I'm still seeing indications in USENet, the Microsoft news servers and on mailing
lists that folks still aren't catching on to the idea of 'multi-user' in
Windows and it's an important bit of knowledge, especially to MS Office users.
Folks who are out to clean their systems of orphaned temporary files issue claim
"I know all the sneaky little places," yet their advice and
user results sometimes indicate otherwise.
First things to knowMicrosoft has invested an incredible amount of energy
to organize your file system along six points of consistency. They are:
- System SpecificTypically referred to as %SYSTEM% or
%SYSTEMROOT%. These are the places to go if you want to see the OS
(operating system) Specific files and settings. They are also environment
variables returned or expanded by the operating system to show the
full path on the hard disk where the system is installed. For instance, %SYSTEMROOT%
on a Windows XP system is C:\Windows.
- Program InstallationTypically C:\Program Files. This
location is where applications and services hosted by the Operating System
should be housed.
- User Specific Application Configuration SettingsTypically C:\Documents
and Settings\<user name>\Application Data. These values are settings,
tools and configurations used by applications that are multi-user aware.
- User ProfilesTypically C:\Documents and Settings\<user
name>. We go to speaking in First person here. This is where I find
My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, My Documents. This is the place for My Whatever
and if you don't believe it, why does Media Player automatically point to
My Music, Photo Editor to My Pictures and Word to My Documents?
- All UsersAgain, usually located within C:\Documents and
Settings, but this time they are housed under the subfolder All Users.
These are settings and programs available to all users of the system.
A modification made to a program storing its settings here causes all users
to be impacted.
- Everything ElseAnything else is essentially single setting,
but not OS specific and is expected to be handled wherever on the file
system. By default, though, you've got to move out of the My paradigm
in Explorer to see the rest of the drive and do Everything Else on it. Note
that this is also the place where applications are often installed by default
when the developer of that application is not too familiar with the Windows
environment. A wonderful for instance is Computer Associates AutoSys.
It's a powerful tool for job automation in a way that is reminiscent of mainframe
computing (which is still a valid processing method), but it is often installed
in its own folder on the root of the drive.
Yeah, But What's Mine is Mine!
You need to know that your documents really are yours. No other user who
logs on to your computer running Windows NT, 2000 Professional or XP will see
the documents created by you when you were logged in if you saved them to the
folder ubiquitously named My Documents. When they log on, the My Documents
folder is specific to them and it does not point to the same location
as your My Documents folder.
"So what?," you might say. Well, here's what: Some things
are still done in single user mode. That's a point I just discovered when working
on Dian's machine under my profile (another way of saying Log In). I set the
video resolution to my comfort and, ideally and normally, this setting applies
to my profile only. For some reason, it affected her settings when she
logged into her profile, too. That's a point I'll investigate and repair at
another time. But it made me think a little about what computer users are assuming
on their own systems (it also indicates a bug in the drivers since XP holds
these values relative to the logged on user).
For instance, when I suggest people clean their temp files out (a requirement
distinct to Office and Setup these days), I get a standard "I know that"
kind of look from them. Later, I find out that folks are still going to the
SYSTEM temp directory which is rarely used anymore.
Open a command prompt (Start/Run, type Command and hit Enter)
and type SET, then press Enter. On any of the described operating
systems above, the output will fill the screen with all sorts of gobbledygook.
Every bit of it is important, but users don't often think so. To make what's
in there look important, though, look at a smaller bit of information (it's
easier that way). Look at the information following TMP and TEMP.
On my laptop, those two environment variables expand like this:
Note that I didn't call them System environment variables? That's because they
are User Specific! In this case, they are pointed to the profile path
for my standard login, GCHAPMAN. Were no one logged in, the system would revert
to the System environment variable values for TMP and TEMP, should it need a
place to house a temp file. On this system, the location for those two system
environment variables is C:\windows\temp.
As you go along with one of the newer MS Operating Systems, you'll find that
most of the clutter will occur in the temp directory specific to your user
profile. If there is some garbage accumulating in the system specific
Temp directory, I know two things about your system:
- You have system specific jobs/services running that are creating files
- An accumulation of these files indicates that either the responsible service
is unreliable or your system gets rebooted a lot without shutting down properly
Want to see the proof that there's a difference? Right click My Computer
and choose Properties (or hit Windows + Break key to view System Properties).
Click the Advanced tab and then click the Environment Variables
button. In this new window you'll see two panes. The top one declares environment
variables specific to your profile. The second one indicates variables
and values specific to the entire system. If a variable exists for both
the user and the system (TMP for example), the user defined variable takes precedence.
To make it a little tougher, Microsoft has set the User Specific temporary
file location in a folder which carries the Hidden attribute. To ensure
you can see this location once you identify it, open Windows Explorer and click
the Tools menu then Folder Options. Click the View tab
and make the following changes:
- Set the option to Show All Files or Show Hidden Files and Folders
- For clarity, clear the check mark next to Hide Extensions for Known File
- Clear the check mark next to Hide Protected Operating System Files.
Acknowledge the warning and accept the risk. Just bear in mind that you can
now easily damage your system by inadvertently deleting or renaming important
Figure01The View dialog from Windows Explorer's Folder Options.
What About Those Temp Files?
Now you should be able to navigate through Windows Explorer to places like C:\Documents
and Settings\gchapman\Local Settings\Temp, where you may find an unexpected
mess of temporary files, failed installations and active temporary files.
So what are your options for cleaning temp files in these environments? Take
- Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Disk Cleanupthis is
a great all around tool. It's very slow, but very thorough. Click this, get
a beer or two, look at the options for cleaning up when the dialog appears,
turn it loose and go have some more beer. This is the most complete option
and it still misses some things specific to Office's behavior.
- Open Windows Explorer. Using Tools/Folder Options/View tab, make
sure you can see hidden files and directories. For ease of demonstration,
navigate to your System's Temp dir. In XP this is typically c:\windows\temp.
You may find junk here. Rid yourself of it, but be careful as you *can* lose
something you wanted by deleting everything from this folder. That's because
some email programs open attachments in the temp dir and sometimes they insist
on using the System TMP location.
When you're done, navigate to Documents and Settings (Win2k and later).
Expand the folder and take note of all the sub folders. You'll notice names
like Default User, All Users, Administrator and your own login name. You can
do the following under all of these profile paths, but the only one likely
to be full of junk is the one with your name and the names of any other common
users on the machine.
Under each of these profiles is a folder called Local Settings and within
that folder are your History, Temporary Internet Files, Favorites and your
Temp folder. If you've never been here before, you'll be amazed at all the
garbage that has collected in the Temp folder. Again, you may delete everything
within this folder freely, once you've verified that your email program or
Unzip has not expanded something here that you really wanted to keep. By the
way, if you want to keep anything, I recommend you move it to some other more
permanent location. After all, this is the TEMP (i.e., temporary) folder!
- I've made a number of little tools which *ARE AWARE* of the distinction
between system and user specific environment variables.
- First is the TempDirScrubber. It does know about both you and
the system and creates a log of the files it scrubs (deletes) and of those
times when it can't delete a file and the reason why.
- Next is the Word Options Utility. Amongst the things you'll notice
in its output is some of the file paths Word uses. Yep, they do point
to that elusive user profile rather than anything system specific.
- Finally, there's the Word Backup Utility. It takes care of backing
up four User Specific locations and 1 System Specific location
to help you protect your documents and templates. They are:
Windows Fonts folder
All of these tools are available, free, from http://www.mousetrax.com/downloads.html.
Any articles discussing them are also linked at this location, so you can see
what the tools' designed purposes are.
I encourage you all to shut down your Office applications long enough to study
this note and your systems. Identify for yourselves where your system is doing
things and get familiar with them. The better you understand them and take care
of them, the better your Office XPeriences (sorry, had to do that at least ONCE!)
Finally, there are some files that will be missed if you use the methods listed
above. Office apps still insist on creating a scratch file, itself temporary
in nature, for every document it opens and it will do so in the same directory
as the document being used. It will also do this with any templates in use while
editing a file. So, using Word as the example, a document you wrote a week ago
and are now editing will have two scratch files open. There will be the one
for the current document and one for Normal.dot (the default master template
for Word). The scratch files will be stored in the two directories in use by
Word (the one with your document and the one housing normal.dot). Should Word
crash, one or both of these scratch files will remain on the system. The autorecover
feature will attempt to clean up both the next time you start Word and may or
may not work. In the instances where it fails, you'll need to close Word and
run off to those directories and get rid of these scratch files. If you allow
them to accumulate, it can affect the stability of Word.
Points to Remember
- Your Microsoft Operating Systems organize your file system along six
- Your documents and the temporary files created by the programs you run are
all yours. Take a look!
- You have several options for both cleaning up the mess left behind, as well
as protecting your important files and we've described several of them here.
- Windows attempts to protect itself from you and you from everything else
that happens on your computer.
And that's why Windows Explorer only wants to show you My Documents!