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I know many people spend lots of time tweaking their admin workstation based on the idea that it will make them more productive. I believe that a lot of this time is wasted.

They do things like:

  • Optimize for speed/memory. Spending tons of time disabling services to save that extra 1-2MB of memory or make their computer boot up 3-10 seconds faster.
  • Tweak hotkeys, shortcuts, and aliases. Perhaps to save a few keystrokes, or so avoid having to remember how to do something on a standard system.
  • Setup a completely different OS or environment from what their users work on.
  • (Linux) Recompile all their software from source because the compiler may be able to make slightly better decisions about optimization for specific hardware.

It seems to me that there is a lot of value in keeping your system in a pretty standard state. By that I mean either close to they way it comes with a default OS install, or close to how you configure the rest of your systems on your network. With a standard system you can be more certain that the problem that arise are not simply because you have lots of unusual customizations.

How much money/time have you saved or wasted when you spend a couple hours on tweaking performance when you could have simply spent your time on something more useful and spend a few bucks on some more RAM?

Will you be able to still be productive on a system that doesn't have your aliases, macros, hotkey configuration setup? What will you do if lightning strikes and your heavily customized admin workstation becomes unusable?

I think it would be interesting and helpful if people shared how much they customize, and their reasoning for that level of customization.

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9 Answers 9

Your arguments against heavy customisation are all valid and I don't do it myself.

The only serious argument I can think of in favour is that it's part of learning and experimentation.

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Good point about getting too used to macros and customisation etc. I stay fairly close to default settings. Mind you, I run VM Workstation for running the SOE. The only "essential" things I use are Notepad++, Putty for ssh and VisionApp for managing servers via RDP. I've been burned by macros before, some things can be too automatic! Also in my experience most desktop "productivity enhancements" such as expanded desktops, windowblinds and taskbar replacements are too flaky to use in a critical environment.

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Windows:

First thing is definitely set the sound scheme to "No Sounds". The Windows sounds really grate.

Make certain fonts smaller (title bar especially, switch off bold and reduce to 8 or 9 point) to fit better on my 1440x900 laptop screen.

Any geek should consider imaging their laptop or PC once they've completed certain customisations to save time in the future. In a work context it might include setting up a dedicated image for their automated deployment system.

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Here are the customizations I typically practice:

  • Configure security and other features to maximize protection while still allowing me to do my job. Admin workstations are often targeted by auditors/pen-testers and this cuts the nonsense.
  • Maximize the tools. I use a wide assortment of tools, so I get 'em all installed as quickly as possible.
  • Setup those tools to load as quickly as possible without the splash screens and such. For instance, appending -nosplash to SQL Server Management Studio and Visual Studio. Those are real time wasters for me.
  • Setup links in the browser for my most commonly visited admin sites and help resources.

I used to be one of those OS tweakers that looked for every single little change I could make, but I realized over time that it wasn't worth my time. The little things like eliminating splash screens save me more time than those tweaks ever did. Also, once you start getting into that sort of thing, it almost becomes a religion to keep up with it, which is a huge time waster in and of itself.

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Windows

The one thing I do customize does increase my productivity really and is easy to do: Visual Studio's default Ctrl+W key binding starts a browser tab instead of closing the current tab. Coming from a Linux background I always hit the "wrong" key, which annoys the heck out of me and often breaks the flow. So I'm better off making that small adjustment (who needs a browser in VS anyways) than interrupting myself again and again.

Linux

I customize all of my servers heavily so that the working environment fits my needs. This includes installing a ton of packages and configuring the shell, vim and so on. I use puppet for this and my David's Best Practices module. Automating it I can rely on proven configurations and basic functionality (like munin, vim, bash, ntp, etc) without having to wast a second thought about it.

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I believe that customizing my workstation is critical to providing the best service to my customers. By completing the default installs and tweaking them to automate time-consuming tasks, I can provide faster service if there is an issue.

I don't go overboard, but I do tweak my installations and tasks so I don't get 'bogged down' with minutia when providing support.

-JFV

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I also don't do heavy customization. What I do is have a central location (Dropbox) where I save some basic configuration files, which then I either link or copy with a script.

Things like bash configurations, aliases, and the like, so each time I get a new workstation, I get up and running very quickly.

As others, I prefer not to get too used to heavy customizations because that makes it painfull when I go to a machine that doesn't have them.

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I love the fact that my OS X Client System has a terminal with ssh capabilities. Here are my custumizations: http://serverfault.com/questions/1285/what-is-your-list-of-programs-to-install-to-os-x-after-a-fresh-install/4252#4252 that are pretty much a list of applications that are not included in the default OS X install (I have put an asterisk on the ones I rely on for everyday tasks, the rest are just niceties).

As far as hot-key customizations and shortcuts, I USED to do a bunch of that.

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Most of my customizations are focused on locking things down security-wise, and most of these are set through group policy so I don't need to reapply everything on install. Installing all the individual programs can be enough headache, though, so I've been thinking about imaging for a while now.

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