Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hard disks are too big

I remember when I got my first hard drive. It was part of the first PC machine I ever had, a 386DX40. Before that I owned an Atari 800XL and an Amiga 500. While there were hard drives for the Amiga I couldn't afford one at the time. The 386 came with a 52MB Quantum. Back then I had to decide whether I wanted to have Windows 3.0 on the disk or Wing Commander 2.

While I'm not really too eager to go back to those times I recently noticed (again) that the vast amounts of disk space we have today are not always a good thing in a manner of speaking.

Over the years I owned several computers, with each new one came a new, bigger hard drive. As I usually sold the old machine - and the smaller hard drive with it - I just copied (almost) everything into some sort of "old_disk" folder on the new machine. When the next upgrade came, I had (of course) not reviewed everything in that folder and so, just to be on the safe side, just put it into the next "layer of archive" directory.

Currently I am using a Pentium IV machine with three hard drives. An older IDE drive with 80GB, one SATA 250GB and a third one with 400GB, also SATA. When I first installed Ubuntu in the summer of 2006 (Dapper Drake) I decided to give it the whole 80GB drive. To make space I just moved all the Windows data on that disk to the 250GB one. (Guess what... "80gb_disk" the folder was called).

Now, a little more than a year later, Ubuntu has replaced Windows as my primary and everyday operating system. I still keep Windows for the occasional game of Far Cry, but apart from that I do not really need it anymore. The last piece of hardware I cannot get to work with Linux is the CanoScan LiDE 70 scanner, but that will be replaced soon. Because the 80GB was filling up steadily I decided to do it properly this time and dedicate the whole 400GB disk to the /home partition.

Of course I needed to get the data off there, but as it was more than the already crowded 250GB disk could take, I finally had no choice but to wade through the data and see what I could throw away.

It was just unbelievable. I found things I had completely forgotten about; letters, pictures, stuff from school and university I never thought I had kept in the first place. It was like going through those boxes that somehow seem to magically appear in the attic and the basement every time you move to a new place. Some of the things were really great to find - like meeting someone you haven't seen for some time.

However most of the space was just taken up by old Windows installations, "temporary" download folders and rotting user profiles. Do you know that feeling when doing the occasional re-install of Windows to better keep the old installation somewhere, in case you need that one special settings file or have to take a look at the old registry again? Or let that ISO image lie around and burn it to a CD or DVD later and then never do it anyway? I found at least 4 Outlook PST files - apart from the last one I really used, of course

It took me more than 6 hours to go through it all and this time really deleting stuff. Most of it was complete trash and absolutely useless. I still kept all of my documents, music files and other "handmade" stuff. In total I removed around 290GB of old cruft...

Imagine yourself back to the 386 time, would you have believed anyone, had they told you that you were going to have roughly six thousand(!) 52MB disks, filled up with nothing but useless junk? :-)

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