The ultimate tweaker's guide to Windows

Our tips, tricks and hacks will let you customize XP and Vista in a multitude of ways.

Don't like the way Windows works? Who does?

But just because the operating system doesn't look and work the way you want doesn't mean that you're stuck with it as is. Windows is extremely tweakable; if you dig a little, you'll find that you can customize it in almost any way you want.

To help you out, we've put together this guide to tweaking Windows. It covers both XP and Vista and lets you do all kinds of things you might have thought were impossible -- replacing your boot screen, hacking the Control Panel, speeding up Windows Flip 3D and more. Look for the XP logo and Vista logo icons to see which tips work in which OS.

The hacks vary in the expertise you'll need. In some cases you'll get down and dirty with the Registry.

In other cases, you'll just have to dig into hidden corners of menus and folders. But in all cases, you'll tell Windows exactly how you want it to behave ... and it will bow down to you, the master.

Editor's note: We're assuming that any system settings you change will be on your own computer. Always check with your IT department before altering a company-owned machine.

1. Speed up Windows Flip 3D

Windows Flip 3D, which gives you a pop-up preview of all your open windows, is one of Windows Vista's coolest new features -- but if your hardware isn't up to snuff, its operation can be jagged and sluggish. With a Registry hack, you can speed it up and smooth its animations by limiting the number of windows it will display.

Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit at the Start Search box or a command prompt. Navigate to

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\
Microsoft\Windows\DWM

Create a new DWORD value and name it Max3Dwindows. Set the value to the maximum number of windows you want displayed. If you have severe performance problems, set it at 4; you can always re-edit and up the number later. Exit the Registry Editor.

For the change to take effect, you'll need to either restart your PC or restart Vista's Desktop Windows Manager (DWM). To do the latter, launch an elevated command prompt (which means you're operating the command prompt with administrator rights) by typing cmd in the search box and pressing Ctrl-Shift-Enter. Type net stop uxsms and press Enter. Then type net start uxsms and press Enter. Windows Flip 3D will now be sped up.

With the new settings in effect, Windows Flip 3D will display only the number of windows you've told it to. If you have six windows open and your set maximum is four, only four will be displayed at a time. As you scroll through your windows, each new one will replace an old one.

2. Improve Explorer's Send To menu

When you right-click a file or folder in Windows Explorer, a menu that lets you take a variety of actions pops up. One of these is Send To, which allows you to send the file to any one of a list of locations -- for example, to a drive, a program or a folder.

But the programs and destinations that appear in the list by default may not be the ones you want to send things to. It's simple to add destinations or programs and to take away others. You'll merely add or take away shortcuts from a special Windows folder.

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Preston Gralla

Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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