Why Does My PC Need Periodic "Cleaning"?

Unless your home is ready to be featured on the "Home Parade," you probably have those ubiquitous areas that seem to act as clutter magnets. The mail piles up on an end table, the laundry piles up by the washer, and the fridge gets clogged with leftover take-out and mystery Tupperware.  What most people don't know, is that, just like their home, their computer has its own nooks and crannies that attract cyber-clutter. 

Just as every housewife eventually hits the point where the clutter reaches reaction mass, computers can do so as well.  The point as far as your computer is concerned, is to spruce it up before the condition becomes chronic.  Not only does periodic spring cleaning make your computer feel and act better, it eliminates danger as well.  Hackers and identity thieves can learn a great deal simply by going through your computers 'clutter' spots and utilizing that information.  Spyware programs can sell your information to marketing and advertising firms, and unwanted programs can function unobtrusively in the background to control your interaction with the computer. 

Even though it doesn't have laundry rooms or end table, your computer does have its special places where it stores information that is not necessary to it's everyday function, and can begin to inhibit it. 

Windows Operating System
As you change various settings for various tasks inside windows, each of those is saved by the Windows Operating System.  Overtime, it gets clogged with all the unnecessary information.  In addition, software can become corrupted and unreliable.  Reinstalling your computer's operating system once a year (slightly more or less depending on usage) is a good idea.  Think of it as a yearly garage sale-but this time you're dumping the junk nobody wants.

Cookies
No, this is not referring to Grandma's special recipe.  'Cookies' is just one of those computer-geek terms destined to confuse all us non-tech savvy people.  It refers to small files that are written by websites for the express purpose of being stored on your computer.  Every time you visit a website, it will check to see if you have its "cookie" on your personal computer.  If you do, it recalls that information, and when you revisit the website, or logon again, they can welcome you by name.  A cookie will also record links that you clicked on, interests expressed, purchase histories and shopping preferences. How does Amazon or Ebay or Netflix know who you are every time you visit? They serve you cookies.  However, your computer does not need all that extra weight!  Clean them out!

Internet History
That handy dandy thing called the internet has a trick of storing every single website you visit in the 'internet history.' The internet history serves to enable you to move backwards in case you've forgotten a site URL.  It also helps the browser find and locate site you visit frequently much faster.  And when you start typing the URL and the computer finishes it for you-it's filling in the blanks from your internet history. Because of its varied functions, the internet history is stored multiple places on your computer.  If you surf a lot, your internet history could be a massive textbook!

Cache
In addition to storing the URLs of  websites you visit online in the internet history.  Your computer also has a 'cache.'  Just like your home's junk mail cache, it stores a multitude of unnecessary items.  In fact, it stores every animation, video, image and link from every webpage!  If someone goes snooping through your cache, they can literally see everything that you saw while online.

Recent Documents
Every document that you open in Word is also kept as a copy by windows in a file called Recent Documents.  What this means is that anyone who wants to can hop on your computer and peruse the documents you've been editing most recently, simply by opening up the recent documents file.  If you already have it saved on your hard drive, that means its there on your computer twice.  Trying to store every document twice could be like trying to keep all 6 pizza boxes from the party on your fridge shelf!  Can we say ziplocks folks!

Index.dat file
Last but not least, our final clutter corner serves as a universal catch-all, your computer's equivalent of the front hall closet. Your index.dat file saves a record of all your cookies, history, temporary files and cache!  Even if you separately delete and clean out all of the above, you have to hit the cache file too to get rid of the duplicate copies. However, due to the way Windows is set-up, this file cannot be manually deleted.  (Re-installing the operating system takes care of it though).

So for a re-cap, even if your house is immaculate and clutter-free, it's fairly certain your computer is not! And while a cluttered home might cause the occasional stubbed toe and closet avalanche, a cluttered computer can have significant repercussions on your personal privacy and financial security.  So spring-clean today!