when you strip everything but the basic essentials out of an operating system, you're left with a command-line interface. if you want the computer to do anything, you have to type all of the commands. operating systems today, like windows xp, make interacting with the operating system much easier through what we call a gui (graphical user interface). now instead of just typing, you point and click.
the great thing about the gui is that it is becoming more and more customizable, allowing you to give your computer a truly unique appearance. for starters, you can right-click on the start menu, select "properties," and change how you want the menu to look or what items it should display. you can right-click on your desktop and select "properties" followed by the "appearance" tab to change the default window and text colors. having desktop wallpaper that matches your colors can make it look even better; free wallpapers are available all over the web. changing all of the options to the same color probably isn't the smartest idea, unless it's someone else's computer. to take it a step further, you can change the entire "theme" to give an entirely different gui appearance. to access your built-in themes, right-click your desktop, select "properties" followed by the "themes" tab. the appearance of a program can also be referred to as a "skin," although a "theme" refers to more than a solitary program. aside from the built-in themes, you can download more off the web or even create your own.
microsoft has stated that a theme developer's kit will not be available with windows xp; however, that hasn't stopped everyday developers like you and me from creating and sharing the tools we need anyway. one of the great things about open source development is that for every expensive piece of software that exists (or doesn't exist) out there, a free and perfectly viable alternative is likely available as well. this is what really makes the difference between script-kiddies and h4x0rz: that script-kiddies download and/or modify the free tools while h4x0rz create their own.
to create your own customized themes, search the web for terms such as "theme xp" or "customize windows." this is another one of those cases where i hate to give out specific resources, as they may not stick around or change their policies. the answers to "how to" a lot of things really are "search the web." i will cover tips on successful searching in the next chapter.
customizing the appearance of your operating system is like creating a graphic, interactive picture of your personality. it can become very time consuming, but well worth it when you're done. it doesn't stop with the graphics either; it's time to have a little more fun.
open your control panel, and double-click the "sounds and audio devices" icon. all those little sounds that you hear on your computer when you minimize/maximize a window, receive an error or pop-up message, sign on and off, etc can be changed. you can change them individually, or change the entire scheme (windows offers a few different sound schemes). typically the sounds associated with windows are in the .wav format (i'll get back to file formats), and if you have a microphone you can create your own wavs.
start > all programs > accessories > entertainment > sound recorder
the recorder by default only records about 30 seconds, but if you press the record button again (after the 30 seconds has been used up) then you can record even longer. the program has some basic, but neat effects that you can apply to your recordings. go ahead and record yourself saying "warning, a virus has been detected," and put a little gut into it. save it as a .wav file wherever you want, and then switch back over to the sounds configuration within your control panel.
any time you want to save a file with a particular extension, at the bottom of the save window you must change the "save as type" drop box to that particular extension. if the extension you want is not available, choose "all files" from the menu.
the idea here is that you want the sound to be played on a fairly regular basis, but not too often, and not in such a way that it's obvious what is triggering it. find an event listed that you think your target individual will use semi-regularly (minimizing a window for example), and apply your sound to it. you can preview it to make sure it works before walking away.
there are hundreds of thousands of free wavs available on the web, ranging from homemade to music/quotes from your favorite movie or television series. my computer tells me that she loves/missed me when i have incoming messages, and she's always very polite and sweet. i had a friend record the lines i wanted for me; if you'd like to take this approach there are also text-to-speech converters available on the web; however they're more robotic sounding (and they don't have a sexy australian accent).
a quick note about music; even though the riaa (recording industry association of america) discourages the sharing/ downloading of free music, many mainstream and local bands feel differently. a good place to look for free music is through a band's official website.
aside from the sound recorder, xp also comes with "windows media player", which allows you to play cds, video, and/or digital-music on your computer. this program allows you to copy music cds onto your computer in a digital format. programs can only read particular formats by default, but a plug-in (or extension to that program) can give you more features. you can also find format converters, such as wav-to-mp3 or vice versa, which allow you to change a file's format. while not anywhere near as advanced as professional music editing software, you can use these types of programs in combination with each other to make little customizations. for example, you can "rip" a song onto your computer from a cd, convert it to wav, mix it with other sounds in sound recorder, then convert it back to its original format and burn it onto a new cd. j00 can be a digital dj j0!
a useful tool provided by microsoft (but not supported by microsoft) is called "tweak ui" or tweak user interface. this tool allows you access to many settings that you don't have access to by default. you can grab it from microsoft.com: just run a search on their site for "tweakui" or "power tools" and it should come up. if for any reason the file won't download on their site (which wouldn't be surprising), just search google.com and you'll be able to find it. after installing, you can access it by running (win+r) "tweakui" as the program is stored in your main windows folder.
one great example of the power of this tool is within the main menu, click on "desktop" (the word, not the plus sign to the left of it), and it will display what icons should be displayed on your desktop. you can uncheck the recycle bin and click "apply" to remove it from the desktop, then using tips from chapter 2 you can create a fake recycle bin in its place (just link it to an empty folder).
then (within tweakui) if you click the plus sign next to "explorer" and then click "shortcuts," you can remove the little arrow from your fake recycle bin shortcut, making it appear authentic. when someone deletes a file it will just appear as though the recycle bin has automatically been emptied. now you can be nosey about all those files people have been trashing away, just by secretly re-enabling the recycle bin to have a look :-) you can also achieve the same effect by editing the registry, which isn't discussed until chapter 6.
if you haven't figured it out yet, the control panel is pretty much where all of the "control" is: think of it as your administration panel. if you explore around in here, you'll discover the ability to access and manipulate many, many different things.
windows xp supports window transparency, which is a neat little effect that makes programs see-through; however third-party software is required to take advantage of it, and i'm not really sure why that is. it's not that hard to look up if you're interested.