Configuring an Efficient Workstation

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As a developer, I demand good response time from the workstation I am using.¬† Back in the days of dial-up internet connections and the average machine possessing less than a quarter-gig of RAM, when your system stalled–you pretty much just dealt with it and sat patiently.¬† Today, this isn’t so much the case, or at least it shouldn’t be.¬† I still sit down on occasion to a desktop computer that seems to drag before pulling up a browser or explorer window.¬† I’m really not into deep modifications of the OS or registry tweaks, however, there are a few routine tasks I always go through when I optimize my machine.¬† There are two sides to the speed and efficiency of the computer, the user and the machine itself. Both of which can have changes made for improvement.¬† The user, dynamic in its demand towards the machine, ought to carry the mentality that the computer is a tool‚ÄĒand that sharp tools cut better than dull ones.¬† The following tips and modifications are discussed with relevance to the Windows OS environment, however there are Unix and Mac equivalents for most.


1.) Disable uncommonly used programs at startup to maximize system resources and response time.¬† It drives me nuts when I get on a machine that has a billion icons in the taskbar beside the system clock and it is very unlikely that even half of them are used in a single session.¬† AIM, Skype, Yahoo and other messengers, anti-virus applications and scanners (NOT firewalls), desktop and user enhancement applications, application and driver managers… These are all pulling on your memory and your CPU usage at some level or degree and in excess can rob you of speed.

How To: a. Click Start, Run, and type: MSCONFIG

b. Remove services from starting up by clicking the Services tab on the System Configuration window.¬† Clicking on the checkbox to hide Windows services really narrows down the list and will list services that aren’t so crucial to your OS.¬† If there are components you can do without in the Windows Services list, the option is there to disable them.

Note: There is potential to remove functionality from your PC if you go disabling the wrong features–so it is important to know exactly what your working with before you go clicking (May Google guide you…).¬† For example, Synaptic is a common listing in the Startup list for laptops that use a touchpad.¬† You probably wouldn‚Äôt want this disabled.

c. On the startup tab, there is a list of all the applications that windows initializes for you when you boot up and log on.¬† My general rule of thumb, unless I use it EVERY time I turn the computer on–keep it off.

Note: When using an out of the box Dell or HP, you are likely running all kinds of background bulkware and services that the manufacturer loads onto the machine.  Whether you use it or not may take personal consideration with relevance to your needs.  I almost always have to go through this after buying a new system.

2.) Combine related software with more integrated software.  Rather than running 3 different messengers within three different processes you can find a variety of different multi-client applications to handle all your messaging needs.

3.) Windows does not necessarily provide the best developer environment.  There are however, plenty of applications and software out there to compensate.  Below are a few that I have made repeated use of and are the only programs I have running when I log in (aside from driver-related programs).

a. RocketDock : This is an application launcher which replicates that of the Mac.  The auto-hide and many other features make it a good way to organize and manage programs and shortcuts.   This program can be configured to use lower memory and beats the heck out of fumbling through the start menu. Link:

b. Sizer : This taskbar tool helps you quickly resize windows and provides a tooltip box on windows when resizing.  I had to switch my monitor resolution back and forth in the past for smaller resolutions when debugging web pages.  This got rid of that hassle. Link:

c. Stick :  This application has a variety of uses.  Its core function is to allow the user to add tabs to the sides of the desktop screen for easy access.  There are many different tab types and tab uses that you can integrate with this:

i.    Text editor or Clipboard ii.    News Feed iii.    Interactive Calendar iv.    Web browser tabs v.    In-tab Explorer Window Link:


1.)    Close programs when they are not in use.  This not only stops the program from taking system resources, but reduces window tabbing and searching.  Even with the introduction of the window preview on the taskbar in Windows 7, a hundred explorer or browser windows is still unmanageable in my book.

2.)    Reserve the desktop for current projects, materials, and resources.   Again, this reduces the need to search and find things you’ve already started on.  Its easiest to clear off the desktop as projects become completed and then I keep an archive in my user directory.

3.)    Remember to maintain structure with your directories and files.  Navigating, searching and finding already archived files takes less time if the directory setup is well-organized and sensible.

4.)    Learn to use the task manager and resource monitor.  This will allow you to easily identify what programs are misbehaving and to diagnose and fix the issue yourself.  Accessing the task manager and ending an erratic application is much faster than letting the machine lock up and allowing it to attempt to resolve the issue itself.

5.)    Learn system shortcuts that apply to the way you use the computer.  I try to keep my hand off the mouse as much as possible.  I feel that GUIs and navigating around windows and interfaces are slower than simply instructing the machine what to do with the flick of a few keys.

  • Change between windows¬† : ALT+TAB¬† (Visual: WINDOWS+TAB in Windows 7)
  • Minimize All / Show Desktop:¬† WINDOWS KEY + M
  • Position window left/right (Windows 7) : WINDOWS KEY + LEFT ARROW or RIGHT ARROW
  • Minimize Window (Windows 7) : WINDOWS KEY + DOWN
  • Maximize Window (Windows 7) : WINDOWS KEY + UP
  • Tabbing : Most windows have something called a ‚Äútab index‚ÄĚ.¬† Rather than clicking around, you can quickly get to text boxes, links, and buttons by tapping the Tab key until you get a highlight over the object you want to interact with.
  • Close Window : ALT+F4
  • Wide-Spread Program Shortcuts:
  • Copy : CTRL+C
  • Cut : CTRL+X
  • Paste : CTRL+V
  • Print :¬† CTRL+P
  • Select All : CTRL+A
  • Save : CTRL+S
  • New : CTRL+N
  • Refresh : CTRL+R or F5
  • Select address/location bar:
    • Explorer: F4
    • Browser: F6

6.)    Learn to use the Run box.  Here are a few keywords that I have embedded into my brain as a result of repeated use.

  • cmd : This will launch the windows command line.
  • msconfig : This will bring up your System Configuration window
  • sysdm.cpl : This is the System Properties window.
  • services.msc : Get to the services window to enable, disable, and set services up on startup
  • appwiz.cpl : The add/remove programs window.
  • mstsc¬† : Launches a remote desktop session.
  • \\domain-name : Quickly launch an explorer window targeted at a location on the network.
  • C:/D:/E:/etc You can type a drive letter followed by a colon to quickly get to portable media, network drives, or hard disks.
  • Type in Windows Username : Will open ‘C:\Users\YourUserName’ which contains Documents, Music, Pictures, and other folders.
  • Documents/Music/Pictures/Downloads/Videos : These will launch an explorer window opening the respective folder in your User directory.
  • firefox/chrome/iexplore/opera/safari : Launch keywords for different browsers.

7.)    Create your own custom launch commands.  Simply make a shortcut of a file, executable, folder, webpage, or other object then cut and paste the shortcut into:


You will then be able to just press WINDOWS KEY+R and type whatever you named the shortcut to launch.  Using this technique with Batch Scripting opens up a whole world of task automation.

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