Step 1: Procedure
If your computer has 2+ user accounts, and it has not been reformatted for an extended period of time, you are probably better off reformatting the computer and starting fresh. Most computers have a built-in destructive recovery. If you choose to start by reformatting, backup all your files and reformat the computer, preferably with the built in recovery tool.
Alternatively, you can create another user account with administrative abilities. Then login with your new account and delete the old account. This essentially gives you a fresh computer because most slowdowns are caused by a bogged down registry from extended periods of use. The new account has a fresh registry and is like new.
Step 2: Decrapifying (Deleting and Uninstalling)
Or you can run PC Decrapifier. This nifty little application requires no installation. Just run it from a USB. It will automatically recognize bloatware and other junk so you don't have to search.
Now if you own an HP or Compaq PC, they will have a folder called SWSETUP under your C:\ drive, which contains all the installer files for the software that came with your PC. You can delete this entire folder if you want, but if something goes wrong with the drivers, you will have to do a complete restore with the recovery partition. Only delete this folder after you have uninstalled everything that uses installers from the folder; otherwise it will leave shortcuts in the Add/Remove Programs menu that cannot be removed. I would manually go through and remove the bloatware installers, and leave driver installers and such.
Now go to start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup > More Options > (Under Windows Components) Clean Up. I removed the Mouse Pointers, Internet Games, MSN Explorer, Windows Messenger, Outlook Express, (and if you are running Windows XP MCE) Windows Dancer.
Go to start > Search and type in the names of programs you removed. Usually some dead links and folders will come up.
When you are done with all of this, restart your computer. Then go to start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter and defragment your hard drive.
Step 3: Basic System Properties Edit
Now right click on the desktop and go to Properties > Appearance > Effects and set them what is shown.
Step 4: Useful Tweaks and Mods
Open the start menu, right click on the items and edit them.
- Customize the Windows Explorer Toolbar
Right click and customize! Remove text labels, rearrange, and add buttons to your liking. The "Go" button can be removed by right clicking.
- Use the Quick Launch Toolbar
Right click the taskbar and set up your Quick Launch toolbar. This will save you some clicks when accessing your commonly used applications. Vastly superior to the annoying memory-hogging "docks" that seem to be all the rage.
- Kill the Annoying "Throbber"
The waving Windows flag in the upper right corner is the throbber. Run "ShellThrobOff.reg" file. If you ever want to undo it, just run the ShellThrobOn.reg.
- Move the Recycle Bin to the start Menu
This just makes more sense, and it helps keep your desktop tidy. Just right click and install.
- Change Windows Explorer to Show the Top Level Drives by Default
Change the target of Windows Explorer to %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /n, /e, /select, C:\
- Open folders in Windows Explorer Mode by Default (With Folder Pane Enabled - Vista Style)
Go to Folder Options > File Types. From the list, locate the entry FOLDER with extension of (NONE). Go to Advanced > Explore > Default. This will kill the special icons for the "My Pictures" and "My Music" folders.
- Delete the Menu Bar
- Add "Open With Notepad" to your context menu.
- Skip the Annoying "Use the Web Service to Find the Appropriate Program" Dialog
- Resize unresizeable windows
- Rearrange system tray icons and taskbar buttons
- Questionable (although they might work) speed tweaks
Step 5: Services
There are three different settings for each service - Disabled, Manual, and Automatic. Disabled means the service cannot run. Manual will run the service when needed, and Automatic will start the service whenever Windows starts. Do not disable unless you are certain the service is unnecessary and will not be run.
These settings are to be changed assuming that all your services are at default and you have SP2. If not, get SP2 first! These settings will apply the next time Windows starts up.
Modify the following to the indicated settings:
Distributed Link Tracking Client - M
Fast User Switching Compatibility - D
IMAPI CD-Burning COM Service - M
Indexing Service - D
Net Logon - D
NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing - D
Remote Registry - D
Secondary Logon - D
Another good resource
Optimization Myths Is a good read, however, deleting certain services does indeed speed bootup time.
Step 6: Recommended Applications
Windows Media Player 11 It looks good and works great. (However, I suggest killing its memory-hogging "wmpnetwk" sharing service which consumes up to 8000K. To do this, go to start> Run > services.msc' and look down the list for WMPNetworkSvc. Right click for properties to open and stop the service from running and then in the Startup Type dropdown list choose Disabled and then Apply.)
Avast A solid and free security suite.
Process Explorer An upgraded version of the basic process explorer.
Mozilla Firefox Faster, more secure and more stable than Internet Explorer.
Paint.NET Free, open source image editor.
Foxit PDF Reader A lightweight alternative to the bloated Adobe Reader.
VLC Media Player A lightweight media player that supports many formats.
NetStumbler A superior alternative to the Windows wireless network detector.
WinRAR Free Zip file extractor.
MediaCoder The ultimate video and audio format converter.
For Java, go to 'start > Control Panel > Java' and disable automatic updates.