what to do with a piping hot, fresh from the oven, Windows installation [part 1]

A friend of mine just recently obtained his very first real computer. And by real computer I of course mean one that is running Windows (Note: some linux computers are also real computers). Unfortunately, it is a sickly machine that suffers from a severe case of obesity, since it is running Vista. Sure, Vista is beautiful and has some neat little functions. But there is nothing of importance that Vista can do that XP can’t, and the amount of resources taken up just to run the stupid OS (Operating System) makes my spleen cry. Which is uncomfortable.

Rambling aside, I was asked to write something detailing all of the various things that should be done to a Windows machine, and that is what I am going to do. Bear in mind, however, that I am discussing what should be done with XP, since that is the OS with which I am familiar. I imagine most of this, especially the software, applies to Vista as well. For that which doesn’t apply, I imagine there are Vista versions. Hopefully. And, of course, see my Disclaimer before doing anything that I recommend. Or installing anything that I suggest. And cetera.

First things first:

Trimming the OS

The sad fact is that Windows makes huge, fat, drooling operating systems. They can’t help it. Windows comes with every kind of functionality that you could ever not need, so the first thing that I always do (after, of course, installing drivers) is to trim the gristle. There are a few ways to do this, and you should find an increase in performance and a decrease in boot time if you maximize use of these methods. Be careful, though, as these procedures can easily cripple your system of you disable the wrong thing.

nLite (or, more accurate, “gastric bypass”)

The best way to get a sleek Windows is to take the lard right out of the recipe. This can be done with the free application nLite, which allows you to make a customized Windows installation disk. This requires that you own a copy of Windows and the corresponding disk, and that you have a computer with which to create your new OS and burn it to disk. I won’t go into details in this post (see this lifehacker entry for a quick-and-dirty tutorial), but make sure that you look up each item before you prevent it from being put on your install disk, since nLite allows you to remove critical OS components. For example, the current XP installation that I am running on my Asus Eee PC is missing some networking thing which has disabled my ability to get onto Battle.net for playing Diablo (though it boots up in 17 seconds!). Don’t let this happen to you!

For Vista, there is a newer project called vLite that does the same thing. I don’t know much about it, so you’ll have to look into it if you are running that morbidly obese OS.

A few remaining points: If you are installing Windows freshly then you will have to also install drivers for all of your hardware. If you don’t have a disk, you can find all of the drivers on support websites from the manufacturers, though this can sometimes be difficult. So if you aren’t savvy with this stuff, either find someone who is or rely on the other measures listed below that are less dangerous and difficult.

Lastly, this process requires some understanding of disk images. Perhaps I’ll discuss that in another post, but if you aren’t familiar with making and mounting iso files, then you’ll want to brush up on that stuff before you start making your own Windows disk.

autoruns

I love this little app. It’s made by Microsoft, and so is quite legitimate. You can either download autoruns to your computer or run it off of the internet from its website.

This program lets you disable pretty much any process that XP will run (not sure about Vista). When you open the program up, you’ll notice a bunch of tabs at the top. The “Everything” tab shows you all of the things that you can disable (there are a lot). The easiest thing to do is to go to the “Logon” tab, which shows you all things that run once Windows logs you on:

As you can see, there is a list of applications with checkboxes. Turn off everything that you don’t need (which includes nearly all of it). Many applications will run little mini-apps every time you start your machine. These things will check for updates, monitor things on your computer, or otherwise suck up resources for no good reason. As you can see, the only things that I have left running are apps for my video card, sound, Launchy (to be discussed later), and Explorer. You need Explorer, since that is the interface that you ue to communicate with Windows. If you have a bit of savvy, go into the other tabs and disable everything else you know that you don’t need. Google things that you aren’t sure about.

ccleaner

Or, colloquially, “crap cleaner.” This software is great for getting rid of all of the temporary files and things that Windows holds onto. This keeps your hard drive clean more than anything else, and even has secure deletion to actually remove temp files, browser history, and the like. But, for the purposes of this post, it can also be used to disable applications from startup. This mostly includes non-OS apps, so it is not nearly as useful as autoruns in this regard, but it is certainly much easier to use. I would recommend disabling, but not deleting, the things that you don’t want running. That way you can always enable something again if you want to.

built-in uninstallation

Fortunately, XP comes with a way to get rid of some of its vestigial parts. Of course, when it says that it is uninstalling something this sometimes means that it is just getting rid of some evidence of that thing’s existence. But it actually doesn’t get rid of it. This is especially true of the browser idiot-child Internet Explorer (IE). You would be better off using Lynx.

Anyway, to start removing stuff go to Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs. This will bring you to a window that has a pane on the left with several options. Click on “Add/Remove Windows Components”. You’ll see this:

Get rid of Windows Messenger and anything else that you don’t use. Google it if you’re unsure.

End!

That about covers this part. Sorry for the lack of detail; I figure anyone looking into this has enough savvy to do the rest on his own, or at least is good at Googling stuff. My next post will move on to tweaking the user interface and, most important, software!

One thought on “what to do with a piping hot, fresh from the oven, Windows installation [part 1]

  1. Wrong.

    Windows Vista security is some pretty sick stuff. It can do 64-bit ASLR, which prevents most buffer overflow exploits.

    It can use trusted hardware to do some pretty neat things too. If you are truly paranoid, and don’t want to run 64-bit SELinux with PaX, then Vista is for you.

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