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

In previous articles (parts I, II, III IV, and V) I’ve connected my new laptop to the internet, updated software, tweaked Windows XP’s controls and behaviors, and installed software including Microsoft Office 2003. I spent the entire last installment tweaking Microsoft Outlook to my liking.

In this article I’ll tweak a few more things and then install, install, and install some more.

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Since we were last playing with Office, I’ll start with one more Office-related tweak: I download and install the MSN Money Stock Quotes add-in for Excel. Then, in order to be able to actually run it, in Excel I visit Tools, Macro, Security and set the Security Level to Medium.

More Hardware

Enough pure software for a while, there’s some additional hardware tweaking that remains.

My laptop came with a port replicator, so I set that up and docked the machine. That also gives me a chance to set up my external monitor as either a mirror of the laptop screen, or I can use both to make a larger “virtual” screen. All that is controlled by right clicking on the desktop, selecting Properties, and visiting the Settings tab.

I have a USB Bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse, but before they’ll work properly, I needed to download and install the latest drivers. And while I was at it, I also installed this nifty little USB wireless mouse perfect for when my laptop isn’t docked.

The default settings for a laptop’s automatic standby don’t make a lot of sense to me. So I adjust my power properties to never standby or hibernate when plugged in. That’s all in Control Panel,
Power, Power Schemes. In the Advanced tab I set it such that when I close the lid of my laptop, it does nothing. I’ll handle standby or hibernate on my own. If you’re tight on disk space, you  might visit the Hibernate tab and turn it off. That’ll free up disk space equivalent to the amount of RAM you have in your machine that’s set aside for the hibernate function.

Why is it all about me?

This series of articles discusses in some detail how I set up my machine. That implies I’m setting things to maximize how I use my computer in my own ways.

That may not be right for you.

My intent is that you use these articles as a guide – a road map of sorts to show you the things that you might want to change, lead you into areas you didn’t realize could be customized, or show you how to customize things where it’s not at all obvious how. Your settings will almost certainly vary from mine.

Odds and Ends

A couple of other minor tweaks:

  • I changed the gigabit ethernet control to hard-connect at 100mbs, rather than auto detect in the hopes that my login time would speed up. (Why does my network connection drop every so often? covers the settings involved.)
  • On the Latitude I’ve got the option of taking out the DVD drive and replacing it with a second battery, which I do. I’m now getting upwards of 5 to 6 hours of battery life.
  • I use a USB Belkin media reader to read Compact Flash and other memory cards. Since it’s a USB device, I just plug it in and it works.
  • I set up my Anti-virus program to perform an anti-virus scan every night.

Installation Frenzy

Now it’s time to grab those CDs, locate the downloads, and start installing software. In alphabetical order…

Adobe Acrobat: Both for reading and in my case creating PDF documents, I run Acrobat 6.0, professional.

Asheron’s Call: It can’t all be about work. Asheron’s Call is the one multiplayer game I spend any time in, and it works quite nicely on the new machine. (Look me up as Normad, on Wintersebb).

CoolEdit 2000: Sadly Cool Edit is no longer available as such (it was purchased by Adobe and is now “Adobe Audition“).

Corel Draw 7: It’s an older version, but I use it for much of the graphics work for my wife’s business.

Cryptainer ME: This is a relatively new find for me. Cryptainer provides one or more virtual, and portable, encrypted drives that allows me to store sensitive information easily, quickly, and on any machine I might want to take it.

Firefox: I primarily use Firefox as my browser these days. I also download the Google Toolbar and Web Developer Tools Firefox extensions. Initial tweaks include setting my own home page, and saving all downloads in a specific directory.

Firehand Ember: This has been my image view of choice for many years. It’s what I use instead of “Picture and FAX Viewer” (here’s how).

iTunes: Next to WinAmp, iTunes gets a lot of time on my machines. Even without an iPod, I use iTunes to play music quite often – so much so that I have one of my computers connected to my home stereo.

Microsoft Mappoint: I do take the laptop with me when we travel in our RV, and I’m never without a map.

Microsoft Money: For tracking my checkbook, bank accounts, and for paying my bills, I’ve been using Money since 1992.

MyODBC: This is the connector that allows me to use Windows software such as Microsoft Access or even my own custom programs to access remote MySQL databases.

Newsgator: Since I live in Outlook, Newsgator’s Outlook integrated RSS reader is a handy and often used tool.

Paintshop Pro: Another older version, but it serves me well for much of my graphics editing needs.

PocketKnife Peek: My email client, Microsoft Outlook, does a fine job of handling mail and protecting normal users from the technical details. I’m not a normal user, but PocketKnife Peek is an Outlook Add-in that allows me direct access to the internet mail headers and some other aspects of individual mail messages.

Thunderbird: A great open source email client meant as direct competition for Microsoft Outlook Express. I keep a copy around for two reasons: it’s a good Usenet news reader, and it will happily import raw mail files that I occasionally download from my mail server.

TopStyle: It’s my HTML editor of choice. In fact I’m writing this article using it.

Trillian: I got tired of having MSN Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger all running, at the same time, and when someone mentioned an IRC chat as well, it pushed me over the edge and I replaced them all with Trillian.

Visual Studio .NET: For text editing and my occasional Windows programming task. I add it to my quickstart bar, and also install my own Visual Studio Add-In.

WebDrive: This FTP client makes remote FTP servers appear as additional drives on your machine. I find it invaluable as I do a lot of web work.

WinAmp: My MP3 player of choice.

WinZip: I don’t use this as much as many folks do since I carry around a command-line version of zipping utilities, but nonetheless, WinZip is another almost essential tool.

Almost Done

That was a lot of installing. We’re not quite done, but we’re getting close. In the next and final installment, I’ll set up the software relating to my cellular phone, make a few final tweaks, and discuss “ongoing maintenance” that might affect the kinds of things that we’ve been doing in this series.

The Setting Up Series:

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5 comments on “How should I set up my computer? (Part VI)”

  1. when I turn my computer on I have a blank screen,
    with no incons, no clock just nothing, the only
    way I can get online is this GeoShell, I also get
    this Error Ox800C0008 – can I get some help I am
    a rookie learning.


    J Williams

  2. How’d you end up with GeoShell? Not somethign I’d expected a rookie to have installed. If you did install that yourself, I’d get in touch with their support forum. ( If not, I’d get in touch with whomever set up your computer. I know nothing about GeoShell, except that it appears to replace portions of the ‘normal’ shell that you’re talking about not seeing. Good luck!

    Hash: SHA1

    Thanks for pointing out the Firehand link problem. It’s an issue that I’d not
    gotten around to addressing. (Click on the link now and you’ll see why.)



    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  4. I put in my name and email to get the article on how to speed up my computer, but instead you sent me an article on Internet Security. Thanks, but maybe you could send me the requested article.

    I don’t (currently) have anything I would send about speeding up your computer – Internet Safety is the only downloadable document I currently have. I have this article on the site: Why is my machine slowing down?

    Could you be confusing me with one of the ads that appear on the site? I don’t provide the content or products, the advertisers do.

    – Leo

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