Configuring Windows XP

Configuring Windows XP

Windows XP is the most adaptable and “tweakable” operating system that Microsoft have released to date. It can be configured in many different ways to perform many different tasks.

XP has the facilities to act as a flexible and full featured network machine and can also be stripped down to run as an economical home machine. Microsoft released two versions of XP, home and professional which are optimised for use in their respective environments, but there is still a fair amount of tweaking that can be done in both versions, more so in professional but that’s because of it’s extended functionality.

Tweaking the GUI

It’s a matter of opinion whether XP is good looking or just damn right ugly! If your one of those people that either can’t stand XP’s GUI or simply want their desktop to be original than you’ll be pleased to know that there are many options to transform the look of XP.

First of all the look of XP is just a Windows Theme and can be changed to the old Windows 98 style start menu and taskbar:



Windows Classic Theme

There are thousands of other themes that can be applied to XP, here's a few basic examples:​


Graphical Effects in Windows XP

If your trying to get XP to run on a low spec machine one of the best ways to improve performance is to customise or disable all together the animated graphical features in XP. This can be accomplished through the Performance Options menu.


The performance options menu allows you to select the graphical effect's you'd like to use within XP. This covers things like sliding menus and show window contents while dragging, although XP looks nice with these settings enabled, I'm sure most people, including myself would prefer to increase performance rather than looks, to do this simply un tick all the options or click adjust for best performance. By disabling these optional features you should see a noticeable difference in the speed of menus and loading windows.


Performance Options

Tweaking XP Services

Windows XP comes complete with a suite of unnecessary services for an average home machine. Most of which can be disabled and can significantly improve performance, because the less time that XP spends worrying about services that your never likely to use to more time it has to worry about the services you do use.

To access your installed services:​


The following MMC (Microsoft Management Console) Window should appear:​


Microsoft Management Console

Here you can see a list of the services that are installed on your machine. Under the titles "Status" and "Startup type" you can see which services are running and how each service is set to startup.​

If a service is not required then you can either change the startup type of the service to either "manual" or "disabled", I strongly recommend that instead of selecting "disable" you choose "manual" this is simply because if the startup type is set to "manual" the service can still be started by another service if required whereas if "disabled" is selected there is no way of windows or any other service starting the disabled service, which can cause problems, mainly system instability.​

To change the startup type of a service simply right click the desired service and select properties.​


Alerter Properties

You can see a drop down box titled "Startup type" this is where we can select how we want the service to be started. If this is set to Automatic than the service will start up everytime windows does, manual will allow the service to be started only when required and disabled will not allow the service to be started at all.​

The following is a list of services included in a typical XP installation complete with a description. If only essential services are running then you should see a noticeable difference in speed when using XP.​

Below is a list of some of the services Windows XP contains, the startup type column is a recommendation of what the service should be set to for a standard home computer.
Alerter                             This service is used for sending administrative alerts, usually from a server to a workstation on a network.                                                                                               MANUAL                                                                                                         
Clipbook                            The clipbook service was used back in the days of NT for viewing the clipboard remotely.                                                                                                                   MANUAL                                                                                                         
Computer Browser                    Enables you to browse other computers on a network through network neighbourhood.                                                                                                                          MANUAL           Only if machine isn't part of a network                                                       
Distributed Link Tracking Client    Sends notifications of files moving between NTFS volumes in a network                                                                                                                                      MANUAL                                                                                                         
Distributed Transaction Coordinator Coordinates transactions that are distributed across two or more databases, message queues, file systems, or other transaction-protected resource managers.                                                MANUAL                                                                                                         
DNS Client                          Resolves and caches Domain Name System (DNS) names.                                                                                                                                                        MANUAL           Only if machine isn't part of a network                                                       
Fax                                 This service provides XP's faxing facility.                                                                                                                                                                MANUAL           Only if not using the XP fax facility                                                         
Indexing                            Fastfind functionality. Improves text searches.                                                                                                                                                            MANUAL                                                                                                         
Internet Connection Sharing (ICS)   Enables XP to share an Internet Connection on a network.                                                                                                                                                   MANUAL           Only if not sharing an Internet Connection                                                    
IPSEC Policy Agent                  Manages IP security policy.                                                                                                                                                                                MANUAL           Only if no security policies are in place. Usually only setup on network domains.             
Messenger                           This service allows user's to send net send messages to other users/computers on the network.                                                                                                              MANUAL           This is an open door for spammers, definately disable. This service has nothing to do with MSN,
Netlogon                            Used for logging onto network domains.                                                                                                                                                                     MANUAL           Only if you don't logon to network domains.                                                   
Network DDE                         Supports network transport of DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) connections.                                                                                                                                     MANUAL                                                                                                         
NT LM Security Support Provider     Provides security to remote procedure call (RPC) programs that use transports other than named pipes.                                                                                                      MANUAL                                                                                                         
Performance Logs and Alerts         Gives XP the ability to monitor system performance.                                                                                                                                                        MANUAL                                                                                                         
Plug and Play                       Enables a computer to recognise and adapt to hardware changes.                                                                                                                                             AUTOMATIC        Useful and not worth disabling.                                                               
QoS RSVP                            Provides network signaling and local traffic control setup functionality for QoS-aware programs and control applets.                                                                                       MANUAL                                                                                                         
Remote Registry                     Allows the registry to be remotely configured.                                                                                                                                                             MANUAL                                                                                                         
Routing and Remote Access           Provides routing services in LAN's and WAN's.                                                                                                                                                              MANUAL           Only if not part of a large network.                                                          
DHCP Client                         Allows the computer to use dynamic IP addresses using DHCP.                                                                                                                                                MANUAL           Unless DHCP is used on the network.                                                           
Runas                               Allows user's to open a program with alternate credentials, ie an Administrator                                                                                                                            MANUAL                                                                                                         
Security Accounts Manager           Supports local security policies.                                                                                                                                                                          MANUAL           Only if no security policies are in place. Usually only setup on network domains.             
Smart Card                          Manages and controls access to a smart card.                                                                                                                                                               MANUAL                                                                                                         
Smart Carder Helper                 Provides support for legacy smart card readers.                                                                                                                                                            MANUAL                                                                                                         
Server                              Support for file and print sharing.                                                                                                                                                                        MANUAL           Make sure you have no shared files or printers.                                               
Print Spooler                       Stores print jobs in memory to help manage print jobs.                                                                                                                                                     MANUAL           Disable if no printers installed or spooling isn't used.                                      
TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper               Provides support for name resolution via a lookup of the LMHosts file.                                                                                                                                     MANUAL                                                                                                         
Telephony                           Provides Telephony API (TAPI) support for programs that control telephony devices and IP based voice connections on the local computer and, through the LAN, on servers that are also running the service. MANUAL                                                                                                         
Help & Support                      Supports help and support in windows                                                                                                                                                                       MANUAL                                                                                                         
Event Log                           Lists system, application and security logs.                                                                                                                                                               MANUAL                                                                                                         
Fast User Switching                 Allows more that one account to be logged on at anyone time                                                                                                                                                MANUAL           Having more than one user logged in will cripple any machine.                                 
Error Reporting                     Enables reports of errors including relevant data to be sent to Microsoft.                                                                                                                                 MANUAL                                                                                                         
Automatic Updates                   Allows Windows to automatically update.                                                                                                                                                                    MANUAL/AUTOMATIC Personal preferanceI                                                                          
Telnet                              Allows a remote user to log on to the system and run console programs using the command line.                                                                                                              MANUAL

Hardware Profiles

In Windows you have the option to disable hardware devices when they are not regularly used or have different hardware configurations setup for different users, tasks or scenarios called hardware profiles.

First of all to view the list of hardware that's installed on your system we need to open the device manager:


Device Manager

If there's any hardware that you simply don't use then this is where in can be disabled, by disabling a piece of hardware, the device is unusable by windows until it is enabled. How will this make a difference to your system? Pretty much the same as services, if Windows can't see a device then it won't initialise it, thus saving system resources and time.

For example, the above and below are screen shots taken from my laptops device manager, on the above screen all devices are enabled, on the below you can see where I have disabled devices that i never or rarely use, as you can see the firewire, infra red port, modem and network card are disabled. disabled devices are indicated with a red cross.


Disabling Devices

Now, the above is only really useful if the devices you are disabling are not used. It can become rather annoying when everytime you want to dialup to the internet on transfer video from you digital video camera you have enable devices.​

If you find that you sometimes use one set of hardware and other times you use another set then an ideal solution for you would be to use hardware profiles. The basic example that I'm going to use is again my laptop which has both wireless and wired network adapters. I sometimes use my laptop's wireless connection where the wired connection is not required and other times I used my wired connection. I've created two hardware profiles one for when I'm wireless and the other for when I'm wired.​

To setup a hardware profile:​



Default Hardware Profiles

First click copy this will copy the existing (default) hardware profile, windows will then prompt you for a name for your profile:


Copying a Profile

Select a name for your profile for example "Wireless" and click ok. Then select the new profile and click properties:


Ensure that "Always include this profile as an option when Windows starts" is ticked then click ok.​

Next, reboot your computer, on boot up you will be presented with a menu to select which hardware profile you'd like to use, select your newly created profile and press enter, once windows loads you can make changes to your hardware setup and it will only apply to the current profile.​


Hopefully this article gives you an insight into what can be tweaked and configured with XP, there is much, much more that can be done with XP and may be covered in a future article.​
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