Best way to deep-clean a work computer before leaving?
December 11, 2006 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I am leaving this job at the end of the week, and I want to get every last single one of my files off my computer and leave it as clean as possible for the next person..

It is a windows XP Pro machine with files of mine scattered all over the place. What's the best way to make sure I get all of them? Is there a good checklist anywhere online of things I should do to make sure the computer is cleaned of my own files, settings and preferences, bookmarks and the like? Many thanks.
posted by By The Grace of God to Technology (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Does each employee have their own network account at your company or do you share a single ID to login to the computers? If the new person has their own ID they'll also get their own fresh profile, with your stuff inaccessible (unless they're a local admin)
posted by saraswati at 6:46 AM on December 11, 2006

Most companies that I know just re-image PC's each time for new employees so your stuff would get blown away anyway. Check with your IT department so see if they do that so you don't waste effort.
posted by octothorpe at 6:52 AM on December 11, 2006

Response by poster: This is true, saraswati, but there's also files on the local hard drive (to which i have administrator privileges) that I would like to ensure get deleted.

octothorpe, they do issue everybody a new user account, but they do not re-image the PC.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:56 AM on December 11, 2006

I'm a bit confused. What kind of files? If you mean you created folders on the local hard drive and stored files there, how would this be included in a general checklist of things to delete? If you mean files on your Desktop or in My Documents these are included in your user profile and they won't get in the way of the new person. If you're still looking to delete them, you can find them in c:\Documents and Settings\%username% (Desktop, My Documents, Favorites, My Recent Documents, etc). If you have another account you log into that has administrator you can completely wipe the profile by right-clicking My Computer and selecting properties, then going to the Advanced tab and clicking the User Profiles button. Select your username and click delete.
posted by saraswati at 7:09 AM on December 11, 2006

Best answer: Delete all your personal files, clear your browser caches, run Windows Disk Cleanup, and then download and run Eraser, checking the "erase unused space" option.
posted by enrevanche at 7:13 AM on December 11, 2006

If you have the option to reinstall, I'd recommend Darik's Boot and Nuke.
posted by thedward at 7:15 AM on December 11, 2006

I would check first that they're going to be cool with you just mass wiping the disk. I imagine you have some files that they may need in the future and deleting those files could be seen as a hostile action.
posted by o0o0o at 7:34 AM on December 11, 2006

Admin privileges? Do a thorough cleanup by removing stuff you know is yours, then either log in as admin (or make a new empty admin-level account, and log in as that) and delete your user account. Tell it not to keep files. That will effectively kill all of your personal user settings, histories, files, etc. The only thing this would miss would be files you intentionally saved outside of your home folders.

To remove those, you'd have to visually scan the directory trees. Also, uninstall any software that you know did not come with the system. Delete any remaining directories left after uninstall. Use the Windows control panel (and/or TweakXP, if you used it at any point) to reset all system settings to the defaults to take care of any changes you may have made that affect all users.

Nuke and reinstall is an option if and only if the system has a restore utility - the type that overwrites the HDD with an original image. This also means you, IT, or the next person in line will have to do a mass of system updates, which may or may not include SP2, so if you can clean without doing so, it will be easier on your replacement.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2006

(Note: An OS disk is good for reinstall, but will not replace OEM software - which is why I recommend NOT nuking unless you have a restore image or full access to all of the software and install codes necessary to do it manually.)
posted by caution live frogs at 8:05 AM on December 11, 2006

Response by poster: Note: I won't be nuking, we've got security, updates, and Novell Groupwise to keep as they are.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:29 AM on December 11, 2006

Ccleaner does a good job of cleaning common settings off of a PC. The only caveat I have is make sure you de-select the option to install the blasted search bar in your browser.

As for removing the files, maybe do a Windows Explorer search for files created after your start date, specifying document file types like *.xls *.doc or whatever else you use.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:35 AM on December 11, 2006

this isn't a total solution, but i would recommend installing and running creates a visual map of your hard drive(s), color-codes file extensions, and makes the block-sizes proportional to the size of each file. i find it indispensable for finding files that may be scattered across my hard drive, particularly large ones (or many of the same file extension).

it's free. also eraser would be a good idea (as mentioned above) if you've had any personal stuff on the disk you wouldn't want to be discovered later with low-level recovery tools. be sure and run a defrag once you've deleted everything too; this may also speed up the machine for your replacement.

you may want to look at some type of registry cleaner; i have not used any myself so i can't make any recommendations there.
posted by jjsonp at 11:06 AM on December 11, 2006

As a side note, consider buying a little USB thumbdrive before you start your new job.

You can run Firefox Portable directly from it so you won't have to worry about cleaning out bookmarks (etc) the next time you switch jobs.

And it's always easier to keep personal files segregated from work files if you have a dedicated drive to keep 'em on.
posted by bcwinters at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2006

There's a small, free program called eraser that will thoroughly overwrite the unused portion of the drive, so deleted data can't be undeleted.

Make sure you're viewing system files and hidden folders, so you can see all your files. Places to delete from include any temp folders, esp. in the profile: c:\docs & settings\userid\local settings\temp. Outlook stores some emailed documents there, and it's a source of privacy leaks.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2006

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