If your employer's IT department doesn't preconfigure employee laptops—or if you're setting up a personal system—you might have some work to do when your new system arrives. Manufacturers usually configure systems for quick setup and a positive out-of-box experience (OOBE), relegating security to an afterthought. The default Windows settings are geared to the novice user, hiding many system details that power users and administrators need. Here are 10 ways to customize Windows on your laptop to make your system more secure and far more usable than the default setup.

10. Use a password—Your first step should always be to secure your system. All major OEMs ship their systems with password security turned off. To turn password security on, open the Control Panel User Accounts applet and click Reset Password.

9. Enable a personal firewall—A personal firewall is a necessity, especially for a portable system that might have to connect to unsecured public networks. To enable Windows XP's firewall for Wi-Fi connections, open the Network Connections applet, click your wireless network connection, select Change Windows Firewall settings in the Network Tasks list, then click On in the Windows Firewall dialog box.

8. Set up your antivirus software—Most laptops ship with antivirus software, but it often isn't activated until you complete the initial setup process. Locate your antivirus software, open its Control Panel applet, and enable the software.

7. Customize the Windows Explorer view—Few things annoy power users more than Windows Explorer's default settings. The default icon view is fine if you have only a few files per folder, but it's useless when you have hundreds of files. Open Windows Explorer and select View, Details. Click View, Choose Details, and clear the Type check box to get rid of the useless Type column. Then click Tools, Folder Options; select the View tab; and click Apply to All Folders.

6. Set up Windows Explorer—A few advanced options make Windows Explorer more useful. Open Windows Explorer; click Tools, Folder Options; and select the View tab. In the Advanced Settings list, select the Display the full path in the title bar and Show hidden files and folders check boxes and clear the Hide extensions for known file types and Hide protected operating system files check boxes. Then click Apply to All Folders.

5. Install Open Command Window Here—The 5XP PowerToy Open Command Window Here adds an option by that name to Windows Explorer's context menu, letting you easily open a command prompt in any folder. You can download Open Command Window Here from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx.

4. Install Altiris SVS—Until recently, I never used a third-party application in my default Windows configuration. Now I use Altiris's free Software Virtualization Solution (SVS). SVS prevents application interference by ensuring that applications use the proper files and registry settings. For more information, go to http://www.altiris.com/products/SoftwareVirtualizationSolution.aspx.

3. Customize the command prompt—I find the Windows command shell default screen to be too small. To enlarge it, open a command prompt, click the system icon, select Properties, and click the Layout tab. Set Screen Buffer Size to a width of 80 and a height of 300, and set Window Size to a width of 80 and a height of 25.

2. Install your applications—Now that you've set up the basic system, you can install your standard applications. Collect all necessary CDROM installation keys before you begin.

1. Transfer your Office settings—To customize your Office settings, including the default settings for Microsoft Word and Excel and your Outlook email options, use the Microsoft Office 2003 Save My Settings option from the Tools menu to save all your settings in an Office profile settings (.ops) file called New File Settings, then import the .ops file to your new system.