My "Personal" Computer, Updated finally October 2009

(Note - This page on my Windows98SeVeryLiteCustom computer will remain here, but the computer is history as of October, 2009. I never leave Linux now.)
We all use a computer, by necessity or choice, love it or hate it. Indispensable - true, but it may slow, confuse or lose our work. A new computer has to be organized and learned, and is usually full of needless stuff and change - bloated software, annoying animations and ads, doors open to danger, auto this and that, authentication and countless ad hoc patches - out of control, and they get worse with use! Some people spend time "tidying" theirs, effort often lost by the inevitable reinstallation. An ex-engineer and artist, I use my computer only for productive work and tailored it for writing, publishing, communications, photography - but I don't lose its configuration or my data!

(C) Zits
2003 Zits Partnership

I have a minimalist approach. You might be interested in how I "pruned and grafted" my computer into a simple, efficient, reliable tool. OK - perhaps not - an interesting project for me but not for everybody. This small, fast computer suits me, however. The operating system and key applications back up to a 350M image file on a bootable CD.

All my books and web pages were published on this evolving but stable computer. It's been five years since I reinstalled Windows in the conventional way, and I wouldn't do it again - I'd simply restore a recent disk image.

To me, XP seemed large and problematic (I need say nothing about Vista), and Linux lacks some familiar applications I need, in addition to seeming disorganized, at least different.
(This is changing - see My New Linux Computer! for the specifics.)


Application or OS "upgrades" may benefit the producer more than the user, who pays for things that should have been fixed anyway, as well as a crop of new bugs and bloat. There are usually a few real improvements, but changes often bring inefficiency in relearning, in the succession of patches, the likely loss of some configuration and data, and perhaps the wasteful need for new hardware. I have carefully chosen my programs and use them naturally. It is even reassuring that some are "legacy" and will be left alone. (Of course specialist professionals may want the latest software for particular functions.)

I configured my computer to get my work done quickly and reliably. You would not want to exactly duplicate it, even if you could, but the approaches used as well as the excellent software cited here are valuable.

This small windows computer, practically unchanged for years still does everything I need, fast, well, and familiarly. No upgrades, no Microsoft tax, no viruses. I also have a lot of Linux experience but it can't yet replace this computer, having applications limitations, such as no WordPerfect support. (All my books were written in WordPerfect.)


Application guidelines: Avoid the bloat, clutter, and complications of "suites." Choose programs that do one thing well and customize the installation and configuration for simplicity and clarity. You don't need the latest and largest. You don't need acres of toolbars.

The main applications I use are WordPerfect 10, Opera 9, Eudora 6, HTMLPad 2006, Adobe Acrobat 4.05, Photoshop Elements 2, etc, old friends that I know and rely on. Yours will vary!

The supplemental/utility programs I use are top quality. Many are freeware. I have provided links to them, noting their countries of origin as a point of interest. (I have no financial interest in any product listed here.)

NOTE: Some of these programs are now "old," in versions that may be no longer available or upgradable. I'm still doing the same kind of work, and like the fact that they are safe and stable.

But first a visual introduction -

The peaceful idle screen is simply a blank warm grey, which goes dark after a period of disuse. (We don't need a screen shot of this.) The task bar is auto-hidden. Just use a "hot key" combination or the Start Menu. I use a traditional keyboard without the annoying "windows" keys that get in the way of the ctl+alt hot keys. Where are the desktop icons? After years of use I know all the hot keys; I prefer to maintain the essential start menu rigorously but not bother with unnecessary icons. To each his own :-) I also prefer to use the Download Folder in the data partition for parking downloads and such.


Let's look at the start menu. From the top, the Drives -
-

- A is of course the 1.44 MB "floppy" drive, still probably safer for Ghost image backup and restore.

(1) (2) (3) (4) are partitions of the hard drive:
Note: Ranish Partition Manager 2.40 is free but Partition Commander, for example, is easier and more flexible.

- C(1) contains my light, clean, custom system. It's basically Windows 98SE less all the parts I don't use, like IE, OE, WMP, active desktop, automatic update, java, video (except Flash 8), ODBC, SQL, etc. These were actually removed, not just disabled, using 98Lite Professional (from Australia), careful research, and a registry cleaner. It uses the simpler, much faster Windows 95 explorer shell, which serves as primary file manager and navigator.

- D(2) is the main data storage partition for books, email (archives), photos, reference, etc. (Best to keep the data separate from the operating system; they have different backup considerations.)

- E(3) contains my Linux files.

- F(4) is used for incremental backups of files on the C and D drives.

- G is a USB flash memory "drive" for interim nightly backups.

- H is an internal Ide 52X Cd-Rom drive.

- I is an internal Ide 16X Dvd drive (finally added, but not Nero!)

- J is the USB Camera port (when connected).
I simply boot with the live CD to run Linux.

The windows operating system on drive C: is backed up to a "Ghost" compressed image on a CD-R, and can be identically restored in under five minutes.

Files on data partitions are copied periodically to CD-Rs or DVD-Rs, uncompressed for easy access.

Utilities -
Utilities Menu
Audacity The audio editor is Audacity, free, open source.

- Backup, Incremental - A batch file I wrote to xcopy new or changed files to partition F.

- Backup, Interim - A batch file I wrote to save select system information (registry, recent email, calendar,current correspondence, address book, etc.) to flash drive G, without having to burn a CD. I have it scheduled to run nightly.

CD Extract CD Extract. AudioCrusher is a simple CD "ripper." (free, from Germany)

- Burner - I use DeepBurner Pro 1.8 (from Estonia, paid or free versions; I paid.), much smaller and simpler than Nero.

- Defragment - I replaced defrag.exe with the faster one from WindowsME. (free)

- Disk Usage" (free, from Germany) is a handy pie chart for drives and directories.

RegSeeker RegSeeker is an excellent registry cleaner and editor, simple, free, and safe, in my experience. My registry.cab, which has survived years of program testing and tweaking, is well under a megabyte.

Communications -
Communications Menu

- Download Folder - A general purpose parking place.

- Address Book - ctl+alt+a Small, reliable, just right. Personal Address Book 4.02 (free)

Core FtpCore-FTP Le is dual pane, superior, and free. (For small uploads I use the one in in HTMLPad 2006.)

- Eudora 6.2 - ctl+alt+m The first email program is still the best. Twelve years and 400MB of safely saved, sorted, rapidly searchable email. (I use the EudoraGPG plug-in for decrypting secure online orders.)

- Fax - I use the Efax service to receive and send faxes via email. No fax machine, no fax program! (free to only receive faxes, pay to send also.)

(Html Edit: see HTMLPad2006 below under Writing-Publishing. Xenu Link Sleuth is a superb link checker and site mapper that I keep in the HTMLPad2006 launch menu.)

- Opera Browser- ctl+alt+o Get the latest version 9 (from Norway, small, fast, standards compliant, free - the best.)

Note: Many essential functions depend on the internet now, and we need a stable, secure browser with a solid bookmark manager for important addresses, logins, and site notes, especially when maintaining a business website.

XmPlay This is an extremely compact audio player for CDs, mp3, OGG, and streaming internet radio.


Graphics -
Graphics Menu

- -Photos- Folders. I use the thumbnail browser in the photo editor to manage them.

- Copier - A function of the scanner.

- Photoshop Elements 2 - ctl+alt+p An excellent photo editor with a good image browser, simple web gallery generator, etc.

Note: The trend to large, flashy programs is part of the scheme to sell ever newer and larger software and computers to captive customers. I recently dropped Paint Shop Pro in favor of the older Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. Elegant, logical and efficient, it also handles pdfs and color management well. Unfortunately, many new programs now "require" IE and XP, so I won't be using them. My computer is set up to efficiently satisfy my professional requirements for the foreseeable future.

If your needs are more modest, Irfanview (from Bosnia) and PhotoFiltre (France) are small, fast, and free.

-I used to use Pivot Portrait - (ctl+alt+9 rotates my LCD monitor by 90 degrees, very convenient in desktop publishing for full page editing. ctl+alt+0 rotates it back.) with a Princeton Senergy pivotable 4:3 15" LCD monitor with native 1024x768 resolution. It finally died and I said goodbye to Pivot and got an excellent 5:4 19" LG lcd, model L1933TR, 1280x1024 pixels.

Scan - A function of the scanner. The scanner you choose depends on what you do. Good basic scanners cost less than $80. As a photographer I use an Epson 4180 ($200) which scans photos, slides, negatives, etc. at very high resolution. Nearly all scanners now come with usable OCR.

- Unload Camera - A batch file I wrote to move photos from my camera to the Photos folder.

- Visual Cadd 3 - 2-D Drafting in dxf format. I don't draft much anymore but keep this for editing drawings I made originally in classic Generic Cadd (dos). It keeps the convenient two character commands. This older windows version came from Imsi via Corel and Numera.


Reference -
Reference Menu

- Important Information - ctl+alt+i I wrote this user's manual for this computer.

- Calculator - ctl+alt+c Calc98 is very good. (free)

- Calendar - Calendar
ctl+alt+k I love this one. Full screen month. Simply type/erase notes (red) right on the date. No need for "sticky" notes. Shows recurring events too (blue). Calendar (free)

- Ex Libris - ctl+alt+b My custom personal library card catalog. Still in dos, but if you use one, get a new one, the excellent free BooksDB2.

- German - ctl+alt+g QuickDic. Dictionary and handy translation aid. (free)

- Latin Dictionary - Latin-English 1.97E Dos (free)

- New Testament - Douay Rheims (or King James, etc.) Bible (free)

- RootsMagic 3 is an excellent family tree program, if you do that.

Writing-Publishing -
Writing-Publishing Menu

- -WpDocs- (WordPerfect Documents) was the folder (directory) for documents when I started. Now it holds many sub folders and many other kinds of files.

- Acrobat Distiller - Part of the Adobe Acrobat package. Used with the Acrobat Writer to create a pdf file from a postscript file. (Print first from the application, for example WordPerfect, to the Distiller printer to get the .ps file, which in turn sends it to Acrobat.) As a publisher I use this for high quality prepress. Pdf has practically replaced postscript for transfer of prepress to the book printer.

NOTE: The usual Adobe Acrobat Reader has become ridiculously bloated. If all you need is a reader, use Foxit PDF Reader 2.0 . It's a small single file, no installation required, the fastest (free). (You don't need it if you, as I, have the Acrobat writer below, which also reads.)

- Adobe Acrobat 4.05 (Writer) - Includes PDFWriter which applications can print to without an intermediate postscript file.

Note: Acrobat 4.05 is adequate. It is not necessary to have the latest and largest version. If you are not a (paper) publisher you may not need it at all, using the built-in pdf output that many modern applications have. Lower resolution pdfs are used increasingly on the web.

Note: I use an Acrobat plug-in called Quite Imposing (from Scotland) which rearranges (imposes) the pdf pages for printing book signatures. Good but expensive. My offset printer appreciates this but it's no use to my page based on-demand printer.

- Character Viewer/Inserter - I like this one. (free)

- Dictionary - ctl+alt+d The Random House Webster's Unabridged, installed from its CD, is a fine standalone dictionary. I also have the optional Oxford in Wordperfect.

- FineReader 5.0 OCR - Came with my scanner, simple, convenient, accurate, and works with WordPerfect, fine for most of us.

Text and Html Editor -
Html/Text Editor

- (Above) HTMLPad 2006, from Latvia - ctl+alt+t. A complete tabbed HTML/XHTML, CSS, JavaScript and text editor. Of course it replaces Windows "note pad," too.

NOTE: In 2009 I dropped HTMLPad for the far superior and free PSPad Editor from the Czech Republic. I do not know of a better code editor, free or not. Jan Fiala, www.pspad.com
- WordPerfect 10 (only the windows word processor, not the office suite) - ctl+alt+w
This is a worthy successor to the dos program. Unlike that other brand, WordPerfect's files are compatible between versions, and it has always been the writer's choice, with its serial, not block organization. All my books were written in WordPerfect and later preserved in pdf. (from Utah via Canada)

Note 1:- WpLook is a small utility in my Send To list that safely repairs WordPerfect files, all versions.

Note 2: - WordPerfect 6.1 (DOS) - alt+w is one of the best and best written word processing programs ever. I used this compact graphical wysiwyg word processor for many years, sleekly customized with menus, macros, and address book. It uses Type 1 fonts and prints postscript, but I have finally phased it out.)

Note 3: Newer versions of WordPerfect Office and OpenOffice are more or less compatible with Microsoft Office. My clean "personal" computer has only applications that I normally use, none of which are Microsoft. (I have Word 2000 on my "other" partition (E) if needed for clients' book-length Word documents.) "Office suites" in general are bloated, but if you really need one, try OpenOffice 2.0.3.. It's free, but it's big, so install it in the Maindata partition. (It may also need Unicode and Java support!)


Programs -
Programs Menu

Explorer Windows Explorer - ctl+alt+1 (from Windows 95)

free Commander freeCommander - ctl+alt+2 (free, from Germany) is a superb 2-pane file manager. It includes zip/unzip, MD5 checksums, compare, synchronize etc. and does not use the registry.

- Ghost Explorer - utility lets you view, change, add, remove, or copy files from an image file, but it's not needed to simply backup a partition to an image or restore it to the same or another hard drive. This requires only a DOS Ghost floppy! It's so simple and sturdy you wonder that it came from Norton. (They bought it from the inventor, Binary Research, New Zealand.) Ghost 2003 (or similar) is essential to the survival of my customized system. Otherwise if it broke I could hardly recreate it!
Note: Later versions of "Ghost" are really windows based Drive Image, but fortunately contain the Ghost 2003 disk, which is what you want!

Startup:

- Clear - a dos batch file I wrote to empty various temporary folders and caches, returning C: to a standard condition. If it has grown unexpectedly, I can find the cause or restore the partition to prevent bloat over time.

- Privoxy - Suppresses ads, controls cookies, etc in the web browser. Icon in the tray. "privacy proxy" (open source, free) If Privoxy happens to interfere with a desired operation, temporarily disable it in the Opera browser using F12.

- TClock - (free, from Japan) Provides the self-synchronizing customisable clock in the system tray. Also customizes the start button. TClock

CLCL CLCL alt+c A gem I use all the time. Saves the clipboard history for easy selection and pasting. (free, from Japan)

What's in the system tray?
System Tray

Left to right: Scheduler Task Scheduler (for interim backups), Privoxy, Clipboard history, Kerio firewall, and TClock.


- My virtual server offers Postini email protection. Since I started using it no viruses have appeared in AVG or the Eudora spam filter. They no longer get into my computer! Your ISP should have this or something similar available!)

- Kerio Firewall 2.1.5 - This version is still good but easier to use than the newer. (free)

Note: Many need internet protection equivalent to AVG, Ad-Aware (no longer available for Windows 98), Postini, Kerio - and safer alternatives to IE and OE, such as Opera and Eudora.

Having said that, I confess I am no longer using an on-access scanner like AVG on my clean system. (But "do as I say, not as I do!" ;-) I have remained untouched for years only because of the broadband ISP provided hardware router and our virtual server provided Postini protection, above.

We keep an AT&T dialup service available as a backup in case of a broadband outage.

But most importantly, I always have a recent backup image of the operating system(s) and data backups on CD-R, and could quickly restore them without bothering to find and remove infections.

Hardware Note: I use an Asus A7NVM400 motherboard with Nvidia GeForce 4 MX Integrated GPU, 512MB ram, a 1.6GHz AMD cpu, a Western Digital 120 GB hard drive (larger than I need), an HP Laserjet 2100, a Canon i560 inkjet, an Epson 4180 scanner, and Memorex 52X CD and 16X DVD drives.

This very fast and stable computer is in a spacious steel, easy access case, the cpu cooled by a large copper heat sink and a quiet, slow fan.

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Copyright 2004-7 Henry Strobel.

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