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It’s a new year, and it’s time to take a fresh look at everything, including your computer. Most PCs start out in peak operating condition, only to get worn down over time as programs get installed and removed, corrupt files or viruses get downloaded and annoying cookies are acquired from the Internet. In addition, all of your spam e-mails, temporary Internet files and unwanted documents clutter up your computer, clogging its efficiency. As problems occur over time, I find the best way to correct the situation is to start over again — not by buying a new computer, but by wiping your computer clean. This can be a dangerous step, as any file that was on the machine will be permanently lost if you don’t back it up. But as long as you are careful, all of the corrupted, missing and unnecessary files and programs, along with the problems that go with them, will go away. The first step in wiping your computer is to back up your files. Most people keep their important documents in the My Documents folder, so start with that. But if you have your own unique filing system, remember to copy all folders and subfolders. Move these files to your backup system, which could either be a network drive, a second hard drive on your computer, a tape drive or an external hard drive. If you don’t have a backup system in place, this is a good time to get one. If you want to keep all of your Internet favorites and are using Internet Explorer, export these by going to File>Import and Export, and follow the instructions for exporting your favorites. You can usually store these to a file on a floppy disk, although you can also store them to the same location you are storing your documents. If you are using Outlook for your e-mail or contacts, depending on your version, there is an Import and Export feature within Outlook that allows you to export each of these items to separate .pst files. When you reload Outlook, you can then import these items from those files. Depending upon how important Outlook is to you, you should also read the appropriate article for your version of Outlook on the Microsoft Web site to make sure you have covered all of your bases. Other e-mail programs have their own systems for backups, but probably the best procedure to follow is to copy the entire folder and subfolders associated with the program; that way you will have everything you would need to restore. Documents, Web favorites, e-mail and contacts are the main types of files most users need for a successful restore. Any programs that were added since the machine was purchased will need to be reinstalled, so make sure you have your original software and license numbers. Once you are certain you have all of these, it’s time to begin the process. Any unique hardware on your machine will need its own driver file, so you should make sure you have the software that came with the device, or download it from the Internet, before you begin. If you want to be super-secure about not losing anything, it might not be a bad idea to purchase a new hard drive for your system; that way, if something valuable was lost, you would always have your old drive available to put back into the computer to restore the file, program or setting. When you are ready to go, there are two methods for doing the restore. The easiest is to use the restore disk that may have come with your computer. This CD will restore your computer to the way it was when you first took it out of the box. The benefit of using this CD is that all of the drivers necessary for your computer’s hardware will install properly. While all restore disks don’t function in the same way, generally if you boot up your computer with the CD in the CD drive, it will start the process. Generally, it will ask you several times if you are really sure you want to reformat. Assuming you have backed up properly, keep answering yes, and the CD will restore your computer’s operating system to factory specifications. If you have upgraded your computer from one operating system to the next, however, it might be better to use the operating system CD. After booting up with the CD in the drive, it will ask you if you want to repair an installation or do a new installation. Choose the new installation. When it asks if you want to reformat, say yes. When it is done reformatting the hard drive, the operating system installation will begin. If you have an upgrade CD, it may also ask for the location of your original installation. Usually this is accomplished by putting the original operating system CD into the drive for a brief period, so that the upgrade software can verify that you have a valid license for the original program. Both methods may take an hour or more, depending on the speed of your system. But even after finishing all of the setup questions, and completing your configuration, your work is only half-done. The next step is to connect to the Internet. Make sure your cable modem, DSL or network cable is connected to your machine. If you don’t have a high-speed connection to the Internet, make sure you have your phone line connected to the computer. Then use the Internet Connection Wizard to connect to the Internet. If you use a service such as AOL to connect to the Internet, install that software now. Since the restore or reinstallation is only as up-to-date as the software was when it was manufactured, it is important to do all of the Windows updates next. This will provide any security updates to your system that have been released in the interim, as well as any fixes or improvements. Since these are constantly being developed, the process of updating Windows may take as long as or longer than restoring the original operation. Once all Windows updates have been installed, I usually recommend installing your antivirus software or other security software next. Make sure you update your virus definitions and program settings. Next, check all of your hardware to make sure it is working properly. Hardware includes external drives, tape drives, monitors, scanners and other peripherals. If any of this was purchased separately from the machine, you may need to install the driver file — software that makes that particular device function properly. If you have lost the driver file, you can usually download it from the manufacturer’s Web site. Next, set up your printer using the Add Printer Wizard. Many printer driver files are already included in Windows, but if yours isn’t one of them, you can use the disk provided by the manufacturer or download the software from their Web site. Now it’s time to reload all of your programs, such as Office or other productivity suites, and any specialized legal software you may be using. As you install each program, check on the provider’s Web site to see if there are any free upgrades or service packs for that program. It’s best to get the latest version of the software, and these downloads keep it working properly. Your last step is to restore your files, including your Web favorites and Outlook files. The files should be copied back to the folders you would like to keep them in. Use the Import feature (the opposite of what you did before the restore) to import the Web favorites and Outlook files. Make any customized settings, such as desktop wallpaper, screen savers and font settings, and give it a try. This whole process could take up to a day to get accomplished, but when you are done, your machine will be in a “like-new” state, ready to function efficiently as you begin the new year. Brian R. Harris is the database administrator for the American Lawyer Media Pennsylvania division and the former editor-in-chief of the Legal Intelligencer . Harris can be contacted at [email protected].

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