Welcome to the first of our monthly Here's How columns dedicated to Microsoft's latest operating system - Windows XP. In this first article we will examine some of the interface changes that have been implemented and show you how to tweak them to your liking. And if you don't like them, don't worry: XP does allow you to revert to the 'classic' look and feel of previous Windows 9x environments.
START MENU AND TASKBAR Perhaps the most drastic interface change made to XP is the new layout and functionality of the Start menu. Gone are the Favorites or Documents entries that helped us to find regularly-used files; in their place, you'll see quick links to all your "My" folders - which is where your files should be stored anyway - on the right and five of your most regularly used programs on the left. The big bubbly icons make navigation easy, and by hovering your mouse over the More Programs button you will be able to see all the other software installed on your PC.
If you're not a fan of this new menu, you can revert to the 'classic' style by simply right-clicking the Taskbar and selecting Properties. Under the Start Menu tab, place the radio button next to "Classic Start menu". Reverting to the older style menu will also cause the My Computer, My Network Places and Internet Explorer icons to become visible on the Desktop.
The Windows XP Taskbar has a few new features whose aim is to keep it uncluttered. If you right-click the Taskbar and click Properties, you will notice that there is one never-before-seen item - "Group similar taskbar buttons". Basically, this does just as the name suggests - if you have five Internet Explorer windows open, for example, they will all group together under one button, effectively saving space on the Taskbar for other buttons. Likewise, in the Notification area of the dialogue box, you will be able to choose whether inactive icons in the System Tray - now called the Notification area - should become hidden. Click on the Customize button to control individual items.
WINDOWS EXPLORER In Windows XP, the Explorer interface is a little different to previous versions. The most obvious change is in the middle pane, or Web view - which is accessible in Windows 9x by clicking View-as Web Page - as it adds functionality (tasks), shortcuts to other areas and details about the area you are currently viewing. Little down and up arrows allow you to control what's visible to you. File tasks such as copying and moving are found on this pane, which means that the toolbar no longer contains these items - although they can be added through customisation later. Go to View-Toolbars-Customize. and add the items you desire. Icon size and text can also be changed from here.
Another nifty little feature is located in the View menu, where you can arrange icons by groups. This groups all files and folders together alphabetically, effectively making things easier to find.
If you don't like this new-look Explorer, you can change all your folders back to the 'classic' look. Go to Tools-Folder Options. and from the General tab choose "Use Windows Classic Folders" - but you will lose the Web view.
CONTROL PANEL By default, the Control Panel in XP will only show you some of the more basic and perhaps most regularly used applets - those that allow you to change settings like appearance, sounds and regional options. Clicking on one of these icons will not open its actual applet, rather, it will bring forth a list of tasks that when clicked will take you directly to the corresponding section of that particular applet. For example, if you wish to change your desktop theme, click on Appearance and Themes, and then select Change the computer's theme from the list of tasks shown.
If you don't like being controlled in this way, you can click on the related applet that is shown underneath the set of tasks. Alternatively, if you want the look of the old Control Panel back, click on the link in the left pane that says Switch to Classic View. Bear in mind that if you've already changed your Windows Explorer view back to classic, your Control Panel will also have changed.
We'll talk more about these new features, as well as a swag of others, in more detail in upcoming Here's How articles.