When it comes to setting up your work laptop, I suggest that you should only care about speed and efficiency. This means that your computer should be (a) booting up quickly, and (b) running smoothly (without crashes).
The key to a quick startup is minimising the number of programs that run automatically when you bootup Windows. Click the Start button, then Run, and type msconfig. Click on the Startup tab and deselect all of the programs that you do not want to run automatically. For more detailed advice, I refer you to the excellent Make XP Boot Faster from Wikihow.
In order to keep your computer running smoothly you should turn off all of the useless services that run by default in Windows XP. I recommend that you read A Guide To Turning Off Useless XP Services by JasonN and make the necessary changes. If in the future MARCS students begin using Windows Vista *shudder* then I recommend you find a similar guide for turning off all of the useless crap in Vista.