System Maintenance

In the early days, home computers were largely self-referential; people used them because they were interested in them. Now, computers are usually used for real-world tasks, yet they still need some navel-gazing attention at times!

The basic routine maintenance tasks are:

User data is unique to the installation and cannot be replaced 'off the peg', and for that reason it is the central concern of system management. There's a more rigorous coverage of data management, safe computing and malware elsewhere on this site; this is an easy how-to.


To backup is to create a redundant copy, so that if anything should happen to the original file, you have recourse to the backup. The process can be as simple as copying files to diskettes, but this soon becomes a problem where files are too big for diskette, where there are too many files, or where too many diskettes are required.

A better solution is to use an archiver (such as WinZip) or a backup utility to create a single compressed file from a collection of data files, and to split this over as many diskettes as required. This uses fewer diskettes and allows large files to be backed up even if the file is larger than a diskette can hold.

For large data sets, you may need to use a bulk storage medium such as tape, Zip disk, CDR or similar. These are generally faster and more reliable than diskettes.

The systems I set up will usually have a facility to backup data and core system files to the hard drive, and another to copy the most recent of such backups to diskettes. You should use this whenever you have done more work than you would want to redo from scratch. If your work is saved outside the designated data subtree then it won't be backed up by this process; you will have to make your own arrangements to back it up (WinZip, copy, etc.)

Malware management

There's more on safe computing and malware. Malware includes viruses, worms, trojans, and increasingly invasive commercial applications, and management has several parts:

Simply running an antivirus utility is not enough, even if it is kept up to date!

For best performance, you can use on-demand rather than on-access antivirus scanners - but this requires the user to know when to use this, and act accordingly.

Updating an antivirus generally involves these steps:

Some Windows-based antivirus utilities may automate this process to some extent, by accessing the Internet directly from within the program. You should check for updates at least once a week, and make sure your antivirus data files do not become more than a month out of date.

File system maintenance

Much can be done during system setup to improve the survivability, maintainability and recoverability of the file system and its data, as discussed on the data management page. Thereafter, there are three tasks required on a regular basis:

The tools used here are Windows Explorer (or its "My Computer" incarnation), ScanDisk, and Defrag. If free space is low, you can clear .TMP files from the Windows base directory.


(C) Chris Quirke, all rights reserved

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