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January 2008
I've updated this page so that it relates to an installation with Service Pack 2. I recommend installing a version of XP that includes Service Pack 2. If you don't have SP2 on your installation disk you can use that disk to slipstream Service Pack 2 into it and make a new installation disk. When I had the motherboard in my laptop replaced, I had to reinstall XP and used a disk including SP2. Recently I've installed XP SP2 on a new Desktop computer and based on those two [and a bit of fiddling with other computers] I kept notes and updated this page to relate to Service Pack 2.

My goal with this page is to provide an online resource to simplify installing Windows XP. This is my cheat sheet so that I can remember what settings I want to change during the installation. It's a guide for me, and meets my needs. If anyone else want's to use it they're more than welcome.

There is no guarantee that it will work for you, so any use of these instructions/guidelines is at your own risk. Of course. And not every setting will work on every computer. The notes I used to update this page were from installing XP SP 2 on a Dell laptop, and later XP SP2 on a new OEM computer. Other computers and customizations of Windows will almost certainly differ, but hopefully only slightly.

These instructions assume some basic computer knowledge, but almost anyone should be able to muddle through.

Before you start make sure that you have a firewall and anti-virus program available to install prior to connecting to the internet. It's also a good idea to be behind a router.

The built in XP Windows Firewall is turned on by default, which is a major security improvement on Microsoft's part. But I prefer the outbound control that you get from a third party software firewall. If you're on broadband, I also strongly recommend a router in addition to the firewalls and anti-virus program.

I'm starting with a clean install. If you have a good install CD (as opposed to a Restore CD) I'd recommend starting from scratch if you have a prebuilt, factory configured computer. If you built your own, this is not an issue. My Dell laptop came with a bunch of extra stuff installed that I didn't want, like trial versions of software. A clean install gets rid of all that. If all you have is a Restore disk that puts the computer back in Factory Condition you can't do this. You should consider returning the computer and buying one that will let you do what you want. Dell is good enough to provide a real OS install disk, although lately it appears to be something you have to request as an extra either at time of purchase or later.

Start at whatever step is appropriate for you. If you're cleaning up an existing operating system, you can start with the Cleanup section if you want.

Installing:

Boot from the CD (this may require changing a setting in the BIOS).

Choose to delete, create, or leave existing partitions as suits you. If you're starting with an empty disk, the setup will want to create a C Drive for the first partition, then E, F, etc since it booted from D. These drive letters can be changed later. Or you can just create and format the first partition (C) and leave the rest empty for now. Then you can create and format the additional drives later. That will let you change the letter of the CD drive once Windows is installed so that any additional hard drives/partitions will be sequential. And if you're trying to replace an existing installation, you'll have to delete the partition it's on and create a new one to install on, otherwise XP will do a parallel installation and you'll end up with two copies.

Pick the partition to install on. For many years I choose anything other than C, partly to avoid malware that simply assumes a default installation. Unfortunately these days most malware can determine the location of all the important folders. And I've recently run across a couple of legitimate programs that were not happy if Windows, (or at least some components like Program Files) weren't on the C drive. So it's your choice.

Format the boot partition as NTFS, if it isn't already.
Wait a while for it to format and copy files.

If you get a prompt asking if you want to get Updated Setup Files over the internet, I'd suggest saying no. You can go to Windows Update once the install is done.
Reboot when prompted (or let it time out to reboot,) you can leave the CD in the drive, just DO NOT press a key to boot from CD if prompted.

Enter your name, and company name if necessary. Keep in mind that this information will be accessible to many programs during installs and later on, so you may not want to enter anything too identifying.
Check the keyboard and location settings and make sure they're correct for your location.

Choose a computer name and when offered the chance choose an administrator password. Make this a random character, mixed case, alpha-numeric password, and DON'T LOSE IT!!!

Set the date, time and time zone.

Network Setup:

If you have no Network card: You won't see anything at this point.

If you have a Network card: You'll get a setup dialogue for it. If you're not connected to a Network at the time, you can probably just press Next and take the defaults. These can all be changed later. If you know what your settings should be, you can use the Custom Settings button and enter them now.

Click Next, choose Workgroup or Domain.
If you choose to be part of a domain you'll need the cooperation of your Network Administrator.

Wait for files to copy, components to register and other automated things to happen.

Setup then asks if you want to turn on Automatic Updates. While I strongly recommend keeping up with security patches, personally I prefer to do them manually so that I can choose what's appropriate for me. Also some updates have caused problems for some people, so I like to see how it goes for others first.

And now you get to go through the wizard. Pretty much enter the information it asks for (user names, mostly) and click next. However, choose to be reminded to Activate later, and Registration is optional, it's your choice whether you want to do it or not. I always wait to Activate Windows until I'm sure that I've got a nice, clean, working copy and won't need to start over.

Click Next, and OK until it asks you to reboot.

XP Cleanup:

In my case, I need to change some desktop settings so that I can see things. Whether you use any of these is up to you. Remember that settings are user specific and you may need to do many of these for each user. I've highlighted the ones that needed per user adjustments in inset boxes on this page. Also some of the Font settings can make poorly written web pages and some programs display text partly outside of boxes or windows. Remember that these settings work for me, they may not be optimum for you.

And for those who prefer the look of Windows 2000 to the bubbly look of XP, there's a more complete list of settings to make XP look and act more like Windows 2000 at PCWorld.

Log on as Administrator.

When that annoying little Tour Windows XP balloon pops up by the clock, click on it, then click Cancel;, if you just close it, it will start every time you reboot.

Right Click the desktop and choose Properties.
On the Desktop Tab the Customize button will let you turn off the Desktop Cleanup Wizard if you want to.
Choose a Screensaver (I prefer None) and decide whether you want to Display the Welcome Screen when you wake it up. Keep in mind that those fancy moving screensavers take some CPU power, sometimes a lot, and if you're going to put the monitor to sleep, you won't see them anyway.
Adjust the Power Settings as appropriate.
On the Appearance tab change Font size to Large.
On the same tab click the Effects button and uncheck Show windows contents while dragging and if you have an LCD monitor pick Clear Type under the Smooth edges of screen fonts drop down.
You can use the Advanced Button to change the size and color of various objects in Windows.
On the Settings tab, pick a screen resolution. For me 1280X1024 works so that I can see things and not too much text overlaps other things. This will vary though depending on your monitor and video adapter.
Then on the Advanced Button, change the DPI settings to Large size and make sure that Apply the display settings without restarting is checked.
OK your way out. Reboot if necessary.
Right click the Taskbar and choose Properties. Check Auto hide the Taskbar and Show Quicklaunch. Uncheck Group similar items and Hide inactive icons.
Click the Start Menu tab and click on the Customize button. Choose the icon size and number of recent programs that you want retained. Pick your Internet and Email default programs. You may need to come back and do the last ones after you install the software you want. It should change automatically during the install or the first time the software is run. It can also be changed via a couple of other menus if needed.
Click the Advanced tab. Uncheck Highlight newly installed programs (this is the one that irritates me every time I install new software) and List my recently opened documents. Change Control Panel to Display as a menu, uncheck Help and Support, set My Computer, My Documents, My Music and My Pictures to not be displayed. Set Network Connections to Link to Network Connections Folder. Uncheck Printers and Faxes, Run Command, Search and Set Program Access. Set System Administrative Tools to Show.
Anytime you need Run or Search you can access them with the Windows Key/R or Windows Key/S. There are lots of similar shortcuts available.
OK your way out.

Next, go to Control Panel/Add Remove Programs on the Start Menu.
If you have a prebuilt system, uninstall any unnecessary programs (the extra media players, AOL, and some of the Support Tools for instance).
Go to Add/Remove Windows Components.
Uncheck Indexing Service (if checked), MSN Explorer (unless you actually use MSN Explorer), and Windows Messenger (unless you use it) and click Next, then click Finish.
Close Add/Remove Programs,

Go to Control Panel/System on the Start Menu.
Go to the Advanced Tab, and click Startup and Recovery Settings.
Uncheck Automatically Reboot (if checked), and make sure it is set to do a small memory dump, or none if you prefer. The memory dump setting is also per user.
Click OK.

Click the Error Reporting button at the bottom of the tab, then check Disable error reporting.
Click OK.

Go to the Remote Tab, and uncheck Allow Remote Assistance Invitations unless you know for absolutely positive that you will be asking a friend to connect to your computer over the internet soon. Actually, uncheck it anyway, it's easy to put back temporarily when you need it. Confirm that Remote Desktop is unchecked.

Go to the Automatic Updates tab, and choose your setting. You may want them downloaded and/or installed without you having to think about it. I prefer to make sure the latest patches aren't causing more trouble than they solve. People using Automatic Update can be the guinea pigs. If you do turn it off, be sure to periodically do it manually. I recommend setting it to Notify me but don't automatically download or install them. The Automatic Updates Service must be set to Automatic and started for the latest version of Windows Update to work, but that is separate from this setting. See below.

Go to the System Restore tab, and crank that slider down to about 7%. If you have more than one drive you have to go to the Settings for each drive. You can turn it off for individual drives if you want. That should be more than enough to save you if you actually need it, without eating up a bunch of your drive space. Don't turn it off completely unless you're using other back up software because it will CYA if you ever royally screw up your system in some situations. Keep in mind that it is not a backup program in the true sense of the word. It does not backup data, or many other files.

On the Hardware tab there's a Windows Update button that has settings for updating device drivers. I don't like updates being done without my knowledge, so I have it set to Never search Windows Update for drivers. The best place to get driver updates is from the manufacturer anyway, not from Windows Update.
Click OK to accept your changes.

Go to Control Panel/Mouse and on the Pointer Options tab check Show location of pointer when I press the control key. This will let you find the mouse pointer when it gets lost.

Go to Administrative Tools, then Services
Maximize the window, then decide whether you prefer Standard tab at the bottom left, instead of the Extended layout.
If you use Standard, drag the slider bars so the Name and Description fields are wide enough to read,
In either layout then click on Status twice to sort by Started Services.
To stop and disable services, double click on the name, then simply click Stop, and change the Startup Type in the drop-down menu to Disabled
What you need running will vary slightly based on your setup, but these are pretty standard. Defaults may vary depending on your version of XP, but check to see if you need to disable:


See Blackviper for more information and suggestions. Please note that not everything here agrees with that page, but he provides a lot of details about each service to help you make a decision. Much of the same information is at ss64's Services page. There's also information at Smallvoid.com, Yellowhead.com, as a PDF file from techrepublic.com.

Close Services.

Disable CD AutoRun if you want to: once you get to the Desktop, press the Windows key and 'R', and type regedit.
Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Services/Cdrom and double-click AutoRun in the right-hand window. Change the value from 1 to 0.

Then to disable the Search assistant if you want to: (from HelpWithWindows.com and other places).
Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Explorer/CabinetState/
Right-click an empty space in the right pane and select New > String Value
Name the new value "Use Search Asst" without the quotes.
Double-click this new value, and enter no as it's Value data.
Note that on one clean install of XP SP2 the CabinetState key didn't exist until I started Search and changed the settings there to not use the Animated Search Assistant. That appears to have fixed it without me needing to modify the registry. There was an option in the Search settings for Internet searches that may have fixed that too so that the next section may also be unnecessary. On one account on another computer it was added to the Registry when I opened Windows Explorer. On other installs the Registry key(s) needed to be added.
To do the same for IE Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Software/Microsoft/Internet Explorer/Main/
Right-click an empty space in the right pane and select New > String Value
Name the new value Use Search Asst.
Double-click this new value, and enter no as it's Value data, then close regedit.

Getting rid of Windows Messenger

On a clean install of XP SP2 on a Dell laptop and an OEM desktop I removed Messenger via Add/Remove Windows Components very early in the setup process. That seems to have truly removed it, and none of the following steps were necessary. I'm leaving them in for those who aren't as lucky. If it isn't an option on your copy of XP you can try the instructions for modifying the sysoc.inf file to let you remove it. Use caution on what you modify.

Windows Messenger is a very persistent little bugger. No matter how many places you turn it off, it will still start when you start some other programs. I recently started Outlook Express to check the location of a setting and Windows Messenger also started up. If you don't plan to use it, follow ALL these steps.

Double click Windows Messenger in the tray, or start it from Start/Programs if necessary, then click Cancel when it asks you to set up a username.
Click Tools/Options
Click the Preferences tab, then uncheck Run this program when Windows starts, and uncheck Allow this program to run in the background. You may only have the second of those two choices. That's the case here.
Close Messenger.
Even if you don't use it, start Outlook Express. Go to Tools/Options. On the first tab uncheck Automatically log on to Windows Messenger and click OK, then close OE. Restart OE and see if Windows Messenger starts.
If you have Outlook installed, start it and go to Tools/Options/Other tab (may vary by version) and make sure that Instant Messaging is unchecked. Close Outlook.

To be even safer, follow the instructions in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. For XP Pro it's:

You should see two settings:

Enable both settings and reboot. Windows Messenger will never be seen again on your screen or in your task list until you disable these settings.

XP Home requires a Registry tweak, which is listed on that page.

Another way to do it is to use the instructions posted at NTBugtraq.

Setting up Windows Explorer

Open Windows Explorer, I use the Windows key and press E.
Click the View Button and choose your favorite style (I prefer Details) then click Tools/Folder Options.
Pick your style on the General tab. I prefer Windows classic folders so that I see the folders and not the eye candy. Then click the View tab.
Uncheck: Hide Extensions for Known File Types, Show Pop-up Description for Folders, and Use Simple File Sharing (not available on XP Home), and maybe Hide Protected Operating System Files (BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU DELETE IF YOU DO THIS) and Automatically Search for Network Folders.
Check: Display Contents of System folders, Show Hidden Files and Show Control Panel in My Computer, choose what you like of the others.
Click Apply (not OK) then click Apply to All Folders at the top of the window. Click Yes.

Go to File Types and scroll down to SHB and SHS.
Click on the file type, then Advanced. Make sure they are checked to Confirm after download
And then check the box to always show file extensions. See Scrap Files at PcHelp's site
You can set any other files that you’re worried about to the same settings. I always check the various types of script files and registry files among others.

Go to Offline Files, and Uncheck Enable Offline Files, Click OK to close the window.
This next bit applies to NTFS drives only.
Right-click on your C: drive and choose Properties, then uncheck Allow Indexing Service. This is the Operating System equivalent of the old Microsoft Office Fast Find. Turning this off will speed up viewing folders in Explorer and prevent Windows from bogging down the system periodically while it indexes things. Repeat this for other drives if you have them.
Click OK, then click OK again to Apply changes to all subfolders. You can click Ignore All when it tells you it can't apply to some files, these will be system files that are in use and Windows can't apply attributes until later.
Close Explorer.

Restart your computer to apply all the changes you've made.

At this point Task Manager shows me 16 Processes running on startup, not counting the 5 for my video and sound drivers and 1 to remind me to activate Windows, so 22 total.

Now it's time to install patches.

You will need to Activate Windows in order to Validate it before you can apply patches, so if you're going to wait a couple of days to Activate, you'll need to wait to apply patches. Be very careful what you do before getting all the security patches, as there are vulnerabilities that can allow someone to take control of your computer just by visiting a compromised web site.
If you haven't installed all the Microsoft patches, then you should use another computer to download software and transfer it via a thumbdrive or something similar. Unless you're behind a router that certainly needs to be done with the Firewall, which should probably be the first thing installed. Of course there's a slight problem in that an unprotected computer shouldn't be connected to the internet, even to download patches. A router will provide enough protection for that at least.

Be sure to read the screens as you work through the patching process, Microsoft has released a service called Microsoft Updates. It is not the same as Windows Update. I always do a custom installation of updates, if you choose the Express Installation it may automatically set you up for Microsoft Update. Or you could just click on the wrong thing.

Open Internet Explorer, and follow the Connection Setup if it opens too. You should know your settings, if not I can't help you there.
Once IE is open, click Tools, then click Windows Update. Normally you can also start Windows Update by clicking Start, All Programs and it's above the bar on the right.
Click Yes if it asks you to install Windows Update Controls, then click Scan for Updates. You may also need to add some sites to the Trusted Zone.

When it's done scanning, go straight to Review and Install Updates on the left-hand side.

Probably everything listed is a Critical Patch, so I recommend you just click Install without removing anything with one exception. I suggest not installing Windows Genuine Advantage Notification KB905474 if it's offered. It comes and goes. But it is optional, and if installed it runs all the time, periodically contacting Microsoft. This is different than the required Windows Genuine Advantage Tool KB892130. That one just runs when you use Windows Update and verifies that your copy of Windows is legitimate. The notification tool verifies it repeatedly and is not necessary. Normally I choose Custom Install and go through the list to see what each one is because there are some that I don't want. Media Player for one since I never use it. But Microsoft has made it very difficult to see what each update is now, you have to go at least two levels deep to get any details on each individual item. One at a time, so it's very time consuming.

Some updates will give you a warning about installing an item that has to be installed separately, click Yes or OK to install this item if one of them is in your list. If you're on dial-up, go have dinner, watch a movie, and read a book. Otherwise, just wait a few minutes for the patches to download and install, then click Cancel when it asks you to reboot, and restart your computer manually. I prefer to do it myself since I found (long ago) that there was a higher percentage of failed reboots if it did it automagically.

Once you reboot, go back to Windows Update and scan for updates again.
Click Review and Install Updates, click Install, agree to the license, and wait for them to download again. And then reboot, again.

Once you've installed all the critical patches, you can go back and see if any of the recommended updates look like they apply to you and install them if you want to.
However, I do NOT recommend installing any driver updates from Windows Update, go to the manufacturers site and download and install from there. They are generally newer and more stable (and more easily uninstalled if they cause problems) drivers than the ones on Windows Update.

Once you're done with Windows Update, you can install and run the MS Baseline Security Analyzer from MS Technet. A perfect score is not necessary, but make sure you understand why you have any negatives that show up.
Also take a look at the XP Powertoys and install any that look useful. I recommend at least TweakUI and Open Command Window Here. Another very useful tool is the SendTo Powertoy from the Windows 95 PowerToys. Download the file (which is just a self-extracting zip file) and run it, or you can use your zip file handling program to extract SENDTOX.DLL and SENDTOX.INF from the EXE file. Right click on SENDTOX.INF and choose install. SendTo works fine on XP, I can't speak for any of the others and I'd recommend not trying them. For the ones that haven't been built into later operating systems there are newer versions of most of them.

Installing/Updating Flash and Java

Make sure that you have the latest versions of both Flash and Java. Both consistently have major vulnerabilities that can be a major risk to your computer. Unless you're the trusting type who runs their automatic updaters, and the type who doesn't mind all their extra processes running all the time, then you'll want to do it manually. Both of them make it difficult to find the files, and tend to reset features you've previously turned off.

Because both programs have frequent security problems, major privacy issues, and nearly incomprehensible installation and upgrade procedures (in my opinion), I generally surf with Java off and Flash blocked. If there were alternative programs I'd use them. For Java you can use the instructions on this Mozilla page about turning off Java. I use NoScript to control Flash among other things.

Another option for those using Firefox is Prefbar which lets you toggle Flash, Java, images, colors, and more on and off easily. That way you can turn if on if you need it, then turn it right back off.

I use Firefox as my default browser, but that shouldn't make any difference for these instructions.

For Adobe Flash: Adobe makes it extremely difficult to find an offline installer, they really want you to install directly from their website. Before they'll even do that you have to install the Adobe Download Manager. It's not obvious that that's what's going to happen, it's buried in the faint/fine print below the Download button.

For Sun Java:

Final Steps

Belarc Advisor is a free for personal use program that can be used to check for hardware and software problems.

Then you get to install and configure any software you want on your computer. You can check List of Lists for alternatives to the specific programs that I use, since these are just my personal preferences for now. Everything listed here is free at this time, although most of the authors will take donations, or in some cases sell you a version with more features. Some of these programs may include features like Google Toolbar or other things you don't want. Be sure to read the EULA and watch for options during the installation.

Once all your software is installed, you can organize your Start Menu.
Right-click the Start Button, and choose Explore All Users or Explore. Explore All Users lets you create folders and shortcuts shared by everyone and Explore lets you create folders and shortcuts just for you.
Once Explorer opens, click on Programs in the left pane, then create whatever folders you want to sort things into in the right pane. I generally sort things by type, for instance all Games in one folder, all things Internet in another folder, all Utilities (including System Tools) in another folder, and so on.
Once you're done creating folders, you can expand the Programs folder on the left side, and click and drag folders from the right side into the folders you want them in. When you're done moving stuff around, close Explorer.

Open Windows Media Player from the Start Menu.
Go to Tools/Options, and uncheck Download Codecs Automatically, Allow Sites to Uniquely Identify your Player and Acquire licenses automatically.

For Windows Media Player 9 I can't get that far, it want's me to go through the Setup procedure first. Since I don't use it, I haven't done that. I think that's part of why a recent (June 2010) security exploit involving Windows Help Center and Media Player fails for me when I tested it.

You can also set it to use a proxy so that it can't go anywhere anyway. 127.0.0.1 with port 80 works if you don't have a real proxy working on that port already. If it still tries to get out, make a rule in your firewall to block it.
You can also reportedly use the proxy trick with RealPlayer, although I don't have that installed so can't confirm it.

ss64 also has a good list of command line options for tweaking and tuning.

You can also go read up on Windows Product Activation for XP from aumha.org.




Disclaimer:

Keep in mind that I am not responsible for any external sites linked to from my pages. They may look different to you, or even have effects on your browser or computer that are different than what I see due to different security settings and browsers. They could have also changed since I looked at them. To the best of my knowledge, they are all safe. But you surf at your own risk.

This document reflects the opinions of the author. This document is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the author/maintainer and/or contributors assume(s) no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

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This page was last updated June 27, 2010.