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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.

Ongoing

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 🙂

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Ravi.

    Reply

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