CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Don't space out your hard drive

September 15,1997

Cathi Schuler

Consider the following scenario: It's 11:00 PM and you're printing the final draft of tomorrow's big marketing proposal when your computer displays this message: "Unable to print - Insufficient disk space". While your first reaction might be "What does printing have to do with disk space?" a deeper question emerges. "What's hogging all the hard disk space on my computer"?

In response to the first question, available hard disk space has everything to do with printing and many other processes, since Windows reserves a piece of your hard disk to swap tasks, such as printing, in and out of memory. If you are running dangerously low on available storage space, your system performance will drop to a snail's pace and one day the overburdened PC will simply refuse to boot.

Don't confuse RAM or memory with hard disk space. RAM is your electronic desktop where all computing tasks take place. It's completely empty when your system is shut off, whereas the hard disk safely stores program and data files regardless of whether the system is powered up or not. It's very easy, however, to unwittingly accumulate extra files that can clutter the hard disk and eventually bog down system performance.

The first step is analyze your hard disk and determine its total disk capacity, used space and free space. In Windows 95, open My Computer and click your RIGHT mouse button on the C: drive icon. Click the Properties option you'll get you a colorful pie chart depicting your used disk space and free disk space. If there's only a tiny slice of pink pie left, you've got trouble brewing on the horizon.

To see which programs are taking the lion's share of disk space, open the Windows 95 Explorer and click your RIGHT mouse on each of the folder icons on the left side of the screen. Click the Properties option and you'll see how many files are in each folder and the total bytes each folder is consuming on your hard disk.

Don't be surprised if you see your Internet and E-Mail programs taking up large chunks of hard disk real estate. You're web browser stores a portion of every page you visit in a folder called "Cache", thereby allowing web pages to load faster the next time you revisit them. To free up an overburdened hard disk, you can "purge" the cache from within your browser software and also set limits as to how much space the cache consumes.

Web pages also transfer "cookies" to your hard disk to store information about you and your interests so that you are readily recognized the next time you visit a particular website. If you find a cookie folder on your hard disk, you can safely delete its contents while maintaining some anonymity on the Web as well.

Another source of wasted disk space might be your e-mail folder. The first time I checked my mail folder, I was shocked to see that it was occupying 80MB of hard disk space! I didn't have 80MB of text-based e-mail! I did, however, neglect to "compact" the e-mail folders after I'd deleted old posts. It's not enough to simply delete files from within your mail software because phantom files continue to lurk around your hard disk.

The process of compacting folders sweeps clean all these phantom files and reclaims the hard disk space that was previously occupied by ghosts. You can usually find the Compact command under the File menu in most e-mail programs. Be sure you compact your America Online files as well by choosing Personal Filing Cabinet from the File menu and select Compact PFC as an option.

Did you know that when you open a file attachment from an e-mail post, the file is usually saved to a Temp directory, either under the Windows folder or perhaps under your browser folder? These files can accumulate unnoticed until you've got a good chunk of byte space occupied by files you'll never use again, so check these folders and clean them regularly. You can always use the Save As command to save one of these attachments to a working data directory when you first read them.

It's also a good idea to periodically check the Add/Remove Programs option from the Windows 95 Control Panel. This dialog box lists all the 95 programs on your PC and provides the option of safely uninstalling unwanted applications. This is an efficient way of dumping pre-installed software that you're never going to use. Keep a special eye out for unwanted children's programs and games since these are notorious byte hogs.

Keeping a diligent eye out for old and extraneous files will help keep your hard drive at peak performance. Next article: Tools for maintaining a clean hard disk.


Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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