Many of the programs on your computer, and the operating system itself in many cases, create backup configuration files each time you change something. This is definitely a good idea, since any change could potentially (even if it’s not likely), harm something. Web browsers also create files, called cache files, that store information about your browsing habits, and also keep copies of many of the pages you visit, to help speed up browsing. Similarly, many programs such as word processors, image editors and again the operating system itself, keep lists of recently used items. Browsing this list will show exactly what you viewed “last time” you used the program, and make it simple to pick up right where you left off.
Of course, eventually these files start adding up, and can take up a lot of hard drive space. In addition, you may not want other people having access to your list of viewed documents, and cookies from your web browser and from Flash programs can also be a security risk. To combat this, it’s a good idea to erase this information periodically. The problem is that these logs, cookies, history files and other similar information is stored all over your computer. Many programs have internal mechanisms for dealing with this information, but you need to use each individual program for that, which can be time consuming.
Thankfully, Linux users have access to a great program called BleachBit. (It’s available for Windows as well, but I’ve only used it on Linux, so all my experience comes form that version.) BleachBit acts as a one-stop “shopping” area to peruse different types of files and get rid of whatever you want, while leaving intact files you want to keep. You can simply erase the files, or overwrite the files, which makes retrieving the information much harder (although not impossible).
Using BleachBit is simple. When you load it up for the first time it shows a list of all the programs on your computer with files BleachBit knows how to deal with. On my computer, this list includes not only GNOME (my desktop environment), but Firefox and Google Chrome, my package manager, Flash, OpenOffice progams, the Xine multimedia library, thumbnails created by various programs and more.
To get rid of files I don’t want on my system, I go through the list, checking off file types as I go. Since I may not know exactly what a file does, BleachBit is good about giving explanations. For the Firefox web browser, for instance, BleachBit can delete the cache, cookies, download history, form history, passwords, places, session restore points and URL history, as well as perform a database defragmentation. If I’m not sure about what each of those file types does I can view the short blurbs, so I know better what I might potentially want to get rid of.
For some file types, such as those under the “Deep scan” heading, BleachBit actually searches my hard drive for random files not necessary under Linux, such as DS_Store, Thumbs.db and other backup and temporary files. Here I can watch as the process takes place, then look at each individual file BleachBit found, and see whether I want to continue the process or not.
BleachBit has one additional feature, and that’s the ability to Shred files. In normal computer use, deleting a file doesn’t actually touch the data of the file on the hard drive. Instead, it deletes the entry of the file in your system’s file storage, so the operating system no longer “knows” about the file. The data is still there, but the operating system, for lack of a better analogy, has lost the address to where the data is on the hard drive. Shredding a file actually overwrites the data and erases the entry from the file directory. Like any type of deletion, the process BleachBit uses might not be extreme enough for some people, but for everyday use should be fine.
If you have information on your computer that you do not want touched for any reason, the path to that directory can be added to BleachBit’s WhiteList and it will be ignored. There are a couple other options, such as the ability to remove all language support except for ones you choose. I speak English and only a bit of barely-remembered high school Spanish, so for me, having English translations is enough; any other languages would be useless on my computer.
I like BleachBit. It’s easy to understand, simple to operate, and has a lot of features to free up hard drive space and speed up programs at the same time. I like the secure deletion and ability to overwrite free space for more security, and the explanations offered for file types are nice as well. It’s probably not a program everyone needs to download (or would want to download), but for those wanting an extra bit of security and feel confident they won’t accidentally erase something they might want later, BleachBit is a good option.