Restoring Windows Me sanity

Reader Paul Remeis sent in such a good description of a problem that can affect Windows Me and XP that I'm going to let him explain it before I weigh in.

Reader Paul Remeis sent in such a good description of a problem that can affect Windows Me and XP that I’m going to let him explain it before I weigh in:

“I’ve been running Windows Me on a home system for about a year now,” Remeis writes.

“We use this system primarily for email and web access, as well as storing digital pictures and managing household finances, task lists, and syncing a Palm.

“The system ran great for about six months; then I noticed severe performance degradation. Applications such as Outlook and Internet Explorer would take minutes to start up. Print jobs sent to our photo printer would remain in the queue for hours; some would never print. Often, a reboot would restore some performance, but it was quickly lost after one application was invoked. Another symptom: On shutdown, the PC State task would come back as unresponsive and required the user to manually approve its shutdown.

“I finally sat down to take a good look at the machine. The first thing I noticed was a lack of free disk space. The machine has a 30GB disk, but only 4GB remained free. I thought maybe we were overloading the disk with pictures or something — 26GB is a lot of data. But all visible directories were using a total of about 6GB. I was amazed — some file or directory I didn’t know about was chewing up 20GB of my drive and perhaps bringing the system to its knees.

“I next went into Folder Options and unhid protected files and directories. [To unhide these things, open My Computer; click Tools, Folder Options, View; configure three options to show or unhide all files; then click Yes and OK to confirm.] A folder named _Restore popped up on the C drive and, yes, it was about 20GB. It took some looking, but I found out how to turn off System Restore and reclaim the space. Once I turned off this feature and cleaned up its mess, my system was back to its earlier snappiness.”

The System Restore feature saves “restore points” — snapshots of Windows config files — at least once a day and whenever most new applications are installed. I wrote about System Restore glitches when Me first came out, but they’re worth revisiting because many new people are encountering them in XP.

I don’t know how Remeis’ restore points bloated up to 20GB — the default is supposed to be 12% of your hard drive, or 200MB, whichever is greater — but leaving Windows without adequate swap space is a definite no-no.

A bigger flaw of System Restore, however, is that it only preserves the state of Windows files without saving your valuable data. If you make regular backups, you can turn off System Restore.

To do that in Me, click Start, Settings, Control Panel, System, Performance, File System, Troubleshooting, Disable System Restore, OK.

This erases any restore points on disk, as Remeis found, but you may prefer the performance.

Livingston is co-author of 10 Windows books. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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