Computer Guide

How do experts maintain their computers?

by George Skarbek - 2007

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How do experts maintain their computers?

Q: Can you tell me how expert users such as yourself set up your PC and do the housekeeping?

A: This is one of the more interesting questions that I have received and I am not sure if I can give you a full answer. Firstly the setup is probably similar to most users. I install most of the programs on drive C although I have a second hard disk for backups. 

I check time zone and local settings such as Australian spelling. I also ensure that auto updates are on and install other software patches.

Probably one difference is that I move the large swap file to the other drive. This is done from Control Panel, System, Advanced, Performance, Settings, Advanced, Virtual Memory and after making the changes ignore the warning. This not only reduces the size of the image that I automatically create with Acronis every alternate day but it improves performance as both hard drive read / write heads can operate independently and simultaneously.

My computer is very stable, no reboots or freezes at all and I run Windows XP but I have Vista on another computer that is not that stable. One reason for the stability is that on my main production computer I do not install test programs or experiment. On my other computer, I install many programs that I wish to learn, review or experiment with. It has multiple operating systems and it does occasionally hang or re-boot, especially in Vista.  I also use it as an additional backup for my important files.

As for the routine housekeeping I have spoken to two very experienced colleges who are in the computer business and we have similar habits. We perform daily backups to dedicated drives. At end of month - create a Restore Point for safety. Also at the end of month create a DVD to be stored offsite. On top of this create an image backup on a weekly basis. Delete temp files from both the local settings and from Windows. Empty the Recycle Bin. Few times a year perform hard disk defragmentation.

I check startup program bi-monthly as some unwanted programs keep coming back with some automatic updates. Over a period of time as more program get installed, more programs startup automatically and this not only slows down the booting up process, it can slow down the normal running of your computer as these programs sit in memory. This makes less memory available for other programs and I recommend that a couple of times a year you remove unnecessary programs.

Free stand-alone spell-checking program

I have reformatted my computer. I loaded Open Office in lieu of MS Office. I find I cannot use Spell check in Outlook Express as a result. Is there a way to use the Open Office dictionary in Outlook Express?

You can use a free stand-alone spell-checking program if an application does not have spell checking incorporated. OE uses Word, I recommend tinySpell from I have not used this with Outlook Express.


Convert PDF to Word

Q: Are there any free or cheap programs that convert PDF files to an editable format?

A: Yes, there are many ways to do this. The simplest and cheapest (free) is to click on File, Save As from the free Acrobat Reader and save the text. That text can be then opened in Word for editing. However there is a catch: only the text is saved and all formatting, fonts, images are not converted.

There are many commercial programs that will do a full conversion. Use Google and enter “convert PDF to word” and you will have over 340,000 items to choose from. If you leave out the quotes you will have several million.

However, there are a couple of other alternatives.  If you have a free Gmail account them you can you can send that PDF as an attachment to your Gmail account and then select View as html. Then you will be able to save the converted document onto your hard disk by clicking on File, Save Page As or cut and paste and save into a new Word document. The Gmail conversion will not convert images so all images will be lost also converting from html to Word will result in lines between paragraphs being lost. 

For occasional use there are free programs. See:  for a service that allows you to upload your file to their server, and then you can download the converted Word file or have it e-mailed to you. Although this service is free the resultant conversion is excellent. I tested a complex PDF file with multiple graphics, tables, fonts and headers and footers and all came out exactly as in the PDF file.

You probably think that there is a catch with this program, and there is. Only the first ten pages are converted for non-members. As membership costs $10 per year, this is still cheaper than any other program that I know of.


To look at the e-book in PDF format, Computer Guide, based on these columns click here