I prefer a clean and empty desktop, just a nice background picture, the Recycle Bin and possibly the most used applications. Actually you don't need most shortcuts there, if you have a fast accessible Start Menu and Quick Launch menu. Some icons on the desktop are difficult to remove, to remove them anyway you can make use of the application TWEAKUI.
However most people place a lot of shortcuts on their desktop. I have even seen people placing their personal data on the desktop, which is not a good idea to do so (you better put your data in the My Documents folder and place a shortcut on the desktop by right clicking on the file and choose to copy it to the desktop). If you do place shortcuts on your desktop, I have some extra tips. First of all, it is sensible to choose to Auto Arrange the icons. You can by this by right clicking on the desktop, select Arrange Icons By, and enable Auto Arrange. If not enabled yet, you can also check the Align to Grid option, like shown here.
SAVE AND RESTORE DESKTOP ICON POSITIONS
Are you a heavy user of desktop icons, and get irritated when your icons get messed up? Probably the application IconRestorer (download: http://fsl.sytes.net/iconrestorer.html) is something for you! With IconRestorer you can backup the icon locations and, when needed, restore them easily to the location at the time of the backup.
TURNING OFF THE DESKTOP CLEANUP WIZARD
Windows XP automatically cleans up the unused desktop icons every 60 days. The unused icons are moved to the background, to make the most used icons better reachable. If you can't appreciate this behavior, which I can imagine, you can turn this option off by pressing the button Customize Desktop in the screen above. On the tab General you can turn off this option by deselecting the check box Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days.
The screen is most important for the interaction between you and your computer: reason enough to make some improvements. By right clicking on the desktop you can select Properties. At the first tab Themes, you can choose between the different Windows themes (if you feel the need to do so, you can pick the Windows Classic theme, but I prefer the normal Windows XP theme).
The next step is the Setting tab where you can make changes to the screen resolution. By default the screen resolution has been set to 800*600 pixels. However most monitors support a screen resolution of 1024*768 pixels or higher. If it's not possible to pick a higher resolution, you probably haven't installed the drivers for your graphics card yet (most common display adapters are supported by Windows XP.....). If you have a 15-17 inch screen, I prefer the screen resolution 1024*768, with the even bigger screens you can think of a screen resolution 1280*1024 pixels (or even 1600*1200 pixels). For wide screens there are other resolutions possible.
TIP: Realize that most flat screens have a specific optimized resolution, which in most cases will be as suggested above. If you decide to choose a different resolution, the screen quality will get worse.
With most laptops and flat screens the shown text isn't always as 'clear' as you would like it to be. You can solve this known problem with the option ClearType. This option has been put far away: tab Appearance, button Effects, enable the second shown option: Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts and select the ClearType option in the combo box. Here you only have the option to turn it on or off. Microsoft has published a free powertoy where you have more possibilities for best monitor performance. You can find this powertoy on the Microsoft website.
The color quality is also an item you can change to have higher performance. If you are satisfied with 16 bits colors (65.000 colors), most of the time no change is needed. However, if you do some picture editing, you better change to 32 bit colors (4 million colors). You will see the difference when you see a screen with different but almost the same colors (like a range of blue colors).
Depending on the drivers of your graphics card, you can change some extra items by clicking the Advanced button. At the first tab you can change the DPI settings, but you better leave this option untouched (else you will get display problems with most software). On the Monitor tab you can change the screen refresh rate. You need at least a refresh rate of 75 Hz, to have a stable and restful screen for your eyes. With this option, sometimes you can fix the problem with your monitor if it doesn't use the full screen. Remember: don't pick a refresh rate higher then the limitation of you monitor (see the technical details of your monitor), because it can demolish your monitor on the long run.
ADVANCED CHANGES TO THE GRAPHICS HARDWARE
If you really want the most out of your monitor en graphics hardware, you have to try the application PowerStrip from EnTech Taiwan (download: www.entechtaiwan.com/util/ps.shtm). With PowerStrip you can make changes to the settings of your graphics hardware and monitor. Your are warned: it's at your own risk, it is possible to make permanent damage! Be careful: read the manual first. By the way: PowerStrip supports almost all graphics cards, check the website if your graphical hardware is supported. If needed, the tool GPU-Z (download: www.techpowerup.com/gpuz/) can be used to find out the technical details of the graphics card.
The large monitors (> 19 inch) become quite usual nowadays. However, working with two smaller monitors within Windows is actually more efficient. It's more efficient because you can maximize a window to the active monitor (instead of the whole desktop which is the case when you only use one monitor). The active window can easely be dragged from one screen to the other (this is not the case when they are already maximized). On the tab Settings of the desktop Properties, the virtual location of the monitors can be changed by dragging one of the monitors.
While the desktop can be spread over the two monitors, the taskbar can't. The tool MultiMon (download: www.mediachance.com/free/multimon.htm) makes it possible to extend the taskbar to the second monitor. The taskbar icon will only be shown on the taskbar of the screen where the window is active. Every window will have a new option to move the window quickly to the other monitor, even if it's maximized. Besides these extra options, the taskbar has the possibility to extend the clipboard as well. The only negative point is the oldfashion look.
On the tab Screen Saver of the Display Properties you can setup a screen saver, however I prefer to have my monitor turned off after a certain amount of time to save energy and extending the lifetime of your monitor. You can change this with the Power button. This option is also available through the Control Panel, Power Options. Here I have changed the power options for the monitor to turn it off after 5 minutes. The time to wakeup for most new monitors is very short, if it takes to long for you, you can choose for a longer time to turn off the monitor.
TIP: Leave the other power options untouched, they can cause problems at wake up.
The eye wants something too: it is possible to place a nice (self made) picture on the desktop, as most people already know. By default, Windows XP has already a few background pictures available to choose from, but you can also use your own picture. By right clicking on the desktop you can select Properties. See the tab Desktop to choose your own background picture, here is picked the Azul picture. With the button Browse, you can search for a picture in your My Pictures folder (if needed your can position your picture by centering it instead of stretching).
OPTIMIZING YOUR BACKGROUND PICTURE
If you have a nice picture you would like to have as background for your desktop, sometimes it is better to enhance the picture first. Use a application like Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop (or any other editing software) to edit your picture. First of all it is better to make the picture the same resolution as your desktop (which you can find on the Settings tab). Save your picture as JPG instead of BMP, this gives better compression. The next step would be to compress the picture without noticeable quality loss. With PSP you can choose to export your JPG file where you can pick a quality loss/file size combination. The smaller the file, the less memory is used, the more there is left for running your applications. The last step is to choose your new picture as background, as described above.
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