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Step 4: Develop Efficient Windows XP Settings

My background is the default XP background. It consists of things like a multi-megabyte background picture, lots of cutesy menu animation effects, a disappearing menu bar, nice colors, etc. If it were my only virtual machine and I could give it 384MB or more RAM, why not go with that gorgeous view? But I don't need all that. I may want to reserve power for some powerful apps. I may want to lessen XP's dedicated memory a lot. Let's get XP's requirements down a bit by removing interface frills.

I'll start by opening the Windows equivalent of my iBook's System Preferences: the Control Panel. Figure 8 shows where to access the Control Panel. It also shows Windows XP coexisting very well on my Tiger system as an application.

Figure 8

Figure 8 Accessing the Control Panel.

Once the Control Panel opens, double-click the Display icon. This opens a tabbed page with several settings that control the display and PC performance. Figure 9 shows the first setting, themes. I'm using the XP default theme with its many bundled features, animations, and displays. Windows Classic is a good theme that offers better performance. I'll select it and then click Apply to change my XP theme.

Figure 9

Figure 9 Busy background makes processors busy.

The next tab is Desktop. The desktop is the background. If performance matters most, stay with a background that's a simple color. If you decide you can't live with a solid color, go through the pictures in the list of possible backgrounds. The pictures are in two groups: large images and smaller images that are tiled across the desktop. Carefully observe the load time of each. If you must have a picture, choose a tiled picture with a fast load time.

The larger the image and the greater the resolution of that image, the more work the PC must do to maintain that image. Make a window larger? The processor must recalculate the background impacts. Close a window? The same process starts all over.

Bliss, the default XP background image, may be beautiful and serene, but it doesn't help performance. I'm content with a solid color, so I'll skip the Desktop tab and go directly to the Appearance tab. Figure 10 shows the many options.

Figure 10

Figure 10 The Appearance tab and the Effects dialog box.

Using this tab, I can select a color scheme I like, using the Color Scheme drop-down list. But I can remove some glitzy effects as well. I don't need transition effects for menus and tool tips, so I deselect the first check box. I don't need smooth screen fonts, so I deselect the second check box. I don't need shadows under menus, so that option is out. I certainly don't need to show (and recalculate) the contents of each window as it's being dragged, so that check box really must go! Once I click the Apply button in the Display Properties dialog box, those settings are applied to my system. Let's make one more change, though, selecting the Settings tab to make a major improvement. Figure 11 shows some bad settings on my system.

Figure 11

Figure 11 Bad performance settings.

If you're using Classic Windows settings, you don't need such high color quality. Set Color Quality to use 16-bit or lower resolution. Also, the screen resolution takes up the entire background on my iBook. I'll decrease it to 800x600. The smaller resolution and the more simplistic colors make screen refreshes much snappier than before. If you need to force your Windows system into full-screen mode, the command key-return key combinations will fill your iBook with a Windows display.

Okay, the display is rather plain, but the machine's functioning is a lot faster. Applications launch quickly. The menu bar that I hid automatically, punches to life much quicker when I need it. So what more can we do?

Open the System icon in the Control Panel. Figure 12 shows that this dialog box has a lot of great performance-tuning settings. Once I click the Performance button, I'm shocked to find that this has been set for best appearance. Not sure when that happened. I select the Adjust for Best Performance radio button, and all of those selected effects check boxes are deselected. This will maximize the system's performance. Maybe I'll go back and re-enable a few. There are a lot of options with the XP interface.

Figure 12

Figure 12 So many selected options!

This is the best performance yet! Okay, the display is arguably very, very plain. It looks like desert, the color scheme I chose. I'm able to start quite a few Windows applications though, and my compiles with Visual Basic Express work well. I'm happy.

Now you know some of the performance tuning you can do with Virtual PC. You can run many operating systems on it efficiently, even Windows XP, by knowing and choosing reasonable Virtual PC settings. In addition, you know the major performance-tuning you can do with Windows XP, a very popular use for Virtual PC. Be sure to 1) observe visual cues; 2) choose reasonable preferences that are best suited for your selection of operating systems and applications; 3) choose good PC settings that give each instance the appropriate amount of resources, such as RAM; and 4) tune each operating system for performance according to your own tastes.

Should everyone run XP with such a Spartan appearance? Probably not. But, as you may have noticed in so many of these figures, there are many options within Virtual PC and in XP that will let you have the perfect balance of performance and appearance on your iBook.

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