Disk space 'burglars' can rob you blind Nifty Windows program, CleanSweep Deluxe, can unclutter files

Your computer

October 26, 1997|By Michael Himowitz

NOT LONG ago, I got e-mail from a reader with a tale of woe about a hard disk that filled up while he wasn't paying attention.

It happens often enough these days, particularly among users with older computers. It's hard to find a new program that doesn't require 50 megabytes of real estate, and Web browsers can gobble a couple of square miles with copies of Web pages and graphics that they store on your disk so they can be retrieved quickly next time you visit.

Adding a second hard disk won't always solve the problem, as my correspondent discovered to his dismay. He had bought a new drive a couple of months earlier, when his old disk got cramped for space, and he had been careful to install new programs on the new drive.

But one day he found that he couldn't install any new software. He kept getting messages that he was out of disk space, even though he had more than a gigabyte left on the new drive. About half his existing programs wouldn't run either.

What was really happening? A silent gang of disk space burglars was at work. And if you're not careful, they can rob you blind, too.

These burglars are virtually built into the design of Microsoft Windows. No matter what you do, Windows and the programs that run under it will try to grab space on your first hard drive, which is known in the trade as "Drive C" for reasons that are lost in antiquity.

No matter where you tell a program to install itself, it will try to store large chunks of programming code in the Windows System directory, which is almost always on Drive C. The programs you run every day create temporary files, and without intervention on your part, they'll plop those files down on Drive C.

If you have a new computer with an empty hard disk, you'll never notice this little land grab. But when the drive is nearly full and every byte counts, these little thefts can ruin your day.

Worse yet, unless you have the latest version of Windows 95, your operating system throws out incredible amounts of usable space. That's because it breaks up your disk into little pieces called "clusters." A cluster is the smallest amount of space a file can occupy, and the larger the drive, the larger the cluster size.

On many computers, the cluster size is 32K, or roughly 32,000 bytes. Even though Windows Explorer or File Manager tells you that a file contains one byte of data, it will, in fact, occupy 32,000 bytes of space.

So what happens if your Web browser leaves 500 tiny files on your disk?

The total amount of information stored in those files might be less than a megabyte, but the files themselves might occupy 16 megabytes of your turf.

Once your main drive is full, cleaning it up can be a real problem. Deleting little-used programs by hand will free up space, but because you have no way of knowing what files the program created in the system directory or other out-of-the-way places, chances are you'll leave a lot of detritus behind.

Even the "uninstall" routines that come with many new programs don't do a thorough cleanup job.

The fellow who filled up his disk ran into another problem when he tried to free up space on his "C" drive by moving programs to his new hard drive.

He figured he could just copy all the files and folders from one drive to the other and delete the originals. But the programs wouldn't run.

That's because Windows programs keep track of where they're supposed to be and where they're supposed to find the files and data they need.

In Windows 3.1, this information might be stored in a half-dozen so-called "initialization" files. In Windows 95, this information is stored in something called the "registry," an arcane database of system settings that's hard to find and dangerous to fool with.

As a result, moving a program to another drive without changing these settings can result in disaster.

All of which brings me to a nifty $40 Windows 95 utility program from Quarterdeck Software called CleanSweep Deluxe.

It does exactly what its name implies. It uninstalls old programs quickly and efficiently, picking up all the scattered files you don't need but leaving files that might also be used by other programs.

CleanSweep can remove a program entirely or archive it in a compressed format in case you want to restore it later.

It can also move a program cleanly from one disk drive to another, adjusting all the settings as it goes. The utility will scan your disk for unused or duplicated files and remove the stuff you don't need.

It will also clean up the garbage left behind by Web browsing and Internet downloads.

I've used CleanSweep for a couple of years and found it to be effective and reliable.

The latest release, Version 3.0, is much faster than previous versions and requires a lot less tweaking.

If you're troubled by a disk drive that's filling up -- or want to keep your drive lean and mean -- it's well worth the investment.

For information, call Quarterdeck at 1-800-683-6696, or point your Web browser to www.quarterdeck.com.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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