Homemade utility install disks are a lost art

floppy8FROM JASON’S HARD DRIVE — Back in the deep recesses of time, in an era of blackest techno-prehistoria of the 1990s, when IBM computers still roamed the Earth and the mighty Megahertzaurus ruled, I had a magic CD full of essential software for clean installs.

I’ve set up several computers in the past month, including one that I’ve formatted and reloaded three times with different operating systems. I’ve found myself missing that old CD, but not needing it.

dysan_floppy_disk_011That disc held all kinds of goodies: system utilities like Zip-It Deluxe, WinAmp, modem drivers, task tray hacks, RAM optimizers, benchmark tools, command.com system.ini backups, and a hard drive rescue program. Several of these were leftovers from the days when the magic utilities were all crammed on a tiny 3.5-inch diskette.

cdromThanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, those fixed mediums aren’t necessary anymore. I still felt myself in the past few weeks reaching for the old canvas CD case under my computer desk, though. Of course, the absolutely must-have apps these days are much different; here are the ones that I install right away on a fresh install:

FireFox
AdBlock Plus
Download Status Bar
PDF Download
Image Zoom

Java, Flash, VLC Media Player, IrfanView

7-Zip, WinRAR, TweakUI, ZoneAlarm Firewall

Digsby, Skype, iTunes, Open Office

RocketDock, Yod’m 3D

NOTE: So if I’m being honest, none of these are revolutionary finds for the computer savvy. But if you’re setting up a Windows machine for the first time and you need the basics, this list will get you there. It’s also going to serve as a checklist for the next time I need a fresh install for myself or friends, which has become disturbingly frequent.

I also realized in writing this post just how many third-party shell hacks have been assimilated into Windows. You used to need seperate programs to make icon text transparent; to make quick-launch bars; to more efficiently manage RAM, to monitor the system benchmarks; to set up drivers; to optimize hard drive efficiency; to do color and gamma management; to tweak power usage or core temperature.

I’m kind of lonely for that mid-90s need for under-the-hood work.

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