15. Make another backup, call it "perfect new OS (operating system) setup."
16. Install your applications, plus any software updates and patches for those apps.
17. Make all cosmetic tweaks, tune-ups, and changes -- the icon spacing and arrangements; system sound effects; mouse pointers and movements, etc.
18. Run Defrag on all drives.
19. Run a fresh antivirus scan.
20. Make another backup, call it "perfect new OS+apps setup." With that you're done. Not only do you have a fresh setup with everything newly installed and just the way you want, but also you now have three backups. You can, if need be, quickly get back to the original as-delivered-from-the-factory, or to a fresh, new virgin OS setup, or to a fresh, full-blown OS and applications setup.
In my work I find I use that last backup a lot. When -- not if, but when -- I blow up my system, I'll copy my data files to a safe place, then restore that perfect OS+app setup, copy my data files back, and pick up where I left off.
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 when a system goes belly-up and needs to be redone. With Drive Image and a CD-R of the perfect setup in hand, I can restore a system in its entirety -- OS, apps, everything -- in just minutes.
This way gets the awful, messy, grunt-work out of the way right away, and lets you reap the rewards of a stable, easy-to-restore system for as long as you own it. Of course, the same techniques can be used on older systems too -- it's never too late to start!
Now, please join in the discussion. I'll be glad to answer whatever questions I can about the steps listed above, and I'd also love to hear from you: What tricks or techniques do you use? What tips can you share? What steps do you take to keep your system running smoothly?