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Essential Computer Software Maintenance

Just like a house or a car, computers require a little bit of maintenance in order to keep running smoothly. Fortunately, this can be programmed so most of it is done automatically. Here’s what you need to know to keep your computer performing at peak efficiency.


Frequency: Regularly, but especially before any other computer maintenance.

The most important thing you can do for your computer is backup your files. If you haven’t seen our article on backups, read it here. Computers and other devices can fail; it’s always best to have your data backed up as often as you can. It’s especially important to back up your files before trying any other maintenance.

Check For System Updates

Frequency: Regularly.

Whether you’re running Windows or Mac as your OS, your system is set to notify you when major operating system updates are issued. If you’re running Windows, an update will always come through Windows Update Agent on your control panel. If you’re on a Mac, your system will get updates through the App Store. It’s important to install these as soon as possible, as they can include critical security updates. Unfortunately this sometimes means that you get interrupted. You can defer installing the update until a more convenient time, but we’d recommend installing the update right away and using your unscheduled break to take a quiet breather.

Check For Program Updates

Frequency: Regularly.

Most programs will automatically check for updates when you run them. If a program needs an update, the program itself will tell you—never trust a different source. For example, an email telling you to download a linked update to Microsoft Word is fraudulent—Word will let you know if there’s an update. Microsoft won’t email you. If you choose to turn off automatic updating, you should consider making a list of the programs you regularly run and manually checking for updates once a week.

Virus Scan

Frequency: Regularly.

Most computers aren’t hit by viruses these days. Instead, spyware, Trojans, and ransomware are more common. There are lots of reasons to worry about the malware floating around the internet, so protect yourself. Buy good anti-virus software (here’s a comprehensive list) and run it regularly. If you like, you can program your anti-virus software to run late at night, when it’s unlikely to interrupt you.

Uninstall Unused Programs

Frequency: Once every six months or so.

We all accumulate programs and other digital stuff that we plan on using, but instead, it just ends up sitting there, taking up space. Accounting software, a movie-editing program, that program that was supposed to hold all our recipes but was really buggy and hard to use . . . it adds up. Make a point of going through your programs every so often and deleting the ones you aren’t using. If you use Windows, consider using CCleaner, which has an intuitive program-deleting tool. If you use a Mac, try AppCleaner, which is even simpler. Note: stick to deleting programs you put on your computer. Don’t touch the ones that came installed—you don’t want to delete any important system files.

Examine Old Files

Frequency: Once every six months or so.

Files accumulate just like programs do. Make a point of going through your computer every six months and delete stuff that’s just taking up space. If you’re a Mac user, consider a program called Disk Inventory X. It will scan your drive and show you an interactive graphic of all your files and how much space they’re taking up. If you’re running Windows, WinDirStat does the same thing.

Reinstall Your OS

Frequency: Once every couple of years.

Eventually, even the most well-maintained computer starts to show signs of wear and tear. Programs run slowly, boot time creeps up, and your system develops funny but annoying quirks. The solution is to reinstall your OS, which entails backing up your files, breaking out your installation disks, erasing everything, and starting over. If you’re reinstalling an OS on a Mac, follow this guide. If you’re reinstalling Windows, follow this guide. However, we should point out that reinstalling an OS can be a pain in the butt if you aren’t tech-savvy. Remember: you can always bribe your family’s resident IT expert with cookies.