Anyone who wants to use a virtual accountant has to use the internet and an accounting package. That means using Windows - although Mac's are also an option - and if you choose software that is only in the cloud, then it could conceivably be managed on Linux or even a tablet or smart phone. This article is aimed at the average Windows user. If you find something about Windows annoying, the chances are you're not alone.


Computers have been around a while - but just as we get used to the way an accounting package works and tend not to take advantage of new features, so too we get accustomed to the way computers work. Windows is a case in point. Most people accept the defaults that come with it, so I thought it might help some to learn basic things I do so I can work more effectively. These generally work from Windows 7 on. Most are relatively simple - at least at the basic level - but you can find more in the help - or on the internet.

 start menu

The first thing I do is partition the hard disk. Windows assumes it has one drive - and more and more programs accept that. But there is still an advantage in separating the operating system (150 - 350gb) from the programs (150gb) from the data (500gb). In my case, I also split the data into business and private. If you have a small drive (say less than 500Mb) then it probably pays to stay with one (or perhaps two) drives. But being able to restore the operating system without needing to backup (if you can) your files (and maybe program settings) saves time and headaches.


The second thing I do is install Classic Shell. This means when I click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, I get a start menu (very configurable) much easier to use. If I want the standard menu, I'd simply hold the shift key before clicking, but I seldom do. My classic start menu shows as that shown on the right of the screen.


The top item gives another way to the "normal" start menu (in case you ever forget to press shift). The second item is not a sign that I have a high opinion of myself. I particularly find it hard to find things in Windows. Microsoft has strived to develop Windows into an intuitive, user-friendly operating system. For some, though, "user-friendly" is just another way of saying "dumbed down" in an attempt to force all users into a limited, cookie-cutter system. All it takes is a directory (in Windows) called GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}


Treecomp is a wonderful tool to synchronize files - between my computer and my wife's, or between mine and my portable hard drives used for backup. (There are only two sorts of computer users: those who've lost data and those who are going to.)


Finally, UltraSearch: one day I'd finally had enough of Windows poor file searching. I've been using this ever since. If you're ever frustrated by the Windows search, this is fast and simple.


The rest are familiar - but this program is very different. It allows you to create nested structures, which means you can find anything very quickly. Of course, frequently used / important programs are simply stuck to the taskbar. But as an example, the first section of mine is called business. Within this, I have a variety of accounting and business development tools, each in folders by supplier.  This suits me - but isn't for everyone. Similarly, most people wouldn't have four office suites. The point is this can be set up as you wish and means never having to search for a program again.


The last big issue is best dealt with when configuring Windows for the first time - privacy. Now many users don't give it a second thought - and companies take full advantage of that. In NZ we at least have a privacy commissioner - but the thing companies pay attention to is public reaction. This generally only becomes an issue when the breach of privacy is extreme.


So if you haven't done so, at least review articles on the internet and make decisions that suit you rather than Microsoft. And make sure they're not changed by updates.


This brings up one last point. Most of us spend a lot of time using a browser. Which one is your main one is your choice. But most people accept default privacy settings - which are not always in your favour. Again most people are unconcerned, allowing others to make money from their data.


The one thing that applies to almost all internet users is basic security. We all know many passwords are easily defeated today. I personally use LastPass - so called because it's the last password you'll ever need to remember - but there are alternatives. Unless you don't use sites which require passwords, keeping multiple complex passwords without writing them down is impractical.


There are many other points we could consider - but these are significant points which all Windows users could benefit from if they choose. Keep safe and calm.