Prepare Your PC for Future Data Disasters
Organize Your Files, Folders, and Desktop
Just like moving into a new house, moving back into a restored PC gives you the rare opportunity to put everything in order: your files, your folders, and even your desktop. Let's start with the last--it's time to stop leaving icons strewn across the desktop like so many clothes on the bedroom floor. Instead, organize and corral them with PCWorld favorite Fences, a free utility that turns cluttered desktops into tidy ones. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
As for your files, it's always good to physically organize them as best you can, putting documents in one folder, photos in another, videos in a third, and so on. But even if you have this kind of stuff spread out across hundreds of folders (and/or different drives), Windows 7's Libraries feature makes finding what you need easy. In fact, it's a much better approach than the age-old folder/subfolder system. The only trick is getting Libraries set up properly, which you can learn to do in "Simplify File Organization With Windows 7 Libraries."
Slim Down Your Security Measures
A lot of PCs suffer from security overkill. Assuming that more must be better, users install a firewall, an antivirus program, an antispyware program, a rootkit blocker, and perhaps even an entire Internet-security suite on top of all that. (And you wonder why your system takes 10 minutes to boot?)
Resist the urge to overprotect your PC that way again. Instead, take a simplified approach to security, one that starts with Windows 7 itself. (Sorry, XP users--your OS is a leaky bucket.)
Believe it or not, Windows 7 has almost everything you need to stay safe online: a firewall, a spyware and pop-up blocker, an improved User Account Control system, and a host of malware and phishing protections built into Internet Explorer 8. Top everything off with the free Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus utility and the Web of Trust browser add-on, and you have an extremely well-protected PC. The only extra you might need is a spam filter, though most Web-based e-mail services (Comcast, Gmail, Yahoo, and the like) do an excellent job filtering it for you.
Install a Better Uninstaller
If there's a program you no longer use, uninstalling it makes sense, right? You'll free up disk space and help Windows run more smoothly. That's the theory, but in reality many uninstalled programs leave behind traces of themselves--configuration files here, Registry entries there, and so on. That's just the kind of gunk that makes Windows sluggish over time.
What you need is a better uninstaller, a program that will remove every last vestige of any application. Regular PCWorld readers know of our fondness for Revo Uninstaller, but lately my tool of choice is IObit Advanced Uninstaller, which offers a few perks that Revo lacks. One of them is batch uninstalling: You can select multiple programs to be removed instead of having to hit them one at a time. That feature is a great timesaver during those spring-cleaning sessions when you want to clear out several months' worth of unwanted apps.
Plus, IObit's program is tiny (just 700KB) and portable, requiring no installation (meaning one fewer program gunking up your PC). And you can't beat the price: It's free.
Create a Driver Library
One of the biggest hassles in restoring a PC is tracking down the drivers for all your components and peripherals. Even if you restored from an image file as described on the previous page, you might end up with some drivers that are outdated. And trust me: Driver discs always go missing just when you need them.
Get proactive and make driver backups a part of your regular backup regimen. The free utility Double Driver 4.1 accomplishes the task quickly and easily. It scans your PC, automatically detects and selects drivers that aren't part of the operating system, and then lets you back them up to a USB drive, a network folder, or another storage device.
Keep Your PC Booting Quickly
It's an unofficial (but undisputed) law of nature that over time Windows boots more and more slowly. Blame software: Every program you install seems to insist on loading a piece of itself when you boot the machine. It's like an onrush of traffic trying to merge onto an already crowded freeway.
Put freeware utility Soluto on the job as your traffic cop. (Yes, I see the irony in installing yet another program to wrangle your existing programs, but hear me out.) The tool analyzes the software and services installed on your PC, and then gives you the option of eliminating them, delaying their startup, or leaving them alone. Even better, it offers recommendations, complete with statistics on what other users have done; it's like a crowd-sourced startup manager.
It works better than any other startup manager I've ever used, too. (It even eliminated a couple of weird pop-ups that had begun to appear on my system right after Windows booted.) If you're concerned about the fate of your fast-booting machine, Soluto is the solution.