Good Files Going Bad

By Kenny Williams

The details are my personal beast of burden that makes me stay on my toes. I see this little fault as a sort of far sightedness to the fine details of life. This sort of mental blurred vision can be a real handicap at times, especially when it comes to computers. This is why I have to make sure I work through a problem a few times mentally before I actually take it on, like the carpenter that measures twice before cutting. I do this because the smallest, seemingly most inconsequential details (like if David had forgotten his rocks for the sling when he came upon Goliath) can make or break history. One or two misplaced, corrupted, or outdated files can cause a computer disaster of biblical proportions. Fortunately, Windows provides a variety of utilities to keep things straight. This week I will share some details about crucial files and how to manage them.

Even the smallest of computer systems contain thousands of files and dozens of file types. System files (with extensions such as .SYS, .REG, .DLL, and .DRV, among others) include information vital for running basic software and letting the computer interface properly with certain hardware. Deleting or moving these files could make programs or peripherals inoperable.

Windows has measures to prevent your preschooler, spouse or dog from accidentally maiming these files. Some system files are hidden, meaning that when you browse through folders, they aren't listed, even though they are still performing their duties. The best part is that these files are designated as read-only, meaning they aren't erasable unless you take special measures.

It's easy to get a quick look at the kind of files with which you're dealing. If you're looking at a list of files in a folder view, from the View menu click Details>View>Arrange Icons>By Type. The files will now be listed according to their classification. If file name extensions aren't displayed, you can make sure they always show up. In Windows 98 click View>Folder Options (in Windows 95, click Options)> click on View tab then uncheck the Hide File Extensions For Known File Types (in Win95, this is the Hide MS-DOS File Extensions For File Types That Are Registered checkbox). In Windows Me click on the Tools>Folder Options>View tab> uncheck the Hide File Extensions For Known File Types.

While you're at it, you might also want to reveal hidden files. In Win95 click Show All Files option. In Win98 and WinMe, double-click Hidden Files And Folders, then click the Show Hidden Files And Folders option. Click OK.

Another nice trick for gaining file information is to right-click on the file and then click Properties. At the bottom of the Properties dialog box, you'll see the files information listed. If you clear the Hidden and Read-Only checkboxes the files will show up in folder searches and makes them vulnerable to deletion. I do not recommend changing these attributes of files unless you know exactly what you're doing.

Invariably, good files go bad. Fortunately there are ways to resolve such problems. Win98 includes a utility called System File Checker that certifies the integrity of files that fuel the operating system. It also lets you restore files that have been damaged and decompress useful files, such as drivers from the Win98 installation CD.

To start System File Checker click Start>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Information. Then from the Tools menu, click System File Checker. Before you start a scan, click Settings. In the System File Checker Settings dialog box there are some helpful options, especially the Check For Deleted Files and Check For Changed Files checkboxes and the Always Back Up Before Restoring checkbox. These are fairly self-explanatory variables that make a big difference in the effectiveness of System File Checker. System File Checker also lets you back up the files you're currently using before replacing them with the original versions. Other variables the System File Checker lets you control are a search feature that can be customized based on either file name extension or folder, backup location, and even a quick Restore command that defaults your computer to default system information, a solution best reserved for extreme problems.

Another fine detail is to click Settings>Search Criteria tab. Two vital folders, C:\PROGRAM FILES and C:\WINDOWS, are omitted from regular scans by default. To include these folders, select them and then click Include Subfolders. If you wish, you can also select only certain files types for System File Checker to verify. Under Select The File Types You Want To Check, there are a number of files types listed; to add or remove a file type, select one and then click either Add Type or Remove.

If System File Checker finds any corrupted or altered files during its routine, you'll be offered several choices. When simply attempting to get a computer back on track, the Restore File function is the best option. This should revert the troublesome file back to its original state from the installation disk and let you get working (or playing) again. Of course, reinstalling any sort of file means you have to be able to locate the appropriate CD or floppy diskette, so always file your important media away in a safe place.

I recommend running the System File Checker every time you install new software or hardware drivers. Not only will your computer's system files stay neater, but you'll also be able to pinpoint the source of a problem right away instead of troubleshooting several potential issue-causing software applications at the same time.

None of these measures are much help unless you use them on a regular basis. Of course, it's tough to find time (or even to remember) to do so. I recommend that you set a repeating appointment in your Outlook calendar and make time once or twice per month for updates and a file scan.

Most importantly, keep in mind that adding new software or hardware to your computer is the source of most system file problems. If you experience any problems immediately after an installation, a quick uninstall procedure may eliminate the files that are causing the issue and let your computer function normally again.

If you have any questions or comments or would like computer lessons I can be reached at

The WebServer is a weekly computer column with a circulation of over 120,000 readers in three different publications. Look for your weekly dose of WebServer in The Caribbean Connection in Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami and in The Observer News in SouthShore.

Observer News Front Page