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12 must-do PC tasks

Alex Castle | April 8, 2013
Computers may have become a lot more user-friendly over the past decade, but they're still far from perfect--PCs require a certain amount of configuration and maintenance to operate at their full potential. Unfortunately, because we humans are also far from perfect, we frequently don't put in the work we should, and we end up with a slower, sloppier, less secure machine as a result.

First, you should download a utility called DropIt. Imagine that you owned a magical trash can, and that any item you dropped into it would instantly teleport to the proper place. That would make cleaning up the house a lot easier, wouldn't it? Simply go around and shovel everything into the magic can! That's what the open-source DropIt is, only it's for your computer.

The utility puts an icon on your screen and automatically sorts any file you drop onto that icon according to rules you define. When you run the program, you will see a blue box with an arrow, which you can drag around your screen. Right-click the box, and click Associations. A menu will open where you can create rules, such as "Any file ending in '.jpg' or '.png' should move to my Pictures library." Setting up a comprehensive list of associations can take a while; but once you do that, you can organize any folder on your computer in no time at all.

After you have installed and configured DropIt, you can make the rounds and bring order to your computer's cluttered file system. Start with your desktop. The desktop functions best as a temporary space to keep files as you're working on them--filling it up with icons merely slows you down every time you have to find something there. The Start menu or the taskbar (with jumplists) is a better place to store shortcuts to programs and files that you regularly access. Other places that frequently get cluttered are your Documents folder, the root of the C: drive, and your Downloads folder.

If you're using Windows 7 or 8, take advantage of the built-in Libraries feature, if you haven't already. Libraries provide a great way to organize a collection of files, even if those files are not all stored in the same place.

Toss out the chaff

While you were organizing your files, you probably noticed a different problem: You have a lot of old and useless files, documents, and applications taking up valuable space on your hard drive. More than likely, you cleared some of them out while you were organizing, but chances are good that those were just the tip of the iceberg. Your next step should be to conduct a thorough audit of everything on your hard drives.

Start with SpaceSniffer, a free application that visualizes all the data on your machine, showing you each folder as a colored square--the bigger the box, the more drive space that folder is occupying. A full scan takes only 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the capacity and speed of your drives. After the scan is complete, you can double-click any square in the graph to drill down and discover what's taking up so much room. SpaceSniffer lets you easily see where all your gigabytes are going.


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