So, the first thing I did was run a thing called registry patrol. It doesn't seem to have done any harm to my system, and there was a noticeable improvement in some things. I know that it has had some poor reviews, and there may be a better tool out there, but this worked for me. I should also say that I regularly run spyware to clear out any nasty bits and pieces that have crept in through the firewall.
The other things I've done is reduce the number of desktop icons I have. I thought I'd go for the "no icons at all" approach, but decided against that because Anne, my wife might think there was something wrong if no icons were showing. I use a black background anyway, so it might look like the system had crashed! I now have only three icons on my desktop: "My computer", "Recycle Bin" and Unused Icons".
Things have improved a little, in fact I think they've improved a lot. All those icons take time to draw and therefore take up cpu power, diverting it away from other useful things like opening applications. And everything is still accessible through the
So if you're experiencing some similar problems because you've added programs and applications and let them put an icon on the desktop, trying removing them and see if it makes a difference.
PS I also cleaned up the files and defragged the hard drive.