‘Hi, Mike? I was deleting a bunch of programs to give myself more free space on my hard drive and now the computer is getting a bunch of errors and is not running very well. Do you think I deleted something I should not have deleted?"

Sound familiar? I hear it a lot! Randomly deleting programs or folders is really not a good idea and generally does not end well.

First check to see how much storage space is on the hard drive (go to "Start," click "Computer" or "My Computer," right click "Local Disk C:" and click "Properties"). If the free space is less than 20 or 25 percent, you need to free more storage space, get a larger hard drive and have the current contents transferred or purchase a new, updated computer. For the sake of this article, we shall go on the assumption that you have decided to stick with the computer you have and clean up the hard drive.

Deleting programs is not a very effective way of freeing up hard drive space. Programs are generally fairly small and do not take up much space, but games can be huge. Go to "Start," then "Control Panel," "Add/Remove Programs" (or "Programs" and "Uninstall"). It may take a minute or two for the "Add/Remove Programs" window to populate but when it does, you should see a list of programs and updates (it is generally not a good idea to delete updates). Run down the list and decide which programs and games you no longer use. Click the unwanted game or program and click "Uninstall." The game or program should be safely removed. Continue in this manner until all the games and programs you never use are gone. Now check your available free space.

In many cases, uninstalling games and/or programs does not free up enough space and more work is needed. There is a great free program that displays where every MB is being used. The program is called WinDirStat and is free for download at http://sourceforge.net/projects/windirstat (click the green download button in the middle of the page). Install the program and watch the PacMan-like critters run around the hard drive, gathering information. When the program has completed running, start clicking on the + to the left of each folder on the left side of the page until you get to the actual folder using all the space. Many times it is music, pictures or video files that are the culprits. Consider putting some of this on DVDs or portable hard drives.

If you have more than 20 to 25 percent free space and your computer is slow, check to see how much RAM you have (go to "Start," right click on "My Computer" or "Computer" and click "Properties"). If you have less than 1GB (Gigabyte) consider adding more. Adding RAM is the biggest bang for your buck and is pretty cheap. Check the lower right corner to see how many programs are running. If there are a lot of icons in the lower right corner, click "Start," then "Run" or type in the box msconfig. Click the "Start up" tab when this window comes up. Run down the list and things like Adobe Acrobat, iTunes helper, RealPlayer or Windows Media Player do not need to start when Windows starts so uncheck them and reboot when prompted.

Your computer will work with all of the items unchecked but I do not suggest this and remember that by unchecking these programs you are not uninstalling them. You are only disabling the auto-start feature. Make certain to leave your anti-virus checked!

Finally, use Registry Editors as a last resort. In some cases, they create more problems than they solve so use them very judiciously.

If all of this has failed to produce positive results or if I lost you after "Hi Mike," you may want to call a professional to check it out. Please be careful who you trust with your computer and personal information.

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

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