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Tech talk: Give your computer a tuneup
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Like your car, your computer has things that should and shouldn’t be done to it. You don’t drive on bald tires or with cracked hoses. You do rotate your tires and check your fluids. Your PC is no different.

Like your car, your computer needs a tuneup once or twice a year to run optimally.

You’d think by now that Microsoft would have built into its operating system a series of consumer-based utilities to keep it running better. Outside of its defragmenter tool, it has not.

So to begin with, let’s talk about junk. Clean the clutter from your desktop and uninstall programs you no longer use. Don’t just delete the icon, as that leaves the program intact. You’re simply erasing the shortcut to it by putting the icon in the recycle bin. Use the uninstaller app found in the control panel instead.

Consolidate the loose files on your desktop. Right-click on your desktop and choose “New,” then “Folder.” Type in a name like Docs or Photos and drag the files to their respective new homes.

Run an updated virus and malware scan on a regular basis. Don’t rely on that one free app you downloaded to do it all for you. Chances are it will not.

Don’t assume every link that says “Free Download” will actually give you a free program. Most will not. All downloads are free. Once you install the app, you find in many cases that it will advise you of system errors, but then ask that you purchase the program in order to fix them.

Occasionally you’ll find a program that is free for a while. This is shareware or trialware. Others may have limited functionality. Some have nothing to offer, yet leave infections on your computer; some opening a door to your private information.

So download only from reputable websites and click on links that you know you can trust. All it takes is one click and you can ruin your computer or even become locked out of it. You may be asked to pay a fee to have functionality released back to you. This infection is known as ransomware.

If you find a program you want to download and install, be ever so cautious every step of the way. Often what pays for these so-called free programs are the other apps the developer allows to piggyback on their installer. If you check “yes” and “OK” to every box and button during installation, you may have inadvertently installed a toolbar, a calendar or trialware along with your free program.

If you see a “decline” or “skip” button during installation, by all means click on it. Your app will still install.

Update your system drivers regularly to make your computer run more safely. The drivers are written by the manufacturers of the hardware in your computer. Often you can find them on the support page of Dell, HP, Lenovo or from whoever made your computer. An alternative is to find a free driver update app, but as forewarned, be careful.

Don’t use easy passwords. Make them eight to 10 characters in length and toss in a symbol and a numeral to be safest. Your dog, address, Social Security number and birthdates should not even be considered. Neither should use of the same password for more than one site. Mix it up.

Spell things backward. Capitalize the last letter. Throw in a # or & before a number. Create a personal acronym. ILNDT#4918 translates to: I Live Next Door To #4918. Be creative. Be careful.

Clean the dust from your computer’s fans. Don’t do it inside as there may be more dust than the eye can see. If you choose to use canned compressed air, first be sure your system is powered down and unplugged. Next, if you tilt the can, liquid propellant may escape. So try to keep the can upright. The reason I suggest unplugging the machine is to avoid shorting out anything.

Clean your display, whether a stand-alone monitor, a laptop or tablet by wetting the cloth, not the display itself. By spraying the cloth, you prevent puddling of the liquid and again possible electrical shorts.

Don’t simply remove your USB drive when you’re done with it. You may corrupt your data. Unless you are absolutely positive that the windows previously opened by that drive are closed, use the right-click/eject function built into Windows to remove the device. Then unplug it.

I can’t stress this one enough: Back up your data. Make copies of your photos, documents, spreadsheets — whatever you don’t want to lose. Copy them to another source or device. Whether you choose the cloud or an external USB drive, make copies of your stuff.

Better yet, clone your hard drive. When and if disaster strikes, you will have a copy of all that matters.

Hard drives generally last no more than five years. They are inexpensive and easy to replace — but your data isn’t.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville.