I love autumn in Arizona. As Emily Bronte once wrote, "Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree" (you guys thought I was just a pretty face, right)? I do love autumn; the cool evenings and mornings, nights sitting around the chiminea telling tales of a misspent youth, being able to walk outside in bare feet without getting second-degree burns, the return of our winter visitors, the list goes on into infinity. With the return of our winter friends are many computer issues, which, as a computer guy, I love. This autumn there have been two prevailing issues that seem to be bothering almost everyone; a lack of hard drive space and spyware.

When I got my first real computer many, many years ago, I bought the largest hard drive available; 1.8 gigabytes of pure power. I bragged about it to anyone who would listen. With almost 2 gigabytes of hard drive space, I thought it would never fill up. Windows 7 now occupies between 12 to 16 gigabytes of hard drive space and almost all programs are updating to give you better performance and an overall better user experience, or so they say. The result of these improvements is people running out of hard drive space. Those 20 to 40 GB (gigabyte) hard drives we never thought would be full are filling to capacity. We are finding we cannot install any programs, save pictures and our computers are performing at a snail's pace, all due to a lack of space.

"So how do we check this and what can we do?"

To check your available hard drive space, click "Start" and "My Computer." Locate your "Local Disk C," right click and click "Properties." The details of your hard drive will be displayed in hot pink (free space) and blue (used space). If you have less than 15 percent available space, bad things start to happen. Hard drives are dumb machines, really. If you tell it to put files in a certain place, it is going to try to cram it all in there and may move other files over in order to accomplish your request. When 2 GB of files are crammed into a 1 GB space they can become corrupt and cause bad things to happen, which eventually end in blue screens, a non-functional computer and a frantic call to us.

There are things you should do before the situation gets critical. First, you should be aware of the available space on your hard drive. If it starts to get full, start moving pictures to a portable, external hard drive or burn them to DVDs, then delete from your hard drive. To see where all the hard drive space is going, download and install a program called Windows Directory Statistics at http://windirstat.info/. This is a great program that saves hours of tedious work looking into every folder for usage. Get an online backup program. I prefer Mozy. You can get details on my website, www.smotherscomputers.com.

"So what can be done if I am out of space?"

There are three options: First, you can save your important data, format the hard drive and reinstall the operating system. That will erase everything, bring it back to factory settings and you can load it back up with junk again. Secondly, determine if it is cost effective to get a larger hard drive. Norton Ghost will copy every file from one hard drive to another without loss of data if there is no corruption so you have your same computer, but with a lot more space. Your final option is to bid a fond farewell to your old computer and boost the economy with a purchase of a new Windows 7 machine. Be aware that there are some issues with upgrading to a new operating system; most importantly, you will need to find an alternative to Outlook Express for your e-mail program.

I have been promoting Windows Security Essentials and Malwarebytes for a while now and without these two programs you risk having your computer get infected by spyware. I recommend purchasing Malwarebytes since the $24.95 gives you immeasurably better protection than the free version. Shoot me an e-mail for more information.

There is one thing I do not like about autumn; higher greens fees!

Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to mike@smotherscomputers.com or call (480) 753-7667.

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