Vanquish more Windows annoyances

The more time and effort Microsoft spends "improving" Windows, the more annoying the OS becomes. These eight tips will exorcise some of the gremlins vexing Windows XP and 2000.

Don't lose your focus

The annoyance: So there you are, minding your own business, typing a document, e-mail, or instant message on your computer. You glance away from the screen for a moment. When you look back, you realize you haven't really entered your last lines of text. Without your knowledge, a new window or dialog box has popped up, and some of your text has been entered there--or nowhere.

Applications that steal your PC's focus are more than just annoying: They can be disastrous if the focus-stealing dialog box asks to perform a potentially harmful operation and you happen to press <Enter> or type y, which the dialog takes as a "yes" before you even see the request. You may also have dismissed an important scheduling alert without realizing it.

The fix: No bulletproof solution exists, but the following may help you maintain your focus in Windows XP and 2000.

If it isn't already on your system, download and install Microsoft's free Tweak UI utility. In Windows XP, open Tweak UI (either by clicking its shortcut on the Start menu or by choosing Start, Run, typing tweakui, and pressing <Enter>), and use the tree pane on the left to navigate to General, Focus. In Windows 2000, double-click the Tweak UI icon in Control Panel and click the General tab. In both versions, make sure 'Prevent applications from stealing focus' is checked. You can also specify whether the taskbar button should flash (and how many times) when the would-be focus grabber wants your attention. Click OK.

Some Tweak UI settings get changed back when a program subsequently modifies the Registry. To make sure the focus lock is in effect every time you start Windows, start Notepad or another text editor. On the first line, type Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 and press <Enter> twice. Type [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop] and press <Enter>. Finally, type "ForegroundLockTimeout"=dword:00030d40 (no spaces) and press <Enter>. Select File, Save As, name the file with the .reg extension (for example, focus.reg), and save it to a location of your choice. Make a note of the path to the file.

Next, choose Start, Programs (or All Programs), right-click the Startup menu, and choose Open. In an empty area of the Startup folder, right-click and choose New, Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut wizard, browse to your .reg file, select it, and click OK. Place quotes before and after the entry, and then press <Home>. Type regedit.exe /s followed by a space in front of the first quotation mark in your entry. When completed, the entry should read something like this: regedit.exe /s "C:\Registry files\focus.reg" (your path may differ). Click Next, type a name for your shortcut, and click Finish. Now every time you log on, this shortcut will reinstate the anti-focus-stealing setting.

Regrettably, even this technique won't stop all the focus stealing. If you find that one application in particular is doing most of the attention grabbing, consider replacing it with an equivalent program.

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