Internet Explorer lets you put various sites and services into "Zones" with different security levels set via the Tools/Internet Options/Security menus.)
For example, you can assign a suspect site to a "Restricted" zone, in which the site's actions will be tightly monitored and controlled, helping to protect you from potential malicious downloads, scripts, and whatnot. A known-safe, known-friendly site might be given more latitude by assigning it to a different zone.
But the Zone settings can be confusing, so the online testing service at PC Pitstop offers a free "autofix" script that, with one click, adjusts 20 IE Restricted Zone security settings from their fairly lax defaults to much safer custom settings
A second free autofix offers a one-click way to tell Outlook Express to use the newly enhanced Restricted Zone settings. This helps reduce some of the worst vulnerabilities for Outlook Express, making this notoriously unsafe software a little more secure.
All the PC Pitstop autofixes are here; run the full suite of (free) PC Pitstop tests to see which ones apply to your system.
Install TweakUI, And Related Add-Ons
Microsoft offers a free collection of 11 useful add-ons and extensions for XP here. Some of the tools are extremely useful: For example, TweakUI offers easy access to a host of system settings that otherwise are hard to get at. Other tools, like the "Webcam Tmershot," are more specialized and narrowly focused, but all are worth a look. The software is a la carte: You can download any or all of the utilities, as you wish.
I move a lot of files around on my system, and the free "SendToAnyFolder" utility from Trogladite software makes it much easier than conventional cutting-and-pasting or dragging/dropping. The software adds itself to the right-click context menu in Explorer, letting you move a file or files to a different location on your hard drive with fewer clicks and mouse movements than otherwise.
Use A Startup Monitor
A "Startup Monitor" is a tool that notifies you when software has inserted itself into your PC's startup sequence. If the software is something that should run at startup, you can allow the change. But if the software is setting itself up surreptitiously--some browser hijackers do this, for example--you can disallow the change, and thus protect your system.
Perhaps the best known such tool is simply called StartupMonitor, from Mike Lin. He describes it as "a small utility that runs transparently (it doesn't even use a tray icon) and notifies you when any program registers itself to run at system startup. It prevents those utterly useless tray applications from registering themselves behind your back, and it acts as a security tool against Trojans like BackOrifice or Netbus.... StartupMonitor watches the Start Menu's Startup folders and the Run entries in the registry."
StartupMonitor is free, and available for download here http://www.mlin.net/StartupMonitor.shtml . There are many other startup-monitoring tools available on other sites, too, should you wish to try something different.
Ten From You?
These 10 tweaks all have become part of my routine setup for new systems: I install them on all my XP PCs.
But what do you use on your PC? Please use the discussion area to post your favorite tweak or tweaks. By the time we're done, we should have an awesome collection of real-world, real-life tweaks that can help make XP work just the way we want it to.