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Defective Defaults: Where to Start on a New PC?

I wish I could credit my absence from this space yesterday to pure laziness. Instead, on my arrival in the office Monday, the computer on my desk refused to boot, with the only evidence of its demise two illuminated numbers on the front: "3" and "4."

The Post's IT department put a replacement unit on my desk soon enough--but it was a machine with a bare-bones Windows XP Professional setup that displeased me in any number of ways: the XP "bliss screen" desktop background I got bored with about six years ago, a desktop hopelessly littered with program shortcuts, a Start menu loaded up with obsolete versions of free utilities like Adobe Reader, all the "are you sure?" confirmations I turn off, and so on.

I felt distinctly annoyed by the whole experience, as if I had to drive somebody else's dirty, ill-maintained car.

The least I could do about that was to download Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, plug in the right e-mail server info to download my mail and--this was the strange part--type in the addresses of the Web sites and applications I use most often.

There was much more I wanted to change on the machine, but a few hours later my old files, settings and programs had been reloaded (courtesy of a hard drive swap), restoring order to my computing universe.

The process reminded me that one of the evergreen blog topics I've yet to write is a checklist of all the settings and defaults I change on a new Windows machine. (I wrote a similar piece about the setup process for a new Mac a couple of years ago, so that cheat-sheet is due for a revision also.) Help me out with that: What are the first things you change on a computer that's just been handed over to you?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 9, 2008; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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Comments

-Make the windowing presentation as minimal as possible and turn off most of the animations and fade in and outs.
-turn off all the bloatware I'll never use
-download the good stuff: firefox, itunes, winrar, google desktop
-Organize my start menu into program groups and put.
-TweakIU from microsoft is indispensable to turn off the IE icon on the desktop and other associated UI items.
-Customize the windows, like showing file extensions, paths, removing the links bar, etc..
-Download and configure the drivers to my keyboard and mouse
-Of course if the system is fresh I have to install and configure anti virus and anti spyware applications.

Posted by: Gee Man | July 9, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Change the theme to "Windows Classic" and put a neutral background pattern on the desktop, and change the Appearance to "Windows Classic Style".

Take everything off the desktop except My Computer and the Recycle bin.

Turn on "Classic Start Menu". Turn on Quick Launch part of taskbar, and add key applications (Windows Explorer to my preferred directory, IE, Word, Excel, email client, FireFox). Unlock the taskbar. (Install FireFox if not already available.)

In Windows Explorer set view to show folders on the left and details on the right. Under Tools... Folder Options uncheck "hide extensions for known file types"

Go into Word and Excel and turn off all the autocorrect, autoformat, and check-spelling-as-you-type "features".

VERY IMPORTANT: the built-in Windows search won't search for text in files with unfamiliar extensions, even if those files contain plain text. I'm a programmer and my source code lives in files with "unrecognized" extensions. To enable search to look in all files, I do the following:

1. Click Start > Search > For Files and Folders and click Change Preferences.

2. Click With Indexing Service (for faster local searches).

3. Click Change Indexing Service Settings (Advanced).

This will bring up the Indexing Service window.

4. Click Action - Properties.

5. Choose the "Generation" tab.

6. Place a checkmark next to Index files with unknown extensions.

There are probably more, but those are the things I do within the first hour on a fresh machine.

Posted by: Dirty Davey | July 9, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I download software onto a USB drive I always have with me, so I've always got the latest version of everything useful ready to install (and not everywhere had broadband).

Posted by: Hemisphire | July 9, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

One big onw is going into Windows Explorer options and:
* uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types"
* check "Show hidden files and folders"
* uncheck "Hide protected operating system files (recommended)"

Another is putting a command prompt icon in the quick launch bar.

I used to drag my start menu to the top of the screen because it reduces your mouse movements. I liked keeping my mouse at the top of the screen most of the time, but I stopped doing that because no one else does it that way and I invariably have to use multiple PC's.

Posted by: slar | July 9, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

This may be my favorite blog post ever. It's such a drag having to do this every time you set up a new user account. Here are my tweaks:

- Unhide file extensions and paths.
- Turn off the Language Bar.
- Show the Quick Launch bar, and make Show Desktop the first button and My Computer the second. Add buttons for Firefox and other key applications.
- In MS Office, show full menus.
- Change to Classic Start menu and neutral background, as mentioned above.
- Add local and network drives to the top level of the Start menu, so that they can be accessed via "cascading" menus.

Many of these tweaks can be accomplished via a batch file that makes changes to the Windows Registry (using the REG command). For example, you can unhide file extensions with the following command:

REG ADD hkey_current_user\software\microsoft\windows\currentversion\explorer\advanced /v HideFileExt /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

The person who compiled a full set of commands to make these changes would receive immediate sainthood.

Posted by: mizar | July 9, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I'll add another vote for:

* uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types"
* check "Show hidden files and folders"
* uncheck "Hide protected operating system files (recommended)"

Hiding extensions for known file types is easily the dumbest idea Microsoft ever stole, and given the number of security compromises that it has caused, I fail to understand why Microsoft continues to propagate it (even in Vista)!

Posted by: Craig | July 9, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I do not understand why you have to go back to Windows Classic Style. This is so outdated. I would rather use command line or just accept windows XP design (it is too late anyway).

Posted by: Steve | July 9, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Switch control panel to "classic view"

put firefox and thunderbird on

check if all updates are current

download AVG

download windows defender

make sure firewall is set to "on"

go to any sites that I frequent that need/suggest registration/user accounts and launch the tedious process of "re-me" at those sites (WaPost, Google, etc.)

change wallpaper

change power settings

turn off screensaver

add items to quick launch bar

delete crapware

after updating programs like Adobe, iTunes, etc., check msconfig to turn off anything that thinks it needs to run at startup that I disagree with.

Posted by: BobT | July 9, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

A lot of good suggestions so far, including several I follow. One thing not mentioned yet is repartitioning the hard drive. This is easiest to do when the system is first being put into service. Generally, I divide the drive into at least three: a) the OS and core apps; b) data files; and c) data that does not need to be backed up because copied from CD-ROMs, DVDs or other easily restorable sources. This makes it straightforward to set up appropriate backup functions: for the OS, (every time changes are anticipated or made); for data, (regularly), and for the other stuff (none). By isolating the OS and apps, I find I can get a compressed system backup image on a dual layer DVD (desktop) or flash drive (laptop). This makes restores really easy.

Just to complete this thought. I always back the new system up right after I have loaded OS and what I consider the key applications. Then I immediately restore it. I have found altogether too frequently among both individuals and IT organizations backup procedures regularly followed for months or years that, when finally needed for a restore, were found incorrect or incomplete. By testing the restore right away, I get both a good base system to restore should it be needed and a quick verification that my backup process is doing what I want it to.

Posted by: Dave A | July 9, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The first thing I do is go back to "Windows Classic Start Menu" (usually with small icons). I turn off the super useless "only display frequently used menu items" option. Usually get rid of the "Keep track of recent documents" option, might need Tweak UI for this, though. Along with the Explorer fixes others have mentioned, I also revert to a list format, no preview.

Posted by: dgc | July 9, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

-run msconfig and kill all the crap that wants to load at startup
-clean out the system tray
-switch to classic start menu
-lose all desktop icons except My Computer, My Documents and Recycle Bin
-load Quick Launch and lock Taskbar
-switch to Details view in Folder Options
-unload Google Desktop and any other gadget-laden taskbars
-disable "smart" menus
-disable proprietary media and utility defaults
-curse Microsoft and (insert PC manufacturer here)
-exhale

Posted by: fnulnu | July 9, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

-run msconfig and kill all the crap that wants to load at startup
-clean out the system tray
-switch to classic start menu
-lose all desktop icons except My Computer, My Documents and Recycle Bin
-load Quick Launch and lock Taskbar
-switch to Details view in Folder Options
-unload Google Desktop and any other gadget-laden taskbars
-disable "smart" menus
-disable proprietary media and utility defaults
-curse Microsoft and (insert PC manufacturer here)
-exhale

Posted by: fnulnu | July 9, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

For the past 6 months or so I've been using the Portable App version of Firefox; I installed it on my machine and changed the cache settings so caching is turned on. After I installed all of my add-ons, I copied the FF install tree to my backup drive. Now when I get a get a new computer, I just copy the tree over and FF is perfectly set up. As for the rest of windows... that needs more work.

Posted by: -dennis. | July 9, 2008 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Hi Rob, I've used the following guide pretty much since I installed XP on a computer. You might change the order to your taste, but I've found it to be comprehensive for any new installation.

Installation Procedures for Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3
1.Create Necessary Partitions then install XP with SP3
2.Create new Explorer Icon that opens to C:\
3.Configure Security Center
4.Change View & Folder View Options
5.Create necessary new folders in Windows Explorer
6.Unlock the Taskbar and enable Quick Launch
7.Open Control Panel and configure Power Options & Hibernation
8.Disable Desktop Cleaner & set screen saver to "None"
9.Copy necessary UpdateXP files to hard drive
10.Run TweakUI to configure XP
11.Install Downloaded OS Updates, i.e. Direct X, Dot Net, Installer etc
12.Install Device Drivers
13.Install IE 7 and WMP 11 then go to M$ Update and install patches
14.Configure Internet Explorer & Windows Media Player settings
15.Configure Outlook Express Settings & Disable OE Preview Pane
16.Establish and configure Email Accounts
17.Install Firewall, AV, and Internet Protection software
18.Configure Sounds scheme in control panel
19.Disable "Allow Indexing" on each hard drive Partition
20.Disable Error Reporting
21.Disable Remote Assistance
22.Set Virtual Memory to 768 - 1536
23.Configure System Restore to 4-5 GB
24.Configure Recycle Bin to 2%
25.Use Regedit to lock Folder Views & disable Compress Old Files
26.Configure Add/Remove - Windows Components
27.Customize the Search menu options
28.Delete Patch uninstall files from C:\Windows
29.Clean up Add/Remove Programs
30.Run services.msc and change settings using the Black Viper list
31.Manually delete unnecessary files from the usual locations
32.Run msconfig and turn off unnecessary startup programs
33.Delete unused Startup Entries
34.Customize and organize the Start Menu
35.Customize and organize Start Menu: All Programs
36.Run Error Checker (requires restart)
37.Run Disk Cleanup
38.Defrag all partitons
39.Install utility, game, music, and other software as needed

Posted by: slummo | July 9, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

When I worked at a major Washington, DC area newspaper I had the exact same experience except at the time (2 years ago)IT gave me Windows 2000.

I always change the desktop, the theme, the mouse icons and screen saver. I need my PC to look like "home".

Posted by: Omar | July 9, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I peruse annoyances.org to remind me what I want to change.

Posted by: A | July 9, 2008 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Turn off the start up sound.

Posted by: lofti | July 9, 2008 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Wow, unless I missed it, I'm the only one here that enables "auto-hide task bar".

I like every possible pixel of my monitor to be available for more than always showing me what's running and which programs I have to choose from in the Quick Launch bar. If I'm not using the task bar, I want it out of my way.

Similarly, I also set the Dock on my Macbook Air to "automatically hide and show the dock"

Posted by: Jeff G. | July 9, 2008 10:42 PM | Report abuse

I, too, auto-hide the task bar.

The FIRST THING I do is right-click on MY COMPUTER and choose PROPERTIES. Then go to the Hardware > Advanced tab and select the radio button for "BEST PERFORMANCE."

This will change all look-feel to Win2k but since I don't SEE anything (blank desktop, never touch the start menu), it's moot.

I eliminate ALL icons from the desktop and install Launchy with alt-space (closest I can get to Quicksilver (Mac)'s Command-space).

A few reg tweaks to speed shutdown, install a few of my favorite programs (although I'm setting up a USB-flash of Portables so even this step can be obviated in the future) and I'm good to go.

For me, the key is having any Win-based system, my Macs and my linux-based systems all look/operate about the same. While I generally loathe M$ products, I've become fairly OS-agnostic this way, especially when I get my XP setups stable enough that, for the most part, they, too, "just work."

But, rilly, gimme Macs or gimme deth!

Posted by: Bush -- not related | July 10, 2008 1:50 AM | Report abuse

I usually keep the default start menu because it doesn't bother me.
The biggest thing that I fix- system beep. I like to work in silence but even with the sound muted, the system can still beep.

Device manager > System beep > DISABLED

Posted by: Patrick | July 10, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

gees slummo, that would take two days. Who has time for all that?

Posted by: slar | July 10, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

In addition to most of the items mentioned several times, before I autohide the taskbar, I

1. Move it to the left side of the screen. This displays multiple windows and Quicklaunch items more clearly.

2. Enable "Show Desktop"

3. Unclick "Show Desktop Icons"
They are more easily accessible on the Taskbar Desktop tab.

Posted by: GeorgeM | July 10, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

It's satisfying to see so many here who use the "Classic" folders view, not to mention Windows Explorer (bad name - File Manager was better). But unlike some posters, I do hide file extensions. Don't need 'em (the Type column is better info), they clutter the file list, and they definitely get in the way when renaming a file.

Posted by: aclark-va | July 10, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Turn off stupid balloon hints.
Turn off annoying balloon telling me that I have a good network connection.
Turn off Desktop cleanup wizard.
I keep tring to get my Dell Support Center from loading in my Systray, but it keeps reloading like a vicious piece of spyware.

Posted by: Art | July 10, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

These lists are great - but why do we have to go through this lengthy process? In this technological age, why isn't there a way to save all of these settings so that it isn't so painful to use a new computer or to restore one? I went through the process to reinstall my computer 4 times--so far--this year (you don't want to know the gory details). It was SUCH a time hog. There should be a program that automatically changes the defaults to any customizations you've made.

Posted by: bn-ca | July 10, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse

* - Create a separate partition for and move "My Documents" before installing anything beyond the OS.

* - Install Firefox and T-bird (as so many others do), move the profile directory (and data) to the "My Documents" partition, and set them as the windows defaults.

Relax a little because back-up life just got a lot easier.

* - Now install everything else, will point to the new partition and register with my (Firefox) browser and my (T-bird) email.

Posted by: Sam | July 10, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Here's a simple solution that I WISH I could perform, and sometime in the next couple of years I just MAY (only works for privately owned computers, or if you're the owner of a small business)>
- locate receipt for the PC
- ensure that PC can still be returned (usually 14 days from purchase date)
- buy a MAC

Posted by: Bob | July 11, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

I run a small network and found that doing the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard (Assesories>System Tools) in Windows help somewhat. As soon as you get a users new computer setup run the wizard and just update every 6 months or so as the users changes their computers. I save the file to a network drive. When it dies or when it's tiime for a new pc I transfer those settings over. It doesn't transfer everything, and it tells you what files or settings won't be transfered, but it's a start.

Posted by: MikeyHi | July 11, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse

In addition to many of the other suggestions, one of the first things I do is setup and use a limited user account.

Posted by: RaymondG | July 12, 2008 10:19 PM | Report abuse

There are many good suggestions in these comments. You all may also be interested in a guide that the SANS Institute (an umbrella security organization) has on setting up Windows machines. It can be downloaded from this link:

http://www.sans.org/reading_room/whitepapers/windows/1298.php

Incidentally, they also have a graph showing the average time it takes for a machine to be probed from the Internet; the article and link to the data are here:

http://isc.sans.org/diary.html?storyid=4721

Posted by: Rich Gibbs | July 13, 2008 10:44 PM | Report abuse

First thing to do on a new Windows Machine: uninstall Windows and install Linux. :-)
No, just kidding. Actually do like Bob said in his post: locate the receipt and return it for a Mac.

OK, seriously now (because you may be using Boot Camp to have a Windows partition on your Mac):

Find an old copy of XP and install it. For the love of all things sacred, don't use Vista. Go through the registration hell of having to call Microsoft for whatever special registration key, serial number, etc. you need just to get Windows installed.

Switch to Windows Classic Mode. Customize window colors. Double the height of the Start Bar to navigate through open apps more easily. Lock Start Bar, disable auto-hide, use Classic settings for Start menu.

Install Firefox and Thunderbird. Customize Firefix and Thunderbird settings.

Turn off autoplay for inserted discs. This can only be done in "msconfig" so it is a pain in the ass, but well worth it.

While in "msconfig", disable crapware running in background. May need to use Google to decipher what the programs listed in there actually are.

Uninstall all the craplets that come preinstalled on the machine (not necessarily applicable for a Mac you are installing a Windows partition on).

Install AVG Antivirus.

Clean up desktop.

In "My Documents" create subfolders like "Graphics", "Web Design" etc.

Install other applications I will use often. WinZip, Nero, Adobe apps, Skype, WinDirStat, etc.

Change the desktop background.

Show file extensions.

Search for the Windows install discs to install Asian text support and input. Configure input preferences.

Get Windows to stop blocking me from viewing the contents of folders like "Programs". After all, you can't be trusted with your own computer.

Disable annoying system sounds.

Save the state of the computer in case anything goes horribly wrong (like a virus) and I have to revert.

Get Firefox bookmarks to sync from internet.

...ok, I'm sure there are more, but I'm tired of thinking about this.

Posted by: Protoplasm | July 15, 2008 4:42 AM | Report abuse

In addition to installing Firefox and what I deem the essential add-ons for it, I also put the plain-text editor TextPad and the xml-aware editor XML Copy Editor onto the machine. And AnyPassword, to hold my stash of 100+ logon id's and passwords, and 7zip, to handle archived/compressed zip files.

Then I install fonts like DejaVu, Doulos SIL, and Delicious and use them for to display everything -- system and browser and all my apps.

Then I install Khmer language fonts and jump through incredible hoops to make Windows XP display them properly. (Microsoft does not let you download the usp10.dll necessary for Khmer to work on Windows. You may only obtain it as part of an application, like MS Office or Google Earth.)

Roger Sperberg

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 7:46 PM | Report abuse

In addition to installing Firefox and what I deem the essential add-ons for it, I also put the plain-text editor TextPad and the xml-aware editor XML Copy Editor onto the machine. And AnyPassword, to hold my stash of 100+ logon id's and passwords, and 7zip, to handle archived/compressed zip files.

Then I install fonts like DejaVu, Doulos SIL, and Delicious and use them for to display everything -- system and browser and all my apps.

Then I install Khmer language fonts and jump through incredible hoops to make Windows XP display them properly. (Microsoft does not let you download the usp10.dll necessary for Khmer to work on Windows. You may only obtain it as part of an application, like MS Office or Google Earth. I'm not traveling the Vista road, but at least it got complex script languages right.)

Roger Sperberg

Posted by: rsperberg | July 15, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

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