I sometimes get e-mails from a friend with massive downloads – 10 minutes to
download a 15-second “cute” but meaningless video. When I download these
things, are they copied to the hard drive somewhere? Should I periodically go
in and clean them out? If so, how? I use Yahoo e-mail. I haven’t noticed any
particular slowing yet, but if these 2-4 meg files are sitting somewhere on our
hard drive it’s bound to add up at some point.
I love cute videos as much as the next guy, but sending them around as email
attachments is just wrong. They take up way too much space, and take
way too much time to download. In an ideal world, the videos would simply live
on the web somewhere, and we’d just email each other a URL to the video, rather
than some huge copy of the video.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, so how best to manage what people send
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In your case, you’re probably in great shape. Using a web-based email
interface, such as Yahoo or Hotmail, the browser takes care of managing your
disk space for you.
Yes, the files are downloaded to your PC in order to be viewed, but they’re
placed in the “Temporary Internet Files” folder, or an equivalent. Browsers
such as Internet Explorer automatically manage that space, and delete least
recently used files when it fills up. You can control how much space is
allocated to these temporary files in the browser options, but for the most
part you won’t need to worry about it.
If you receive email using a regular email client, like Thunderbird, Outlook
Express, Outlook, Eudora and others, you need to be just a little more
To begin with, the message, including the huge attachment, is downloaded and
stored in your email folders. When you then play the attached video, the mail
program copies it to some temporary location – usually your system’s TEMP
directory. When you close the video player, and close the email that had the
attachment, the temporary copy may, or may not, be deleted. The good news here
is that Windows’ Disk Cleanup wizard will clean up any remnants in your system
any lasting effects on disk space …”
Naturally, you’ll need to delete the email from your mail folders when
you’re done watching the video. In most cases that will simply move the mail to
a “recycle bin” within your email program. If your mail program does this, then
to really delete it you’ll need to empty the recycle bin. Even then,
you may not see the disk space recovered until your mail program has
“compacted” its files. Most will do this in idle time while you’re not using
your computer, but most also have an explicit “Compact Now” option that will
force the operation to completion. Once that’s done, you should see the disk
The good news here is that, for the most part, you needn’t worry too much
about any lasting effects on disk space resulting from the huge attachments
your friends might send you. The normal behavior of your web and email programs
should handle things without your needing to take additional steps. At worst,
you might want to run the disk space cleanup utility every so often.