Tailor your PC
8. Try Google Desktop
Why not use Google’s obvious expertise to search your local files? Google Desktop is a free download that scours not only your personal documents, but also your email and the web. As well as saving time hunting for files and emails, the software can make tasks such as checking the weather or reading news sites easier, with a range of attractive widgets for your desktop. Two points of warning: if you don’t want your search queries being sent to Google, head to Preferences | Other and make sure Advanced Options is unticked. Second, Google Desktop is best used on systems with plenty of spare disk space.
9. Shut down redundant processes
Even when you’re not using any programs, Windows will be running many processes in the background. Lots of these perform vital tasks, but some are unnecessary. Print spooler, for example, is pointless if there’s no printer connected. Turning these off will free up memory and processor cycles, and could give a small productivity boost. To see a list of running processes press
10. Turn off AutoPlay
You’re unlikely to forget that you’ve just popped in a DVD or a USB flash drive, so why bother with AutoPlay? It’s fine having games auto-start, but when Vista attempts to scan a stuffed 250GB portable hard disk, things slow down considerably. In Vista, head to the Control Panel, then enter AutoPlay in the search box. You get a huge number of options, plus the ability to dictate what happens with devices you’ve already used on your PC. You can turn off AutoPlay in Windows XP by downloading the TweakUI application.
11. Map network drives
Most PCs are now on a local network, but browsing remote folders can be a pain. Finding shared resources through Network Neighborhood involves clicking through a tediously lengthy hierarchy of icons, while unwieldy UNC paths (network addresses that start with “”) are a nightmare to work with from the Command Prompt. You can save a lot of bother by mapping a drive letter to the remote folder, which makes it accessible directly from My Computer as if it were a local disk. You can map network drives from the Tools menu in XP’s Explorer, or simply by clicking Map network drive in the Vista Explorer.
12. Move your taskbar
You don’t need many windows open before you can’t see which is which in the taskbar, and searching through them every time you need to switch is a pain. Try dragging your taskbar to the left or right of the screen (just click on an empty patch and drag it. If this doesn’t work, right-click the taskbar and untick Lock the taskbar). This provides more slots for listing open windows and frees up vertical pixels- more valuable than horizontal ones when working with portrait documents.
13. Tweak your mouse settings
The ability to tweak how your mouse behaves has been around for ages, but there are some useful options (select Control Panel | Mouse). The ability to automatically move the mouse pointer to the default button in a dialog box is a thoughtful addition, for instance. Also, you can set your mouse pointer to show a radar-style effect when you tap the Ctrl key: useful if you’ve got a multi-monitor setup and find yourself sporadically wiggling your mouse and hunting for the pointer.