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Seven business tips for upgrading your computer

Brand new portable computer
New, new new! No, no, no!

Probably the most convenient aspect of blogging is that topics come knocking at your door, instead of the often-agonizing search for relevant topics when you’re on the hook for magazine or newspaper articles. And this week’s topic came a rapping at my door a week ago when my brand new laptop showed up. Blazing fast, sporting a hot new, bug-free edition of Windows 7, and a adamantine-sharp HD display (but no Blu-Ray — what’s that about?), my itchy mouse finger couldn’t wait to take this speedster out of the garage for a spin — in the same way those parking attendants take that Ferrari out for a spin in Ferris Bueller.

Alas and alack, my laptop is also my primary work computer as a CEO, a consultant, and a sometimes prolific writer. Years of power use have perfectly toned my old laptop with some pretty hefty programs, a torrent of expensive fonts, and all the funky little XP customizations that make a day of work a day of work rather than a day of frustrating distractions. While buying a new computer makes life worthwhile, it’s a pretty dandy set of time-devouring tasks if you don’t do it right. So here, from hard-won experience in the school of hard knocks called “upgrading,” are seven business tips for upgrading your computer. Business tips, mind you, not technical tips. You’ll have to troll the underworld of tech blogs to bone up on the technical stuff . . .

Tip 1: Take a vacation
Even if you minimally use your computer for your business, switching over to a new computer will demand your sweat and toil for a few days. If you need to get work done, well, that’s a need that will go unmet as you wrastle with the hassle of getting your new computer up to speed. And it doesn’t help to keep your old computer in service while setting up the new one . . . most of the time-sucking trouble you’ll have in setting up your new computer is when you actually start using it. So plan your computer upgrade when you have a few days to devote solely to the project, a block of time where not keeping up with your work doesn’t keep you up at night.

Tip 2: Consider copying your entire drive from one computer to the other
If you’re happy with the operating system on your old drive and you’ve been regularly maintaining your registry to keep the old computer operating at top speed, then you might consider avoiding much of the hassle and simply copying your old drive to the new drive. This will require some fancy software — and no computer service person can help you, legally, that is — and a couple days, but it cuts out all the work of application reinstallations, moving hard-to-find files such as email, and recustomizing your work environment. But there are four or five software products, running about forty bucks each, that can do a complete mirror of your hard drive and then wipe out the new drive and replace it with the old. In about a day. Done, finished, complete-a-mundo, just shake the dust off your sandals and move on to the next task.

Tip 3: Use a checklist
If you haven’t read Atul Galwande’s The Checklist Maniifesto and you’re serious about being in business, then you need to get your booty moving and get a copy. In my experience, too many entrepreneurs and small business people like to fly their business without instruments. And if you want to guarantee that a computer upgrade will turn into a huge heap of wasted time, just go about it without any plan. Before you even start lusting after a new computer, it behooves you to write down everything you need to do to bring your new computer in to top working order. Make a checklist or a schedule. If there are items you don’t know how to do (such as transferring your email files from one computer to another), read up on the issue and bookmark helpful sites. Setting up your computer will involve reinstalling applications (some of which will require activation and may require that the old versions be deactivated), setting up permissions, copying files, moving email files, reinstalling fonts, setting up utilities, and setting preferences.

Tip 4: Consider remapping your keyboard
The gods who gave us computers punished us for our sins by laying a few booby traps to test our faith — like the Insert key, the Caps Lock key, and the Home key — and they placed these gruesome traps right next to keys we really need to use, such as the space bar (Insert), shift (Caps Lock), and backspace (Home). The faithful and unfaithful alike are typing merrily along and suddenly — booby trap! — we’re typing back at the beginning of the document! Or the letters are erasing before our very eyes! Or everything is capitalized! It is possible to remap the keyboard and relegate these booby traps to the hell they came from, but it involves some pretty advanced coding in the registry (not really, but if you make a mistake, you REALLY make a mistake). If you’ve ever considered remapping the keyboard (on my computer, I’ve remapped Insert as Space Bar, Caps Lock as Shift, and Home as Backspace), the time to do it is the day you take the computer out of the box and you have nothing to lose. You screw up, the worst that happens is you restore the drive from the restoration disk. No application reinstalls, no font reloads, no customization to redo. But you have to do plenty of homework finding out how to remap, what the codes are, and, when you actually get up the gumption to go at it, you need to proceed vewy, vewy carefully.

Tip 5: Now’s the time to start backing up
If you are not religious about backing up your hard drive, now’s the time to get religion. If you move files from the old computer to the new one using a network, then your old computer is now perfectly configured to be a backup. Why? It’s current with the files on your new computer. If you use an external drive, voila! You have a backup drive absolutely current and ready to go! All’s you need is some backup software and you’ve now got a good dose of that old-time backup religon!

Tip 6: While you’re at it, now’s the time to clean house
You know what I love about moving into a new house? Throwing away all the junk. That boom box from the 90′s? Kiss your iPod and throw that old boom box out the window! The same goes for moving to a new computer. Like your living room, garage, and attic, computers accrete a lot of garbage as if there were some incomprehensible law of the universe attracting tidbits, bric-a-brac, idiot programs, goggle-eyed games, frills and furbelows to every hard drive. Take the opportunity to look through all the stuff in your documents folder, all the email cluttering your email folders, and all the applications you never use and, like that boom box from the 90′s, give the junk the old heave-ho. Be mean to start lean.

Tip 7: Start working
Above all, don’t delay putting the new computer into service. It’s possible to keep the old computer in service while setting up the old computer, but 90% of the headaches you’ll encounter show up after you’ve started using the computer. On my new laptop, for instance, I found that I couldn’t type. I’m a fast typist (about 110 WPM), but I found that, after a few seconds, the type would jump to a completely new part of the document. It took me over four hours to find out what the cause was, another half hour to find a cure, and I was back in business. It turned out that this particular model has an extremely sensitive touch pad — by simply passing my thumb a little above the touchpad, the touchpad was treating it as a click and moving the insert point back to the last place the mouse cursor was at. Setting up my Outlook also took several hours. Even though I’m a super-pro at Outlook and have flawlessly set up hundreds of accounts, Windows 7 has a small bug that demands that you put the full email address in the user account. You don’t discover this stuff until you’re out on the road with the machine. So don’t wait. As soon as your new computer is ready to go, take it out. You’ll still need a hunk of time to iron out the kinks.

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