Your Computer, Your World – How to Keep Out the Mindless

Ads by Google

For several years I’ve been taking my private laptop to work, like most of my colleagues. Often I’m asked to set up a laptop for a guest talk, and many times I had to provide my own computer for the presentation.

Frankly, I hate to share my own, private laptop, however for a long time it was inevitable. Over that time people lost respect and thought it was OK to use my computer, just to look something up real quick.

It annoyed me to no end, so I unconsciously developed a few strategies to make it very unattractive to use my laptop. Let me share…
1) No Desktop Icons

You wouldn’t believe how many people are stunned by an empty desktop. They’ll rather leave it alone than mess with the start button or some funny looking menus.

2) Different Interface
Even an alternative Windows theme is unsettling for the standard user. Macs are not commonly used around here, and I found that transformation packs can do wonders. People seriously believe my computer is a Mac, which makes it seem very complicated to use, and thus unattractive. Let me say the laptop case looks nothing like a Mac and the keyboard gives it away with the infamous Windows key. Yet all they see is the interface and it stops them dead in their tracks. I installed FlyakiteOSX for the slightly different look, but there are a few alternatives..

3) No Taskbar

Now that’s a killer! Something must be seriously wrong with this machine and I’d say it deters close to 90% of people. Unsolicited users that keep their hand firm on the mouse in hopes of uncovering a hidden secret must be very curious. Those that have the bright idea to use the Windows key, are true pros. ;)
I hide my taskbar with XNeat Windows manager. Actually the taskbar is not hidden, it’s just transparent and lights up on mouse-over. It’s also a good way to hide open windows. If you want to be super smart, don’t keep the taskbar in its default location or replace it entirely with something else, for example a dock program.

Ads by Google

4) Unusual Icons
Personally, I love to use unique icons for most folders on my computer. Before I used transformation packs I discovered that even using some of the not so commonly seen default Windows icons, makes people be wary of using my laptop, since they don’t understand what they see, if they see anything at all.

Right-click any folder, select >properties, switch to the >Customize tab, and click the >Change Icon… button, then pick an icon from the SHELL32.dll list and enjoy.

If you’re tired of the same old Windows icons, try Free Icons Download, or the Icon Archive for something fresh. Note that you will need .ico files to replace folder icons, but many icons actually come as .png files. There is an ingenious little tool called AveIconifier which can instantly transform dozens of .png files to .ico and vice versa.

5) Ultimate Protection

You can simply log yourself out when you leave your desk and use a Kensington lock at all times. However, for those times when a lock is not practicable or when you just want to go that one step further to keep obtrusive people away and efficiently protect your computer from theft, get your hands on a free copy of Laptop Alarm. It’s a small exe tool, no installation required, just download and run. You can activate up to four different actions that will trigger a very loud alarm. They are loss of AC power, shutdown or log off, unplugging of the USB mouse, and mouse movement. In Options you can set an unlock password and the sensitivity for the mouse movement detection. Unfortunately, the SMS alarm service signup is not working. Once your computer is locked with Laptop Alarm, it’s safe unless the password is hacked or both AC and battery power are removed. The tool also works on desktop computers.

Constant change has been the greatest success factor in keeping my laptop to myself. From the start all desktop shortcuts have been gone, one day the interface looks like Vista, the other like a Mac, then the wallpaper keeps changing, now there’s this funny menu, the other day there was some weird second menu, as of late the taskbar is gone and what’s next, is the damn thing going to speak to me?
In the meantime we have a separate laptop for presentations and the like at work. Mission completed.

Are you in a similar situation? Do you proudly share your computer? If not, how do you preserve your digital privacy? Please share!

Join live MakeUseOf Groups on Grouvi App Join live Groups on Grouvi
Web for Kids
Web for Kids
20 Members
Deep Web Communities
Deep Web Communities
35 Members
Awesome Websites
Awesome Websites
69 Members
Best Music Services
Best Music Services
26 Members
Ads by Google
Comments (41)
  • Trey

    Ha. I did this same thing a few weeks ago. Love the minimalist look. Disabled the Taskbar and ran an auto-hiding dock for my commonly used programs. Totally blank desktop unless you know shortcuts or where to look.

    The problem came when my boss needed some phone numbers out of my Outlook when I was gone. Took me 10 minutes to explain how to open it. And another hour to explain to him that I did not “delete Microsoft” and “install unauthorized Unix.”

  • Leon

    Nice article. I like to discourage use of my computers but like to be helpful too….a paradox. 90% of the time I use Puppy Linux. I turn the icons into part of the wallpaper so they are invisible. It’s fun to click on ‘nothing’ and see the programs start up. Another strategy I have developed is to have several items in the grub menu. At work to start up my machine you have to select the 4th item down which is ‘mem test 64′ to boot up what is actually the operating system I usually use (Puppy Dingo). It you didn’t know this and started the machine the first option produces a ‘kernel panic’. Not deliberate but I liked it so left it that way….

    Ironically when I’m not camouflaging my own system I’m helping other people find their way around their own computers. For some it’s difficult enough even when the start button is visible and the desktop icons work the way they should….no need to alter anything!

    I heard of one firm who developed a self destructing hard drive …. type an incorrect password in twice and watch your computer self destruct – that’s hardcore.

  • Bradford Knowlton

    You could always mess with them, dual boot it, Windows/linux and Window 3.11. Or for a quick fix install Parallels Workstation / VMware Workstation and let them try out a virtualized operating system. This prevents them from accessing your files, as they are on a virtual machine but they will still be able to get online and do a presentation or check their e-mail etc.


  • Dave

    Why are you leaving your laptop out in a place where people think it’s OK just to walk up to it and start surfing? Just hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and lock your workstation when you walk away from it.

  • its johnny

    what i do is set up trap icons.
    this is, make a batch file that does something funny with the command prompt, put on the desktop, disguise the batch file with another icon, get rid of the actual icon, and leave it for some one to click on it. some body actually thought that they caused the computer to fail because they tried to use Internet Explorer.
    it was funny

Load 10 more
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.