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Keep your PC simple, stupid!

December 1st, 2015

Martin

Minimalism is quite a fad at the moment. Whether it’s decluttering your bookshelf or chucking out the chintz, from the piles of stuff in your house to the very patterns our things are decorated with, plain and simple is “in”.

Why is this? And is it something we can apply to our computers in a useful way?

There are a million reasons why minimalism might be the fashionable thing right now. I’m not going to go through every single one, but I’d like to suggest that it’s the feeling of freedom, of knowing that everything in your house it useful or beautiful, and that you know where everything is.

There’s also something about deciding what you need, and also being more certain of what exactly it is that’s lost when something goes wrong.

How is a simple computer any good?

How much of your computer do you use? 60% of the functions? 50% of the software installed on it? Have you clicked on more than 40% of the icons plastered all over the place

In truth, 80% of us probably use about 20% of the stuff that’s currently on our computers. We certainly don’t need everything on them. In fact, one of the most common reactions to Windows 10 is an annoyance at all the notifications, ‘live tiles’ and other distracting junk.

We’ll leave the question about how to remove all this stuff to another time, and concentrate on the ways we benefit when we do. There are three general strands: software programs, documents and other files, and online accounts.

You’ll know where your data is

The more unwanted documents and photos you remove from your hard drive, the more easily you’ll keep tabs on what’s left. No more will you lose those precious pics of the kids amidst dozens of black and under-exposed snaps! Get rid of that excess now.

How many programs have you got which know your email address (such as Thunderbird and Outlook, for example)? And how many are keeping giant databases of your photos? Choose one of each, and uninstall the others. You just need one photo library and one music app, so dump the rest.

New PCOnline accounts are particularly tricky. You sign up with an email address, you put in your address, and then you hardly use it. Work out which online companies have your details, and delete your account if you don’t use it regularly. After all, you can always open a new account in the future, if you actually think you’ll use it. And if you’re tempted to open a new account just to get a free download or the like: think about what you’re going. Is it worth it in the long run to have your details spread further along the grass verges of the information superhighway?

You can easily spot changes

As I’ve said on this blog before, knowing your computer inside and out (to the best of your ability) is one of the top ways to keep secure.

Deleting unwanted files and uninstalling software reduces the clutter of icons on your screen, and so an interloper is soon spotted.

If your home page changes then something is afoot. The same goes when something disappears from your screen. If you’ve kept your PC free from junk, it won’t be a change that’s lost in the confusion of a million other details.

Avoid making mistakes without realising it

Sometimes changes come about in your PC or laptop because you mashed the keyboard a little, and deleted last year’s photos of Lanzarote.

The most important thing to do if you want to see Dad in his tiny trunks again is to get it to a data recovery expert as soon as possible, having done as little with the computer in the mean time. So the sooner your spot the gap where hazy memories of ice cream should be, the better.

Get back the hard drive space you’re owed

Hard DriveWhen your computer emerges from its sweet-smelling cardboard and polystyrene womb, it will come loaded, as we all do at birth, with baggage and junk.

Some of it is foisted on the thing by the parents, but uncles, aunties, godparents and gold-level corporate affiliates all play a part too. You need to get rid of that as soon as possible, and gain that hard drive breathing space alongside the psychiatric freedom we so crave.

Duplicates are not your friend

Following on from the above, having dozens of copies of those Speedo-enhanced holiday snaps is not the route to computing Nirvana. One is enough, maybe two. And of course all backups should be on a separate disk altogether.

So take the time to put your photographic house in order, and work out where space is being wasted.

Get a dose of speed

Along with the extra space you gain, chucking the junk could also get you some extra oomph in your general computing. Ridding yourself of unused software can speed up your boot time, reduce the number of updates you need to install, and stop that idiot McAfee antivirus working overtime on unused program files.

Duplicate devices; false economy

No, not the latest Ang Lee film, but a good rule of thumb to remember when your finger hovers over that ‘Buy It Now, Fool’ button on that too-good-to-be-true bargain laptop.

I’m perhaps more guilty than most people in ignoring this one, but the answer to frustration with poor hardware is not to buy another cheap PC. If you are the proud owner of a hefty pile of laptops, netbooks, phones and PCs all slightly under-performing, your best bet is to see how much cold, hard cash each one is worth, and sell them. Then put that cash to good use by buying a decent, dare I say it… expensive computer.

It will pay itself back many times over, and the bonus feature is that having all your files in one place gives you peace of mind.

Backup that doesn’t get your back up

Now that you only have one main computer, and perhaps a tablet or phone (I mean, you have been following this advice as you read it, haven’t you?), you’re in the perfect position to back up all your data safely. There’s only one source, so you won’t miss anything, and then there’ll only be one destination, which you can keep safe in whatever manner you see fit.

It makes it all easy, doesn’t it?

Simple security

In the Infosec industry they have a buzz phrase (in addition to ‘infosec’, which is short for information security) and that is ‘attack surface’. Think of it like the perimeter fence around an army base. A nice, straight fence might be 5km long, and then you just have to defend those 5km. However, if you have a stupid, wiggly fence that goes all over the place and needlessly stretches for 20km, then the soldier-power needed to defend it increases.

It’s the same on your computer. Every piece of software is a way in. Every password-protected data goldmine is a potential doorway. Even some files can give the criminals another way past your defences.

So it makes sense that when you remove software, delete files, and close down an online account you are also shortening the perimeter fence, the ‘attack surface’. Things become much more easy to defend, and harder to break through out of sight.

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So there you have it. Removing duplicates, ridding yourself of your gadgety piles of technology, and closing down unused online accounts can lead to peace of mind, secure computing, and a happy bank balance.

It’s not always easy, and it’s certainly not always possible to do everything on this list, but if you keep these principles in mind (and me in mind if you need some help), then there are rewards to reap.

Thank you for your attention.

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