Windows XP - Make tasks easier

Windows XP is very helpful when it comes to getting things done. It aims to simplify things by making links to common tasks easily visible, and will even let you automate some procedures, such as opening a data CD to view its contents as soon as it's inserted. In this Here's How I'll go through some of these tasks and show you how to make the most of them.

Open sesame

You may have noticed that Windows XP is smart enough to recognise when a data CD has been inserted into your machine, as it will quickly sprout a dialogue box asking you what you would like to do with it. Would you like to play the found multimedia files? Open a folder to view the files? Or, do nothing?

It is a very handy feature that saves a few mouse clicks, and you can take it a little farther by assigning an action to each of the various file formats that can be found in your CD collection. This means that when you insert them in future, Windows won't even have to ask you what to do any more - it'll already know!

Go into My Computer, right-click on your CD-ROM drive icon and select Properties. There you will find the AutoPlay tab, where you can dictate how your CDs get treated. The drop-down list shows you the different types of content - be it a music CD, a mixed CD or a CD full of images - and the "'Actions" section of the dialogue box allows you to select how each CD is treated. For example, to make all your MP3 CDs play as soon as you insert them, select Music Files from the drop-down list, place the radio button next to "Select an action to perform" and highlight the Play entry. You can do this for all the entries in the drop-down list; once you're done, don't forget to click on Apply and then OK.

The task pane

When you open a folder in XP, on its left-hand side you will see a column filled with links to popular places and functions - some contain functions specific to that folder, depending on their content and which folder you're in. Most of your folders will have File and Folder Tasks, allowing you to copy, move or rename files. Clicking any of these tasks will invoke the steps required to complete the action; for example, if you select a file and then click Rename this file, Windows will automatically place the cursor in the filename for you. Other Places has links to My Computer, the Network and your 'My' folders, while file details are shown in depth under the Details header.

If you've lost the Task Pane view in any of your folders, you can get it back by going to Tools-Folder Options and clicking the radio button next to "Show common tasks in folders". If you still don't see it, you will need to go to View-Explorer Bar and deselect Folders.

You will benefit greatly from the Task Pane if you peruse a lot of multimedia files, as tasks for pictures and audio files are provided accordingly. When viewing pictures, you can quickly set backgrounds, print or even view a slideshow. Simply click on the View as a slide show link and XP will automatically sift through and display all your images. A slight movement of the mouse will bring forth a small control panel in the top right-hand corner of the screen, from which you can manually go forwards or backwards, or exit the presentation.

Burning CDs

If you have a CD-RW drive installed in your system, you will see that the Task Pane will display a link that allows you to burn files without the need of a third-party application, such as Adaptec Easy CD Creator or the like. You simply drag-and-drop or copy all the files you wish to burn to your CD-RW drive icon and, when your CD is ready, click on the Write to CD link that is offered.

You may be wondering how to control the way in which your files are burned. When you right-click on your CD-RW drive's icon in My Computer and launch its Properties, you will see a tab called "Recording". Head on over to this tab and you will be able to determine the speed of the burn, where the computer should store burn images (for copying CDs) and whether the disc should be ejected after it's been burned, or not. By default, all disc sessions are closed, but the disc is left open in case you want to append anything to it at another time.

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