This week I’ve been enjoying a holiday at home with Jane: a chance to enjoy peace and quiet together for the last time before the children arrive, and to reinstall Windows XP on my main desktop PC. That’s been the main reason for my lack of recent blogging, and not laziness — oh no! Not that. No way!
Slowdown to upgrade
It’s a common problem with Windows: it gradually slows down over time. I install and uninstall all sorts of software on it, I use it every day for everything from checking emails to coding, photo editing to video creation. I’m not surprised it slows down over time.
But this time it was getting really bad. At times it wouldn’t boot properly (hardware driver conflicts I think). There was a serious issue with my sound card: if I played a Flash movie (e.g. YouTube) while listening to an MP3, for example, it would send my audio player crazy when I closed the browser window, playing any non-Flash audio two or three times too fast. It made everything sound like the Chipmunks had formed a metal band!
I also wanted to upgrade a couple of major pieces of software:
as well as various hardware drivers:
It was clearly time for Operation PC Forgiveness 2008.
On Monday and Tuesday I backed up everything. I used Second Copy 7.1 to copy the contents of each partition one-by-one to my external harddrive (Freecom 500GB).
I’ve tried various other applications over the years that take either images of the partition, or backup to a proprietary format, or first compress the files before storing them in a zip file, but in the end I’ve returned to a simple 1:1 copy on an external drive. That way I can access these files at any time from any PC without having to first install any 3rd party applications.
Second Copy allows you to create backup profiles that can be run either individually or within groups. So I have groups for:
- Applications (e.g. Microsoft Money files, Microsoft OneNote data, WeBuilder settings, Windows Boot.ini file, Second Copy profiles, etc.
- Outlook PST files, backups and stuff
- WeBuilder reinstallation
- Ultimate Backup to external hard drive
There are a few backups that I do manually, for example Firefox bookmarks and anything else that needs to be exported.
This way I can make sure that all my personalized settings have been backed-up before I run the “Ultimate” backup group profiles and copy it all to my external drive.
A couple of things that I always do when doing a reinstallation are:
- Install and take a print out of all my installed applications using Installed Program Printer.
- Take a screenshot of desktop (for location of icons).
- Take a screenshot of Start Menu (for labels and icons).
- Take a screenshot of the Firefox add-ons that I have installed.
- Backup Programs folders within Start menu (both All Users and my username profiles). This way I can see how I organized my Start menu.
Reinstall Windows XP
With the backup complete it was time to bite the bullet and reformat my C drive. I have 12 partitions on my hard drives so wiping C simply takes out Windows and programs, all my data, images, videos, music, etc. are safely stored on the other partitions (and now also backed-up).
One thing that I forgot to do before I set the Windows XP installation CD loose on C: was to deauthorize iTunes. D’oh!
Essentials for a Windows XP reinstall:
- Windows XP with SP3 and IE7 slipstreamed into it.
- Latest hardware drivers, already downloaded and saved to another partition, external drive or CD-ROM.
- TweakGuides Tweaking Companion for XP to follow advice on best order to install drivers, and various system tweaks to improve performance.
- Notebook and pen (to write down everything you do, error messages, settings, passwords, etc.).
- Laptop (or other PC) for looking up advice, error messages, etc. on the Web.
Reinstalling XP and hardware drivers took a couple of hours. Reinstalling the rest of my software took the best part of a day and a half. I have almost all my applications stored on another partition (I:) and categorized which makes it very efficient to reinstall:
Reorganize All Programs within the Start menu
Once I’ve installed the bulk of my applications, run Windows (or Microsoft) Update a couple of times to make sure that Windows and Office are up-to-date, and done a cursory defrag I always reorganize the Start menu.
This is how the All Programs part of my Start menu looked after I’d installed most of the applications that I use regularly:
That’s three columns with around 85 entries. Even though I’ve done a “sort by name” on the list it’s still a mess! What it needs is some categorization to group similar applications together.
I generally start with the “All Users” folder (right-click START and select “Explore All Users”). I then create a number of new top-level folders to act as my main categories. These are generally the folders that I begin with:
- Windows Mobile
As it happens, these are also the main category labels that I use on my Install partition (I:). Keeping a one-to-one relationship between the start menu and the install partition makes it really easy to find installers should I need to perform an upgrade or reinstall.
Having a limited taxonomy makes it really easy to find any application that I have installed: all my graphics applications can be found under Graphics, office applications under Office, etc. It sounds obvious but I’ve seen too many users wasting precious time hunting through an unordered list of 60+ applications.
Sort the rest
Having created these new folders, I then move the remaining installation folders and icons into them before performing the rest of the clean-up on the Start menu itself, creating any sub-folders as necessary. For example, within Internet I always create:
- Instant Messenger
- Web Building
I prefer to use generic terms such as “Instant Messenger” and “Firewall” than “Windows Live Messenger” and “ZoneLabs ZoneAlarm Pro” as I find it easier to find them this way, it also doesn’t lock me into a particular application as I can use the same folder structure regardless of the applications that I have installed.
I also use this arrangement on my PC at work and on my laptop so it allows me to have different applications installed but use the same organizational structure.
Start menu lite
While it usually takes me about 30-45 minutes to sort out my Start menu at the start it must save me hours each month when looking for applications.
My new, slimmed down start menu then looks a bit like this:
Now I have a clean installation of XP, with (almost) all my software installed and I can find things on my Start menu. Now I can get on and do something productive!