Why You Have Too Much Crap On Your Computer & What To Do About It [Opinion]

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clutter14   Why You Have Too Much Crap On Your Computer & What To Do About It [Opinion]I am here today to give you a message you don’t often hear on tech blogs – you have too much. Too much software, too many unneeded applications, too much digital clutter. Even if you happen to be working on a brand-new computer right now, I can almost guarantee your system is overloaded with crap you really don’t need, and would be better off without.

And I don’t just mean applications that come with the PC; I mean the zillion applications you’ve downloaded and installed at one time or another, and then forgot about. I mean those endless stacks of folders littering your home folder, that applications decided to create there for some reason or another.

Blame Microsoft

As a self-proclaimed Windows fanboy, I must say this is one area where Microsoft can do much, much better. Here are some things that should really be changed in Windows:

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Microsoft should really stop letting every random program put stuff into my home folder. This is my home folder. It’s kind of like having visitors over to your home, but every visitor brings stuff along and puts it in your living room without asking. Note the insane amount of “dot” folders in my screenshot. This is a custom from *nix systems, but it’s incredibly bad manners on the part of programs. Why not ask me where I want the data to be kept? Why must you put it in the same user-accessible folder that has My Pictures and My Documents in it, forcing me to wade through a river of clutter every time I want to get to my documents?

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I can’t expect every application maker to be considerate; I can expect Microsoft to come up with a workaround, like the Application Data folder (nice job there). But now MS needs to force the system to use that folder.

Or here’s another one:

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Why can’t I uninstall stuff in bulk? My system is overloaded with applications I’ve installed at one time or another. To clean them up, I must uninstall each and every one individually. That would take hours, and it’s extremely inefficient. Even uninstallers allowing “batch” uninstall just run the uninstallers serially, one after the other, requiring your intervention every step along the way.

Microsoft – find a better way for us to uninstall applications! I want to be able to go through a list, quickly check off the stuff I don’t want anymore, and have it be gone for good.

What You Can Do

Okay, so now that we’ve seen how Windows is one of the major causes for this, what can you do to keep your system as clean as possible? Let’s go over some of the tools and habits you can adopt.

PC Decrapifier

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PC Decrapifier is a free tool that can bulk-remove a lot of the crap vendors pack on their PCs. If you bought a new laptop and booted it up only to discover loads of applications you didn’t want, you need PC Decrapifier. Even if you’ve been using your PC for a while, you may still get some good use out of the app, because it is one of the only Windows tools that are truly capable of bulk-removing applications without much user intervention.

It only works with a limited set of installed applications (i.e, it can’t remove everything), but for those apps, it’s like magic. Check off what you don’t want, click a button, and go have a cup of coffee. This is how uninstalling software should be.

Take Time To Uninstall

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Yes, Windows’ built-in software removal tools are clunky, outdated, badly designed, and generally painful to use. Even if you use something like Revo Uninstaller, it still takes time. Well, I am here to say: make that time. Clear out a block of your schedule, put on some tunes, grab a cup of coffee and go to town. Uninstall all of those applications and crud that gradually built up through your system. It will be annoying, but you’ll thank yourself once you’re done.

Create A Folder Graveyard

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Remember all of those folders littering your home folder? You can’t always delete them all, for the simple (and incredibly annoying) reason that you can’t always tell what applications they belong to. A folder called “.gimp” is easy; if you’ve uninstalled GIMP, you know you can safely delete it. But what about something called .WebIde10? Where did that even come from? Or .kde – do I still have applications using the KDE toolkit?

If you’re not sure, just create a folder called “Graveyard”, and move those folders there. It won’t free up any disk space, but it will unclutter your home folder. If you ever need them back, you know where to get them from.

Use a Virtual Machine

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Sure, I could tell you something like “stop installing random applications”. But a big part of the fun of using a computer is trying out new software. The trick is to find ways to enjoy that without cluttering up your system. For that, I strongly suggest installing free VM manager VirtualBox and setting up an instance of Windows to play with.

With VirtualBox, you can create snapshots and restore your VM to a previous state easily, so you can always have it in a pristine condition, ready to install and play with the latest and the greatest while keeping your “real” computer nice and clean. Heck, you can even use it to try out Windows 8!

Your Turn

What do you think? Is your computer completely cluttered up, or are you keeping ahead of the digital tsunami? Did I miss important ways to keep your computer clean? Enlighten me in the comments!

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20 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Peter

Definitely got my share of clutter, though I’d disagree with the idea of MS putting everything in one folder that can’t be moved. They do that with the WindowsInstaller folder – so big it took up about 1/3 of my drive and I had to redirect the folder to a larger drive to free up space on the main drive.

I like the idea in general, but they need to let users choose new locations for those folders to avoid taking up unnecessary space on the main Windows drive.

And yes, I have a good deal of clutter, but probably not as bad as your example. We try to keep things organized and somewhat clean excepting a miscellaneous downloads folder that can get cluttered until we go back later to clean it up.

Reply

V_Ferg

Just takes some time and understanding of where everything ends up on your computer and then you should have a routine of your own to keep things organized.  I find that only older outdated applications these days try to install anything directly to your root directory anymore and even then when I find that they normally let you choose were to install and I pick program files to keep everything off my root.  Anything that windows installs or places there outside of program files, windows, or users (or documents and settings for xp) folder can normally be deleted.  They are normally temp file creations used when installing or extracting files for installing and I normally clean them up as I see them.  Aside from that documents go in documents folder, video in video and so on.

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Melissa Kelly

My computer is so cluttered, just like the rest of my life. It’s time I start uncluttering my pc. 

Crag O’Scolaidhe

lol & your life:P

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Paul Kirk

I highly recommend the freeware tool Ccleaner for removing junk. 

Erez Zukerman

CCleaner is great, but you do need to exercise judgement with it: I
once “cleaned” things so thoroughly, I really managed to mess up my
system.

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Crag O’Scolaidhe

yeh! i use that & its awesome & very easy to use..

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Luke Wiwatowski

don’t forget portable programs are great. Install them on your external hard drive or thumb drive for rare use software. and they have a smaller footprint.

Erez Zukerman

 True! I’m a big fan of those (got to look at quite a few of these recently for a special MakeUseOf project… :) )

Reply

Michael Lockhart

Um, sorry, no.

I hate Microsoft’s software engineering and am no fanboy at all, but I do have to come to their defence here — it’s not MS’ fault all your programs are storing .dotfiles and .dotfolders in your %USERPROFILE% — that is actually standard practice from Unix-like OSes.  Even your screenshot gives that away (.kde for instance).  It’s an artifact of porting from Unix to Windows and trying to keep their cross-platform program as consistent as possible (for dev’s and also users) on all operating systems.

 Microsoft’s solution to what they call “a hairball of config files” is that Windows programs should put all their configuration clutter in the Registry (yes a central place to store all this stuff, sort-of). But in practice this is actually far worse for the simple reason that the Registry is the single point of failure for the whole system. Instead of being across the filesystem, the hairball is all concentrated in HKCUSomewhere, which is a binary database editable only with a special tool like regedit.exe.  One screw up in the Registry and your PC may not boot next time.  No thanks Microsoft – at least playing with hairy .dotfiles only screws up that program, not everything….

What MS Windows really needs is a package management system like Debian’s dpkg or Red Hat’s RPM, or Solaris’ pkg utility.  Something that can tell you “this file C:Userserez.gimp-26rc belongs to the package Gimp”, and can let you cleanly remove all trace of the package everywhere, of it if you want to.  MS does have the MSI format and Add/Remove programs, but it still has a long way to catch up to what Linux and Solaris have had for about 20 years (yes, since 1992).

Erez Zukerman

Interesting feedback, thank you! A couple of quick thoughts:

1) The problem with a package management system like that would be shared DLLs/files: What happens if more than one application uses the same file? The file “belongs” to both, and then what? (This is also a problem with MSI uninstallers)

2) What I was trying to say is that I think the folder architecture is wrong here. A user’s “home” folder in Windows contains stuff like Pictures and Documents (very user-serviceable). But because it’s “home”, it also contains Unix dot-folders. I think MS should separate things into user-serviceable home, and “applications” home.

This is kind-of happening now, with AppData. But AppData is structured strangely (what’s LocalLow, and why do we need three folders in there?), and it’s not really enforced, as evidenced by all the clutter in the root folder.

Fully agree with what you say re the registry. Not only is it a single point of failure, it makes it almost impossible to migrate applications across systems while keeping the settings intact.

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ThomasMcA

To find which apps use a mysterious folder, search for the folder name in the Registry, in .INI files and in .xml files. You can usually move the folders, and change the settings that you found to point to the new location. There are also apps like PC Magazine’s “Change of Address” that change those settings for you.

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Krishnapriya

Yes, my pc is definitely cluttered especially the crapware from giveawayoftheday.com. The programs are really nice, it is just that in most cases I never use them  after the first time

Erez Zukerman

 That’s something a virtual machine would be classic for. Could always install those apps on the VM, and only if you see you used them often, move them to your main computer.

I think that’s what I’m going to do with my next system. :)

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Siriwat Taechawattanapanich

what about Mac

Erez Zukerman

I’m afraid I’m not a Mac user myself, so I wouldn’t know. If you have a specific Mac question, I recommend asking it on MakeUseOf Answers.

Siriwat

Thank you anyway.

muotechguy

Macs fill up with crap like any other PC, but generally only in the user space and it handles anything else itself. If you use an app-deleter to uninstall rather thanj just dragging the app to the trash, this will solve the problem of old app preferences too.

Siriwat

Thanks you too.

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Timothy Liem

well.. I’m stuffed with MS thingy. so I switched to Linux two years ago. only keep my genuine Windows 7 to play some hardcore games that hadn’t been ported to Linux. and then, I find it crashed and I was unable to recover it. so since march I totally switched to Linux. there are so many advantages of using Linux. one of them is, the apps won’t even dare to make a folder on YOUR home folder without your permission.

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