Get IT Done: Making your laptop more productive with Windows XP

Explore the features of Windows XP that enhance productivity on a laptop

All of the hoopla and fanfare that came with Windows 95 won’t even compare to the media blitz that will accompany Windows XP when it is released on Oct. 25, 2001. Those of us who have been using the new operating system generally like what we see, especially some of the features for laptop systems. In this Daily Drill Down, you’ll see how Windows XP will make your laptop a productive extension of its desk-bound cousin, allowing you to work productively from virtually anyplace.

A brief overview of Windows XP
Along with the new Luna user interface, Windows XP sports integrated features like CD-ROM burning, remote desktop capability, system restore functionality, and a compatibility mode utility that allows you to run Windows 95/98 programs in Windows XP.

Your laptop will also enjoy some of the new features, including an enhanced display mode for LCD screens and improved power management features. In addition, synchronizing your offline files with the network has never been easier.

The Windows XP hardware requirements
Windows XP is a very powerful operating system, but if you’ve purchased computer systems in the last couple of years, they should be able to run the new software with only minor upgrades, if any at all. Windows XP requires that your computer system have a processor that is running at 233 MHz or better. While it’s possible to install and run XP with such a weak processor, Microsoft recommends the CPU should be 300 MHz or better. I would look for one that’s at least 500 MHz, especially with an older processor like a Celeron or AMD K6. If you are using a newer system, such as a Pentium III, Pentium 4, or AMD Athlon, your processor needs should be satisfied.

The amount of RAM that is required to run new software is always the next concern. To run Windows XP, you should have at least 128 MB of RAM in the system, although I recommend 256 MB, especially in lower-end systems. With RAM prices so low these days, upgrading memory shouldn’t present much of a problem.

Other hardware requirements for Windows XP include 1.5 GB of free hard drive space, a video adapter that will display resolution of at least 800 x 600, and a CD-ROM drive.

If you need to buy a new computer system before Windows XP is released, you should look for one that is compliant with Windows 2000. Windows XP will be fully compatible with such a computer, and you shouldn’t need to make any upgrades to it when moving to the new operating system.

Making your LCD display as crisp as a fall breeze
One of the downsides to using an LCD, whether it is on a laptop or a flat screen monitor, is the fuzziness of the display. Windows XP will help sharpen the display with a setting called ClearType. When you use this setting, it will effectively triple the horizontal display of your LCD monitor, making your flat screen or laptop display more defined.

To activate ClearType, select the Display icon in Control Panel. Then select the Appearance tab and click on the Effects button, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The Effects dialog box will appear next, as shown in Figure B. You must select Use The Following Method To Smooth Edges Of Screen Fonts, which will activate the drop-down menu, allowing you to select ClearType.

Figure B
After applying this selection, you should see a much clearer and more defined display.

Your laptop is only as good as its batteries
You might have the latest and greatest laptop available, but if the battery wears out and a power outlet isn’t readily available, that sleek new system is just another paperweight. This common problem is addressed in all operating systems, and Windows XP includes the requisite features that will help extend your laptop’s battery life.

To configure your laptop’s power management features, use Control Panel to select the Power Options icon. The Power Options Properties dialog box allows you to manage the power scheme for your computer system, as shown in Figure C. Your choices are purely personal and will vary depending on your needs. However, I recommend using the Hibernate mode as opposed to Standby mode. My reasons for this choice will be explained a little later in this section.

Figure C
The Power Schemes tab allows you to select the power scheme and configure the length of time the system will remain idle before turning off the monitor and hard disk.

The Alarms tab allows you to configure the type of alarm you receive when the battery is low on power or when the power becomes critically low (see Figure D).

Figure D
Configure the type of alarm you receive.

To perform this configuration, click on the Alarm Action button, located in the Critical Battery Alarm box. Then select Hibernate, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
I prefer to place the system in Hibernate mode if the critical battery alarm is issued.

As shown in Figure F, the Power Meter tab provides you with information about each battery that the laptop uses.

Figure F
For additional information about the battery, you can click on the battery icon.

The Advanced tab, shown in Figure G, gives you the opportunity to have the power management icon displayed in the taskbar tray. You can also choose to be prompted for a password when the computer system resumes from Standby or Hibernate mode. The values shown in Figure G are the default settings.

Figure G
I prefer to have the power management icon in the tray for quick access, rather than using the Power Meter tab found in the Power Options Properties dialog box.

Windows XP supports both Hibernate and Standby modes. On the surface, these two seem very much alike; however, they are very different. When you place the computer system in Standby mode, the monitor and hard disks are turned off to conserve battery life. When you want to use the computer again, you will bring it out of Standby mode and your desktop will appear exactly as you left it. However, if you lose power before you bring the system out of Standby mode, you will lose any information that was not saved or was in memory.

Placing the system in hibernation appears no different than Standby mode at first. When you place the computer into this mode, however, your work will be saved and the information that is stored in RAM will be written to disk. The monitor, hard disk, and computer will then be turned off to conserve battery life. When you take the computer out of hibernation, your desktop will be restored to the state it was in before hibernating. While using Hibernate mode uses a little extra hard disk space, I feel it is well worth it.

To place the system in either Standby or Hibernate mode, click the Start button and select Turn Off Computer. Among the choices you will be given are the Standby or Hibernate options, depending on how your system has been configured. If you selected Enable Hibernate Support, as shown in Figure H, when you go to turn off your computer, you will see as your available choice the Hibernate option.

Figure H
If you select Enable Hibernate Support, you can force your laptop to hibernate as well as shut down.

The APM, or Advanced Power Management, tab lets you take advantage of the Windows XP APM features. Newer laptops support the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) power management system, which provides more power management features for your system.

During the installation of Windows XP, the operating system will determine whether ACPI support is maintained by the system’s hardware. If ACPI is supported, the management software will be installed. If ACPI can’t be installed on the system, you will still be able to use the APM features. To enable APM support, you must select it from the APM tab, as shown in Figure I.

Figure I
This legacy power management system will efficiently manage the battery use on your laptop and give you information about the status of your system’s battery.

Keeping your laptop and workstation in sync
Laptops give you the ability to work virtually anywhere with files and documents that are stored on your corporate network. To configure your computer’s offline file settings, open My Computer and select Folder Options from the Tools menu. The Folder Options dialog box is displayed, and you must select the Offline Files tab, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J
These are the default settings.

The settings you choose will be determined by your needs. If you are using the laptop offline for long periods of time, you will want to manage file synchronization manually, which I will discuss later in this section. If this is the case, you might consider deselecting Synchronize All Offline Files When Logging On and Synchronize All Offline Files Before Logging Off, as well as the synchronization reminder.

Depending on the types of files you are working with, you may decide to encrypt your offline files for added security. You may also need to increase the amount of disk space that you allocate to store your offline files.

To view your offline files, you can click the View Files button, which takes you to an Explorer-type window where you can browse through your files and select the documents to work with. The Delete Files button lets you delete files and remove them from the synchronization configuration.

The Advanced tab allows you to configure the action that the system takes when a network connection is lost. As shown in Figure K, you can either be notified before starting to work offline or never allow your computer to go offline.

Figure K
You can tell XP to inform you when using offline files.

To configure a network file or folder for offline usage, you must specify that it is to be used offline. Highlight the desired file or folder and select Make Available Offline, as shown in Figure L.

Figure L
You can make network folders available offline.

Making this selection will launch the Offline Files Wizard. After clicking Next at the welcome screen, you will be asked if you want to automatically synchronize your offline files when you log on and off of the computer, as shown in Figure M. After making your selection, click Next.

Figure M
Syncing each time you log on and off is dependent on your needs; I don’t recommend this if you use your laptop offline a great deal.

The subsequent screen will give you the options to enable offline reminders and create a desktop shortcut to your offline files. Figure N shows an example of this screen.

Figure N
You probably won’t want to enable the reminders if you use your laptop offline often.

After selecting the appropriate options, click the Finish button. Your offline files will be synchronized with their network versions and marked as offline.

Once your files have been configured for offline use, you can synchronize them before leaving your office so you will have the most current versions stored on your laptop while you are away. When you return to the office, you will want to synchronize them again so that the network versions of the files reflect any changes you made to the documents while you were offline.

To synchronize your offline files, open My Computer, highlight the appropriate files or folders, and then select Synchronize from the Tools menu. If you need to configure the items to synchronize, click the Setup button, which will display the Synchronization Settings dialog box shown in Figure O.

Figure O
Use this dialog box to select the files to be synchronized and to choose to automatically synchronize your offline files when you log on or off of the computer.

When you are finished working with the Setup dialog box and you are ready to synchronize your files, simply click the Synchronize button, as shown in Figure P. The files will be synchronized, and you will be presented with a dialog box showing the results.

Figure P
While this process is not new to Windows XP, the operating system makes synchronizing your offline and network files a breeze.

Windows XP offers great improvements over previous Windows versions. The cool new features I have highlighted in this Daily Drill Down are just the tip of the iceberg. While I have focused here on XP attributes specific to laptops, such as file synchronization improvements and battery power configuration utilities, many more enhancements are still to be featured in upcoming Daily Drill Downs. As we use Windows XP and become more familiar with it during the next few months, we should find it to be an excellent product that runs well on both the corporate desktop and the mobile laptop.