2.2 The Start Menu

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2.1 Desktop Makeover

The desktop is the screen you see after your computer boots up. Most people think of it as the place where all those program icons live. But like your actual desk, there's no reason your Windows desktop should be cluttered up. Figure 2-1 shows you how to jump to the desktop, and the rest of this section gives you tips for taking control of it.

Figure 2-1. Most people don't realize that the Quick Launch bar (to the right of the Start button) contains an icon that brings up the desktop and automatically minimizes everything else to the taskbar. If you mouse over this light blue icon, you see the label "Show Desktop." It's indispensable when you want to get to your desktop with just a quick click. (If you don't see the icon, turn it on in the Taskbar and Start Menu control panel.)

2.1.1 The Easiest Way to Customize Your Desktop

It's a no-brainer: If you want to customize your Windows XP settings ‚ including the desktop ‚ download TweakUI, a free utility from Microsoft. TweakUI is part of a suite of utilities from Microsoft called XP PowerToys, and it's far and away the best one. In fact, TweakUI appears throughout this book because of the astonishing number of things you can do with it.

Microsoft supplies XP PowerToys but it doesn't support them, meaning if something goes wrong, the company's tech support agents won't help you out. Fortunately, TweakUI almost always works as it should.

Note: TweakUI works only if you have Windows XP Service Pack 1 or higher installed. To check your version of Windows XP, open My Computer, and then choose Help About Windows. The window that opens gives you the version of Windows XP you have, including the service pack number.

Figure 2-2. You can also use TweakUI to have Windows XP display either My Documents or My Computer as the first icon on the desktop, in the upper-left corner ‚ the position easiest to hit with the mouse. Choose Desktop First Icon, and then click the icon youd like first.

Download TweakUI from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/downloads/powertoys.asp (it takes just a few seconds). Save it to your hard drive and then run the installer (which takes another few seconds). Open the program by clicking Start and choosing All Programs PowerToys for Windows XP TweakUI.

Once you've got TweakUI running, you can use it for the most basic desktop maintenance: whether to display or hide icons for Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, and the Recycle Bin. If you don't use any of these icons (either because you never use these items or because you reach them through the Start menu or other places), get rid of `em. Conversely, if you're constantly searching in vain for, say, My Documents or My Network Places, then add those icons to your desktop. Simply open TweakUI, and in the panel at the left, click Desktop, and then turn on or off the icons of your choice, as show in Figure 2-2.

Note: TweakUI does a whole lot more. Hints throughout this book help you get the most out of it.

2.1.2 Changing the Standard Desktop Icons

If you don't like the way a desktop icon looks, or if you want to change one because it's confusingly similar to another icon, you can swap in a new picture. Right-click the one you want to change, choose Properties Shortcut Change Icon, and then browse to the icon you want to use. (You can find a large collection of icons in the file C: Windows System32 SHELL32.dll.)

Unfortunately, if you try this procedure on the icons for My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, and the Recycle Bin, you'll be out of luck: they have no Change Icon option. But don't fret ‚ you can change their pictures. For reasons known only to Microsoft's brilliant engineers , these four icons store that option in a completely different place.

Changing Really, Really Recalcitrant Icons

A number of icons ‚ including those for Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, Network Neighborhood, and others ‚ don't officially let you change them at all. You can't alter them by the normal method of changing a desktop icon, and you can't alter them using the technique outlined in hint 2-2. You can, however, use a Registry hack to apply any icon you want to them.

To use the Registry hack, you need to know the CLSID (Class ID) for the icon you want to change. Here's a listing of the CLSIDs for icons you can change this way:

  • My Computer . {20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

  • Recycle Bin . {645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}

  • Microsoft Outlook . {00020D75-0000-0000-C000-000000000046}

  • Internet Explorer. {FBF23B42-E3F0-101B-8488-00AA003E56F8}

  • The Internet. {3DC7A020-0ACD-11CF-A9BB-00AA004AE837}

  • My Network Places. {208D2C60-3AEA-1069-A2D7-08002B30309D}

Once you've got the right CLSID, run the Registry Editor, go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT CLSID, and look for the CLSID subkey for the icon you want to change. Open the subkey and then the DefaultIcon subkey under that. For example, to change the icon for My Computer, open the subkey My Computer HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT CLSID {20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D} DefalutIcon. Change the Default value by typing in the path of the icon you want to use--for example, C:\MyIcons\New.ico. Exit the Registry. You may have to reboot in order for the new settings to take effect.

Here's the secret: Right-click the desktop and choose Properties Desktop Customize Desktop, which brings up the Desktop Items dialog box, shown in Figure 2-3. Select the icon you'd like to change, then click Change Icon and choose one of the icons that appear. Once you've chosen the picture you want to use, click OK until you're out of the dialog boxes. Admire your new icon.

Figure 2-3. If you want to change an icon to a picture you have stored on your hard drive, simply select the icon that you'd like to alter, click Browse, and then navigate to and highlight the file. Click OK until you've closed all the dialog boxes.

2.1.3 Cleaning Your Desktop Automatically

Over time, as you install programs and futz with your system, your desktop can become clogged with icons that you rarely (if ever) use, making it harder to hit your heavy-rotation icons. The good news is that you can have Windows clean up the mess for you, automatically deleting the deadbeats (that is, icons you haven't used for the past 60 days).

Right-click the desktop and choose Properties Desktop Customize Desktop to bring up the Desktop Items dialog box, shown in Figure 2-3. To have Windows sweep away icons you no longer use, click Clean Desktop Now.

Tip: If you want Windows to perform this service every two months (which is a good idea), simply turn on "Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days." Each time it's about to start cleaning, Windows asks if you want the wizard to run, so you can always opt out.

2.1.4 Adding a Run Icon to Your Desktop

If you frequently use the Run box, then you know it's a time-saving way to launch a program ‚ you simply type a few letters of its name . So why waste time going to the Start menu to open the Run box? Instead, put its icon on your desktop or in your Quick Launch bar. Once you've got the icon in place, you can launch the box with a swift double click.

To do so, click Start, and then drag the Run icon to the desktop or the Quick Launch bar. You'll know you're clear to drop it on the bar when the Stop circle turns into a vertical line, though you may have to wiggle around a little to get the line.

Tip: If you create a desktop icon and you'd like to give it a name other than the standard &Run , right-click it, choose Rename, and then type, say, Percy .

2.1.5 Rearranging Your Desktop Icons

Little-known fact: You can orchestrate the way icons appear on your desktop. You can arrange them by name, by icon type, by the last time someone worked on (modified) them, or by their size ( assuming they're different sizes, of course). You can also force them to align in a grid or float freely ‚ an aesthetic choice. And you can even hide all your desktop icons, so you see only your wallpaper, as shown in Figure 2-4. This is the desktop for neatness freaks: no muss, no fuss, no distractions. (Even if you hide your icons like this, by the way, you can still run the programs from the Start menu.)

Figure 2-4. You can hide all of your desktop icons by right-clicking the desktop and, from the shortcut menu, choosing Arrange Icons By, then turning off Show Desktop Icons. If you set up your desktop with no icons, you get to enjoy an unsullied scenic view like this one, but you rely more heavily on the Start All Programs menu to launch applications. See Section 2.2.4 for advice on customizing this menu.

To rearrange your desktop icons, right-click the desktop, choose Arrange Icons By (Figure 2-5), and then choose one of these options:

  • Name . Arranges the icons in alphabetical order.

  • Size . Arranges the icons in size order, measured in pixels.

  • Type . Arranges icons by type of program, although there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how Windows decides which program is which type. More than anything, it seems to arrange the icons randomly .

  • Modified . Arranges icons by the order in which you last made changes to them or added them to the desktop. For example, icons for the most recently added program appear furthest to the right and at the bottom.

  • Auto Arrange . Arranges icons in rows starting with the left-hand side of your screen. When you delete an icon, XP automatically re-arranges the remaining icons in rows, filling in the space taken up by the one you deleted. When you add an icon, XP automatically adds it to the right row. Auto Arrange uses whatever sort order you've chosen ‚ for example, if you've chosen to arrange the icons by name, it places them in rows alphabetically .

Note: If Auto Arrange is turned on, you can't drag your icons around freely; they automatically slide back into place according to the arrangement you've chosen (for example, alphabetical). If you want to move individual icons, turn off Auto Arrange. Otherwise, keep it turned on to maintain your spiffy desktop scheme.

Figure 2-5. This menu, in addition to letting you wrest control of your icons, also lets you run the Desktop Cleanup Wizard, which removes icons whose programs you haven't recently run. Section 2.1.5 explains how it works.

  • Align to Grid . Places icons along an imaginary grid on your desktop so they're all aligned neatly.

  • Lock Web Items on Desktop . If you've used a Web page as your background, turning on this option locks the page in place, so no one can move or resize it.

Removing the Recycle Bin and AOL Icons

If you're a desktop minimalist, you might be tempted to trash the Recycle Bin. But, if you try to delete it by highlighting it and pressing Delete...nothing happens. Once again, the Registry can come to your rescue, letting you can the bin. (When you use this method, the Recycle Bin still works as it does normally; you're only removing the icon, not its function.)

To delete the Recycle Bin icon from the desktop, run the Registry Editor (Section 15.1.2) and go to My Computer HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SOFTWARE Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Explorer Desktop NameSpace. Delete the key {645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}, then exit the Registry and restart your machine.

Once you've removed the icon, however, there's no longer a n obvious way to see what you've got in the bin. You can view files in the Recycle Bin by going to the folder in My Comp uter C: RECYCLER that starts with S-1-5. Deleting files from this folder (by highlighting them and pressing Delete, for example) empties the Recycle Bin.

On some systems, you also can't delete the America Online icon using conventional methods . But you can remove it using the same technique you used for removing the Recycle Bin. Instead of deleting the Recycle Bin key, delete the key {955B7B84-5308-419c-8ED8-0B9CA3C56985}. Doing so won't delete America Online, just its desktop icon, so you can still run AOL from the Start menu or directly from Windows Explorer.

2.1.6 Slapping Your Favorite Web Page on Your Desktop

Windows wallpaper makes a fine desktop background, but you can use your favorite Web site instead ‚ complete with live links and regular updates whenever you're online. You can even split the screen and have a Web page occupy any desktop space that's not taken up by icons. The cool thing about this trick is that you can see your favorite Web page without launching a browser. And if you're a news junkie, you can set a news site as your desktop background and have the latest news piped directly to you all day long.

Note: If you're online and click a link from your Web-page-as-desktop, your regular browser snaps to attention and takes you to the linked page.
Giving Windows XP a Makeover

You can give Windows XP a digital makeover by changing its icons, wallpaper, buttons , and overall look (Section 2.5). For help with skinning (i.e., altering the look), WindowBlinds is the best software for XP. Once you install it, you can use the program's canned skins to change the style of title bars, buttons, toolbars , and so on. For example, you can give your PC a metallic appearance, or go for a retro look. If that's not enough, you can download other skins from the WindowBlinds Web site, or even build your own ($19.95 shareware; http://www.windowblinds.net).)

To put a Web page on your desktop, right-click the desktop and choose Properties Desktop Customize Desktop Web. To have Windows use your browser's homepage, turn on My Current Home Page, as shown in Figure 2-6. To choose a different home page for your desktop, choose New, and in the dialog box that appears, type in the Web site's URL.

Once you've chosen your Web page, click OK twice to have Windows display it on your desktop. If you want Windows to update the page more frequently than once a day, here's what to do. Right-click the desktop, choose Properties Desktop, click Customize Desktop, and then click the Web tab. Highlight the event you want synchronize, then click Properties, and then choose the Schedule tab. Select the schedule you want to tweak, and then click Edit. In the dialog box that appears, choose the Schedule tab and then click Advanced. Turn on "Repeat task," and set a new schedule (if you want the update to occur around the clock, set the duration for 24 hours). Click OK until you've closed all the dialog boxes, and you're done.

Figure 2-6. If you're online, you can click Synchronize to have Windows grab the latest version of your desktop Web page. You can also set a schedule to automatically synchronize the page. Right-click Properties, then choose the Schedule tab. Select "Using the following schedule(s)" and then click Add. Set a daily schedule, and finally, click OK.

Note: When you set a Web page as your wallpaper, it acts like a window of its own ‚ and it comes with a bar at the top that lets you resize the window and drag it around just like any garden-variety desktop window. If you want the window to stay put, turn on "Lock desktop items."

Normally, when you right-click the desktop, Windows shows you a menu for desktop options. But if you have a Web page set as your wallpaper, when you right-click, Windows instead shows you the same menu you'd see if you right-clicked a Web page in Internet Explorer. This feature is great if you want to view the source code for that page. But if you need to change your desktop options, you need the standard desktop shortcut menu.

There are two ways to get that menu: (a) Right-click any part of your desktop that doesn't display the Web page and that isn't an icon, or (b) if the Web page takes up the whole screen, resize the window as described above and then right-click the desktop.

2.1.7 Special Effects for the Windows Desktop

Like a high-octane action movie, Windows XP features a bunch of special effects that make things look snazzier. For example, the system lets you add or remove shadows under the menus that appear on the desktop and other system windows. These effects may not make you George Lucas, but they can help you customize the system's appearance.

To control which effects appear, right-click the desktop and choose Properties Appearance Effects to get the dialog box shown in Figure 2-7.

Figure 2-7. The Effects dialog box lets you turn on or off Windows XP's special effects. Keep in mind that the more effects you use, the more stress you put on your computer. If you have a newer machine, the effects shouldn't have an impact on speed. But if you have an older computer, going hog-wild with the effects may slow things down.

Here's what the effects do:

  • " Use the following transition effect for menus and tooltips. " This option lets you control how menus and tooltips slide into place. If you turn it on, Windows gives you a choice between a fade effect, in which the menu or tooltip quickly fades in, and a scroll effect, in which the item drops down quickly, like a scroll unfurling.

  • " Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts. " If you're sitting in front of a CRT monitor, don't bother with this option. But if you're using a laptop or an LCD screen on which fonts can appear somewhat ragged, turning on this feature helps smooth them out. The system gives you a choice between Windows XP's standard method of smoothing fonts or a Microsoft technology called ClearType. ClearType is superior to Windows XP's normal font-smoothing technology, so always use this choice.

  • " Use large icons. " If you find the regular- sized icons too small to see clearly, turn on this feature to have Windows supersize the pictures.

  • " Show shadows under menus. " Turn on this feature to have Windows display handsome, three-dimensional shadows behind menus, as shown in Figure 2-8.

Figure 2-8. Left: Placing shadows behind menus gives Windows XP a handsome, rich look.
Right: But you can turn the shadows off if you prefer a more staid decor. Shadows are a good example of an effect that eats up computing power, so if your machine is running with all the enthusiasm of a snail on Thorazine, nix the shadows.

  • " Show window contents while dragging. " Normally, when you grab a window by its title bar and drag it around the screen, the contents inside the window move with it. But this behavior requires a lot of computing power, so if your machine is a few cycles short of a Happy Meal, dragging the contents of a window around can take longer than ordering a Big Mac with a personally monogrammed beef patty. Better to have Windows move only the outline of a window when you drag it, letting the contents snap in when you're done dragging. Leave the feature turned on to move the window and its contents together; turn it off to move the outline separately.

  • " Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key. " This mystery sentence is the key to controlling a surprisingly simple option. As you know, nearly all Windows programs let you reach the menus via keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse. For example, in Internet Explorer, you can get to the File menu by pressing Alt+F. On a program's menu bar, Windows XP clues you in to the shortcut by underlining the letter to press with Alt in order to bring up that menu (Figure 2-9).

Figure 2-9. Top: If you want to use the keyboard instead of the mouse to reach menus, underlined letters tell you which key to press along with Alt. This setting doesn't use up many system resources, so using it on older machines won't stall out your PC.
Bottom: If you find the underlines aesthetically unpleasing, you can turn them off.

  • Normally, the letters appear underlined all the time. But if you find the underlining ugly or distracting, you can turn it off and have Windows underline the letters only when you press Alt.

Note: Not all programs respond when you change this setting. Word, for example, leaves the underlined letters turned on all the time, even if you turn them off here.

Windows XP Power Hound
Windows XP Power Hound: Teach Yourself New Tricks
ISBN: 0596006195
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 119

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