PC Apps

Why my Windows XPerience is better than yours – part deux

Start Menu Organization

I repair PCs in addition to my day job, so I get an intimate look at the ways people use, misuse, and abuse their Windows operating systems. One thing that’s consistent between all my clients is that they have about 5 years of compounded Start Menu folders and icons. These listings are woefully neglected, listed in the order they were installed, often take two or more columns to list, and comprised of largely unused and undesired software. We are creatures of habit, though, and often accept cards as they are dealt, flawed though the hand may be.

Not I! Unlike my desk, closet, kitchen, and just about every other physical domain I occupy, I pride myself in my meticulously maintained Start menu. Despite my reliance on the venerable Keylaunch I still occasionally trawl through my Start menu, and I’ll be darned if I have to waste a solitary moment doing so.

Thus, the first thing I do when I install Windows fresh is create organizational folders in which every application I plan on installing will reside. Then, as I install software drivers and applications, I move their folders into my own. This guarantees that when I click Start / All Programs I am not rendered catatonic by the epilepsy-invoking flash of a screen full of individual application folders.

The coup de grace (“coop de Gracie” as Daffy Duck would say) of this ritual is performed by right-clicking any folder or item in a list and clicking Sort by Name. This arranges the items in the list alphabetically.

If it’s been many a moon since you installed Windows this procedure might be a bit lengthy, but rest assured knowing that the longer this one-time organization takes, the more time you’ll have saved yourself every time you look for a program in the future.


Adding Explorer Buttons

The user interface presented upon the fresh installation of Windows XP is decidedly minimalistic. The desktop is devoid of icons, few Start menu items exist, and Windows Explorer is configured with few features. This presentation is neophyte-friendly, revealing few jarring or confusing elements upon this first glance, but is rather crippled in terms of usability.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the benefits of adding buttons reflecting my commonly-performed tasks. If you’ll note my screenshot below you’ll likely recognize a few buttons not present on your own Windows Explorer UI. Starting from the View pulldown icon and going rightward are a refresh button, a delete button (surrounded by separators to minimize accidental clicking), cut, copy, and paste.

The astute among my readers might interject, noting that every one of the buttons I added have corresponding keyboard shortcuts (F5, del, ctrl-x, ctrl-c, and ctrl-v respectively), all but rendering my additional efforts pointless. However, the true power users among you will mirror my enthusiasm for this redundancy as you often find dual-finger keyboard shortcuts to be impossible due to common hand-disqualifying variables such as soft drink cans, deep fried potato products, and ice cream spoons.

The most accessible software applications present multiple ways to perform any one task. My sweet tooth and I grant our kudos to Microsoft for succeeding so thoroughly in this endeavour.


Disk Partitioning

It happens to each and every one of us at some point, kind of like chicken pox, so if it hasn’t happened to you yet you’d better be prepared. I’m talking about loss of data, logical partition corruption, total disk failure, clutzy human error, and what the Russians refer to as kaput-ski. Aside from backups, mankind’s number one unfulfilled new years resolution, the prescribed preventive maintenance for this inevitable catastrophe is strategic paritioning.

The vast majority of my repair clients are not even aware of the option of partitioning. For those who don’t know, partitioning is the act of logically splitting a hard drive into separate sections, each represented (in Windows, anyway) by a separate drive letter. As illustrated in my screenshot below, before installing Windows I am careful to plan a partitioning scheme based on my perceived needs, granting sufficient diskspace to each resource. Once Windows is installed I assign a drive letter to each partition that clues me as to the planned contents.

How does this help protect one from information apocalypse? Well, as outstanding as Microsoft’s operating systems are, it’s likely that a nasty bit of spyware, a virus, trojan, sloppily programmed application, or other misfortune will befall your Windows system at some point. When this happens and you are forced to reinstall Windows you will almost certainly need to format, ergo obliterate, your system partition including the entirety of its contents. Wouldn’t it be nice if your re-installable programs, and not your irreplaceable data, were the only victims of Hurricaine Hard Drive?

Partitioning doesn’t protect against physical disk damage, so it is a poor substitute for backups or multiple physical disks, but it is sufficient to protect against most “soft” disasters. It also makes categories of data easier to find, as I can be sure I need to look on my M drive for music, my T drive for television shows, and my S drive for my, er, stuff. Hey, it may be a mess but it’s an organized mess, mom.


For more of my informative tiddlywinks be sure to check out part one of this ever-growing series of Windows XP customisation tips.

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

Who is Brian at work?
My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

Who is Brian at play?

Who is Brian

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