Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Computer maintenance need not be a huge burden. Setting a few utilities up to run automatically can reduce the amount of manual work dramatically.

Sitting again at my PC, doing maintenance...... it seems that doing maintenance takes more time than actually using the PC for surfing or e-mailing. I have by now 9 cleaning-.. virus-... spyware-... backup-....adaware-.... etc.-programs accumulated which I am now trying to run only once a week. Before, I was spending an inordinate amount of time just doing maintenance. There is something very wrong with this picture and the amount of garbage floating around the internet is insane and against which one has to protect oneself. If you have a suggestion on how this can be handled more efficiently, please, let us all know. And I do not want to run my PC at night to do this maintenance automatically.

Leaving your computer running overnight is one common and easy way to deal with this issue. It's certainly what I do.

But it doesn't have to be the only solution.

But I also have to ask: NINE MAINTENANCE PROGRAMS? For starters, it sounds to me like you're doing more maintenance than you need to.

Before I get into the list of programs you need to be running, we need to talk about automating these tasks versus doing it manually. Computers are great at doing repetitive tasks automatically, so there's very little reason you should ever have to sit down and spend your own time running a bunch of maintenance programs.

Even if you turn your computer off at night.

Now, the confusion will come from the fact that different programs use different techniques to automate. For example, your anti-virus program should have some kind of a scheduler to let you specify exactly when, and how often a scan should be run. Other programs may have different schedulers that do effectively the same thing.

"Computers are great at doing repetitive tasks automatically ..."

And for some programs you'll simply need to use the Windows Task Scheduler.

Another point of confusion is the question: when should I tell it to run, and what if the computer happens to be off at that time? Obviously, my solution is to leave the computer on all the time, and have these tasks run at night while I'm sleeping.

The alternative is to make a schedule for yourself. Make sure, for example, that you turn the computer on first thing in the morning before you have breakfast, so that the utilities can then run while you're doing that. Or perhaps at the end of the day, leave the computer on in the evening when you might not other wise be using it, have the scans run then, and then simply shut down the machine when you go to bed.

I hesitate to have automated scans run during the day when you're using the computer, since it can impact performance depending on how well the scanner is designed to operate, but that's also an alternative.

If the computer happens to be off when a scheduled scan is supposed to run, what happens depends on the tool or scheduler itself. Some will simply skip that run, others will allow you to actually specify "if the computer's off when this is supposed to run, run it as soon as you can".

But the absolute key is that once you set this up you should rarely have to do anything manually. The scans should just run without your involvement.

Now, about the specific tools you should be running in this fashion:

  • Backup: get an external hard drive and have your computer back up to this automatically once a day. Personally, I do a full backup once a month, and an incremental backup daily, but you may elect to do something different. (In lieu of an external hard drive, if you have more than one machine networked together, and they have the disk space, you can backup each to the other. But I recommend the external hard disk.)

  • Anti-Virus: have it scan your entire machine once a day automatically, and also turn on "real time" scanning, so that new viruses are caught as they arrive. Most anti-virus programs include a fairly powerful scheduling facility.

  • Anti-Spyware: pretty much the same as anti-virus. Daily scanning is actually less important, since most spyware scanning is real-time, watching for what software is doing.

Honestly, you could stop right there. Everything else you've mentioned is either unnecessary or optional.

"Cleaning": I don't know what you mean by cleaning, as it could mean so many things. In my case, it's limited to running a defrag once a week (automated of course), and emptying the TEMP folder "when I think about it" (this could also be automated).

"Adaware": you listed this separately from spyware, but that's what it is. If you mean the product Ad-Aware, that's an anti-spyware product, and you need only one. If you mean "adware" as distinct from "spyware", in reality they're one in the same, and that single anti-spyware program will get them both.

A couple of things I did not mention:

  • Tune-up programs: should never be run regularly or automatically - or in some cases at all. (There's a lot of debate as to how much they really help.) If run at all, they should be run as-needed when you are experiencing a problem that you believe they may help.

  • Registry Cleaners: should never be run automatically, they can do too much damage. If you run these at all (and again, the jury's out on whether you should), you should do so only manually, when you suspect they will solve a specific problem.

There may be other things specific to your situation that may, or may not be necessary, of course.

Ultimately, I do have to agree with your initial assertion: if you're spending more time maintaining the computer than using it, something's not right.

Hopefully, some of the above suggestions will help reduce the load.

Article C3471 - August 9, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

August 12, 2008 3:07 PM

What do you do when Task Scheduler tells you that you're not authorized to schedule a task? I tried to schedule defrag and it won't let me, but I can run it manually with no problem.

Duane E Moen
August 12, 2008 6:48 PM

I have a scan scheduled for every Monday at 6AM. It used to turn on and do just that but lately it turns on at 6AM but doesn't start to scan until about 6:30AM. Isn't that curious? This is Microsoft's scheduler.

August 12, 2008 8:39 PM

If you have a good firewall, antivirus, and perhaps active anti-spyware software (all of which, once configured properly, should run either all the time in the background or automatically at times you set AND update their databases automatically), and use common sense/caution when surfing, opening email, downloading free/shareware software, etc., then there should be little if any additional cleanup/maintenance needed except occasionally.

The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies to the Internet as much as it has ever applied to anything...


August 13, 2008 12:25 AM

I'll be shot for saying this,but in my experience anti-virus is often over-recommended.
I often have older people with their first computer being sold expensive programs, told to use them and no idea what to do with them. And not much point since they only check their email (the chance of virused email is LOW, for old people anyway), and browse the Better Homes and gardens recommended sites.

It just confuses them, and isn't worth the money of the risk they will hurt their computer more than a virus would.

Mary H.
August 21, 2008 5:44 PM

I will turn 72 this month and I take offense at your description "since they only check their email (the chance of virused email is LOW, for old people anyway), and browse the Better Homes and gardens recommended sites." of us.
I use my computer for many things, including doing my banking online and do not just browse the "Better Homes and Garden sites". I will admit that we all do not do the important things that you do, but, we are not all totally ignorant either. That is because we look for answers to our questions from people like you. Shame on you!
But, maybe you were talking about really old people.

August 23, 2011 11:54 AM

I used to run the Windows Disk Cleanup program once a month with the Windows scheduler, but I don't think it ever finished it's task. If you run it manually it populates the window and then just sits there. I can't see how to get it to finish on it's own.

Mark J
August 23, 2011 12:19 PM

You might want to try CCleaner. It not only clears out unnecessary files better than Windows Disk Cleaner, but it gives you the option to clear you browser caches and has some other nice features.

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