The man was furious. • He wanted his computer to run faster, so he had taken it in for a tuneup. As they usually do, the technicians first cleared the files from the computer's recycling bin, permanently erasing them from the computer. • The man returned livid. He had stored all of his important files in the recycling bin, he said. What hacker would think to look there?
It was a poor choice on his customer's part, said Thor Schrock, CEO of Schrock Innovations, a local computer repair company, but at least he had the foresight to bring in the machine.
The gods of obscure holidays have christened today, the second Monday in February, National Clean Out Your Computer Day. It serves as a reminder to all to keep digitals workspaces clean and organized.
"It's best to look at a computer as a metaphor for a desk or an office. If you don't put things away or throw them away, eventually it's going to pile up and get out of control," said Kaj Jorgensen, co-founder of Zealous Melon, a local technology consulting company that specializes in Apple products.
To get you started, we've compiled a list of best practices from experts, including Eric Haffey, client services coordinator for information technology services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Actually clean the computer
It may seem purely cosmetic, but cleaning the dust and food particles off of your machine's exterior can actually enhance its performance, Schrock said. Plus, it's just good hygiene.
First, the easy stuff. Wiping down your desktop — the real one — can also prevent impurities from clogging the machine. Tilt the keyboard upside down to release any loose crumbs between the keys, then run over each key with a damp cotton swab. Use a soft cloth and cleaning spray on the monitor. Swab your mouse and mouse pad with rubbing alcohol to remove any dead skin accumulation.
Keeping the internal workings clean is a bit trickier. When dirt and dust clog exhaust fans and air filters, it can cause the machine to overheat, slowing it down and opening it up to the risk of a crash. Take your machine to a specialist before cracking it open yourself.
Eliminate digital clutter
Do you spend valuable seconds searching your desktop for the icon of the program you want? It might be time to declutter.
Organizing your desktop icons in folders not only makes them easier to find, it also eliminates the need for your computer to refresh those icons when you restart it, and that speeds up the process.
On a Mac, the computer generates a preview of every document on the desktop, which can reduce performance.
"Limit the number of files on your desktop," said Brian Blakemore, co-founder of Zealous Melon. "The more files on the desktop, the slower it's going to run."
When dragging files to the trash or recycling bin, always remember to empty the bin before closing.
Restarting your computer is like putting it down for a quick nap, Jorgensen said. It shuts off all of the applications running in the background — opened and then forgotten about. It closes the Web browser full of tabs you've had open for days.
Jorgensen recommends restarting your computer once a week.
Clear temporary files
When you surf the Web, your browser saves each page you visit as a temporary file to revisit the next time you load the page. On some PCs, those files are saved on the computer's drive.
Over time, these files can build up in your browser's cache. Deleting them can free up some space. Each browser works differently, but in most cases, the files can be deleted by clearing your browsing history.
On Macs, email attachments and other temporary files are automatically saved to the downloads folder in the toolbar. Jorgensen recommends regularly clearing out this folder as well.
Defragment your hard drive
Your computer stores information on its hard drive wherever it can find space. Over time, those bits of information are strewn all over the place, and your computer has to work harder to find the information it needs.
Defragmenting your hard drive reorganizes all of the information, dramatically increasing speed.
To defragment your hard drive on a PC, follow these instructions: Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter.
Some hard drives, known as solid state drives, encode on flash memory and shouldn't be defragmented. Doing so will not improve performance and can shorten the drive's life span. Solid state drives tend to be more expensive, Schrock said.
Check with the manufacturer if you're not sure about defragmenting your drive.
Remove old programs
Schrock has a general rule of thumb: If you haven't used a program in a year, get rid of it.
Uninstalling some software entails more than just dragging it to the recycling bin. Some programs will come with an uninstallation kit. Others can be removed on PCs via the control panel.
On recent Macs, applications obtained from the App Store are automatically saved in Apple's iCloud and can be deleted by moving them to the trash. If you decide you want them back, the can be reinstalled easily.
Run an anti-virus program
An anti-virus program can detect and eliminate hidden malware and viruses unknowingly accumulated from clicking pop-ups and browsing less-than-reputable websites. These programs identify and target files that show signs of virus behavior.
Some PCs come with anti-virus software already installed, but there are many other option available.
Macs are not usually at risk of infection, Jorgensen said. To prevent an infection, make sure to update your application when new versions become available.