Howto: make your fresh Windows XP install usable

My roommate just got a new laptop for his trip to Cambodia, and we were talking about what he needed to do to make Windows XP usable. A few quick downloads and he’s well on his way.

Uninstall all of the packaged software.

You don’t need it, honest.

Get Firefox. Internet Explorer is a terrible browser.

Get Firefox.

Remove the Internet Explorer icon from the desktop and the start menu. You can do this from the “add/remove programs” section of the Control Panel, but Windows won’t let you remove IE completely. Make Firefox the default web browser.

Customize Firefox.

Get some plugins (check out a few of my favorite Firefox plugins), customize the look of Firefox. Make it your own.

Install some security software.

Windows isn’t secure. Add a couple of third party apps to give it a hand. Get Spybot: Search and Destroy, AdAware, and AVG Anti-Virus.

Download a few essential [free] apps.

Word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, etc:

Don’t send any more money Microsoft’s way. There’s an Open Source office suite called which will do anything Office 2007 will, but it’s free-ninety-nine.

instant messaging:

Whether you use AIM, Y!, MSN Messenger, GTalk, Bonjour, ICQ, IRC or Jabber, there’s a couple of free multi-protocol instant messaging clients that’ll do the job for you. I recommend Pidgin, which will work with more instant messaging protocols than I even knew existed. Another great product is called Trillian. While it’s not free-as-in-freedom, it has a great free-as-in-beer version.

Widgets, gadgets, etc:

I can’t live without Launchy, the keyboard shortcut launcher. between Launchy and RocketDock, I never even use the start menu anymore…

Ditch Luna (the default Windows XP visual style).

Face it, Windows XP is not attractive. there are a ton of third party themes and utilities available to help you make it look like a Mac, or like the interface on the Starship Enterprise, but my two favorite visual styles come directly from Microsoft: Royale and its darker incarnation the Zune theme. Both do a great job of updating the look and feel of XP to something you can actually stand.

Some assorted and sundry multimedia apps.

VLC for videos, WinAmp for music (and mp3 players), CD Art Display because it’s hot and CDBurnerXP Pro for DVD/CD burning.