For Win9x and ME, run ScanDisk once a week. ScanDisk is usually found by going to Start ~ Accessories ~ System Tools ~ ScanDisk. Be sure the box labeled “Automatically Fix Errors” is checked. Choose the drive to check, usually C:. The Standard Test is fine unless your hard drive is very old and you suspect it is not healthy (it’s making unusual noises). In that case, run the Thorough Test. Windows XP does not have ScanDisk; its disk checking utility is called Chkdsk and will generally only run when needed. You can force it to run by going to Start ~ Run and typing “chkdsk /r” without the quotes or simply find it in the System Tools folder. It will run on the next bootup.
If you are still running Windows 98 or Millennium (ME), you can buy a maintenance suite like Norton SystemWorks or Ontrack Utilities. You can also simply use programs that come with Windows. I really don’t suggest using a maintenance suite on Windows XP. XP has far better built-in maintenance tools than earlier Microsoft operating systems did.
Run Disk Cleanup once a week. Find this where you found ScanDisk/Chkdsk, under System Tools. You still need to run Disk Cleanup in XP.
Run Disk Defragmentor once a quarter, unless you routinely work with very large files in which case once a month is probably better. XP is usually installed using the NTFS file system, which doesn\’t get as fragmented as the FAT16 or FAT32 file systems of Win9x and ME. The Defrag tool is also under System Tools. Be sure no other programs are running in the background, particularly antivirus programs or screensavers. I prefer to run the Defragmentor in Safe Mode.
Thou Shalt Not Run Beta Software. Beta software is still in the experimental stage. All the bugs have not been found and fixed. Even if the program is tempting, it is better to wait until the final version is available, unless you like Living On The Edge. Or reinstalling Windows.
Do not run unknown programs. Only install programs you need and which come from a trusted source. Do not EVER run a program that you received attached to an email message. This is the best way to get a virus. See the section on Viruses for more information.
Uninstall unwanted programs by using the Add/Remove Programs applet in Control Panel. Do not simply delete the folders.
Always have a current (a version that isn’t more than two years old) antivirus program installed and keep the definitions updated. Scan weekly.
Scan for spyware weekly. There is more on this subject in the Spyware section.