
  3. Computers go to sleep when not in use. Shut them down completely sometimes – I would recommend once a week. This will help identify serious boot-up issues long before the machine completely fails. If we avoid this because we’re afraid the computer won’t come back on – we need to face reality and get help now, before it’s too late!
  4. How important are your files? If all of your photos are on Facebook and your resumé is in your email somewhere, you may not care about your data. But power-users will want to back up everything. I have 80 GB of music and 52 GB of photos I’d be devastated to lose! At our house we have a network drive with an automatic backup. In the past I made manual backups onto a portable hard drive. Of course you can use free or paid cloud services like Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud. Also good for additional storage if your hard drive is filling up.
  5. Make sure there’s a firewall and an antivirus program. Windows Defender is fine. No need to pay for Norton or McAfee – free products are available (such as AVG and Avast), and safe if installed carefully to avoid bundled products. Now here’s the hard-to-accept part: we should be doing regular scans of the whole system. Go into the program and click “Scan Now” or set it to run once a week, overnight. For extra safety, you can enable a link checker, like the one from AVG. It checks all the links on a page and lets you know if any might be unsafe to open (great for kids and anyone who’s recovering from a computer virus!)
  6. We all know not to click links in spam email, or let our kids download hundreds of demo games. Just as problematic is when we install a trusted program like Java or Adobe, and we let them add an extra toolbar to our Internet browser. Lots of them are invasive and require professional help to remove. Sadly, whenever we install a program, we can’t accept the defaults. It’s necessary to uncheck the free crapware that is bundled in, or use a tool like Unchecky to do it for us.
  7. Clean up mistakes. If we do accept a program and later realize it is garbage, we need to remove it. Follow this path for Windows 8: PC Settings > Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features > Uninstall a Program. When you see the (shockingly large) list of all your installed programs, you can look for the names that have been bothering you like the evil toolbars (Ask, Delta, Snap.do) and iLivid. But use with care: you don’t want to accidentally delete your graphics driver or your wireless adapter! Similarly, if a new or new-to-you PC comes with a bunch of trial products you don’t like, turf them.
  8. Look in the Download folder. Every time we open an email attachment, save an online photo, or install an online program, a copy goes to the Download folder. To keep those files organized, they can be renamed and moved to better homes like a Documents or Pictures folder. When no longer needed, they should be deleted. Recently I downloaded a photo that appeared in my Downloads folder as img73091.jpg and months from now, I will have no idea what it is.
  9. Unclutter the Start Screen or Desktop. Our virtual home should be as tidy as our actual home. No, wait – I mean “tidier than”! If any tiles or icons don’t work, delete them or reinstall them. Anything not used for months or years? Get rid of the shortcut, and the original program if you’ll never use it again. Move your tiles or icons into groups that make sense to you – most used, or one for each family member. I know I’ve got it right when I can go to all my favourites without thinking.
  10. I never mess with my computer beyond my understanding. For example, I know that when I remove a program, sometimes traces of it are left in the registry. I don’t have the ability to find them and to know if they are shared with other programs I’m keeping, so I leave them alone. Likewise, if a computer whiz were to tell me, “You should just run Linux,” I know better. I can just walk up to any Windows computer and use it. I don’t want to learn another system right now.
  11. If you have a problem with a device – for example, uploading photos from a camera, or printing a document – and your Windows updates are all current, you may need to update your device or its drivers. For instance, you may have the latest version of iTunes running, but maybe your iPhone needs a new version of iOS. It’s best to go to the manufacturer’s website and check for updates there.
  12. If the computer is in a space with dust and pets – or worse, if a laptop is regularly used on a sofa or bed – fluff has to be cleaned out with compressed air before it solidifies and seals up the vent. Otherwise it will overheat. I have seen one send out puffs of smoke (an impending fire!) and one significantly melted (neither were mine).
  13. More advanced: To make your machine run faster, never click on a pop-up that says Make Your PC Run Faster! Use a reputable product like CCleaner. However, the average computer user will need help with this. It blasts out the cache, temporary files, browsing history, cookies, and so on – some of which you may actually want. Worth doing, but proceed with caution.
  14. Rom would say: Know what operating system you have – such as Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 8.1, 64-bit. You can find out here. Don’t upgrade your Windows operating system. If you bought a Vista machine like I did, don’t try to upgrade it to Windows 8.1. The machine itself (including the BIOS and other firmware) was built for the old operating system, and probably won’t run the new OS well. When it’s time, get a new machine.

I haven’t talked about protecting privacy or the hundreds of other computer topics that can arise. I figure 14 steps are enough for now. But I would like to post about privacy later, if there is interest.

What is on your list of essential PC maintenance? (Other than: Buy a MacBook!)

New Friend

New Friend

 Not a compensated post. All opinions my own…ask for a professional opinion if needed!

32 comments

  1. Reading this list made me tired! I’ll have to have my husband read it. 🙂 This is really an area I need to be better at.

    • I have three reasons for knowing this stuff: being single for many years and being the go-to person for self and child’s PC woes; assisting people with public computers and their own devices at work at the library; and finally, by osmosis through Rom’s work!

  2. Solid advice. Thanks

  3. I have a Mac, but Donna’s home computer is a Windows7, our laptop runs Vista, and my work still runs on XP. I’m IT for Donna and the laptop.

    Drives me crazy to have several different versions all with different mail, word, and o/s procedures.

    I think having so much storage space makes people lazy about cleaning and backing up, it’s like having an infinite virtual attic.

    • I can’t even tell you all the operating systems we have between home and work and all our devices; it is staggering. For Apple products we have iPads and a 10-year-old PowerMac that can’t be upgraded. It seems a lot of people decide it’s time for a new computer when their current one fills up and slows down.

  4. EcoCatLady

    Well… I agree with just about everything except the “don’t upgrade the operating system” advice. I mean, there does come a point when a machine simply needs to be replaced, but in general things like bios, RAM, even motherboards and chipsets can be upgraded – and it’s much more cost effective (and environmentally friendly) to upgrade than to replace. That may be less true in today’s world of notebooks and tablets than in cheapskate-dinosaur-geeklandia where I reside – but my machine is nearly 10 years old and with numerous upgrades to both the hardware and operating system, she’s still running strong!

    • I had an old desktop that I upgraded and improved multiple times but not too many people are buying standard desktops any more…I bought an All-in-One.

      • EcoCatLady

        Ha! You mean, there aren’t many folks left in cheapskate-dinosaur-geeklandia? 🙂

        Seriously, I know the day will come when I’ll have to give up my beloved giant monitor and full sized keyboard, but I want to put it off as long as possible!

      • I’m guessing that fewer people are home-based and willing to have their PC in just one location.

  5. Fiona

    That’s a fantastic list. I need to bookmark it somewhere where I can find it later (ahhh…have to add ‘declutter bookmarks regularly’ to my list!) I know how to do almost all of the steps but I don’t systematically do them at the moment, so I’ll definitely come back to this as a checklist. Merci beaucoup!

  6. NicolaB

    Hmm…my plan for replacing my laptop when it dies (which hopefully will not be for many years, as it is less than 2 years old) is to buy a MacBook, as my boyfriend’s bashed up and abused MacBook is still running fast, and outlived my well cared for PC!

    But in the meantime, I will run through the above checklist next time I turn the laptop on (I do most of my internetting on my phone). I think I am pretty good at doing most of the list though- some IT knowledge and good habits have seeped in from my computer geek friends 🙂

    One of my jobs on my ‘eventual to do list’ is a good ol’ digital declutter- I have got more ruthless when it comes to deleting rubbish digital photos as I transfer them to the computer, but I know there are some folders with terrible blurry photos! They need to go…

  7. Nice list.
    I really need to start on a computer maintainance project myself … right after I get done cleaning out the basement!

  8. Really, really great advice! I have just got a new laptop and I can tell you, there will be no streaming or clicking of pop ups or anything like that on this laptop, it is my new best friend too! I am so much more careful about how I care for my laptop now!

  9. Oh my poor computer! Love your list but my computer gets none of this. I am a poor IT owner! Luckily I have a work desktop on which I do most of my work and IT guys look after it. When my Apple dies, I will buy another one.

    My biggest, current dilemma is that my iPad is dying. Died for a fortnight while I was in NZ, googled an answer. That worked but truely, it is on the way out. So now, do I get another iPad or do I get an iPhone 6 plus and do away with the iPad and the phone? Decisions, decisions. I use my phone a lot for work. I have to be contactable at all hours. I use my iPad for emails and blogging. Again, the emails are work emails and I get a tonne of them. (I am the boss and even during the holidays I will get emails regarding leave, enrolments, and things seen as critical by the bureaucrats.)

    • Hi Lucinda, Does your work pay for your phone and will they provide an iPhone? I could not do without an iPad (or a tablet) any more, but I use my cell phone minimally. I also use it as an e-reader, which is possible but not optimal on a phone. And iPhones do have screens big enough for blog posting now. Depends if you would be reading web pages on it?

      • I have decided work will buy me a device. (It took me five tries to reply to this message as the iPad kept switching off, let alone trying to reply to a work email.) I thought an iPhone 6 Plus would work for blogging and emailing! What do you think?

  10. Cai

    Make sure to run “clean disk” and “defragmentation” at least once per month, or no less than once per week if your HDD drive is mostly full. (If SDD, don’t. They can only be written onto so many times.) I also recommend adding RAM (Best Buy or Staples can do it for a fee if you’re not geeky enough) and upgrading tour older hard drive from HDD to SDD if necessary.

    And if you have Windows 7 or later, upgrade to 10 when released!

  11. Agh I read this in San Fran airport, but proof in my uselessness, replying now back in Australia on a laptop, mainly cause it has auto saved my login to comment. So yes, I could DEFINITELY get better at computers and managing all my identities. Which isn’t what you were on about, but I almost blogged when I was away, cept I couldn’t get my site to log in. How seriously whack is that?

    I thought it was ‘just’ me, and that BF was more highly evolved, he is generally with Tech, alas, I logged him out of an account recently and he bemoaned he didn’t know the password, and therefore never logged out. So it seems we all have this drama – how do you manage it?

    • Rom and I had that discussion; he said a lot of staff where he works never log out of their accounts so they don’t know their user names and passwords! I may do another post some time on those kinds of things.

  12. Great list! I read it the other day when I was eating breakfast then found I had some time in the afternoon so went down the list and did everything you suggested. I think my computer is much happier now!

  13. I was horrified to discover that I had over 800 items in my downloads file! Thanks for reminding me to clear this!

  14. Good advice. Though I would also add that if you have a program that cleans your registry, that’s often a good one too. Usually those will often fix registry issues (rather than create new ones.) Usually dead links or programs that are gone, etc but was not properly uninstalled, etc. I also suggest backing up all data every 3-4 months.

    • True about the registry cleaner. I was afraid to recommend one because some of them come with junky added programs. I have my back-ups on automatic – otherwise I would probably save once a week – too afraid of losing all my photos (which did happen to me once).

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