Is there a reasonably quick way to clear my files completely off a Windows XP laptop and still leave the programs on the computer in order to donate it?
reformatting and deleting wont get it, guys. the only safe way to clean up a computer for resale or give-away is to use a disc wipe program such as Darik's boot and nuke, aka dban or something similar. data on a reformatted disc can easily be recovered by a knowledgeable party
The best way would be to get rid of your operating system entirely. You can do this by booting up with some kind of Live CD/DVD and erasing all partitions. However, many recovery applications are also capable of recovering data from deleted partitions. Therefore, what you should ideally do is reformat your drive multiple number of times (each time with a different file system to make it even safer). You can do this by using a Linux Live CD called GParted and format the disk with various file systems like (Ext3, Ext4, FAT, etc.). Try doing at least 3 different formats if you are especially paranoid about others getting access to your data.
After deleting/shredding all your documents and files you can use the "wipe free space" feature of CCleaner to prevent other previously deleted files from being recovered.
1- Shredding/deleting all essential data using the above mentioned file shredding programs.
2- Formatting the entire drive (use slow format) and reinstalling the Operating System.
You might want to try Eraser and these file shredder programs.
Clear your all your browser history
Remove your email profiles
Delete all your save games
Go through your user account profile, especially temporary directory and application settings.
If you have been using the laptop for a while, it will have a lot of data about you, and if you are donating it to someone you don't know, I would see if you can do a factory reset or just format and reinstall the operating system. You don't want a stranger snooping around your computer in case they find something. But if its a friend or family member, you may get away with it.
But I would recommend formatting or resetting it to the factory default.
All good answers. The important points have all been covered.
There is one more option to mention. Simply replace the whole HD. It sounds extreme, but you can get new laptop HD's for $50 to $100, less if you buy a used one. If you have had particularly sensitive information on your HD this is the ultimate in security. Replacing a HD does not invalidate the Windows license, even if it is OEM (the situation in most cases).
The easiest way to is use a program such as BCWipe or CCleaner.