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How should I set up my computer? (Part IV)

So far in this series (parts I, II and III) I began setting up my new computer; connected it safely to the internet, updated software, and tweaked the Windows XP Task Bar, Start Menu, Startup Programs, and Services to my liking.

Now we’ll start installing. Given all the tweaking I’ve done so far, the first thing I install should really be no surprise at all.

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Tweak UI. It’s one of those “don’t leave home without it” utilities that exposes a number of windows features and characteristics that aren’t otherwise easily customizable.

After installing it, I use it to make the following changes:

  • Explorer, Shortcut, I select a “Light arrow” as the shortcut overlay. I use shortcuts often and find the default just a little too distracting.
  • Desktop, First Icon I set to My Computer. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of “My Documents” and use it very little.
  • My Computer, Auto Play, Drives, I unselect my DVD drive, and the drives associated with my USB memory card reader. Autoplay is nice in concept, and works for many people. I just do too many things with these devices and the Autoplay functionality is, for me, more often an annoyance and just not worth it. TweakUI is the way to turn it off. (I’ve discussed this before in How do I *really* disable auto-play in Windows XP?.)
  • Logon, Unread Mail, I deselect “show unread mail on welcome screen” for all users. It’s never right, I haven’t bothered to figure out if I can get it to work properly with Outlook, and even if I could it’s just not useful to me. (I’ve discussed this before in How do I turn off the unread message count on the Windows XP login screen?.)

Obviously there are plenty of other tweaks that can be made using TweakUI. I suggest spending a few minutes exploring what it can do.

OK, my first real application? Office 2003. I let Office setup run with the default settings all the way through. Then I immediately visit the Microsoft Office web site and check for updates. Sure enough, there was a service pack and other updates so I downloaded and installed those.

Interestingly enough Office Update also had me download the GDI detection tool which warned me that it had detected a vulnerability. Apparently this was in error, as not only had SP2 (already on my machine) fixed it, but following the suggested steps of visiting both Windows Update and Office Update again produced no additional downloads.

The first application I start tweaking after installing Office is Outlook. But that’s large enough that I’ll dedicate the next article in this series to that. Next up are my tweaks to Microsoft Word.

Into Word’s Tools, Options dialog we go. I make the following changes from the defaults:

  • In the View tab:
    • uncheck “Startup Task Pane”. It doesn’t help me at all, and just takes up precious screen real estate.
    • uncheck Smart Tags. Does anyone really know what these are, really? And when they’re on, have you used them? Not me.
    • set Field Shading to “Always”. Fields are a very useful and powerful feature in word that allow you to insert automated text that might include the document name, your name, the table of contents and a whole lot more. Personally, I want them to look different when I’m editing so I know what I’m dealing with.
  • In the General tab:
    • turn on “Provide feedback with sound”, and if needed, I’ll download the sounds from the Microsoft Office web site later.
    • set the recently used file list to its maximum: 9. I wish I could set it higher.
  • In the Edit tab:
    • Turn off “When selecting automatically select entire word”. That setting just annoys the heck out of me.
  • In the Print tab:
    • I turn off background printing. This is mostly out of habit from the days where it could cause problems, but I like to know that when Word says it’s done printing it’s actually done printing.
  • In the Save tab:
    • Turn off “Allow background saves”, for much the same reason as background printing.
    • Confirm that “Allow fast saves” is off. This is actually a security hole, as far as I’m concerned. With fast save turned on, old portions of your document that you believe you’ve deleted or replaced can actually remain within the file.
  • In the File Locations tab:
    • I set new paths for Documents, Clip art pictures, and Templates. I have my own collection of each in a standard location on each machine I work on.
  • In the Spelling & Grammar tab:
    • I add my custom dictionary, removing the standard one
    • Turn off “Check grammar as you type” and “Check grammar with spelling”. Grammar is, in some ways, very subjective, and the grammar checker has rarely helped me when I’ve tried it.

Now that Word has been tweaked, I drag Word’s menu item down to the Quickstart toolbar on my task bar, holding the CTRL key when I release it to make a copy of the shortcut there.

Two final Office-related tweaks: I turn off the Office Clipboard by unchecking all “Show When …” in its options the first time it appears. I just don’t find it that useful, and don’t want it to show up uninvited. And eventually Office’s “Customer Experience Improvement Program” will show in status bar. Click that and run it, and then hit OK to get rid of it.

That was just Word. The next article in this series will be dedicated to they myriad of settings and customizations I do to the program I live in most: Microsoft Outlook.

The Setting Up Series:

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