Feb 25 2010

End-User Apps: Secrets of Healthy Computing

Learn five ways to maintain leaner computers and keep your users happier.

System software can be a double-edged sword: While it usually improves the end-user experience, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. These five tips will help your users keep their machines lean and mean.

1. Think outside the box when installing peripherals.

Working professionals usually don't need all the bells and whistles that home users enjoy when using a peripheral such as a printer or a multifunction scanner. Unfortunately, everyone gets the same driver installation CD. Users should bypass the disk and go directly to the manufacturer's website for drivers. This will guarantee they have the latest and greatest version of available drivers.

Also, some manufacturers offer tiered drivers, such as a “full-featured” suite and a “basic” or “corporate” suite. The latter option is often a good solution for those users who want day-to-day functionality without the registry footprint of a full-featured installation.

This cafeteria approach can also be applied to many home networking products. Although most routers and home Internet portal appliances ship with CDs, few actually require that they be used. The vast majority of devices can be configured through a web browser without installing any software.

2. Reduce the clutter of proprietary system software.

Several manufacturers bundle a bunch of proprietary applications and drivers, even on business-class notebook and desktop computers. While some utilities can improve the end-user experience and offer more intuitive hardware configuration, others can be downright annoying – or worse, can adversely affect system stability. Get rid of what you don't need.

3. Eliminate wasted resources by streamlining your computer's startup.

Start in the system tray, that little group of miniature icons in the bottom-right corner of the screen. Hover over each icon with the cursor, identify each program, and unless it's absolutely essential that it be running at all times, disable its automatic startup. This is usually done by right-clicking the icon and opening the Properties menu. Most system tray applications will launch on demand if they are not set to automatically start up.

To further optimize Windows startup, access the Startup group in the Windows Start Menu and delete any shortcuts to nonessential applications.

4. Skip the software with USB devices.

Many simple USB input devices, such as mice and keyboards, can be used right out of the box. This gives users the functionality they need without polluting their machines with unnecessary software.

Additionally, many other peripherals, such as external hard drives, digital cameras and cell phones, can be configured to transmit data as USB Mass Storage devices, also eliminating the need for software. When placed in USB Mass Storage mode, devices will simply show up as a Removable Media device in Windows Explorer, which can be manipulated like any other drive.

5. Prevent parasitic piggybacks.

One disturbing practice in software distribution is that of bundling extraneous software with otherwise essential applications and add-ons. Though less common today, some websites will sneak in download managers, search toolbars, and even entire office productivity suites as default installation options when unrelated programs such as browser plug-ins and video codecs are downloaded.

Teach users to be vigilant in reading through and understanding every software installation, even when downloading reputable software from familiar locations.