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

In previous articles in this series, (parts I, II, III IV, V, and VI) I’ve connected my new laptop to the internet, updated software, tweaked Windows XP, installed a bunch of software, and even dedicated an entire article to configuring Outlook 2003 to my liking.

In this article I’ll wrap up the series with, yes, a few more installations, a couple of more configuration tweaks, and some guidelines on how I’ll continue to tweak and configure the system as I use it.

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One of the tools I use very much, even though it’s not part of my computer, is my cellular phone. I have a Treo 600 smartphone, which when properly configured and with an appropriate
plan from the cellular company, can send and receive email, synchronize with my Outlook address book, act as a modem for my laptop, and much more.

Naturally there’s a level of integration implied, and that in turn implies installing a few applications on my laptop:

  • Hotsync: step one of course is the Hotsync software that came with the phone. This is the software that synchronizes my address book, my notes, and other files between my laptop and the phone.
  • PdaReach: I can only describe this as remote desktop for the phone. When my Treo is connected to my laptop, running this application gives me a “virtual” Treo on my Windows desktop that lets me interact with the phone.
  • PdaNet: this little application turns my USB connected phone into a modem so I have connectivity anywhere my cellphone works.
  • Venturi Wireless client: this is an acceleration application that, on my Verizon Wireless connection, can dramatically improve my network connection’s apparent throughput.
  • Acrobat: The Palm version of Acrobat includes a Windows side utility that converts PDFs for the palm device. The bottom line, though, is that I can carry Acrobat documents around with my on my phone and read them at my leisure.
  • My own script: my phone is my portable MP3 player. On one of my other machines here at home is running iPodder, downloading podcasts regularly for my consumption. The missing piece? A small script that I run to load up my phone’s SD memory card with the resulting MP3s. All that means here is setting up the appropriate directories and running the script to make sure it works as expected.

Now that my phone is all set up, a few final tasks:

I set up my “nightly batch file” … the actual script was installed earlier when I copied my “standard directory tree” in part II, now I hit Control Panel, Scheduled Tasks, Add Scheduled Task, and walk through the steps of setting it up to run every night in the wee hours of the morning. Yes my laptop is typically on 24 hours a day.

I turn the password off on my screen saver. As you can imagine, with this being my primary machine, and it typically being in a safe place (my home), having to re-enter my password every time can be annoying. Right click on the desktop and select Properties, Screen Saver tab, and uncheck On resume, display Welcome screen.

Since I have several computers I like to make it a little more obvious which one I’m dealing with when I’m looking at the screen. There are several solutions, but mine is to rename the “My Computer” icon on the desktop. Right click on it, select Rename, and change it to the name of the computer.

Time to install printer drivers for any the printers I use at home. In Printers and Faxes I run the Add Printer Wizard for each of the printers I have here at home.

My wife’s business includes a custom application that I wrote that acts as the cash register, inventory, and customer list management package. Not only is it important that I be able to run that application myself, but my laptop is in fact the emergency backup should anything happen to the computer at the store. So, I install that application, along with ensuring that the data it requires is also present, and that the automated script that keeps the data up to date is working properly.

That’s it. We’re done. Kind of. You see, we’re never really done.


One of my pet peeves about Windows, or perhaps applications that install into Windows, is that they completely muck up my desktop and my start menu. If you do nothing to clean it up, slowly the desktop fills up with more and more shortcuts that the vendors are certain you can’t live without. The All Programs menu works the same way. Leave it alone long enough and it’s a confusing and cluttered mess.

I can’t live like that.

The desktop is easy. I delete all icons that appear on the desktop except for My Computer (which I renamed), and the recycle bin. That’s it. Everything else is available elsewhere, and in reality,
they do my no good on my desktop.

After trying several different approaches I haven’t developed as good a system for my start menu. I do have a couple of top-level menu items that I create by hand myself for things I commonly do, but the rest of “all programs” remains difficult to manage. So far my strategy this time has been to simply let it grow, and periodically make sure it’s sorted. Right click on the menu when it’s up, and select Sort by Name. Perhaps, eventually, I’ll decide on some other organization.

OK, now we’re done.

Hopefully I’ve given you a bit of 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.

To be honest, when I started this series, I didn’t expect it to result in seven installments. But on reflection, building out a new machine is a serious endeavor for someone like me.

OK, you say … what if you’re not someone like me? What if all you need to do is read email and surf the web?

I don’t want to call it “part VIII”, but that article – a single installment – is coming soon.

The Setting Up Series:

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4 comments on “How should I set up my computer? (Part VII)”

  1. I have found quite a good method of sorting the start menu. I make lots of different categories that the programs fall into and put all the different programs into the different categories (folders). This way it keeps the start menu uncluttered and orderly :)

  2. I just wanted to say thanks for your offerings here, they’re very helpful to me (I am a network admin and tech support guy).
    I also wanted to offer up my “start menu” solution. I can’t tell you how much alike our setups are after reading this series! What I have done in my start menu is to create categories… “Graphics” (for graphics applications), “Net Tools” (for work-related utilities), “Audio”, and etc… I find this keeps my start menu nicely organized. If something new is installed and I forget to specify the proper menu category, I just drag the entire folder to that category.
    Well, it works for me anyway. Love this site and thanks again for all your incite!

  3. If you are using Vista or Windows 7 then why bother to organize the Start menu even. Just type a few characters of the program name and there you have it right there. Free tools and utilities that customize the Start Menu in the same way as Vista with a Search Button are available in plenty on the Internet.



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