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Cleaning Up Your System

I have become Mr. Clean, helping my friends and neighbors rid themselves of spyware and other oddities running unintentionally on their systems. I guess everybody needs a hobby, and mine is reformatting hard drives and making a machine usable once again. I thought I would share the steps that I take to get a system back to a somewhat virginal state.

The signs that your PC is out of your control are simple: a new splash screen or application that can't be removed by Window's Add/Remove program routine, or if this software keeps returning after a reboot. Or a sluggish boot time, or new toolbars that appear at the top or bottom of the screen or inside Internet Explorer. In a few cases, I couldn't even bring up the Add/Remove dialog box, so far gone were these machines.

There are more talented people than I who can clean these machines up without having to revert to a major lobotomy, i.e., reformatting the drive completely. For those of you that are curious what I do, read on.

If your client's machine is still able to boot, burn a CD with the data files that you want to keep. Or copy these files to a USB key drive. Make sure you look around the hard disk: some applications like to hide their own files in their C:\Programs directory. Windows Address Book (for those people that are foolish enough to use it) hides its data deep into the system " if your clients want their data, bring up Address Book and do a File | Export | to a .WAB file under My Documents and back it up with the rest of their stuff.

The first step is to find the original XP "recovery" disk that came with the machine. If you don't have that, you'll have to purchase a new copy of XP. Next, you want to boot the machine from this CD (or from a Windows 98 boot floppy, if you don't have the XP CD or if your machine is so old that it can't boot from CDs). Usually, you have to press ALT-D, F2 or F12 or some other series of keys to keep the PC from booting directly from the hard disk. If you have more than one CD drive on the computer, use the topmost one.

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