Hi Lorraine, I can quite understand your concern, and you're obviously very wise and thoughtful. As you clearly know something about the issues, I'm going to suggest a some free programs that can help clear up the clutter.
I understand you've four main areas you're concerned about so let's split the task into three parts.
Finding your personal files
Windows and temporary files
Then we must consider
Security - has the data really gone when it's been deleted?
Finding your personal files.
If you're not sure where you've put sensitive files you don't want to leave, you can search on filename and file content using Explorer's own search. Alternatives would include a desktop search such as Google's, however, that itself creates an index which takes time to build and then needs to be deleted. So perhaps Agent Ransack is the answer if you need more flexibility in searching, available as freeware (http://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack/).
Windows and Temporary files.
What you need is something to do the hard work for you and find all those bits and pieces floating around.
Space Odyssey - not to be confused with the film! (http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/downloads/index.cfm?categoryID=1502&itemID=20440) does just that. IT will scan what you choose, and you can choose what it looks for and select what it should delete.
If you have Norton Utilities on your PC, it may be protecting your recycle bin, so it's best to right click on the recycle bin and 'Empty protected files' and 'Empty recycle bin'. Leave this to the end after you've deleted everything else (I'll remind you).
If you're running Windows XP, it would be wise to turn off System Restore and then reenable it. Assuming you have enough rights to do this, click Start, point to Settings, click Control Panel, click Performance and Maintenance and then click System. In the System Properties dialog box, click the System Restore tab. Select 'Turn off system restore on all drives', apply. Then enable again.
Now let's shift that Internet junk - but keep the cookies we want.
The first is Clearprog (http://www.clearprog.de). Clearprog is useful as it addresses a range of browsers , not just IE. I don't know which browser or browsers you use; this handles Cookies, Cache, History, Types URLs, Autocomplete and, of course, index.dat for IE, Mozilla, Netscape and Opera . For these last three, it offers selective cookie deletion, so you can leave just the ones you want and delete the rest.
Clearprog also empties the recycle bin, Windows Temp folder, Open-save file list,search lists and more. It even allows you to specify 4 folders of your own.
Internet Window Washer (http://www.freedownloadscenter.com/Reviews/r3085.html) does the above and offers to deal with over 100 applications.
MRUs(Most recently used filelists)
Clearprog also deals with some MRU lists (recently used documents such as Office recent file lists (MRUs), Windows media player, Real player and several more programs including Google's toolbar. But for this I recommend MRU blaster (http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/mrublaster.html). This has to be the definitive MRU blaster as it finds MRU lists you never knew existed - it knows about over 30,000. One caveat: the database has not been updated for some time, however.
Once you've run those, you might also consider CCleaner (http://www.filehippo.com/download_ccleaner/) which actually lists the details of all the items to be cleaned, an addresses more areas you may not have thought of. It is also updated. Please check the license details as it's free for personal use, not business use.
You'll want to selectively delete some favourites in IE. Internet explorer doesn't offer the best favourites management. One trick is to right click on a favourite or favourite folder and select 'Explore'. That offers more flexibility in looking at your favourites in a very familiar way.
Firefox, if you use it, offers better management of it bookmarks.
Now we've deleted everything, this is the time to clear the recycle bin and Norton protected files (if any) - remember, I promised to remind you?
So now you've cleared away a lot of bits and pieces- but they're really still there on your hard drive. To make sure everything is really gone- any reference to credit card numbers, financial data and so on which can readily be retrieved by someone determined enough, we need one more step, and that's to securely wipe the newly created free space.
Eraser lets you do just that and more (it has a GNU license) http://www.heidi.ie/eraser/download.php
I think that covers everything, but I'm sure you'll come across more!
Submitted by: David L. of Shaanxi Province, China
Your topic is one of the most argumentative topics among most. Why? There is the age long argument on what to delete, what not, what should or shouldn't I use, what will hurt my system if deleted, what won't, what will slow it down\clutter it, if kept or not and probably thousands of methods and opinions. I can only hope you will form your own after this and decide what's best for you.
That said, I will respond to you in what manner I feel is best for me or new user as almost anyone may differ in preferences here. (Also, I will assume you have XP in some form) (and knowing you can't do a fresh install, we move on)...
Let's first touch on what temporary files and cookies are. Here are some links to read...
First of all, there are many different levels of cleaning your PC. Do you want to simply delete cookies, temporary files, and history? Here are some tools that Windows has to get you started. That big blue E on your desktop that says internet explorer underneath? Right click it and choose PROPERTIES. You will see the TEMPORARY INTERNET FILES in blue. You can choose the delete cookies, files or even go to settings to choose the amount of space used for temporary files. There is also an option to view the files, view objects and move folder but for your purpose, we'll leave these alone for now. There is also the HISTORY listing right underneath and you may clear your history and choose how many days to keep it. This may be useful if you want the history deleted all the time, but remember, once gone, it's gone.
Also, if you go to START\ALL PROGRAMS\ACCESSORIES\SYSTEM TOOLS\DISK CLEANUP , you can do a bit of a deeper cleaning as it will clear other temporary items etc...as well. You have the option to choose what you may or may not want cleaned. If you highlight the object it will give you a brief explanation as to what it is\does and if you should delete it or not. There is also the MORE OPTIONS tab. Here you will find in blue , WINDOWS COMPONENTS, which is more for removing unwanted programs use by the Windows operating system and such (but I don't recommend using this unless you absolutely know what you are doing and this simple little option can cause many applications not to work). There is also the INSTALLED PROGRAMS tab which is pretty much self explanatory, but allows you to remove installed programs you don't use. Lastly there is SYSTEM RESTORE, which will clean up old restore points but once again , if you clean these up and need to restore, you won't be able to so I don't typically suggest using it unless you are experienced in backing up on your own, which I am but I still leave these restore points as they do come in useful. However, if you must pass the PC on, and no valuable info must be passed on, you may want to delete them so someone may not do a restore and get your info back. I am not recommending the advanced options you understand, but if you were to see them and use them without an understanding of them, you may cause yourself problems in the future. Eventually you may get a better understanding and be able to use them efficiently but for now, we'll stick to basics.
Your bookmarks are another matter and using the tools above and many others, you will not have to worry about deleting them. These are typically set in place and must be manually deleted by going into favorites, organize favorites, where you can delete these. While some programs may allow you to do so, many typical cleaning programs do not.
Although the next two items are not cleaning tools, it is good to run them, depending on the pc use, weekly etc... The first I mention is mainly because the next often requires you to do this, Check Disk. You can run check disk to check your drive for errors and repair them. If you go to the MY COMPUTER icon on the desktop, double click to open it, then right click C:\ or whatever main drive is, and choose PROPERTIES\TOOLS. You can then click the Check Now button which will bring up a box of options. I typically check both and click START. On your next boot, this will kick into action and attempt the scan \fix\recovery, and when done, will load into Windows.
This isn't something you may have to do all too often but Defragmenting <<which is next >>often asks you to run this, so it's more of a guide then a have to although I run mine weekly.
Defragmenting. This is the method of not really cleaning up, but organizing all the holes left from clean up. On your hard drive you have files, etc...let's pretend the 0s are files..
Now when you uninstall, clean up, delete files you get left with this...
0000 000000 00000000000000 000 000000 0000000
When you install other programs, Windows may place them in these open spots but not next to each other in order which may slow down your access time. So to defrag we do this...go to START\ALL PROGRAMS\ACCESSORIES\SYSTEM TOOLS\DISK DEFRAGMENTER. once you run this, your files will be back to looking like this...
With this said, I truly feel the Windows tools are currently the safest to use in your case as you are simply looking to clean up junk.
Note: Below I state what I use and trust and there are far too many clean up utilities to list but may do basically the same as what I use...
This is "my way" of keeping my computer clean so "opinions" may vary but I use Ccleaner which you can find here...
This program does a wonderful and quick clean up I want on a daily or more than once in a daily basis. It will clean cookies, or let you choose as I clean all, but put Cnet in the Do Not Clean section so i don't have to keep signing in. It will clean the history, temp files etc...but remember, a bit more advanced may include getting rid of something you didn't want to and although Ccleaner is a fairly safe program, learn what you are cleaning before cleaning it.
Speaking of Ccleaner which has a <fix issues >cleaning option that I feel I should touch on since this gets into a bit deeper cleaning level. The Registry. If looking just to keep your PC tidy of cookies and temp files, I don't suggest getting into the registry or getting registry cleaners as they can confuse you even more and the registry is the heart of the Operating System which keeps a record and keys of everything installed, removed etc...but can get cluttered also. The problem is, one wrong move can mean a corrupt operating system. The reason I like to use Ccleaner is that it doesn't delete much needed registry files when using the issues\fix issues option. It does just enough to keep your pc running decently for every day use. Even as safe as I feel using Ccleaner is for <minor registry cleaning>, it is still advised to look at the tour and help site to see what you may or may not want to delete. Ccleaner does have an option to back up the registry quickly each time in case you need to restore it. So in fact, I feel Ccleaner is the 2nd safest choice to clean your PC. You may also use both Windows options and Ccleaner.
Lastly is the deep cleaning which the tools and topics may go on for centuries about what's best, what's not etc...The deeper cleaning is not only deleting items, but over-writing them many times as to make sure they are not recoverable, going into the registry, covering internet tracks and many others. This is far more in depth than I think you need to or want to go. As you said, you are not trying to cover up anything illegal so I would stay with the first two cleaning methods.
Perhaps other cleaning needed? While you may be talking Temp files, Cookies and things on that order, what if you want to be able to delete old downloads, get rid of programs, etc...? If you do have an installed program that is just collecting binary dust and you know you don't need it, or that it is vital to your system you can do this...
Go to START \ CONTROL PANNEL\ADD REMOVE PROGRAMS.. here you will find all the installed programs which you have the option to uninstall. Some may not be listed and have their own uninstall in the C:\ PROGRAM FILES folder. Some may show the uninstaller in the START\ALL PROGRAMS menu but it is preferred to do it through ADD REMOVE. Keeping track of where you download items to helps when wanting to remove the installer file if no longer needed. Whether it be a compressed\zip folder or have the .exe extension, a good method is to create a folder and select it when downloading so that the setups\downloads all remain in one place that you can find for later deletion or install. This is the same for pictures, notes to self, or whatever you put on your computer. Keep them in certain folders for easy access.
There is also a word called prevention. I say this because going to bad web sites, downloading over P2P, bit torrents, etc...is a good way to get junk on your PC which then needs extensive cleaning. Keeping spyware and viruses off the PC is a good idea as they are doorways for hordes of garbage, tracking cookies, malware, what have you. If you want your information private, keeping these baddies out is a good way to do it. Keep a good anti-virus software and perhaps Ad aware, or Spyware blaster (which helps prevent spyware from getting on pc). Both have free versions. Let's not forget about a firewall. Windows has a built in firewall or there are free versions such as Zone Alarm.
While you ask about cleaning the PC , I won't get into the anti-virus\firewall issues too much but I do feel this ties in, and needs to be said. It is clutter\junk and you don't want it.
Remember this, it is always good to back up your information regularly as anything can happen. Also note: there are hundreds of cleaning tools, far too many to list and you can alway look on download.com for user reviews on the said cleaners. That said, I hope this answers many of your questions.
Take care and happy cleaning.
Submitted by: Paul K.
As you didn't mention what windows operating system you have, I will presume you have windows XP. Now, to actually delete files that are not needed anymore can be a tricky task. The only files that are required to be deleted are:
? My Recent Documents
? My Documents
? Temporary internet files
? autocomplete files
Now, cookies can be the easiest thing to delete but can also be the most hardest. To successfully delete all your cookies open an IE>CLICK TOOLS>INTERNET OPTIONS>DELETE COOKIES. If it deleted them all, you should see only an index.dat file under C:\Documents and Settings\your username\Cookies. My recent documents list all the latest documents opened in the last fortnight. To delete these you go to C:\Documents and Settings\your username. Then go to tools up in the toolbar and click folder options. Click the VIEW tab and click on 'Show hidden files and folders'. Click ok. Now you will see more files that were hidden. Right click on recent documents and select delete. Now it is your turn, all you have to do now is go through and delete all of the documents that are not needed. Once you have done that, deleting the history is the easiest thing to do. Go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>History. Under History there will be so many time periods, delete them all. To delete temp files go to go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>Temp. Click on 1 file and press ctrl + A, then press Delete. To delete temporary internet files, go to My Computer>C drive>Documents and settings>click on your name>Local Settings>Temporary Internet Files. Click on 1 file and press ctrl + A, then press Delete. To delete autocomplete files which store all the search engine information go to start>right click Internet Explorer>Internet Properties>Content Tab>AutoComplete>click delete forms and then click delete passwords.
Submitted by: Joshua W.
I understand the Lorraine's concern about leaving non-business "stuff" on her work PC.
Any work related documents should be stored on a network share in the first place so they are backed up at night. I would include any bookmarks that are necessary for doing the job, in a folder labeled as such. Once all of the work related documents are safely stored on a logically labeled network share (or even on a CD that you could burn, or have burned) You can clean up your ID and what you would like to get rid of.
If she has administrative access to her PC, she can delete her profile directory which is located normally under c:\documents and settings\<user id> .
That is where all of her temporary stuff is stored. When the new user logs in, they will have a new profile created for them, and they can start working with their settings and can pull the needed files from the network.
Personally, for me, going into a new job or having a new employee coming into a department, I like to have a PC "reimaged". This way, there is no old "stuff" floating about, and any file corruption that may have taken place while the previous user had the PC is set straight. Most medium to large companies use some sort of package like Norton's Ghost or even Microsoft's automated system building tools so that it only takes an hour or so to do this. More importantly for the employee's piece of mind, they are getting a fresh PC, not somebody's old junk and possibly problems waiting for them.
Hope this helps!
Submitted by: Walter P.
For the most part, it sounds like you've already got a good handle on cleaning up your computer. You've already got a handle on cleaning up most of the stuff you're wanting to eliminate.
A lot of this will have to do with how organized you've been... If you've saved those confidential files in on sub folder, then it should be a matter of going there and eliminating them all at once or if you haven't been that organized with them, they will probably need to be gone thru, one at a time, to double check the contents to make sure they're files you truly have no need for - followed by a dump into the recycle bin.
The same goes for your notes - if they've all been kept in one location, then they can be easily disposed of.
Internet history can be easily eliminated - by accessing Internet Properties
- either by right-clicking on the IE icon on the desktop and selecting Internet Properties, or by opening IE and selecting Tools | Internet Properties or by going into the Control Panel and opening it there. There's an option to clear Internet History on the General tab.
Lastly, you might want to visit Disk Cleanup (Start | Programs | Accessories
| System Tools | Disk Cleanup or by right clicking on the hard drive,
selecting Properties and clicking the Disk Cleanup button there. ). Disk Cleanup allows you to delete most of the remaining items on your list. Make sure you select the items that aren't empty and let it do it's thing.
That should eliminate most everything you would want to clean up..
Submitted by: Pete Z.
I have found that the easiest way to scan for files containing "tracks" is to run multiple searches on all hard drives for several file types. Aside from TMP files, also run a scan for TEMP files, LOG, and BAK. Be careful though, and read each filename before you delete anything. The TEMP search will find all Template files also, and you probably don't want to delete these. The BAK files sometimes contains important backup information, so use caution here also.
The other item to look for is the entire directory structure under your personal user profile. When you are completely finished deleting everything you think you want to, go to Documents and Settings and delete everything in your user name folder. There is an entire directory tree in there, with personal settings and preferences, including all kinds of internet tracks and Outlook data. Once you do this, your personal settings will be gone, and you may not be able to use the computer again, depending on the administrative settings.
Of course, the best practice is to always remember that any work computer is not your personal desktop, and always consider everything you put into it to be shared information. Good luck on the next job.
Submitted by: Mitch C.
Deleting Internet files and folders is always a great idea. If the computer is cluttered, and you want it clean, also go into the Windows Explorer folder. Remove any extra folders that you may have created during your work at your current position. Cross check it by opening up the same folder in My Computer. Next, empty the recycle bin. There is nothing like a full recycle bin for a habitual pack rat like myself. If I delete something and it is left in the Recycle Bin, sooner or later it will be restored to its original location.
An additional step may be to run the add/remove programs wizard from the Control Panel. Remove anything that isn?t necessary, or that hasn?t been used. Another important step may be to clean out your email program (Outlook, Outlook Express) and a courtesy may be to set up the computer with a user name (no password) that reflects the new user?s identity. Do what you can to make the transition easy for the next one. At this point, the computer should be clean, without the need to go into formatting hard-drives.
Submitted by: Paul D.