Most of us have seen the persistent little icon in the system tray, and clicked the many variations of “Not now!” to Microsoft’s constant reminders to upgrade to Windows 10. Some of you even caved in and upgraded your computer to Winodws 10, and an even smaller percentage of you have come out on the other side mostly intact and productive. I still continue to recommend against upgrading existing Windows 7 and 8 computers without considerable caution, planning and the watchful supervision of a trained technology professional. “Cleanly” installed (either on a blank hard drive or from the factory new), Windows 10 is a good operating system that performs well but still has many rough edges, and I have seen way too many upgrade installations go south faster than geese in winter. For reliabililty and performance, Windows 7 is still very hard to beat, and is still considered the standard in enterprise/corporate technology. Despite all of this, Microsoft continues to advance its agenda of “Upgrade all the things”, and has now made the Windows 10 upgrade installer a “recommended update”.
What this means for you:
By default, Windows 7 and 8 are set to automatically check for, download and install critical security updates. There is also another option rug “Recommended updates” which is also checked, and that is where Microsoft gets its virtual hooks into your precious Windows 7 (or 8, I’m not here to judge) operating system and plants the seeds of an upgrade. If your machine is still set to download recommended updates (as it will be if you’ve never changed these settings), you will soon be (if you aren’t already) the proud recipient of a 6GB hidden folder that, if you continue to deny Microsoft the satisfaction of upgrading you to Windows 10, will reside happily on its little 6GB plot of hard drive. Forever. Removing it doesn’t help – Windows Update will cheerfully re-download it for you, to make sure your Windows 10 upgrade experience isn’t slowed down by having to download it when you finally give in to their relentless nagging.
If you have a large hard drive and “all-you-can-eat” internet bandwidth, this isn’t a problem, but for those of you with smaller hard drives (like earlier model laptops with SSD drives) or metered bandwidth, 6GB is a lot of space AND bandwidth. There are ways to combat Microsoft’s insidious peer pressure, but to truly banish the upgrade nagging, you’ll need to fiddle with registry settings or install a third-party utility. If neither sounds like an activity for which you are qualified (either in patience or technical proficiency), why not have a friendly chat with your local tech professional to discuss a more moderate, considered approach to upgrading to Windows 10? If you are a business professional that uses Windows-based computers, its a bridge you will have to cross at some point, but you should do it on your own schedule and on your own terms.
“Keep your area clean.” You’ve been hearing it all your life. First, no doubt from your mom or dad, and then from your teachers. You’ve probably heard it throughout your professional career, and possibly offered it as guidance yourself to others. Regardless of how tidy you are in your physical space, I’ve only encountered a lonely few who also keep their digital space clean. Cheap, large hard drives and superfast searching have allowed us to sprawl digitally all over the place, and just like Nature abhors a vacuum, cyberspace will expand to fill all empty gigabytes when you aren’t watching. In one extreme case (that will probably go down in my personal record books!) I encountered a client whose nearly full one-terabyte hard drive (1000 gigabytes) was over half full with junk and temporary files. That’s nearly 500 gigabytes of wasted space! Aside from the lost storage space, there was another, even more critical issue caused by all those useless files.
What this means for you:
Well written and properly configured internet programs, such as web browsers, will regularly keep their areas (browser and history caches) containing those temporary files clean, but sometimes they don’t. In the case of the above client, the 500 gigabytes of junk was created over time by a browser and operating system malfunction, and then exacerbated by a virus infection. The result was tens of millions of small files that the antimalware software had to scan everytime it was checking for viruses. If you thought a regular anti-virus scan was painfully slow, multiply that by 100 and that’s what was happening on the machine in question. As you can imagine, the antimalware software (and the computer in general) just gave up and stopped working properly, leading to further infections and actual damage to the filesystem. How can you avoid this?
- Make sure your web browsers are keeping their caches tidy. Here’s an all-encompassing guide on how to do that.
- Always keep an eye on your available hard drive space. A good rule of thumb is to keep a minimum of 20-30GB free at any given time. If you suddenly start running low, there might be a problem.
- Know the approximate size of your document space and evaulate whether it makes sense for what you do, and what you are required to maintain. Office documents typically aren’t very large on average (thousands of them can easily fit on a 16GB thumb drive), but high-res photos can easily be several hundred megabytes easily. If your document space seems unexpectedly large, you might have a problem.
- Don’t interrupt your anti-malware scans. If they are taking too long, note where it’s getting stuck, pause the scan, clean out the affected area (usually temp files as mentioned above) and see if scan times improve. They should, even if the total space cleared doesn’t seem to be much. Browsers create thousands of tiny temp files everyday, and if they aren’t cleared properly, they add up really fast.
In a worst-case scenario, where millions of files have built up in a temporary folder, removing them could take hours, even days, as was the aforementioned case. Luckily for the client, I didn’t bill straight hourly, otherwise the cure would have been worse than the disease. Savvy technicians will have tools at their disposal to help clean up cluttered and infected drives, but when there are millions of useless files there are only two ways to clean it up – delete those files one at a time (via scripts, of course), or nuke the whole drive from orbit, ie. re-format. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, so make sure you discuss which option makes the most sense for your data and your budget.