Q I bought a new computer, but I'm afraid to dispose of, sell or give away my old machine without making sure all of my data is gone first.
AAs this reader knows, deleting a file in Windows doesn't prevent somebody from recovering it later on. Fortunately, a pair of free, open-source programs can permanently scrub data off a PC.
To wipe out individual files, try Eraser ( http:/
If you need to scrub the entire hard drive -- and you have a CD to reinstall Windows from afterwards -- use Darik's Boot and Nuke ( http:/
Once you've burned the Boot and Nuke CD, pop it into your computer and restart. When the PC flashes a message about which key to press to edit the boot order, press that key, then choose the drive holding the new CD.
When the text-only "boot:" prompt appears, type "autonuke" to wipe all the data off your drive. Then leave the computer alone -- it may need a few days to grind through this work.
For a less comprehensive disintegration of your data, type "quick" instead and you can be done in a couple of hours.
Got a Mac? To vaporize files, use the Finder's "Secure Empty Trash" command in Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4. On older systems, try Next Wave Software's free Burn ( http:/
-- Rob Pegoraro
Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 email@example.com.