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Fine Tuning The Desktop

Last time, I looked at several quick and easy ways to improve the performance and reliability of your PC and data. This time, I'm looking into customising your desktop.

Microsoft in its infinite wisdom, set up the various versions of Windows with lots of standard settings and programs which it thought would suit everyone. Naturally, these are not necessarily what you will like, need, or use, so by changing these, you can get access to the services and applications you need and get your machine to run better at the same time.

How does this work? Well, every single thing that you do with your PC uses what's called 'Resources'. These are the Memory, Processor (CPU) time and Hard Drive space. To make your PC run faster, we simply need to cut down on the drain on those resources. By cutting down on menu items, start-up programs and shortcut icons, we can do this and make your PC less cluttered at the same time too.

Installed programs use up valuable space and resources even when they are not used, as they take up hard drive space and have associated entries in the registry, which is read every time your PC starts up - so the bigger the registry, the longer it takes to start up (and shut down). These programs also often have small associated monitoring or update programs running all the time, which can significantly affect start up time and performance. Most of these can safely be disabled or removed.

A standard Windows Start Menu has the Windows Explorer (folder icon) shortcut hidden away in Programs /Accessories. This, in my opinion, is the most important single application for administering your PC, and should be right there on your Desktop, or Quick-Launch bar - as it is on all of my machines! Luckily, changing your Start Menu is easy as pie. If you want to move an item in the menu, just click and hold on it and drag it to the position you want. If you want to copy it to another location in the start menu, desktop or quick-launch bar (without removing the original), just hold down the Control key (Ctrl.) while doing the same thing.

The control key allows you to copy items to another location (while holding it down and dragging), or to select odd items in a list. Try holding Ctrl. and clicking on various files or folders in explorer. The Shift key on the other hand, allows you to select multiple items easy - click on an item in a list, then hold down shift and click on an item at the other end (above or below) and you will have selected both items and everything in between. You can then drag and drop to move, or use Ctrl. to Copy and Paste. There are many other key combinations with special uses, some of which you will probably know, such as Ctrl. + C (copy), Crtl. + X (cut), Crtl. + V (paste), Ctrl + S (save), which are often quicker than using the mouse and are sometimes the only way you can copy/paste data in some media (web forms etc.).

Anyway, getting back to the Start Menu, I still prefer the old style (Win 95) version, simply because I find it easier and faster to use. This and many other menu items, are easily set by right-clicking on a blank space on the bottom Task Bar and selecting 'properties'. Here you can change not only the Main Menu layout, but whether you want a Quick Launch bar (I do!), 'personalised' (recent items only) menus (no thanks!), etc. It's best to 'Lock' the Taskbar too.

So, once you have moved or copied the program shortcuts you want, can you just delete the rest? Well, yes and no. Although they are just shortcuts, accessing seldom-used programs without them isn't so easy, as you need to access the actual program in Explorer, or by using Start/Run. As stated last time, the best bet is to leave any you might need and delete any desktop icon shortcuts.

However, as well as doing this and deleting unused programs, don't forget to see which Windows components are installed that you don't need. For this, you need to go to control Panel/Add or Remove/Add/Remove Windows components. Take care though, as some components are needed even when you don't think you use them. For instance, Outlook express is still required even if you use the full version of Outlook!

To change the standard Icons on the desktop (My Computer etc.), right-click on a blank area of the desktop and select 'Properties', then 'Desktop' and 'Customise Desktop'. Here you can select which Icons you want and change the images. To re-name them, simply select one on the desktop, press 'F2' and type in your new name. It's even possible to remove the recycle bin, but that's not so simple; check out the 'Tips & Tricks' section for information about this and other tweaks

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