Computer Guide

Deleting personal information

by George Skarbek - 15th July 2008

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Deleting personal information

Q: I have purchased a new laptop and have transferred all my data to the new computer. I would like to give my old XP computer to a friend but I would like to delete all personal information from it first. Is this something that can be safely done by someone who has only moderate computer knowledge or do I need to format the hard disk? If it can be done can you provide the detailed steps please?

A: I my opinion this can be safely done. The main steps are:

  • Using Windows Explorer, delete all your personal information such as Word, Excel files and photos from the hard disk. These are usually in My Documents. If you have saved these files elsewhere then search the entire hard disk for *.doc, *.xls etc.
  • Delete all your mail in all folders and all accounts, if you have more than one,

then compact the folders. In Outlook Express click on File, Folder, Compact All Folder. In Outlook click on File, Data File Management, select the folder if you have more than one, click Settings and Compact Now. If you have an Archive.pst file then locate and delete it. Now delete the account from Tools, Accounts, highlight it and click on Remove.

  • Delete all browsing history, especially the Auto complete entries that can have your passwords. In IE 7 this is done from Tools, Internet Options, and in the Browsing History click on Delete … and select Delete all to remove all temporary Internet files, cookies, history all of visited sites, Forms data and all passwords.
  • Delete any other files such as MYOB or Quicken which are not stored in My Documents.
  • Now empty the Recycle Bin, defragment the hard drive by selecting My Computer, Drive C, Properties, Tools. This action will make recovery harder if your friend tries to experiment with some unerase tools. To make it virtually impossible you should copy the contents of several DVD movies onto the hard disk to overwrite any old deleted files. You can then delete these DVDs, or leave them so that your friend can watch them.

Finally, to be really sure, you can perform one more step. After a re-boot logon not as yourself but as Administrator and remove your account and all files and defragment again. This will ensure that none of your personal information can be recovered. If your computer automatically logs you on without asking for a password, then click on Start, Logout and at the logon screen if you cannot see the Administrator logon, press Alt + Ctrl + Del to bring Administrator up.


Eliminate the >

Q: Is there a simple way of deleting the greater than   >  symbol that is often  found  in emails that have been forwarded?

A: This greater than sign is used to indicate that someone else is copying some prior text received in an e-mail often when jokes are being circulated, and with each forwarding another > is added. However, it becomes a problem if you want to cut and paste just the text. There is a quite good shareware program called FormatClip available from  that has been written to overcome this problem. This program simply takes whatever text you copy to the clipboard and replaces that text on the clipboard with a cleaned up version. Leading  > characters are removed as well as extra line breaks. So when you paste into another application, almost all junk formatting will be cleaned up. I have been using this program for some time and have not investigated newer programs but there are a number of programs to deal with this problem. Another such program is:

You may be able use Word as a text editor to cut out all the  >> signs on the left-hand side by holding the Alt key and use the mouse to highlight a narrow rectangle to clean up. By holding down the Alt key the mouse is restrained in the horizontal position.
Alternatively it is not too difficult to clean up this using Word where you can use the search and replace command. Replacing the > with nothing in the Replace section will remove all the symbols very quickly.

This replace command will also let you replace all carriage return/line feeds (called Paragraph Marks) with a space. This will make the text flow to the full width of the lines. In Word, Select Edit, Replace (or Ctrl + h) and select Special and then Paragraph Mark or type ^p in the Find section as this is the instruction to find the hard carriage return.

However, by removing all carriage returns, you will also lose any paragraphs in your document. This can be avoided: paragraphs are separated by two carriage returns and you just want to remove the single carriage returns that occur at the end of each line. Therefore select Edit, Replace With, Special and select the Paragraph Mark twice then choose a unique set of characters as a temporary replacement, such as $#$. Then select Edit, Replace With, Special and select the Paragraph Mark just once and press the space bar as the replacement. The space will provide the missing space at the end of each line.  Finally replace all $#$ with two Paragraph Marks to re-establish the original paragraphs. Experienced users can automate the above process by recording a macro if this has to be done often.


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