Take a look around any computer's hard drive and you will notice hundreds, no, thousands of things that are known as “System files.” These are files that your computer needs to operate. Delete, re-name or move them and your machine could start acting like Forest Gump.

People are often surprised to find out just how many things there are in a typical computer that do not “belong to them.” Now, I know it’s logical to think “hey, it’s my computer, every file in it belongs to me.” That may be true but most of the files on your computer really “belong” to the system. Meddle with them and you risk breaking your Windows.

Let me explain. Items on your hard drive are, essentially, files which are organized into groups called folders or directories. These files are either system files, user files or a combination system/user file.

Your operating system (Windows, Mac, whichever) is a program that relies on a plethora of files to function properly. Most of these files (system files) are so necessary that without them, Windows won’t run at all. Many times system files have cryptic names and you have no idea what they are when you see their icon. The rule of thumb to follow is “unless you are absolutely sure what a file is, don’t mess with it.”

Sometimes, as luck would have it, system files may be named similarly to one of your own files. This can cause a problem if you’re not careful because not everything on your computer is what you think it is. Always make absolutely sure a file is what you think it is before you delete or modify it.

An easy way to check a file is to right click it and then click (with the left button) “Properties” and then click “Details.” This will allow you to take a quick peek at a file without opening it (or accidently running it if it’s a program file) to determine what it is. If it’s a system file, chances are you won’t understand what you are seeing in the details page and that’s your clue; if you don’t understand it, don’t mess with it and certainly don’t delete it.

If a file is “one of yours,” you will recognize it right away in details. If you recognize it as not being a system file, you can do what you want with it.

“So, what about all of these things that I don’t need? How do I get rid of them? ”Well, the safest answer to that is to get rid of them “mentally.” In other words ignore them. One of the skills that any good computerist develops is the ability to ignore all of the things that don’t apply to the task at hand.

Some files, the ones that are half user files and half system files, are necessary for certain programs to run. If these files are modified, The operating system will still run but the program that “owns them” may not.

How do you tell which are which? You don’t need to. It all boils down to “if you are not absolutely clear what a file is, assume it’s a system file and leave it alone!” And that’s good advice.

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at 888-752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (No Hyphens!)

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