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How to Keep Your Computer Humming
Suzanne Sell, SOHO Buyer's Guide

If you run a small business, your computer probably ranks right up there in your priorities with air, water, and food. This mysterious, putty-colored machine holds information critical to your business—proposals, presentations, accounting data, inventory data, sales contacts, and much more. And your computer is likely to be a multi-function machine, used for faxing, taking voice messages, e-mail, Internet commerce, desktop publishing, and other tasks.

If you###ve been using a PC for some time and haven###t done routine maintenance, you may notice two things. First, your hard drive will begin to look pretty full, and you may wonder if you need to move up to a larger one. Second, you###ll begin to see a lot of error messages, screen "freezes," and sudden crashes (unrelated to the software conflicts that sometimes appear when you install a new program).

Most computers don###t come with detailed instructions telling you how to maintain the health of the system. But there are routine maintenance tasks you should perform to keep the system running smoothly—and they may alleviate both of the problems mentioned in the paragraph above.

Ease Crowding on Your Hard Drive

When your hard drive seems full and your computer is operating sluggishly, look for useless files that can be deleted. This doesn###t refer to your old documents (although moving them to a diskette, tape, or Zip disk isn###t a bad idea!). Your PC creates temporary files by the score—files you may never have seen that are taking up valuable space on your hard drive. Look on your hard drive for files with a "chk" extension (e.g., "File0001.chk"). These may be deleted. Also, in your Windows directory there is a folder labeled "Temp." This may contain many files with a "tmp" extension (e.g., "ms0478.tmp" or "df21f2.tmp") which can be deleted if they###re not currently in use by an open application.

When you surf the Net your computer creates temporary cache files, too. Because these are often graphics-intensive, they may be taking up an especially large amount of space on your hard drive. Your Windows directory contains a folder called "Temporary Internet Files;" look here to see if it###s cluttered with unnecessary "gif" and "jpg" files. Your browser folder may also have subfolders labeled "Cache" that may be cleaned out.

If you have added or removed a lot of software, you may have "orphan" files (files that remain after a program has been deleted) or duplicate files on your system. You may able to free up a lot of space by removing these. It###s easy to do with software such as Quarterdeck###s CleanSweep—at around thirty dollars, this is a lot cheaper than buying a new hard drive! CleanSweep advises you as to the safety of deleting specific files, and it automatically backs up the files you delete, giving you the security of knowing that if you accidentally delete a needed file, you can retrieve it with no damage to your system.

Fine-tune Your System

The Windows 95 operating system includes two invaluable tools for keeping your system running smoothly: ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter. (These are in the Windows directory—or go to the Start menu and choose Programs/Accessories/System Tools). ScanDisk searches your hard drive for errors and corrects them. Disk Defragmenter organizes the data on your hard drive so the computer can locate files faster and more efficiently. If you run both of these programs regularly (weekly or monthly) your computer will run more reliably for you.

If you###re the type of person who never remembers to change the oil in the car, you might want to set up your computer to perform that maintenance tasks automatically. Microsoft Plus! (around forty-five dollars in most computer stores) will allow you to designate a time (say, Thursdays at 2:00a.m.) when the computer can run these self-tests without cutting into your work time. As an added bonus, Microsoft Plus! contains a number of great-looking screensavers and templates for customizing the look of your desktop.

Back It Up!

Even if you###re obsessive about keeping your PC tuned up, you can fall victim to a major crash. The good news is that even if you suffer a crash, there###s a good chance that a data recovery specialist can locate most of your files. The bad news is, this process can be expensive.

If you back up your system regularly, you###ll have little to worry about. But most of us don###t. A 1996 study found that 68 percent of home office workers say data loss would be professionally disastrous—but more than half say they back up their data only "when they get around to it, if at all!

Backing up your documents on floppy disks is a good start, but if you can###t afford to have your computer out of commission for a few days, you should back up your entire hard drive. (This will protect you from losing system configuration settings, hardware settings, customized software preferences, Internet bookmarks, and much more.) This is easy to do with a tape drive or Zip drive at a cost of less than two hundred dollars (slightly higher if you have a very large hard drive and need to buy a lot of Zip disks).

Do regular backups (once a week or, if you do a lot of work on your computer, once a day) and you###ll have true peace of mind.

 

Suzanne Sell is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Colorado SOHO Buyer###s Guide. For a list of the publication###s distribution locations, the names of local home-based business groups, or other information, call 303.980.4707 or visit: http://www.cosoho.com on the World Wide Web.