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Tips and Tricks

 

 

Customization

Adding the Control Panel Applet where you want it

Most of us know that with a little folder rename finagling or by way of a tweak utility, you can add the Control Panel to your Start menu. The problem is that these tricks don't really let you put it where you want it.

On your desktop or in whichever folder of your Start menu (C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs) you wish to place the Control Panel shortcut at, just create a shortcut to C:\Windows\Control.exe.

 

Creating new toolbars on the desktop

Ever wanted to make an instant toolbar with access to the contents of a folder? Go ahead! All you need to do is drag a folder to any edge of your screen and let go. This tip will work with actual folders as well as shortcuts to folders. These toolbars are dynamic, so any changes you make to the actual folder are immediately reflected in the toolbar too.

notebutt.gif (1747 bytes) If you are using the MS Office Toolbar, then you will be unable to create a new toolbar on the same screen edge that it is located.

 

Wallpaper

With the advent of Win98, there is a new option in your wallpaper settings called stretch (this was actually started in Win95 if you installed the PLUS! pack). You probably already know about the other two; tile and center and their purpose is pretty obvious. What stretch does is take the bitmapped image and stretches it vertically and horizontally to cover up the whole desktop regardless of the actual image dimensions. There are plusses and minuses to this, and the minuses outweigh the plusses if you have a really large desktop like me (1600x1200x24bpp).

The plus is that you can now cover your whole desktop without the annoying half cut images on the right and bottom when the bitmap isn't a multiple of your desktop size (i.e. the bitmap is 320x445 and your desktop is 800x600).

The minuses are one, that depending on how much the image needs to be stretched, you will lose resolution (clarity meaning the image will look fuzzy and pixilated). The second minus is that every time your desktop refreshes, it must recalculate the stretched image. This causes a slowdown (especially on very large desktops). It is most noticeable when you have your taskbar and/or the MS Office tool bar set to hide. As you move your cursor off the task/tool bar and it begins to scroll off the screen to hide itself you'll notice a jerkiness.

If there is one image you just have to have, and you want it to fit your desktop, open it in a graphics editing program and resize the image to the same dimensions as your desktop (You may still lose clarity, but Win98 will not waste processor time on resizing it.) Then use this image as your wallpaper set to center.

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Efficiency

 

Creating Shortcuts

Here's a neat trick for quick shortcuts to documents and spreadsheets.

  1. Open Word.
  2. Highlight some text a few pages down into the document.
  3. Right click and drag the highlighted text to the desktop.
  4. Let go of the right mouse button.
  5. Select "Create Document Shortcut Here".
  6. Close the original document. It will ask if you want to save changes. Say "Yes".

Now whenever you double click your new shortcut, it will open Word, and jump down to the text you dragged and highlight it for you.

Another option you have in step 5, is to "Create Scrap Here". You will not have to save changes to the original document, and when you double click the scrap, it'll open Word and the only text displayed will be the text you dragged and dropped.

Both of these tips are great for making quick bookmarks to important information.

 

Cutting the Fat from the Tasktray and Startup Items

The below tip isn't for the total beginner, but I've tried to explain in great detail in a step-by-step guide, so it wouldn't necessarily hurt you to follow along, and if deleting things from the Registry gives you the heavy-jeevies, then just skip over the deleting steps. You're bound to learn some neat stuff along the way.

When you look at your taskbar, do you see a ton of little icons on the right-hand side? While programmers have gotten nicer by allowing us the option to have a particular application start when Windows starts, they don't always put it in the C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder. This makes it tough on the ungeek to stop the offending application from starting during Windows start, when you've the mind to change that.

The first thing you want to do is determine which of the applications down there you can really do without. For example, unless you always listen to streaming media using RealPlayer every time you're connected to the Internet, then you don't really need the RealPlayer quickstart application on your tasktray.

The first thing you'll want to try, is to right-click on the offending applications and see if there is a properties page. If so, check all the settings to see if there is a "Start when Windows starts" checkbox. If so, uncheck it, and that's that for that particular application. For those that don't have this option, write down the name of the application on your soon-to-be-nixed list.

The next step is to hit the CTRL-ALT-DEL keys simultaneously-- only once though, otherwise you'll soft reboot your machine, and take a look at what is running in the background. In addition to the things you already see in the taskbar/tasktray, you'll see all sorts of other things going. For now, if you recognize something right off that you don't want loaded at startup, add that to your list. If you don't recognize it, then don't worry about it right now. Sooner or later, I'll come out with a detailed list of what some of that stuff is.

For those of you who don't know, when talking about the taskbar, there are actually multiple parts to it. The term taskbar actually only concerns the area which shows you which applications are currently open. The little block to the far right, is called the tasktray, and the little block sandwiched between the Start button and the taskbar-- which usually gets the default IE, desktop and a couple of other buttons, is called the quicklaunch toolbar. However, the term taskbar is often used to describe the entire shebang. Take a quick peek at the taskbar settings by right-clicking on it and seeing what toolbars are checked off under the Toolbars sliding menu. You should be able to identify what parts are what.



Ahem, sorry for the tangent. Ok, now with our list of soon-to-be-nixed startup programs, let's dive into the Registry settings. Click the Start button and select Run. Type in regedit.exe, and an application similar to Explorer will open. By clicking the plusses in front of the items in the left-hand column, you'll be able to drill down to all sorts of keys.

The one we are looking for is: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

This is a great key to dink with when you've got the time and the guts. For now, though, we are only concerned with two keys called Run and RunServices. The other Run keys-- RunOnce, RunOnceEx, and RunServicesOnce shouldn't have anything in them, as they are used during the installation of new software and drivers-- You know, the old "You must restart Windows to continue" pain.

As I always say "Make a back-up before you mess with the registry", and this is a very simple thing to do in general, but we're even going to make it simpler, because we're only going to be editing the Run and RunServices keys. First, select the Run key by clicking on it, then go to Registry/Export Registry File in the menu. Pick an easy to remember directory to save it to, and name it something like Run-Before_I_Broke_It. <grin> Next do the same to the RunServices key making sure you name it differently than the saved Run key.

What you have now, is two keys in whatever directory you saved them in, that contain the current configuration of those two keys. If something goes wrong, you can just go to that directory and double-click the saved keys, answer Yes to the question about adding the information to the Registry, and you'll have your old configuration back.

Now, take out that handy-dandy list of soon-to-be-nixed startup programs and start matching them to items contained in the Run and RunServices key-- You'll be looking in the right-hand pane after selecting either of these two keys. When you've got a match, select it from the right-hand pane and hit the Delete key and answer Yes to the "Are you sure you want to delete this value?" question.

If you don't know what something is, or even if you think you know what it is, but aren't sure you should delete it, then don't. It's better to err on the side of caution when playing with the Registry.

Now that you're done nixing all the stuff that needs to be nixed. How do you save your changes? Surprise! There is no File/Save;Save-As command. Just close Regedit and the changes are saved. For future reference, if you've done something to the desktop, the changes should take affect as soon as Regedit closes, but you can force it with an F5 key, which is to refresh the desktop.

Now, reboot your machine, and if you nixed a bunch of stuff, you might see a faster reboot time. At the minimum, you'll notice a much leaner tasktray area.

Ok, now that you know the hard way, Click the Start button, select Run, then type in MSCONFIG, select the Startup tab and check or uncheck items until your heart is content. <grin> I just wanted to see if you read the directions first, or if you do 'em as you read 'em. If you feel slighted, you can double-click the two keys you saved earlier to get back to where you started. :^)

 

Opening applications in the background

Did you know that if you hold down the CTRL key while double clicking on an icon, it will open in the background? This is good if you are working on multiple things at once and want to open something without losing the focus on your current window.

For those of you who still use DOS, you know the most frustrating thing about it was the lack of multitasking capability.Well, no longer. Here is a batch file I wrote that allows you to run DOS processes in the background while you continue on.

notebutt.gif (1747 bytes) You may only use this to run programs, not internal commands like dir, copy etc.


start /m command

There are four switches to the start command:

  • /m minimized (Start the program in a minimized window)
  • /max maximized (Start the program in a maximized window)
  • /r restored (Start the program in the same dimension window)
  • /w wait (Don't return to this window until the background program
    is complete. This one defeats the purpose though.)

So you could put:

start /m format a:/v/s
or start /m c:\commanche\commanche.exe

Basically it sets up another virtual machine. Just like opening another DOS session and running the program there. It saves you some mouse clicks.

Now you can create a batch file to make it even easier like this:

bm.bat (for Background Minimized)
***
start /m %1 %2 %3 %4 %5
***

Just cut out everything between the "***" and save it in a file called bm.bat

 

Renaming files and their extensions the easy way

A much easier way to have the ability to rename file extensions under Windows is to change the default setting for "Hiding file extensions for known file types."

You can do this by opening any folder, clicking View, Folder Options, View Tab, and unchecking the box for "Hiding file extensions for known file types."

 

Resizing the Recycle Bin

Do you use a 50 gallon drum for your kitchen trashcan? No? Then why is your Recycle Bin set up to use 10% of available hard drive space?

Unlike the Windows swap file, the Recycle Bin isn't actually holding 10% of your hard drive space hostage, but the Windows default settings will let the Recycle Bin use up to 10% if you forget to empty it.

Nowadays, with multi-gigabyte hard drives the norm, and not the exception, this could be a considerable chunk of hard drive real-estate. For example, let's take a 12GB hard drive. Even if we tell Windows to use only two percent, that's still about 240MB. I've got my 12GB set up for one percent which is still a huge 120MB.

Since I clean out my Recycle Bin at least once a day anyway, this isn't such a big deal. However, if you're one of those people who cleans it out once a month, this tip might help curb those trashy habits.

To fix this pig of a garbage disposal, right-click on the Recycle Bin, select properties and drop that slider bar down to something more reasonable.

 

Stop using the Run command and start using the Address bar

Are you a frequent flyer of the Start button/Run command? Add the Address toolbar to your desktop and save yourself some steps.

Not only can you enter in the name of a program to run just like you would in the Start/Run command, but you can put in URLs as well which will open your browser and then go to that page.

To add this very useful toolbar, just right click on a blank area of your current taskbar (that's the bar at the bottom of your screen (unless of course you've moved it.)), go up to Toolbars and select Address.

Now that it's been added, you can slide the address bar around to suit your tastes, or you can even undock it and place it anywhere on your desktop.

Play around with your taskbar, you'll find all sorts of interesting configurations. Just take a look at mine.

One note: If you noticed, there are quite a few icons on my taskbar, specifically, the ones to the right of the Address toolbar. I used to use the Microsoft Office toolbar extensively, but I noticed that it ate up quite a bit of resources. I created a folder on my hard drive that contains all the shortcuts to programs I use just about every day. I then added a New Toolbar to the taskbar, which brings up a dialog box asking which folder to use. It's much faster than the office toolbar, and eats up very little resources.

 

Toolbars and the Start menu

I've notice on some lower resolution screens that the Start Menu/Programs is too large for the screen. If you're constantly scrolling up and down through your Start Menu, then here's a tip that you'll like. While scrolling, hold down the CTRL key to increase the scroll speed.

You might want to see this tip on a better way to speed up your Start menu though.

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Everyone knows by now that you can move your taskbar to any side of the screen, but with IE4's desktop enhancements, you can also detach any of the toolbars you may also have down there and place them anywhere on the screen.

Speaking of taskbars, here's the way I like to have mine set up. First, close out all the apps that show up on the taskbar. Next double click the "My Computer" icon. In this window, select all of your drives. A: B: C: etc.. Once they are selected, drag and drop them to the desktop. It will tell you that it can't move them, and asks if you want to create shortcuts. Say "yes". Now right click the A: shortcut you just made, select rename, and give it a shorter name. Something like "A Drive" (remember, don't use any illegal characters like : / \ etc..) Do the same thing for each of the other drive shortcuts. I named my H: (my CDROM) "CDROM" and my I: "DVD". Now once you're all done with this, select all these shortcuts (drag a box around them or while holding down the CTRL key, click on each one.) Drag all of them onto your taskbar. If they are out of order i.e. A C F B etc, just click and hold the one you want to move, now slide it over to where it should be and drop it.

Now onto the rest of my taskbar. Right click on a blank area of the taskbar, go up to "Toolbars" select "Address". You should now have an address line like you do in your web browser and directory folders. Now, while the mouse cursor is over your taskbar, move it up just till it turns into and up/down arrow. Click and hold while dragging up just a little and the taskbar should double in height. Once this is done, look at the taskbar. Hopefully you will have your drive icons in the left side top half, the address bar to the right of your drive icons, and the bottom half should be blank. If it isn't, you can fix this by clicking and holding on the word address next to the addressbar, and moving it up. Slide it to the right so that all of your drive shortcuts are visible. Now, when you open an application, they should appear on the taskbar in the bottom half.

I like my drive buttons on the toolbar, because it's a quick single click access, and I like the address toolbar, because I can just type in a URL in there instead of opening my web browser first. You can also type program names in this address bar and have them launch.

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When you click the "Start" button and then scroll through your programs, does it stutter and take forever to display the contents? I'm sure it does. Even on my new PIII 500MHz, it was starting to do this.

Here are two ways to speed that badboy up:

First, using a utility like X-Setup (reviewed in issue 4.04), change the "Start" menu delay to zero ms. Depending on whether you are using a utility other than X-Setup, you may have to hunt around for this.

If you would rather, I have written the .reg import file for you to use, which will change just this variable. You can download it here.

Depending on your browser, it may open as a text page. Just click on File / Save-as to get it on your hard drive.

Once this file is downloaded (80 bytes), you just have to double-click it and answer "Yes" when it asks if you want to add the information to the registry. For those of you who are paranoid <grin>, you can view this file with a text editor to see exactly what key it will change in the registry.

The second and most effective way to speed up that sluggish behemoth is to get rid of all the unnecessary icons and folders that each software writer seems to think you'll need.

For instance, do you really need the shortcut to the .HLP file? What about the uninstall, a link to their web site, the registration form, or the readme.txt file?

These are just shortcuts to those files which already exist (most likely in the Program Files\application name directory), and if you really need to use that particular file (very, very rarely in my personal experience), all you have to do is navigate down to the actual installed folder, or in many cases, just open the program and go to the Help or Help/About menu.

Here's the easiest way to clean up that Start menu.

First, right-click the "Start" button and select "Open" from the context menu. You'll notice immediately, that in addition to a folder named "Programs" (it's got a funny icon, but it's still a folder), you'll see some other shortcuts to programs. Some of you may see just a couple, and some of you may see all sorts of stuff.

The files that you see in this folder actually reside in "C:\Windows\Start Menu". Now if you left-click your Start button, you'll see that the icons displayed at the very top all the way down to the horizontal break line are the same as the ones shown in "C:\Windows\Start Menu".

So let's start here. Think back to whenever you last used one of those programs listed up there. If it was a long time ago, or never, then you can most likely delete those shortcuts. You do this by selecting the icon in the folder view (the one that opened when we right-clicked the Start button and selected Open), and deleting it.

safebutt.gif (1957 bytes)Do not delete the folder named "Programs".

After deleting those shortcuts that you don't need, go back and left-click the Start button. Notice that the deleted shortcuts no longer appear at the very top.

Now, in the folder view, double-click the Programs folder. Do the same steps as above to get rid of any shortcuts that you don't need, and then open each folder under the Programs folder and do the same there too.

safebutt.gif (1957 bytes)Do not remove shortcuts from the C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder.

Once you have gotten rid of all the extraneous help, web page, readme, register etc. junk shortcuts, you might have just a single shortcut in many of the folders.

Now here is where you get to be creative. Many of those shortcuts are related. For instance, ICQ, Netscape, IE, Opera, Agent, Outlook etc. are all Internet related applications. So in the Programs folder, create a new folder called Internet Apps or the one I like to use is Connectivity. Create other folders like, graphics, audio, games, utilities, and such.

The easiest way to do the next step, is to again right-click the Start button and select Open. You should now have two folder views open. Place them side by side. Now, in one of the folder views, if you aren't already there, navigate up until you are at the "C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs" level. You should be able to see all of your newly created folders here.

This next step can be done two ways. The first is that because now most of your folders only contain one shortcut, it's easiest to drag and drop those single shortcuts into one of the new group folders (graphics, connectivity, utilities etc.) The pros to this are that the Start menu will open faster, the cons are that you will have a folder called say, Connectivity, which has the shortcuts for IE, Netscape, Opera, Outlook, ICQ, etc. in it If you don't mind grouping like this (I don't) then this is the best way.

For those of you who are a little more "segregational" you can just drag and drop the folders that contain the single shortcut into the group folder.

Here's a graphical representation to help:

If you do it the first way, it looks kind of like this:

C:\Windows (folder)
  - Start Menu (folder)
    - Windows Update (shortcut)
    - Windows Explorer (shortcut)
    - Programs (folder)
      - Graphics (folder)
        - Photoshop 5 (shortcut)
        - Gif Animator (shortcut)
        - ACDSee (shortcut)
      - Connectivity (folder)
        - IE5 (shortcut)
        - Netscape (shortcut)
        - ICQ (shortcut)

etc...

If you do it the second way, it looks kind of like this:

C:\Windows (folder)
   - Start Menu (folder)
     - Windows Update (shortcut)
     - Windows Explorer (shortcut)
     - Programs (folder)
       - Graphics (folder)
       - Photoshop (folder)
         - Photoshop 5 (shortcut)
       - Gif Animator (folder)
         - Gif Animator (shortcut)
       - ACDSee (folder)
         - ACDSee (shortcut)
       - Connectivity (folder)
         - IE5 (folder)
           - IE5 (shortcut)
         - Netscape (folder)
           - Netscape (shortcut)
         - ICQ (folder)
           - ICQ (shortcut)

etc...

Of course, either way will work, but I recommend the first way as it is faster because you have less folders for the Start menu to display.

Once you have moved the shortcuts to wherever you now want them, you can delete the old folders that the shortcut was originally in (if you chose way one from above.)

Ok, you are now done! Left-click on your Start button, go to programs, and run your cursor over the folders. Ahhhhh, much, much faster now.

Of course, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) depending on just how much junk you had on the Start Menu to begin with.

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On Getting Rid of Annoying Things

 

The show files link in the Windows and its child folders

Microsoft is really big on idiot proofing their software. For example, why did they find it necessary to force me to click the "Show Files" link every time I wanted to get into my C:\Windows folder. Argghh!

If you've moved out of the idiot stage and want to get rid of that annoyance, then all you have to do is go into the Windows folder and rename/delete the folder.htt file. I renamed it just in the extreme case I might need it again. Once this is done, you'll have to move out of the Windows folder and go back into it to see the change.

If you're rooting around in your Windows folder and don't see it, that's probably because you've got Windows set to not display hidden files. To fix this, click on View (while a folder is open), select Folder Properties, View tab, under Hidden Files, select the Show All Files radio button.

An additional note for this tweak. Once you rename or delete the folder.htt file, the Windows folder will show as just a plain window with files in it. What I mean here, is that it won't have the left-hand column with the folder information and file details. If this suits your tastes perfectly, then you can also do this to every folder on your hard drive by going into the C:\Windows\Web directory and rename/delete the folder.htt file there. However, if you want the Windows folder to have the left-hand column, then all you have to do is go to the same folder I just mentioned, and copy the folder.htt file into the C:\Windows directory. Oddly, I had to reboot my machine to be able to see this change take effect though.

Many folders under the Windows folder also have some sort of specialized folder.htt file. Just navigate into each one and when you find a specialized folder.htt, do what you did above.

Although not as annoying, the Program Files folder also has a specialized folder.htt. Using one of the above tips will allow you to customize this as well.

For the more advanced geeks out there, here is a tip provided by Jimmy Conner to really get more out of those folder.htt files.

  1. Navigate to a folder that uses the folder.htt in which it requires you to click on the "Show Files" link.
  2. Click the "Show Files" link.
  3. Find the file called folder.htt ** If you can't see it, then you most likely have your folder view properties set to not show hidden files. To change this, select View from the folder toolbar, choose Folder Options, click the View tab, Under Hidden Properties, select Show All Files, click OK.
  4. Open folder.htt with a text editor.
  5. Scroll down until you see the line " function Init() { " (for those of you who use a text editor with line number capability, it's line 126. At least under Win98SE.)
  6. Place your cursor at the end of the line for the below text: " Info.innerHTML = L_Intro_Text + "<br><br>" + L_Prompt1_Text; "
  7. Hit Enter. Make sure that the "}" is below the new line you've just created.
  8. Type or paste the below text on the new line:
    ShowFiles();
  9. Save the file, navigate up one directory in the folder view, then go back into the folder you just changed the folder.htt file for.
  10. No more annoying "Show Files" link!

Taskbar scheduler

The task scheduler (the little icon in your task tray that looks like a window with a clock and a calendar book) is enabled by default to run some tweaking tasks at specified intervals. If you don't particularly care for it (I don't, because I tend to do all of this stuff manually when I feel like it), all you have to do is right click the Task Scheduler icon, select "Open", Click "Advanced" on the toolbar, and select "Stop Using Task Scheduler".

If you ever decide later to use it again, just click the "Start" button, go to Programs / Accessories / System Tools, select "Scheduled Tasks", and when the Task Scheduler window pops up, click "Advanced" on the toolbar, and select "Start Using Task Scheduler".

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Workarounds

 

Finer mouse positioning control

For those computer graphics artists out there, if you're like me, sometimes you have a problem using the mouse to get the exact pixel you need. Here's a way to move your mouse cursor with pixel precision.

Go to the control panel and open the Accessibility Options. Click the Mouse tab, and check "Use MouseKeys". This will put a little app on your tasktray and will turn your numeric pad into a mouse control with pixel level precision. You can still move your cursor around with a mouse, and if you're in a text environment, you can move the text cursor via the four arrow keys to the left of the numeric pad.

 

Getting file and folder information

If you want to find out the size of all the files in a folder and it's sub-folders, right click the top level folder and select properties. It'll tally up all the files as well as the total size for you. Great for when you want to move/copy a whole folder and need to know how much room it will take up.

 

SCSI devices and rebooting

Something that really annoys me is having to reboot because I forgot to turn on a SCSI device before turning on the computer. Here's a tip to save you the time and irritation.

  1. Turn on the SCSI periphrial
  2. Go to My Computer->Control Panel->System->Device Manager Tab
  3. Scroll down to "SCSI controllers"
  4. Click the plus next to it.
  5. Single click the SCSI device that you just turned on.
  6. Go down and click on the "Refresh" button.

That's it, the device should function now. This tip is also useful if say your scanner locks up. You can turn it off and back on, and then do the above steps.

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