Windows XP customisation tips

In this column, I will show you how to configure to your liking two of the arguably most popular facets of any recent Windows operating system - the Display Properties and the Start menu.

Display properties

Previously, if you wanted to change or set up a desktop theme you had to scurry around the Control Panel or, worse, install the Themes application from your Windows CD-ROM.

Thankfully, in Windows XP all you need to do is right-click your Desktop and enter your Display Properties. You will find that the very first tab is now the Themes tab, and the Background tab is now called the Desktop tab.

Unfortunately, the installed themes revealed in the drop-down list are limited to either the Windows Classic or the standard XP theme, so you will have to raid your favourite themes Web site for something more to your liking. Alternatively, you can choose the More themes. entry from the drop-down list, which will attempt to connect you to a Microsoft Web site. You can also select the last option on the list - Browse. - if you have other themes already located on your hard drive. The Save As. button on this tab allows you to save your own theme if you have chosen to change background, screen saver, sound, mouse and appearance options manually.

On the Desktop tab you will find a button that was lacking in previous Windows versions: Customize Desktop. . You may already know that when you first install XP, the Desktop contains only minimal occupants, such as the recycle bin, and is devoid of useful shortcuts to My Computer and the like. By clicking on this button, you have a chance to rectify this, as well as add icons to My Documents and Network Places. You will find that you can easily change icons for all these items from this tab.

Although this is more of a management tip, it is worth noting that a desktop cleanup wizard lets you remove shortcuts from your desktop that are wasting space because they're seldom used.

To change colour schemes and font sizes manually, you will need to go to the Appearance tab and click the Advanced button. In the ensuing dialogue box you will be able to change the appearance of your windows, message boxes and so on, in much the same way as in previous versions of Windows. Note, though, that if the original XP theme is selected then this box will be greyed out. Once you are done changing colours and fonts, click the Effects button to change shading and fading options for your menus, as well as other options for your icons and windows.

Of course, screen savers can still be changed from the Screen Saver tab.

Navigation changes

In the August column I mentioned a few of the new changes that XP has introduced to its folder views, Taskbar and Start menu. I'll deal in more depth with the first two areas in upcoming articles, and focus now on manipulating the Start menu settings.

It has been redesigned to provide you with quick access to regularly used programs and functions, and you can customise it through the Control Panel by launching the Taskbar and Start Menu applet. Go to the Start Menu tab and - making sure "Start Menu" is selected, rather than "Classic Start menu" - click on the Customize button. The following screen's General tab will allow you to change the number of programs that are shown in your 'most used' list - up to 9 or down to 0 - and you can also elect to view smaller icons.

The Advanced tab is where a posse of settings lay dormant, ready for you to activate. You may want to check the box right at the bottom that allows you to view your most recently used documents. Additionally, from the middle section you can select or deselect which folders appear in the menu, as well as how they appear; for example, the Control Panel can be expanded into a menu. Drag-and-drop capability is still supported, so you can easily place your favourite shortcuts at the top of the menu for quick access.

If you choose to use the Classic menu option, the settings can still be manipulated in much the same way, but this menu is not as spacious as the new style and omits the recently used program list. Of course. the choice is yours.

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Elias Plastiras
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