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If you use a PC and find yourself hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del a lot as it locks up in the middle of your favorite game or while you're sending email or using programs, you might need to take a few precautions and do some preventative maintenance. Before you rush to put the system in the car and head down to the computer store though, there are a few steps you can take to make your computer happier and healthier, and you don't need to be Bill Gates to do them.
Most of the computers around today are running one version or another of Microsoft Windows. The newest version of Windows for consumer PC's is called Windows ME (Millennium Edition). This operating system was introduced last year as a replacement for Windows 98. The look and feel of Windows Millenium is almost identical to that of Windows 98 and its predecessor Windows 95. Windows 2000 is the replacement for Windows NT. Windows 2000 looks about the same, but is a completely different animal that was built for use on corporate, governmental, and other large, networked systems.
All of the above are referred to as an Operating System [OS]; they essentially handle all functions of your computer as well as providing a platform on which your applications can run. Windows has literally thousands and thousands of commands and built in instructions and is incredibly complex underneath. Fortunately, there are simple ways to tweak Windows that can make it run more smoothly.
Note: If you use a screensaver and your system locks up you can always just go to the screensaver dialog box and choose "None". Screensavers are not necessary anymore and are pretty much just a novelty item.
The simplest way to have a happy, healthy computer is to avoid installing millions of programs. Almost every program on the market nowadays goes through an installation process that makes changes to the Windows environment. A lot of them will also load some of their features into memory at startup. The reason for this is that it allows the program to open more quickly when you click on the icon. The down side is that this uses system resources and causes your computer to run more slowly.
One good way to tell if your system has the resources it needs is to right-click on "My Computer" then click on "Properties". This will tell you things such as the amount of memory available to Windows, what version of Windows you are running and what percentage of system resources are available. Normally you should have 85 to 90% of system resources available. If that number is below 80% when you start your computer you need to take some things out of startup or buy some more memory. A way to tell what is being loaded at startup is to take a look at the system tray (located on the lower right hand side of your screen by the clock). If there are a whole bunch of little icons down there you might want to think about getting rid of a few things. In both Windows 98 and Windows ME you can usually do this by simply clicking START>Programs>Startup then right clicking on the item you want to remove and clicking on Delete. This will keep the program from running immediately upon startup.
Another way to remove items from startup in Windows 98 and Windows ME is to click on START>Run and type in "msconfig". This will bring up a window called "System Configuration Utility" with several tabs. Click on the tab labeled Startup and you will see a list of items with checkboxes next to them. Some of these items are necessary to have checked because they are essential to certain functions in Windows so be careful what you remove. I recommend making a list of everything that is checked so you can recheck the items if you run into problems. A few of the items that can usually be removed without causing problems are "Run=", "Load=", "LoadPowerProfile", "TaskScheduler" and "OfficeStartup." To find out what the items listed refer to you can scroll to the right and see where they are located on your hard drive. If they refer to programs you no longer use or use infrequently you can usually uncheck them without problems.
Another great way to improve your computer's performance is to uninstall programs that you don't use. DO NOT JUST DELETE A PROGRAM! Deleting a program usually leaves a bunch of junk files hanging around on your hard drive and can cause your computer more problems. The proper way to uninstall a program is to go to START>Settings>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs. This will display a list of the software that is currently installed on your computer. Click once on the software you want to remove and click "Add/Remove." A window will usually pop up and guide you through the uninstall process. It's a good idea to restart your computer after each time you uninstall software; this refreshes Windows files and helps the system run correctly. In general Windows should be restarted each time you make changes to the system that involve adding or removing program files, drivers or other Windows components.
If your computer has totally quit working after you install hardware or software there are steps you can take to get back on the road. When restarting your computer you can repeatedly tap on the F8 key which will give you the option to go into Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a diagnostic mode of Windows that you can usually get into even if your computer won't go into normal mode. It only loads the bare minimum Windows components so if there are conflicts causing Windows to stop working you can still change your settings and uninstall programs.
If your system stops working right after you make a change to your settings or install new software you can revert Windows back to the way it was in many cases. In Windows 98 you can restart the computer in MS-DOS mode and when you get to a C:> prompt type in "scanreg /restore" this will bring up a screen that allows you to revert to a previous version of the Windows registry; several should be displayed by date. Use the arrow keys to select one of the entries and hit the return key in order to go "back in time." (This is another way of fixing your system in which caution should be used)
Windows ME has a System Restore feature that does an even better job of getting things back to normal. The way you access System Restore is to click START>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Restore. Then just follow the simple instructions and you're on your way to a working computer again. One of the best features of System Restore is that it leaves your documents and files alone and only makes changes to actual Windows components.
You'll find other useful tools in System Tools such as Disk Defragmenter (Defrag) and Disk Cleanup. Running these every so often is a good idea.
In closing my last piece of advice is to be careful what you install on your computer (Downloads are sometimes dangerous) and don't be afraid to click on HELP!