A little simple maintenance now can help prevent many headaches next year, Fred Langa says.
Patch And Update
Start with Windows Update, and ensure that your operating system is fully up to date with all necessary patches, fixes, and updates. Do likewise for all your software, visiting the vendor sites to download any and all updates and patches for your applications and utilities. Finally, check your hardware vendors' Web sites for driver and other updates for your video card, audio system, motherboard components, etc.
Check Your PC's Defenses
As part of Step #3, you updated the antivirus, firewall, and other security tools you have on your PC. But now it's time to ask two important questions: First, are your defenses adequate, even in theory? And second, if they're theoretically complete, are they really working?
It sounds strange, but it's not at all silly to check if your PC is secure "in theory" because many, many users still operate under the misconception that if they have some major security tool in place--a name-brand antivirus suite, an external router or hardware firewall, whatever--then they're protected. But in reality, single-layer security defenses aren't hard to breach. (See "Norton Antivirus And The Single-Layer Defense Fallacy".)
If you're one of the millions still relying on a single-layer defense, the article "How Much Protection Is Enough?" can help you easily set up a multilayered defense that will keep your PC safe against even those attacks that can--and will--bypass a single-layer defense.
Once you have a proper, multiplayer defense in place, you need to test it to make sure it's doing what you want. Most of the sites listed in "Best PC Help, Reference, And Test Sites" are still in operation; see especially the section on "Online security tests" for nondestructive ways of ensuring that your defenses are really working.
The end of the year is a great time to reorganize (or in some cases, organize for the first time) the files and folders on your hard drive. Some users like to organize first by topics, then by chronology; others do it the other way, first by year, then by topic.
The organizing principle doesn't matter as long as you end up with an organized "tree" of data files that you can traverse with ease to locate whatever files you may later need.
Or, to put it another way, you want to avoid the too-common syndrome where every data file on the PC ends up in an undifferentiated mass in "My Documents" or in similar, uselessly cluttered, generic folders.
While you're reorganizing your hard drive (see step #5), keep an eye out for files and software that you no longer use or need. These can be moved to long-term storage (via backup; or perhaps by moving to an unused disk or partition) or you can simply delete/uninstall them from your system.
Removing unused files and software saves space, avoids clutter, and can actually improve system speed and responsiveness. For example, keeping large numbers of unneeded files on the system can bog down searches and slow the indexing of the rest of the drive's contents. Carrying unneeded software clutters the Registry and may delay system startup and shut down as unnecessary components are loaded or unloaded.
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