Computer manufacturers love to load up new systems with “helpful” utilities and features. Of course, what they regard as helpful, you may regard as rubbish.

Uninstall unwanted programs via the Control Panel.

Whenever I set up a new computer for myself or someone else, I go through a routine to eliminate vendor-generated clutter and bias. This checklist is something you might find useful or be able to adapt to your own use:

  • Uninstall unnecessary and unwanted programs. If you’re not sure what’s necessary, here are some guidelines:
    • Uninstall trial versions of software you already own. For example, if you already have a copy of Microsoft Office you want to install, go ahead and uninstall the 60-day free trial often included with new computers.
    • Uninstall trial versions of software you know you don’t want. I always remove AOL and all the other “free ISP trials”, as I already have my own ISP. (Well, I remove all traces of AOL because I pretty much regard it as I would a virus infestation.)
    • Uninstall trials of security software suites if you already own another suite or you don’t like the suite provided. Often when you order a computer, a vendor lets you specify whether you want a particular security suite installed; sometimes they give you no option and install their chosen suite anyway or a 30-day trial of a suite. If you’re not happy with their choice, uninstall it. Some security suites are so bloated and have such an adverse effect on your computer’s performance, you really need to be discerning in which one you use. I’m a fan of the minimalist-but-adequate Eset NOD 32 and I also really like the free version of Avast. Note, by the way, that uninstalling security software usually involves rebooting your computer to complete the process.
    • Keep any utilities, tools, product manuals and so on specific to your computer.
    • If you’re unsure what a particular program does, keep it. You can always search for the program on Google later on to see what it’s used for.
  • Change the properties of the Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin is set up to prompt you for confirmation each time you delete a file. This is usually unnecessary – if you accidentally delete a file you can always open the Recycle Bin immediately and retrieve it. To turn this time-wasting confirmation prompt off:
    • Right-click the Recycle Bin and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
    • Uncheck Display Delete Confirmation Dialog.
    • While you’re in the Recycle Bin Properties dialog box, you may also wish to change the size of the bin. Windows tends to use a lot of space for the Recycle Bin; I usually set the size manually to around 1 – 2 gigabytes (1024 – 2048MB).
  • Delete the desktop icons for programs you may use but don’t want cluttering your desktop. You can run these programs from the Start menu instead. This includes utilities and product manuals specific to your computer.

Note the difference between deleting a desktop shortcut and uninstalling a program. Deleting a desktop shortcut simply removes the icon from your desktop but leaves the program installed on your system. You can still run that program by selecting it via the Start Menu.

Uninstalling a program removes the program from your computer entirely. To uninstall a program, click Start -> Control Panel -> Uninstall A Program.

By uninstalling an unwanted program, not only do you free up the space it occupies on your hard drive, you also reduce the complexity of your system, which can lead to faster start-up times and smoother operation.

  • Install programs you own, such as Microsoft Office and a security suite. Beware though: don’t install a security suite if there’s already one installed on the system; doing so will cause all sorts of problems.
  • Install the Firefox browser if it’s not already on the system. Firefox is generally more secure than Internet Explorer – the browser included with Windows – and it has better features. Personally, I loathe Internet Explorer’s interface; yet another reason to dump it.
  • Run Firefox and, when prompted, set it as your default browser. Then visit Adobe to install the Adobe Flash Player and the latest version of Adobe Reader. These programs are almost indispensable for viewing animated content and documents on the web.

Other good browser choices are Google’s Chrome and the somewhat-complex-but-decidedly-innovative Opera.

  • Disable auto-alignment of desktop icons, if it’s currently enabled:
    • Right-click in an empty spot on the desktop.
    • Select View from the pop-up menu.
    • If it’s checked, click Auto Arrange to uncheck the option.

Auto-aligned icons may look neat, but I prefer to organize my icons logically by sticking folder icons down the side of the desktop, program icons along the top, and so on. Turning off auto-arrange lets you choose how to organize your desktop.

  • If you’re using a pre-Windows-7 version of Windows, make sure the Quick Launch bar is displayed. The Quick Launch bar is immediately to the right of the Start button and it displays shortcuts to your most frequently used programs. If you can’t see the Quick Launch bar:
    • Right-click an empty space on the Taskbar and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
    • Check Show Quick Launch and click OK.
  • You can now add shortcuts to your favorite programs to the Quick Launch bar; to delete any pre-installed programs, right-click the program’s icon and choose Delete from the pop-up menu. If you can’t see the entire contents of the Quick Launch bar, here’s how to resize it:
    • Right-click the Taskbar and choose Lock The Taskbar from the pop-up menu. You’ll see a ridged ‘handle’ at the right end of the Quick Launch bar.
    • Click and drag the handle to resize the Quick Launch bar.

    Note: The Quick Launch bar is no longer available in Windows 7; instead, you pin items to the Taskbar.