For some reason or other, you’ve decided to re-install Windows XP. Perhaps the registry was bloated and corrupted. Perhaps you ran into a bout of spyware and don’t trust the security of your system anymore. Perhaps a destructive virus laid waste to your filesystem. No matter the cause, you’ve said, “Enough is enough, Bill.” If you’re like me, you usually wipe the slate clean and begin with a freshly-formatted hard drive at least once a year. Since 2001, I’ve probably installed Windows XP for myself and others several hundred times. No kidding. The following is a personal guide that illustrates what *I* do upon a clean install. Some of my examples are for security reasons, some will remove bloat, and some are based simply on personal opinion and taste.
I make the following assumptions in this guide:
- You have a Windows XP installation disk (Home or Pro), and NOT a recovery CD from an OEM builder (ala Compaq). Much of my guide will still apply if you have a recovery CD, but not all of it. I leave it to the reader to discern the differences.
- You have a legal copy of Windows.
- You have backed up your critical data and know how to restore it.
- You know how to partition disks. This is necessary if you want to leave room for a Linux/BSD installation.
- You actually know how to install Windows.
- You are smart enough to USE THIS GUIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK. I am not responsible for any harm that you do to your system.
In a nutshell:
1) Create a CD that contains updates, drivers, and essential software.
2) Install Windows.
3) Install the service pack two update (and any other security updates).
4) Install device drivers.
5) Remove certain OS components.
6) Install a decent web browser, antivirus, and firewall.
7) Customize your GUI.
8) Disable unnecessary “features.”
9) Disable irritating sounds.
10) Optimize network settings.
11) Check for disk errors and fragmentation.
(Optional) Tweak registry settings.
(Optional) Create a custom, unattended install CD for future use.
While this step could be considered optional, it will save you a lot of time once you’ve finished the initial installation. I recommend using a CD-RW (or DVD-RW) for this task so that you can update it later without using another disc. Data to add to disc includes:
- XP service pack two plus any other post-SP2 updates that you find
- All device drivers for your motherboard and peripherals
- Major updates for applications that you want to install, such as Photoshop, SoundForge, game updates, etc.
- A good web browser (don’t forget your old bookmarks), security / antivirus / anti-spyware software
- Other applications that will fit on the CD, such as OpenOffice and iTunes
That is the bare minimum that I would add. Feel free to add to taste.
You’re on your own here, but I will mention that I usually do this with the ethernet cable UNplugged from the computer. I also recommend that you use NTFS as opposed to FAT32. Good luck. See you on the other side.
Congratulations, you made it through the initial install. The *first* thing that I like to do now is to go ahead and install SP2. At this point, you obviously have the least chance of causing a conflict with an existing application or device driver. Go ahead. This will take a while. When it’s finished, install any remaining security updates from the custom CD if you have any.
Once the updates are installed, it’s time to install device drivers. You did put these on the CD, right? Install the motherboard chipset driver first, then ethernet, audio, and video drivers (and whatever else you have). When prompted, reboot between driver installs, though I have pushed my luck by installing all drivers before rebooting.
By default, XP does not come with a lot of software, especially when compared to a typical Linux installation. Even so, I like to uninstall / remove access to certain components. Go to the Control Panel, switch to classic view, and launch ‘Add or Remove Programs.’ From there, click ‘Add / Remove Windows Components’ on the left side.
Uncheck Indexing Service, MSN Explorer (click ‘yes’ button to confirm), Outlook Express, and Windows Messenger.
Have you read my Windows Security Guide? If so, then you know how deplorable Internet Explorer is. I suggest using Firefox or Opera instead. Hopefully you already put this on your custom CD. For an antivirus, I suggest using an application like Grisoft’s AVG. Service pack two should have enabled the Windows firewall, but I usually disable it in favor of a third-party firewall, such as Zonealarm. To disable the built-in firewall, go to the Control Panel –> Network Connections –> Right click on your device and click ‘Properties’ –> Go to the ‘Advanced’ tab –> Click ‘Settings’ –> Now turn the firewall OFF. The security center will pop up and complain, but this will go away once you’ve installed a third-party firewall. Keep in mind that I do all of this stuff BEFORE plugging in my internet connection in order to give Windows a fighting chance against all the malware floating around on the internet. Sound unbelievable? Take a look at this article. Once your new browser, antivirus, and firewall are in place, go ahead and connect to the internet. Now is a good time to check if there are any other critical Windows Updates. If you’re interested, go ahead and install Windows Media Player 10 from Windows Update as well.
Now it’s time to make that Fisher-Price graphical user interface (GUI) a little more livable. Here we go:
Under ‘Display properties’ (Control Panel –> Display):
- Set your video resolution to its highest setting (Settings tab).
- Change the color scheme to ‘Silver’ (Appearance tab).
- Reduce the ‘Caption Buttons’ size to 20 (Appearance tab –> Advanced –> Change the ‘Item’ to ‘Caption Buttons’ and reduce the size).
- Use ‘ClearType’ smoothing of screen fonts if you have an LCD monitor (Appearance tab –> Effects –> Change the screen font settings from ‘Standard’ to ‘ClearType.’)
- Set a higher screen refresh rate (Settings tab –> Advanced –> Monitor tab –> Set the refresh rate to the highest supported)
General desktop settings:
- Use toolbars, such as the Quick Launch and Windows Media Player toolbars. Right-click on the bottom toolbar, go to the toolbars menu, and select the toolbars that you want. If you use the Quick Launch bar, delete all shortcuts except for ‘Show Desktop’ and ‘Firefox.’ If you later install iTunes, you can also use an iTunes toolbar when you minimize the application.
- Find ‘My Network Places.’ By default, Microsoft does a pretty good job of hiding networking functionality. Why? Stupidity, I guess. Let’s remedy this. Right-click on the start button, go to ‘Properties,’ click ‘Customize,’ and go the the ‘Advanced’ tab. Scroll through the list, making sure to put a check next to ‘My Network Places.’ I also set the ‘Network Connections’ to ‘Link to the Network Connections folder.’ You may also want to set the ‘System Administrative Tools’ to display on the All Programs menu.
- Set a few desktop shortcuts. I like to have a clean desktop, but I do set a few shortcuts, namely My Computer, My Documents, and My Network Places. To add these, click the start menu, right-click your desired shortcut, and select ‘Show on Desktop.’
- Find a better wallpaper. You’re on your own again for this one, but some nice places to look include http://wallpaper.deviantart.com, http://www.digitalblasphemy.com/dbhome.shtml, and http://art.gnome.org.
That’s the majority of my GUI tweaks. I like to focus more on functionality than pizzazz.
Now it’s time to adjust some system settings. Some of these will collectively help to speed up your system, and others remove possible chances of security breaches.
Show all file extentions. Open any folder, such as ‘My Documents.’ Click the ‘Tools’ menu, click ‘Folder Options,’ and then click the ‘View’ tab. Look down the list until you see a checkmark labeled ‘Hide Extensions for Known File Types.’ Remove the check from that box. While you are in here, scroll down to the bottom and uncheck ‘Use Simple File Sharing’ (XP Pro only).
Under ‘System Properties’ (Right-click on ‘My Computer’ –> Properties):
- Disable ‘System Restore’ (System Restore tab –> check the box to turn it off). Though this probably isn’t necessary, in four years I’ve never had a use for it.
- Change ‘Automatic Updates’ settings (Automatic Updates tab). Select the setting that you desire. I usually tell it to notify me, but don’t download or install anything.
- Disable ‘Remote Assistance’ (Remote tab). Uncheck the boxes to allow users to send remote invitations and to allow users to connect remotely to your computer.
- Disable automatic restarts (Advanced tab –> Click ‘Settings’ under ‘Startup and Recovery’ –> Uncheck the ‘automatically restart’ option). This is Microsoft’s sneaky way of hiding the blue screen of death (BSOD). Granted, it occurs much less frequently than in the 98/ME days, but it still can happen, mainly when a device driver fails. When this happens, I want to know.
- Disable error reporting (Advanced tab –> Error Reporting). I usually leave the option to notify me when a critical error occurs.
While you’re at it, delete unnecessary users. [Right-click on ‘My Computer’ –> Manage –> Expand ‘Local Users and Groups’ –> Select ‘Users.’] I usually delete all users except the Administrator, Guest, and my own account (plus others that *I* have created).
I get really tired of the Windows default sound scheme and usually opt to disable all sounds. To do so, go to the Control Panel, open ‘Sounds and Audio Devices,’ click the ‘Sounds’ tab, and change the sound scheme to ‘No Sounds.’ Whew. That’s music to my ears.
Right-click ‘My Network Places’ and click ‘Properties.’ Now right-click your network device and click ‘Properties.’ Select the QoS Packet Scheduler and click ‘Uninstall.’
Though this probably will not affect you after a clean install, it is a good idea to check for errors and defragment now and then, though not as frequently as required during the 98/ME days. To do this, open ‘My Computer,’ right-click your hard drive (usually C:) and select ‘Properties.’ Now select the ‘Tools’ tab. Click ‘Check Now’ to open the ‘Check Disk’ box, and select ‘Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.’ Click ‘Start’ and go get a cup of coffee.
To defragment, click the ‘Defragment Now’ button. The ‘Disk Defragmenter’ window should open. Select your hard drive and click ‘Defragment.’ Go get a refill on your coffee.
If you are feeling daring, there are a number of registry tweaks that you can do to further customize your system. Hundreds of them can be found here. Be careful with these, as you can destroy your Windows installation by messing with the registry. Make a backup of your old registry first.
One nice thing to do to speed up this process in the future is to create a Windows XP Unattended Install CD. Instructions for doing this can be found here. In essence, you can create a bootable CD that partitions your drive(s), installs Windows with your serial number, user account name, additional Windows updates, registry tweaks, and additional software ALL without any interaction from you. This is a slick tool to have if you have the time and patience to learn how to do it.
There you go. You are free to install all additional software that you like. Have fun.
—- Brian Bondari —