Time to Organize All Your Computer Stuff
The coming of spring always energizes me. It makes me want to get the cobwebs out and get moving. Perhaps it does the same for you.
This year, however, after you clean up the garage and the backyard, I hope that you will think about getting your computer cleaned up, as well. I am not talking about cleaning your hard drive. That is an admirable chore, but this year I would like to see you get your computer gear organized.
No offense to anyone, but when I visit people in their homes or offices, I often find they simply don't have a handle on their computer papers, passwords, disks or equipment. They often spend valuable time searching through a stack of papers or a box of jumbled cables looking for the item that I need to help them fix their computer.
Sometimes it is a disk that came with the printer. Sometimes it is a password that was scribbled on a scrap of paper. Sometimes it is the small transmitter that came with the wireless mouse.
All of these things are important and really should be easy to find - but often, it just isn't so. Most people, it seems, simply do not keep their computer gear organized.
So now is a good time to get going. A friend of mine, Liz Szalankiewicz, is an organizational expert. She has a saying that I just love: "Life is too complicated not to be organized." That hits the nail on the head!
We all lead such complex lives that unless we get organized, we are adding complexity, which in turn sucks our precious time and adds frustration to our lives.
So let's get down to it. Go through your den or your kitchen - or wherever you keep your computer stuff - and pull out every paper, disk, software box, receipt, cable, memory stick and piece of computer-related equipment that you have. If you have things spread out around the house, this chore may be a little more difficult, but it is still doable.
Once you have gathered everything, you can start to pare it down a bit. Go through all the equipment you have. Any equipment that you are no longer using and do not plan to use in the future goes into one pile. If the equipment is not too old and is still in working condition, it can be handed down to others or donated to a local organization.
Anything that does not work or is too old to be useful should be recycled. Best Buy currently has a recycling program that will take just about any old equipment. Call the store for details.
Next, attack the papers and disks. Throw away any miscellaneous offers and minor receipts. Put all the major receipts in a pile. Organize any papers that have passwords scribbled on them. You should create a succinct list of all the passwords you use, especially those from your router and e-mail.
Gather all the disks together and discard the ones you no longer need. Be sure to save any disks that came with your computer, printer, scanner or other equipment. If you have made backups on disks or USB drives, be sure to keep them as well. Also, save any program disks that you have for programs that are currently installed on your computer or that you may use in the future.
This is also a good time to make some recovery disks for your computer. In bygone days, these disks used to be delivered with the computer. They are used to restore your computer to its factory condition if it gets messed up.
Most manufacturers today don't give you the disks anymore. Instead, they create a special partition on the hard drive where data is stored that is needed to reconstruct the computer's operating system and initial software that came with it. You are expected to create the disks.
You can use the hidden partition on the hard disk if Windows just gets a little messed up, but if the entire hard drive crashes, you are left in a lurch, unless you have transferred this data to a set of recovery disks. So, creating the recovery disks is a good idea.
There may be instructions for how to do this in the documentation that came with the computer (which you have now saved) or on the manufacturers' website. If you are using Vista or Windows 7, just click on Start and type in the word "recovery," and you should find instructions for creating these disks.
If you don't know what programs you have installed on your computer, now is a good time to find out. There is a terrific free program called Belarc Advisor, available at www.belarc.com/free_download.html. Once the program is downloaded and installed, it will analyze your computer and list everything that is installed on it. It will also show you if your Windows updates and virus protection are up to date.
Even more importantly for our current task, the Belarc profile will list every program that is installed on your computer and give you version numbers and software license numbers. This is unbelievably important information that you will need if your hard drive ever crashes. So be sure to print it out and put it in a safe place.
Speaking of a safe place, that is where you need to keep everything you have gathered that you want to keep. Depending on the amount of stuff you have, this might be a file cabinet, a file box or even an old shoe box. Where you keep it is not as important as keeping it all together and being able to find it when you need it.
Remember Liz's saying, "Life is too complicated not to be organized."
Send your computer-related questions for publication in this column to Sandy Berger at Computer Living Corp., P.O. Box 5895, Pinehurst N.C. 28374; or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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