Windows XP: Tweak your interface

Windows XP provides a very friendly user interface and useful management features to keep you working efficiently, but there is no doubt that some interface features will distract you or push you to the brink of insanity - especially when you can't figure out how to change or disable them!

Enter Powertoys, a collection of add-ons that has been created by Microsoft's engineers to exorcise some of those demons. In particular, a utility called Tweak UI will give you the power to dictate how certain parts of the operating system's interface act and look, and is the focus of this month's article.

We have provided a copy of Powertoys on the cover CD; to install it, run the .exe file. It will place the various add-ons in your Windows\System32 folder and you will be able to launch them from the Start menu under Powertoys.

KEEP YOUR FOCUS

The first section of tweaks - General - provides you with check boxes that can disable menu animation as well as window and cursor drag effects.

The most useful setting, though, lies one step below (when you click the plus sign next to the General heading), and is called Focus. And no, it doesn't blur and sharpen your screen! It stops the annoying habit that many Windows applications have of popping up in front of your other applications when they want to get your attention. This is especially true when browsing the Web with multiple Internet Explorer windows, where they will pop up whenever they start or finish loading - which can be very frustrating when reading a news site, for example. The Focus setting will stop this from happening and will even let you specify how many times you want the taskbar button to flash when an application is desperately trying to get your attention.

BURSTING BALLOONS

The Windows Taskbar Notification area (near the clock) will often sprout balloons whose aim is to remind you of events or tasks that are currently scheduled - or worse, just to advertise services such as .NET passports. These annoying balloons require user interaction to be closed. You can prevent them from appearing by removing the check mark from the "Enable balloon tips" entry from the Taskbar heading.

GROUPING BUTTONS

If you right-click on the plus sign next to the Taskbar section, you will see a heading for Grouping. From here, you will be able to control the way button grouping is handled by the Taskbar. For example, you can specify how many windows constitute a grouping and even dictate whether least-used applications or applications with the most windows are grouped first.

AUTOMATIC LOGON

Depending on whether your account is password protected and whether you have the Welcome Screen enabled, your system may already log you on automatically. If it doesn't, and you're the only one who uses your computer system, you can make Windows XP log straight onto your machine by placing a check mark next to 'Log on automatically at system startup' from the Autologon section, under the Logon heading.

If you have multiple accounts on your system, you will still be able to use this feature, although only one account will be logged onto upon startup (you can specify which one).

MENU SPEEDS

You can affect the time it takes for a menu on your system to appear by adjusting the slider found under the Mouse heading. Setting it to the left-most position will provide almost instantaneous access to menus, but it can get inconvenient. While set to the fastest setting, simply passing over an entry, such as the 'All programs' button on the XP Start menu, will cause it to expand, even if you have no desire to access this menu. A setting maybe two or three from the left-most point would be more practical.

YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN

These are just some of the settings that can be changed, but a whole slew of others is available.

Be sure to explore the tips under the About box, too, which offer handy little titbits and shortcuts for accomplishing various tasks. For example, if you want to lock your computer while you're away from your desk, press -L.

As previously mentioned, in addition to Tweak UI, Powertoys will install useful tools, two of which are the Taskbar Magnifier and the Task Switcher. With the latter, - will now present you with a thumbnail of the selected application plus the regular program icons.

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Elias Plastiras
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