Creating sound schemes for Windows

Chances are you have heard the Windows startup sound when you switch on your PC, or heard your computer beep in distaste when an alert or error message appears. These default sounds may well be to your taste, but they can be changed if not. This could be a blessing to those in your household - or not. Be warned, customising Windows sounds can add a nice change to your computing experience and even help workflow if used appropriately, but they can also be quite gimmicky. A start-up sound comprising a two-minute Twin Peaks monologue, for example, can begin to test even the most avid fan's nervous constitution.

Shareware sites like www.download.com offer large listings of Windows themes for download. Windows themes change the look and sound of your Windows environment, covering everything from wallpaper and icons to event sounds.

Desktop themes

The default standard of sound files in Windows is the WAV (short for wave, as in soundwave) file. The sounds that you use with Windows schemes will need to be a WAV file to work. You can download individual WAV sounds from the Net and use them for specific system events, or you can record your own sounds or voice into the computer using a microphone or a line-in device and a program such as Cool Edit or Windows Sound Recorder (which lives in the Entertainment menu).

If you are using Windows 98, you may have Desktop themes installed. You'll know by going to the Add/Remove applet in the Control Panel and checking if you have a Desktop themes icon. To install themes from a Windows installation disc, place the CD in your drive and select Add/remove software when the Windows splash screen appears. Under the Windows Setup tab, tick "Desktop themes" and click OK to begin installation.

If you use Windows Me, you will already have a icon in Control Panel called Desktop Themes. Double-click on it and from the Themes pull-down menu you can choose from the installed themes. Alternatively, in the Start-Run dialogue box, you can simply type themes (this also works in Windows 2000 Professional).

Want to use a sound scheme that's part of a desktop theme, without using the rest of the theme? Double-click the Desktop Themes icon and select the theme you like from the list. On the right, under Settings, un-tick everything except Sound Events (FIGURE 1). Next, click OK and the theme (or in this case, just the audio part of the theme) will take effect.

Go back to Control Panel and double-click the Sounds icon, select Save As and type in a name for the sound scheme (FIGURE 2). If you had elected to use only the sounds from a theme called Nature, for example, it would be wise to name the sound scheme something like 'Sounds from Nature Theme'. You can go back to the Windows default sound scheme any time by selecting Windows Default from the Schemes drop box.

Sound schemes

While we're still in Sound Properties, scroll the sound events window up and down to see a listing of programs and Windows events for which you can change the sounds. If you see a yellow speaker icon just to the left of an event, that means the event already has a sound assigned to it. You are, of course, able to change these. To preview a sound, select an event with a sound attached to it and press the play button from the preview area.

For example, to change the sound you hear when Windows starts up, do the following: scroll down and select Start Windows and you'll notice that the default file to play is titled The Microsoft Sound.wav (or something similar). Click Browse to go through your hard disk to find the new WAV file to play at start up, remembering that the play icon allows you to preview the sound. Once you've found the right sound, click OK. It's probably wise to save this change as a new Sound scheme also. With this done, click on OK once more and the next time you restart your PC you will hear the newly assigned sound.

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Danny Allen

PC World
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