- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

For the last two weeks, I've shared some thoughts on how to keep your computer working under your control and not have the machine control you. While there are thousands of dedicated (and happy) computer hobbyists out there and I guess I'm one, however reluctant most of us have very pedestrian goals for our computers. By that I mean we want them to work, and stay working, through thick and thin.

Here are two final tips related to this subject, to round out our discussion.

n Think and read before you install It's tempting, sometimes very tempting, to take the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and install a new piece of software. "You gotta try this," they'll say. "It's really cool."

Well it may be, and it may not be. In my continuing search for better (and different) e-mail programs, I came across one that purports to have all sorts of filtering and spam-rejecting capabilities. There's a whole community of users out there writing little add-on scripts and other features for the program; a friend of mine in Amsterdam is always going on about how good it is.

"Fair enough," said I, "I'll download the 30-day trial version and see what happens."

What happened was this: Five minutes into the experiment, I decided to suspend my trial and I likely will trash the program entirely. Why? Because I can only find a way to configure the software to grab e-mail from one and only one of my e-mail accounts. For a variety of reasons, I have more than one e-mail account and, probably, so do you. Until I find a way around this (yes, an e-mail is going to the software publisher), this program name omitted will be off the table.

No fault, no foul, you say? Perhaps, but uninstalling it might or might not rid my Windows system of all the little bits of this program. I'm still trying to excise one ".dll" file from a previous slice of program-testing. Someday I may have to hack deep within the bowels of the Microsoft Windows "registry" to banish this; for now, it is just an inconvenience whenever I start another of my applications.

The point: Be careful when deciding to install a new program. It's always good to read the manual first.

n Make frequent data file backups In a time when most new PCs are supplied with CD-writing drives, it's not too difficult to back up your data files onto a single CD-R disc, which can store about 650 megabytes of data. If you use both Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office as many PC users do you'll have a folder called "My Documents" on your hard disk drive. This folder contains the files used with programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. On my PC, the "My Documents" folder is about 798 megabytes.

While that amount is more than a single CD-R disc can hold, I could ease things by putting one or more large sub-folders onto one CD-R disc and then place the balance on another disc. Speeds and times will vary by system and software, but the bottom line is that you could end up with a backup of your essential data in about 30 to 60 minutes. From that "base," periodic backups by date (every week) on a CD-R disc should suffice.

For those without an internal CD-R or CD-RW drive, consider buying and installing one, or getting one that will attach to an external port on your computer. The time saved, and the flexibility gained, will be well worth it.

Once your data is backed up, you can "restore" your system by using the factory-supplied CDs containing your computer's operating system and core programs, as well as your CDs for applications.

By taking these steps and the ones outlined earlier you can add to the life of your computer. It takes more than a little vigilance, and there's some effort involved. But the rewards can include peace of mind and a successful computing experience.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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