by Stever Robbins
In my episode on speeding up your computer, I advocate spending less time trying to fix software conflicts and more time just reinstalling your operating system from scratch. There’s an important factor, however, that I didn’t really cover. Listener Thomas Fuller wrote in and pointed it out.
The issue is your data files. Your data files can become inexorably intertwined with your operating system. Files saved to your desktop, for instance, are stored somewhere mysterious inside your computer. They aren’t stored with the rest of your documents. Perhaps Tech Talker can shed more light on that.
As part of your general computer hygiene, consider buying an external hard drive and using that to store all your files. Instead of your Documents folder or your desktop, put all your data files and files you care about in folders on that hard drive.
Some programs keep their files somewhere mysterious. For example, on the Mac, iTunes and iPhoto don’t explicitly ask you where to save your music and your pictures. But you can change their storage location in the Advanced section of their preferences dialogs. Change their storage to be located on your external hard drive as well.
Remember to change your backup programs (you do have a backup program running, right?) to back up your external hard drive.
Now, if you need to reinstall your system, you can safely nuke the whole thing, reinstall, and all your files are safe and sound on your external drive. Also, your reinstall will be that much speedier because you won’t have to worry about saving and restoring important files. They’ll just pick right up from where you left off.
If you’re on a Mac, which unlike Windows, can reinstall without losing your data files, you may still want to use an external hard drive simply for portability and keeping a clean separation between your system and data disks. Either way, good computing hygiene involves a bit of deliberation and thought about where you keep your files, how you’ll preserve them if you need to reinstall your hard drive, and how you keep them backed up in case you lose your main data disk.
Backup Files photo from Shutterstock.