As if being sick weren’t enough to get me thinking about lingering undesirables, I just weeded a hundred or so spam subscribers off my mail service. Somehow spammers have gotten hold of the autoresponder address for this newsletter and are sending messages to it, which leaves me coping with bounce messages when the opt-in confirmation goes out to their fake addresses, as well as a list of “clients” with names like “Robbie condescend.”
Even with storage as cheap as it is, there’s just no point letting that kind of junk take up space on your hard drive or your mail server. I’ve written a couple of “clean up before you back up” articles before, and I figure it’s time for another one.
Most e-mail clients these days have built-in spam filters that shunt mail into a “Junk” or “Bulk” folder. Many people ignore these folders. It’s actually a good idea to look in them to see whether anything you want to read has gone astray. E-zines like this one frequently end up in Bulk Mail folders, and even messages from your friends and family might get misfiled if they use trigger words.
Once you’ve rescued any false positives, delete the spam. Then empty the Deleted Items (Outlook) or Trash (Thunderbird, Eudora) folder. Then compact your mailboxes or PST file. The larger your Outlook PST file, the slower Outlook runs, and the more likely errors will be.
While you’re cleaning up, you might want to go through and get rid of any attachments you don’t need any more and move older mail into an archive file. Copy the archive file onto a CD and put it somewhere safe.
I’m always amazed at how many people don’t empty their computer’s Recycle Bin/Trash on a regular basis. Sure, it’s handy to be able to retrieve something that you didn’t mean to delete, which is why I no longer bypass the Recycle Bin. But most of the time, you do mean to delete it, and if you don’t empty the Recycle Bin, it’s still taking up space on your computer. If your Recycle Bin icon is overflowing, open it up, make sure there’s nothing in there you want to keep, and empty it out.
And don’t forget about the things that should go into the Recycle Bin, like installer packages for browser add-ins and upgrades, not to mention those shortcuts to services you don’t want.
Spyware and Adware
Unlike the documents in the Recycle Bin, spyware programs don’t take up a lot of space. And unlike viruses, they won’t infect files you back up. They just slow your system down and tell advertisers what you’re looking at online. But unless you get rid of them, they could make a system image useless: instead of restoring to a trouble-free time, you end up restoring your machine to a slow, kludgy state.
I use Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE Personal and Spybot Search and Destroy from Safer Networking, which are both free tools and get reasonably good ratings. The best defense against spyware and adware used to be using the Firefox browser, though with its increasing popularity it’s no longer quite such good protection. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 is supposed to be a vast improvement over IE 6, but I haven’t tried it yet and can’t comment.
There’s just no point in backing up an infected system, because the virus will come back when you restore it. (That’s why you have to turn off System Restore before running virus-killers on a Windows machine.) I like AVG Free Edition from Grisoft, but as long as you don’t install anything from Norton/Symantec, you’re probably fine. (For some reason Norton’s so-called protective programs mess most computers up worse than viruses do.) For cleaning viruses off already-infected machines, McAfee’s Stinger works well.
So there you have it: first clean up your system, then back it up. Don’t waste your storage space on things you never wanted on your computer in the first place.