18 November 2007

#46. What’s Eating You?

What I mean is, what’s eating up your disk space? We keep buying bigger and bigger hard disks – a terabyte is becoming affordable these days – and yet they just keeping filling up even faster. What is all that stuff on the disk? Wouldn’t you like to know!

Welcome back to my Tool Bar & Grill, where I would just love to tell you... but instead, all I can do is point you to useful free utilities that can graphically display your hard disks’ contents to you.

Sector 10 Reporting, Sir

WinDirStat is among the best known and most frequently recommended freeware disk usage reporting tools. It provides attractive chart and graphical views of the file types that occupy your disk, sized proportionately, as seen here:

WinDirStat offers various ways to customize the presentation of the disk statistics. It also enables you to delete selected folders from within the program (though I think this would rarely be useful).

Rather, I recommend JDiskReport (also free), which provides a greater variety of information and in a variety of more usable ways than does WinDirStat. This information can help you decide where to trim the fat. The screens below show just some of the ways it can visualize your disk usage.

File types:

File sizes:

Size distribution:

Top 50 by size:

Some multipurpose PC management suites (for example, Ashampoo WinOptimizer), include similar disk usage reporting among their many maintenance and optimization utilities, although less comprehensive than JDiskReport.

Our own Linux correspondent, Mark Lautman, reports: WinDirStat’s Linux brother is KDirStat for KDE. GNOME users have Baobab (which also works in any desktop environment with the essential GNOME libraries), with similar functionality, including the ability to open or delete folders and files:

Another attractive-looking option for Linux is Filelight. I hesitate to recommend it, because I haven't used it.

When Schizophrenia Isn't Enough

Everyone has their alter egos, those people or personalities that we wish we could mimic. I certainly have mine. I would just love to afford a decadent, debauched lifestyle, not just live one. [This is still Mark talking, not me! —JP]

In computing, many people who live in the Windows world would like to try Linux, but are nervous about giving up a familiar desktop environment. This is very natural. I'd think twice if someone said to me, “Hey, aren't you getting tired of breathing oxygen all day? Why don't you give argon a try?” It's very difficult giving up a basic tool, such as an operating system, particularly one with which you have been so intimate for so many years.

Well, there are several ways for Windows users to experiment with Linux without doing any damage to brain tissue. One way is with “live CDs.” Many Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, are available on live CDs. You download the boot image to your PC, and then burn the image onto a CD-ROM. There are plenty of Windows utilities for making bootable CDs; Ubuntu recommends the open-source InfraRecorder. Using this approach, you load Ubuntu from CD when you turn on your computer. When you quit Ubuntu, your machine reboots, the nightmare ends, and you're back to your standard Windows desktop.

Another approach, and arguably easier, is to establish a virtual network connection (VNC) to an existing Ubuntu machine. If you can find a friend who is willing to share their Ubuntu desktop with you (don't bother asking me), then you can connect to it using a VNC client. Perhaps the most popular VNC client is Real VNC. After downloading the client, connect to your friend's Ubuntu machine, and you'll be able to use his computer.

Another popular VNC client is Tight VNC, which is an open-source version of Real VNC. Regardless of the client you choose, using VNC is the easiest way to try out Linux.

I've been a happy Linux user for about three years, but I use a few key programs that run only on Windows, particularly Microsoft Office. One way to run those programs on a Linux machine is to VNC in the other direction, from Linux to Windows. To do this, install a VNC client such as Tight VNC or Real VNC. When you connect to a Windows machine, you'll be able to use the desktop within a separate window.

To summarize, virtual network connections are an easy way to escape your native desktop environment, and there are plenty of VNC clients available to help you do that. In a future column I’ll explore other tools you can use as escape routes, such as virtualization and emulators. —Mark Lautman

I hope you enjoyed your visit to the Tool Bar & Grill. Y’all come back and see us again real soon, you hear? And please feel free to comment below or write to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.


  1. Thank you soooo much for pointing me to JDiskReport! I just used it to clean up some really pesky files which I never would have found. Thanks again.

  2. I am always delighted when my blog helps someone. Thank you, Risa, for taking the trouble to tell me about it.

  3. JDiskReport seems pretty good. I have been using a simple program "Scanner" (http://www.steffengerlach.de/freeware/). It displays a similar pie chart, but displays the files inside the folders much better than JDiskReport (IMHO).
    JDiskReport has still more features and many different views, so most people may prefer JDiskReport.

  4. Thank you for pointing out another free disk usage tool, Mikk. I will check out Scanner when I get a chance.