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Since Windows 95, Microsoft has been releasing a number of utilities giving extended functionality under the name PowerToys. These tools include everything from CAB file viewers, shell extensions, new clocks and more, but by far the most useful applet is Tweak UI. In fact, for most Windows veterans, Tweak UI is the first app they install on a fresh copy of Windows. You can download the PowerToys set from the Microsoft website, www.microsoft.com.
With Tweak UI you can adjust many Windows' user interface options, some of which can be done elsewhere, but some that can only be done through Tweak UI. The first thing you'll want to do is remove a few of Windows' more annoying features.
From the General | Focus page you can stop windows from stealing focus and popping up in front of what ever you're currently looking at. From the Explorer page you can tweak many Explorer options, such as making your shortcuts a little more dignified by removing the automatic 'Shortcut to' prefix, and on the Shortcut tab you can change the default large white arrow to a more discrete light arrow.
The My Computer | Drives page lets you hide specific drives, which is useful if you have a dedicated partition for a swap file and you don't want it appearing in Explorer. The Special Folders page also allows you to redirect some of the annoying 'My...' folders to new locations. This way you can control where XP places temporary CD burning files or redirect 'My Music' to another drive. The AutoPlay page also lets you disable autoplay once and for all on certain drives.
Another useful page is Templates. Many programs install templates for new files that are accessed when you right click in Explorer and go to New. If you have templates you never use, you can cull them here, or even add new ones if you have custom templates of your own.
If you have a password on your account, but always login in a safe environment, you can have Tweak UI log you in automatically from the Logon page. However, this is not a secure method.
There are many more options in Tweak UI on top of those described here, so definitely install it and take charge of Windows.
You can stop programs from stealing focus and interrupting you by making them flash on the taskbar instead.
If you don't want Windows to AutoPlay on your CD drive, you can disable it in Tweak UI.
Tweak UI can automatically log you in with a username and password on bootup, but it's not a secure option.
Make your shortcuts look slicker by giving them a small arrow instead of the default white box arrow.
You can get rid of annoying superfluous templates by disabling them in Tweak UI.
The registry is a huge database that Windows uses to store all the individual settings for each user, applications and the operating system as a whole. It's a great place to turn to when you need to troubleshoot a problem, change a basic system variable, or even enable an undocumented software feature. As such, it's also possible to alter many of Windows' fundamental settings, which can cause problems of its own. Caution is always stressed when editing.
The easiest way to edit the registry is by opening the Run dialog with + , then type regedit. It's always a good idea to make a backup of the registry before you make any changes. You can either back up the individual key you're editing, or the entire registry. To back up an individual key, navigate to its location in regedit, then go to File and hit Export. Choose a location and a file name, and choose Selected Branch. If you want to back up the whole thing, you can select All. It will save your selection as a .reg file, and you can then double click that file to re-enter that information back into the registry. This is also a good way of migrating special settings to another PC. Simply export the keys you want, copy them over, then execute each one to add them to the target PC's registry. Remember, though, that Windows will make changes to the registry whenever you log on, so it can be problematic restoring a registry that's even a few days old. For that kind of backup, it's best to use System Restore.
Here are a couple of examples of things you can do with regedit. If you don't want to have to dig up your XP CD every time you want to install a component, copy the i386 folder from the CD to your hard disk. Then open regedit and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Setup and change the setting for SourcePath to the location of the i386 folder on your hard disk.
You can also speed up the Start menu by going to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop and change MenuShowDelay from 400 (which is in microseconds) to something lower, or even to 0. Next time you bootup, your Start menu will fly.
You can change settings in the registry that you can't change anywhere else in Windows.
Changing things like the Start menu speed are just the beginnings of what you can do with regedit.
Computer Management is one of those tools that squirrels away behind the scenes, but it's worth bringing it to the surface because it gives you tremendous control over the entire operating system.
You can access it a couple of ways. Firstly, by hitting + and typing compmgmt.msc in the Run dialog. However, the best way to make it easily accessible is right click on the task bar, go to Properties, then the Start menu tab, then Customise, then hit the Advanced tab. In the Start menu items list scroll down to System Administrative Tools and set it to Display on the All Programs menu and the Start menu. When you've done that, you should see a new category in the Start menu called Administrative Tools, and from there you can load up Computer Management.
From within Computer Management you can browse log files, manage users and groups, set performance alerts, open Device Manager, look after your Services and manage your hard disks.
Of these, there are a couple of very handy utilities. Under Storage, click on Disk Management to get a full view of all the fixed disks on your PC. Down the bottom of the screen you can see each physical disk, as well as all the partitions installed on them. You can also delete and create logical and extended partitions, and format them as FAT32 or NTFS. Be careful when messing with partitions, though, as you could wipe out all your data. Another handy feature of Disk Management is the ability to change drive letter allocations. If you've installed a new CD drive or created a dedicated partition for your swap file, you can easily specify which drive letter each should have by right clicking on the drive or partition, and choose Change Drive Letter or Paths.
You can make Computer Management more accessible by having it appear in the Start menu.
Using the Disk Management utility, you can create partitions, format and change drive letters.