14. Run a fresh antivirus scan (See #5). In preparation for the following steps, which will add lots of new software to the system, make a second backup now (see #4), and call it something like "perfect new operating system setup." This second backup ensures that you can get all the way to Step 15 in just one step (by restoring this second backup) if you need to.
17. When all your third-party software has been installed, run a fresh antivirus scan to ensure that no viruses got onto your system. You may also wish to run tools such as AdAware, SpyBot or Pest Patrol to verify that your system also is free from other types of hostile code (spy ware, Trojans, etc.) . And you may also wish to run SFC again to help ensure that your applications haven't meddled with your system files. (See #10)
18. Install a good third-party desktop firewall (see "Firewall Feedback") ; or, minimally, enable XP's built-in firewall. (It's not much, but it's better than nothing. (See "The 10 Best And Worst Things About Windows XP")
19. Make all cosmetic tweaks, tune-ups, and changes--the icon spacing and arrangements; system sound effects; mouse pointers and movements, etc. See "Ten Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better".
20. Defragment all drives/partitions on your system. (If you need help, click to Start/Help and enter "Defrag" as the search term.) Then make a third backup and call it something like "perfect new full setup."
With that, you're done. Not only do you now have a fresh setup with everything newly installed just the way you want, but you also have three backups. You can, if need be, quickly get back to the original as-delivered-from-the-factory setup; or to a fresh, new, virgin operating system setup; or to a perfect, full-blown operating system and applications setup.
In my work I find I use that last backup a lot, especially when I'm testing software. I'll copy my data files to a safe place, then run the tests without worry that the new software will ruin anything. When I'm done, I'll restore my system from the "perfect new full setup", then copy my data files back, and pick up where I left off with a known-good, rock-solid setup. It makes my system essentially bulletproof!
Of course, running through a 20-step setup process is a hassle and it's clearly not for everyone. But taking the extra time, one time, up front, to get everything perfect pays off again and again over the years because you can restore your system to perfection in its entirety--operating system, apps, everything--in just minutes.
Or you also can cherry-pick, using only those steps that make sense for you, if you needs are less rigorous than mine. You even can adapt the same overall process for use on older systems, too--it's never too late to start perfecting and preserving your PC setup!
But that's what I do. What about you? Please join in the discussion: What tricks or techniques do you use? What tips can you share? What steps do you take to get your system running smoothly? Join in!