Windows XP embraces a more minimalist approach to the Windows desktop than its predecessors. The new desktop (labeled by Microsoft as the "user experience" desktop) provides a less cluttered approach to the Windows desktop and has clustered access to many features (such as My Computer, My Network Places, and My Documents) on the Start menu. The Start menu also now consists of a double-column format.
Desktop icons are optional; you can add icons to the desktop if you want (as you could with earlier versions of Windows). By default, only the Recycle Bin is shown on the desktop. Figure 1.8 shows the Windows desktop and the Start menu.
Figure 1.8. Microsoft Windows XP adopts a minimalist approach in regard to desktop icons.
The desktop serves as the launch pad and workspace for Windows XP. And as even the most novice XP user knows, a number of GUI elements reside on the desktop. Let's take a quick look at these GUI elements and then discuss other items that play a part in the overall customization of the Windows GUI environment.
Windows XP Taskbar and Start Menu
The Windows XP desktop provides a number of elements that are used to either launch or manage applications running in Windows. Starting at the bottom of the desktop, we see the Windows taskbar. The taskbar provides access to the Start menu. The Start menu uses a two-column format to provide access to your Windows applications and utilities (refer to Figure 1.8).
As you use applications and other software tools in Windows, the most recently used applications are listed in the first column of the Start menu. You can also pin applications to this first column of the Start menu for easy access (see the tip that follows).
To pin an application icon to the Start menu, select Start and then point at All Programs to view your application icons. Right-click any icon and select Pin to Start Menu.
The taskbar itself can also be used to launch applications (see the next section, "Add the Quick Launch Toolbar"), and it contains the notification area (also called the system tray) on the far right. The notification area provides information on running programs and important alerts. For example, when updates have been downloaded for your Windows XP installation, the Update icon (a picture of the world) and notifications appear in the notification area.
When you are actually running applications, the taskbar shows an application icon for each running software package. These buttons can be used to quickly switch between applications or to restore a software window that has been minimized.
Let's take a look at how you can add the Quick Launch toolbar to the taskbar. We discuss other taskbar modifications in Chapter 2.
Add the Quick Launch Toolbar
You can also include the Quick Launch toolbar on the taskbar. The Quick Launch toolbar provides access to icons shown on the desktop and other icons you add to it as required. To show the Quick Launch toolbar, right-click the taskbar and then point at Toolbars when the shortcut menu appears. On the Toolbars submenu, select Quick Launch.
You can populate the Quick Launch toolbar by dragging icons from the desktop onto it. This makes a copy of the icon and leaves the original icon on the desktop.
Locking and Unlocking the Taskbar
If the taskbar is locked and the Quick Launch toolbar already contains several icons, you don't see the new icon on the Quick Launch toolbar itself. Click the Additional Icons button on the left of the Quick Launch toolbar to make the new icon appear (and any other icons not currently showing on the Quick Launch toolbar). If you want to increase the size of the Quick Launch toolbar so you can see all the icons it contains, right-click the taskbar and select Lock the Taskbar (to unlock the taskbar, as shown in Figure 1.9).
Figure 1.9. You can lock and unlock the taskbar.
After the taskbar is unlocked, you can grab the handle on the left side of the Quick Launch toolbar and drag it to the left to increase its size. You can then lock the taskbar by right-clicking it and selecting Lock the Taskbar.
Other basic customizations can be made to the Start menu and the taskbar, but both of these areas of the Windows GUI play an important part in the visual redesigning we will do when we create visual styles and skins for the Windows desktop. We define visual styles and skins later in the chapter.
Windows XP Icons
The icons that represent your various applications, your utilities, and the documents and other items you create actually can populate a number of areas in the Windows environment. Icons can appear on the desktop, on the Start menu, on the taskbar, and in Windows Explorer (refer to Figure 1.7 to see icons on the desktop and taskbar). Some of the common Windows icons are My Computer, Network Places, My Documents, Recycle Bin, Control Panel, and Folder. There are obviously a number of other icons that you use each time you work in Windows.
In addition, a number of icons are used on the various toolbars you use in Windows. Every Windows application or utility has a toolbar. Figure 1.10 shows the Windows desktop with both the Internet Explorer and WordPad application windows open.
Figure 1.10. Icons are an important part of the Windows GUI.
Internet Explorer has a toolbar that contains icons such as the Back, Forward, and Stop icons. The WordPad toolbar has icons such as Save, Open, and Print.
Using icons to navigate and work within Windows applications has become second nature to most Windows users; icons are important visual cues within the Windows environment. You'll learn that you can change the default set of icons when we create Windows themes and skins. Themes are defined later in this chapter.
You can also create your own icon sets, which is an important part of creating the overall personalized look of the Windows GUI and Windows skins (again, skins are discussed briefly later in this chapter). Chapter 10, "Creating Icons and Mouse Pointers," examines various methods of creating your own icons and building an icon library for use with your Windows themes and skins.
Icons come in sets because each particular icon comes in various sizes. If the Microsoft Word icon is on the Start menu, it is a different size from when it is on the Quick Launch bar. It is important when creating icons in Chapter 10 that you remember that the same icon must be created in different sizes to take care of all the possible occurrences of that icon in the Windows environment.
Windows XP Windows, Dialog Boxes, and Controls
Although not a part of the desktop, these Windows elements reside on the desktop when they are active. Every application and utility runs in a window and uses dialog boxes and controls to access various commands and settings. We have already discussed that the Windows applications provide toolbars that contain icons you use to fire off particular commands as you work within an application.
Application/utility windows have a number of standard GUI items that make up a particular windowsuch as the title bar; scrollbars; and controls such as the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons. Toolbars are also commonplace to application windows, as was discussed in the previous section.
Another commonly used GUI navigation tool is the dialog box. Dialog boxes provide a number of alternatives. You typically make your selections by selecting a check box, an option button, or an item from a list. In the case of a dialog box such as the Color dialog box shown in Figure 1.11, you click the color you want to use.
Figure 1.11. Windows and dialog boxes are commonplace in the Windows environment.
The various elements that make up windows and dialog boxes, such as title bars, control buttons, and scrollbars, are the items you can customize. And when you work with visual styles and skins, you can create a common look for all the windows and dialog boxes you use in the Windows environment.
You typically deal with three types of control buttons: command buttons, option buttons, and check boxes. All these control types can be modified when creating custom visual styles and skins.
Colors also play an important part in the Windows GUI. A default color scheme is provided for Windows XP called (surprisingly) Default. The figures shown thus far in this chapter all use the Default Windows color scheme. As you work in Windows, this color scheme provides different colors when a particular desktop object or window is in a particular state. For example, if a Window is active, the title bar is dark blue; when the Window is inactive, the title bar is a lighter blue. Many situations have an "on" and "off" color for a particular element.
Changing the Windows colors is straightforward and is handled on the Appearance tab of the Display Properties dialog box (see Figure 1.12). Two additional color schemes are providedolive green and silver.
Figure 1.12. The color scheme for Windows is user controlled.
The Advanced button on the Appearance tab opens the Advanced Appearance dialog box, where you can assign custom colors to the various elements of the GUI such as the desktop, window title bars, and icons.
I think most users have probably played with the color settings provided by Windows XP. Color schemes and color selection play important parts in creating Windows XP themes, visual styles, and skins.
Although they certainly are not part of the visual attributes of the Windows environment, sounds do play a part in providing cues to a Windows user. Windows XP has a default sound scheme that provides sounds for the default beep and other actions, such as logging on and off Windows.
The default Windows XP sound scheme does not provide sounds for all events. However, a user can customize the sound scheme so that sounds are heard when other events take place, such as opening or closing applications.
You can also change the sound file used by the sound scheme to announce a particular event, such as a device connect or critical stop. All sound modifications are made on the Sounds tab of the Sounds and Audio Devices Properties dialog box (see Figure 1.13). This is reached via the Control Panel.
Figure 1.13. The Sound tab enables you to assign sounds to particular events.
Providing a series of particular sounds for Windows events that adhere to a particular theme goes back to the days of Windows 95 Plus. Special Windows themes provided by Microsoft Plus also provided a unique sound scheme for each theme. In Windows XP, as you create the visual aspects of a theme or skin, you can also assign particular sounds to that theme or skin. This not only allows you to create a unique and personalized visual environment in Windows, but also enables you to customize the sounds. We discuss how you modify (and create) sound schemes for your Windows themes and skins in Chapter 4, "Creating Windows XP Themes from Scratch."