A week ago, I looked at my desktop and felt sick. Almost every square inch was covered with icons that basically equated to pure junk. I knew my computer was in desperate need of a clean start.
I had to think out the process so I didn’t loose anything and could remain productive, and I figured I’d document it to help others.
- Backup Data
I had about two years of unreplaceable data on this PC which had never been backed up. I moved it all to a shared folder on a networked PC (other flavors include USB thumb drives, your iPod, or just burn it to a CD or DVD). Of course, it wasn’t that simple, I had to go through all the files and determine what I needed and what I didn’t. One important item was backing up my iTunes Music Library.
- Audit Your Existing Setup
I went through a long period where I would install just about anything, and I had no idea what I needed and what I didn’t. I used Belarc Personal PC Audit to print out everything installed and a bunch of other details. It’s worth holding onto.
- Install and Reformat
This part was easy. I popped in the Windows CD (I was installing Windows XP Pro) and rebooted the computer. The install is a long, drawn out process, just make sure you tell it “New install, please wipe out and erase my hard drive.” It helps to be polite.
- Secret Sauce = Partitioning
I wanted my computer to stay clean, but I didn’t want to have to keep going through this process; enter partitions. If you’re reading this you probably know more about partitions than me, but for everyone else, a partition lets you divide the space on your hard drive up into more hard drives. I divided my hard drive roughly in equal halves. The first half is for installing Windows and all my programs. The second half is to hold my data (that stuff I just backed up). I also created a tiny partition to backup some of my wife’s work on, but I haven’t used that yet.
- Format Partitions
The first thing I noticed once I finished installing Windows is that the non-system partitions were unformatted (basically unusable). Formatting was as simple as right-clicking the partition in My Computer and choosing Format… Plus, you get to give the partition a cool label like “Data”.
- Tweaking Windows
After that was done, I set about personalizing everything. Luckily, someone already documented most of the great ways to tweak Windows. The most important tweak in the list is to move the location of My Documents (See previous link under Set the Location of My Documents). I put it on that partition we made like this, D:\Documents. This is probably the best thing I did, because almost all programs default you here to save files. Now, when you get defaulted to My Documents, you are exactly where you want to be. Case in point, remember when we backed up our iTunes library above. Its default location is under the My Documents folder (exactly where I want it).
- Drivers and Stuff
I installed the software drivers for my two printers and my graphics card at this point (those were the only drivers I needed). You might as well set your monitor resolutiion too. I went with 1280 x 960
- Install Programs Like Crazy
Now that Windows is working just right, I started installing applications. Here’s a hint: only install applications you plan to use regularly. You just cleaned up your computer don’t refill it with junk. Here’s my ideal list of programs:
- AVG Antivirus – Free
- Sygate Personal Firewall – Free
- Mozilla Firefox – Free
- BitTorrent Client – Free
- Apple QuickTime Player and iTunes – Free
- Google Talk – Free
- ColorPix – Free
- Microsoft Office 2003 – Expensive $$$
- Adobe Photoshop CS2 – Expensive $$$
- Adobe Illustrator CS2 – Expensive $$$
- Adobe Acrobat Pro 7.0 – Expensive $$$
- Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 – Expensive $$$
- Norton Ghost – Moderate $$
- Quick Launch Shortcuts
I like to have certain shortcuts handy in the quick launch bar:
- Character Map
- Browser Bookmarks
I also like to have several links handy. I made Gmail my hompage. Then, I added these browser resize hacks to the Firefox Bookmarks Toolbar. The rest of my bookmarks I keep at Google Bookmarks which I also put in the Firefox Bookmark Toolbar.
- Custom Desktop Background
I wanted my desktop to feel like home, so I used one of those fancy programs I installed to make a simple gradient background. Nothing difficult, but it’s all mine.
- Rinse and Repeat
Finally, I used Norton Ghost to create an image of my system drive onto my data drive (you can put it anywhere you want). Now, I can start fresh whenever I want!