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A rundown on the software that I installed and the order in which I installed it in the first month of using a new laptop.

I've read you got a new machine... it'd be interesting to see what you put on it and why.

Yep, about a month ago, I got a new Dell Latitude E6410 laptop.

This machine is to be my primary machine when I travel and the primary repository for my email, regardless of where I am.

My approach to installing software is one that I've developed over the years of having done this many, many times. Essentially, I don't try to predict what I need; I simply start using the machine and install what's missing as I need it.

The Machine

Windows Basic Information about the machine: Windows 7 Pro, Intel Core i7 @2.6Ghz, 8GB RAM, 64bit

That screen shot was taken after SP1 had been installed; the machine came without it.

What follows is roughly the order in which I did things.

Initial Setup & Imaging

When my machine arrived from Dell, it required that I first finish the Windows setup. This required me to name the machine (using my silly naming NOTEN-something convention, it became NOTENE6410) and create the login account that I would use.

SnagIt was my first install, not because I actually need SnagIt before anything else, but because I wanted to document what would follow.

Acronis True Image Home 2011 was next. How do I setup Acronis True Image Home 2011? shows how that was done. (As the product key to activate it is long and my typing skills are poor, I used a USB key to transfer the key over as a text file that I could use via copy/paste.)

This is when I took a complete system image. How do I create an image of my new machine? shows the process I used.

Initial Customization

I'm a command-line kinda guy, so one of the first things that I did was run Command Prompt and pin it to the Windows 7 taskbar.

I changed the network workgroup and connected the machine to my local network. I accepted the default configuration which leaves the Windows firewall turned on, even on a Home network.

TrueCrypt was next. After installing it, I created a 200-gigabyte encrypted volume that would contain most of my data files and other work:

03/19/2011  05:39 AM   214,748,364,800 data.z

I visited Windows Update and took all updates until there were no more updates offered.

I uninstalled:

  • Bing bar - I don't use it or want it.

  • Cyberlink Power DVD - I'll use different software if I want to watch anything.

  • Roxio Creator Starter - I'll install and use a different software later.

  • All Windows Live Essentials with the exception of Windows Live Mail. That remains only because I often need to refer to it when answering questions.

I turn off Windows features (effectively uninstalling the associated components):

  • Media Features such as DVD Maker, Media Center, Media Player - I prefer different tools.

  • Internet printing client - I'd never use it.

  • Windows fax and scan - I use an online service.

  • Windows gadget platform - I keep my desktop clean and gadget-free.

  • XPS Services & XPS Viewer - I don't create XPS documents and have yet to have a need to view one.

Making It Usable

I copied/installed my folder of portable and command-line utilities, a Perl interpreter which I use for my scripting in lieu of batch files, and the local copy of my data files. For the geeks in the crowd: I use Subversion as a source code control system, so the vast majority of this step - including the utilities and a copy of Cygwin utilities - is simply a series of "checkout" operations on the appropriate projects.

FireFox was next. Once again, I did not initially install any extensions, preferring to wait until I actually noticed missing something.

Microsoft Security Essentials is the anti-malware tool that I'm electing to use on this machine. I've been quite pleased with it on other machines and it provides the basic coverage that I need for both anti-virus and anti-spyware.

I decided to install WinPatrol, a behavioral watchdog for malware detection, on this machine early for some additional testing. I had it on the prior laptop for a while and liked some of the things that it had alerted me to. (I expect to have more to report in the near future.)

Thunderbird was the last and perhaps most major step for me to make this machine usable. My email is critically important so moving it from machine to machine, while very easy, isn't something I do lightly.

At this point, I officially started using my new machine.

Additional Tools

Roboform was quickly deemed a necessity as I started surfing the web. I use Roboform Everywhere, their version 7, and it keeps passwords in sync across multiple machines, browser and operating systems.

I'm not a huge fan of Windows Explorer, I use Zabkat xplorer2 instead. It's a dual-pane Explorer replacement that I find more flexible and useful.

AutoHotkey is a system-level keyboard macro tool that I've come to rely on. It's here in the sequence because I use AutoHotkey to remap the Windows+E key to bring xplorer2 up instead of Windows Explorer. I also use it for many stock-typing tasks like a few of my canned responses and other tweaks.

DropBox was next. I use it to keep assorted files actively synchronized across multiple machines as well as my Android phone.

Similarly, I use Evernote to keep assorted notes and information also synchronized across those same machines and phone.

I use TopStyle as my HTML editor. In fact, all articles on Ask Leo! are written directly in HTML using TopStyle, including this one.

I also use Vim as my text editor. Vi, on which Vim and GVim are based, is a very old tool. In fact, it's the first text editor that I was introduced to at Microsoft nearly 30 years ago. The reason that I've standardized on it is that it's available on every platform that I use - including not only Windows and Mac, but also Linux where I use it heavily on my servers.

Foxit is my PDF reader in lieu of Adobe Acrobat Reader.

While I'm a fan of FastStone Image Viewer, I keep hearing good things about IrfanView and elected to install it instead on this machine for a trial.

Late Arrivals

While I used the machine as described above for several weeks, a couple of additional packages have recently been added as well.

Microsoft Office 2010. I had to wait for this to arrive. As long as it's been out, I'd not updated from 2007. I took this new machine as an opportunity to make sure that I had the 2010 version available.

I post my personal pictures on Flickr, so the Flickr Uploadr found its way to my machine.

And finally, the laptop "lives" in my home's family room, where we also watch TV. (I access it by remote desktop when I'm working in my office.) That means that it's the right machine on which to install the Logitech Remote software for programming the remote that controls our TV.

As these things go, I fully expect that other tools will be installed over time as I determine a need or a desire to try something out.

The list above, though, gives you a good overview of what I prioritized and how I went about it.

Article C4767 - March 19, 2011 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

James Hillier
March 22, 2011 2:20 PM

Hi Leo - I was a little surprised to see MSE mentioned so far down the list. Would it not be sensible to download and install AV/AS software before all else, for immediate protection?

Great insight's always interesting and helpful to read why, when and how the experts go about it.


Malcolm H-S
March 22, 2011 9:51 PM

Leo, what a fabulous insight into the world of an IT guru with so much experience.

The article is a condensation of practical and useful information. Many thanks.

Colin S
March 23, 2011 2:33 AM

Hi Leo,

I actually imaged my son's new laptop by booting to the Acronis CD before starting the windows setup. This image gets stored in a safe place to reconfigure the computer to out of box condition. I happened to have the recovery partition corrupted so take the precautions first now. Good articles though. Keep up the good work.
Cheers. Colin

Its very cool to know that works. Thanks!

March 24, 2011 9:52 AM

Nice article Leo.

Which Perl distribution to you use and do you have any links regarding using it to interact with Windows?

A future article on how you use Subversion would be interesting as well.

ActivePerl - I simply use Perl in place of batch files as it's more flexible and programmable.

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