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The Rules of Homework
By Shepard B. Gorman

Our lives may have been made easier by computers but our dependence upon them has also grown.. The loss of computer data can be devastating for nearly everyone. We've all been told that backup is a necessity, but doing so is not the easiest topic to broach for many computer users. Fortunately, good backup and periodic maintenance solutions have become much easier. With that in mind, let's go through a few steps that will both speed up almost any system, and safeguard it against data loss. If you want some of these performance gains but feel a little skittish about following the steps below, there are shareware and commercial software programs that can do similar things with less user intervention.

Rule 1. Back It Up

While Dantz Retrospective 7 (TM) is probably the most powerful, easy to use program for the individual computer, it is simply not the only one. Acronis software has a program called True Image 8 that is both extremely simple to use and powerful enough for almost all end-users. It will backup data to a variety of optical disks and removable hard drives, as well to any other hard drive on the same network as the client computer. True Imageís wizards guide you through almost all operations, and it perform incremental and differential backups, which really speed up all operations after the first full backup is made. At street price of roughly $50, there seems to be little reason not to safeguard important contents on our machines with this tool.

Most experts agree that the best way to backup virtually any laptop or desktop computer is with a removable or external hard drive. Many of the current drives come with backup software packages on their installation disks. Maxtor (www.maxtor.com) in particular, has drives of varying capacity that can backup entire systems with the press of a single button. Small document and presentation files can easily be backed up to a USB key or "flash drive". Some of these drive now hold 4 gigabytes of data! It is much better to make a backup you donít need than to need a file you havenít copied.

Rule 2. Speed It Up.

Of all the things that can make computers slow to a snailís pace, having too many memory hogging programs running at once is the number 1 villain. Fortunately, this is a fairly simple problem to remedy. In the later versions of the Microsoft operating systems, a small utility called msconfig has been included. Running that program allows the average user to speed up their computer by 10% or more in most cases. On all Microsoft operating systems, and especially on Windows XP, no other single activity, including defragmenting hard drives, cleaning the Registry of unused entries or adding more memory will increase execution speeds more.

While "looking under the hood" is a good idea, rest assured that if you want some of these same performance gains but feel a little skittish about following the outline below, there are shareware and commercial software programs that can do similar things with less user intervention. One such program is StartUp Mechanic, a trial version of which can be found at www.download.com.

msconfig alters the way your computer. Therefore, before we start, safeguarding the master file that runs Windows XP, the Registry, is in order. In fact, itís a good idea to back up the Registry before making any big changes.

Lets do that first..

1. From the Start menu, press Run, the type in Regedit

2. Click on the File column and press Export.

3. Type in a file name for the backup and save it. You might want to save it to a floppy ( remember them?), a USB flash drive or durn it to a CD. CD is the safest medium because it canít be changed after it is created. Just remember to keep it in a separate location. ( Our preferred storage places range from warm beaches in winter and Europe during the summer.,

4. Save the Registry Export ( backup) file using a cryptic name like regbu905 for a September 2005 backup so you can later identify it quickly.

5. Exit the program immediately after the backup is made. DO NOT edit your registry without help unless you are feeling both expert and brave.

Now let's take a look at how msconfig can help us by limiting the number of unnecessary programs that are running. Remember to do each procedure a step at a time. You may also have to run this program several times until you see a really big difference. Itís comforting to know that almost everything we do here is quite reversible with a single mouse click. Even if we run into problems we do have a backup of the all-important Registry file.

Letís get started

      From the Start menu, click on Run , then type in msconfig and press OK . You will see a screen that looks pretty much like this.

2. The only tab we are interested in now is the one on the upper far right, the Startup tab . If you see a screen that looks like a map of Cleveland, youíve done something wrong. Click it now. It should look something like this, although the exact type and number of programs each system has may vary.

      Unclick any program that is not necessary for start-up. If you are unsure, just leave it, but remember that only about 10 to 12 system files are really necessary for Windows, while the rest add convenience.

    But which programs are the real important ones? Do some detective work. Many websites and computer publications have lists of them but the ones associated with programs you have added to your system are generally safe to disable. One highly regarded computer site, (www.pacs-portal.co.uk/startup_index.htm) has extensive list of each program and function. I would recommend leaving anti-virus, anti-spyware and utilities programs, such as those from Norton or McAffee, alone.

    One example of a program that can be stopped is RealPlayer, a very nice media program that is placed into memory at startup so it can start about 1 second faster when you place a CD into a drive. If it is removed from the startup list, it will still run , but take that second more to load from the hard disk before it does. If you decide that the speed of loading is important and you want the player available immediately, then run msconfig after you have rebooted the machine and simply click the program back on. You haven't actually removed the program, just edited a line that tells it when to start. Many computer magazines (See Smart Computing or PC Magazine which have excellent web sites) test which programs are the biggest unnecessary memory hogs, but one program that is a really drain on resources is Windows indexing system. Turn it off by right clicking on the drive symbol in My Computer and going to the Properties tab. Use Google Desktop or one of the new equivalents like MyYahoo or MS Search. They all do a better job of searching with less memory overhead. Remember if a program is related to one of your backup programs or to a vital application, then leaving it alone will do no harm.

4. When you are finished, click OK. You will be prompted to reboot.

5. On the very odd chance that your machine doesn't startup well. Remember that you computer can always start Windows in Safe Mode by pressing F8 when a screen image first appears. Then going into msconfig again and re-clicking all the empty boxes before saying "OK" and rebooting a second time. You will be back to the original configuration.

6. There is still another safeguard against disaster called System Restore. It has been part of all Windows operating systems since Windows ME . It is a good idea in general to look up the function and operation of this program in the Help section ( F1) in case you need it in the future.

Rule 3 Lock It Up

Run anti-virus programs, anti-spyware programs and a software firewall if your network is behind a good router firewall already. Many of these are free. We particularly recommend the anti-spyware programs Ad-aware (www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/ ) and Spybot, ( www.spybot.info ). Both of these excellent programs come in free and commercial versions,

Rule 4. Back It Up

Rule 5 Follow Rules 1 Though 4

Rule 6 At Ease!

 

Last Update:06/26/2007

 

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