Langa Letter: Ten Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better
Fred Langa offers tips on how to optimize Windows XP for your own work style so you don't have to live with its default settings.
1) Tune XP's Visual Performance
Depending on how you set it up, XP may have reserved a substantial amount of your CPU horsepower for things like animating various desktop elements, placing shadows under menus and cursors, and rounding the upper corners of open windows. In the aggregate, these visual effects can slow down screen-drawing operations significantly. Also, XP may have selected a "color depth" for your video system in excess of what you really need; this, too, can slow down screen operations.
To adjust the color depth, right click anywhere on an empty portion of your desktop and select Properties/Settings. For most normal business users, the Color Quality setting should be set to Medium (16 bit). Higher settings do matter in photo/video editing and similar applications, but for mundane things like Web browsing, E-mail, and word processing, the Medium setting is fully adequate, and it's faster.
To adjust XP's desktop animations and visual effects, right click on My Computer and select Properties/Advanced/Performance Settings. You can choose to activate/deactivate individual items or use the general "best performance/best appearance" buttons. When you've made a change, click Apply, and you'll see the effects almost immediately. (By the way: Selecting Best Performance makes your desktop look very much like the classic desktop in Win98/Win2K.) Experiment until you've found the mix of speed and visual effects that works best for you.
2) Improve XP's Folder Views
Windows XP's default folder view, with its giant icons, makes me feel as though I'm staring at a coloring book instead of a business computer. But you can easily change the folder view to something more restrained, space-efficient, and useful.
Open My Documents. In the View menu, select Status Bar, List, and Arrange Icons by Name. Next, right click on an empty spot in the My Documents toolbar and select Customize. Choose any of the Available Toolbar Buttons you wish and click Add. (I select the Undo, Delete, Cut, Copy, and Paste buttons.) Exit the dialog.
Now click to the Tools menu and select Folder Options. Under the View tab, tell XP to show you the full path, to show hidden and system files, not to hide any file extensions, and not to hide protected folders--plus any other settings you want. When you have the folder options set the way you desire, click the "Apply to all folders" button at the top of the dialog. This adjusts all windows opened by Explorer, so they'll inherit the visual choices you made for this one window.
3) Customize the Taskbar
Right click on an empty spot in the Task Bar (the bar next to the Start button). Uncheck Lock the Taskbar. This lets you resize various portions of the taskbar the way you want them. Now, explore the other Taskbar settings to see if any will work for you.
One I always select is Toolbars/Desktop. I place the new Desktop toolbar far to the right on the Taskbar, over by the clock area. Whenever I want access to something on the Desktop that's covered with open windows, I can use this new Desktop toolbar as a shortcut to get to the item on the Desktop without having to close or move any open window.
4) Just Say "No" To Phoning-Home
By default, XP wants to contact the Microsoft servers to auto-search for patches, downloads, and updates. It also wants to send Microsoft information about any crashes you experience. The former can be an annoyance if the auto-update cycle kicks in at an inopportune time. The latter is a potential security hole, because the crash-reporting information includes a mini-dump of XP's memory contents; it can include snippets of open documents, passwords you've recently typed, and so on.
You can turn off both behaviors by right clicking on My Computer, selecting Properties, and first choosing the Automatic Updates tab. Select either Turn Off or, minimally, Notify me.
Now select the Advanced tab and click on Error Reporting. Check "Disable error reporting," but leave "notify me when critical errors occur" checked.
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