Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

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30 quick fixes for Windows XP & Vista

Could your videos save Windows XP?

Few of us would say we're completely enamoured of Windows. There's far too much of it for every last feature and function to please in every conceivable way.

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

The customisations we feature here vary in the expertise they call for. In some cases you'll get down and dirty with the Registry; in others you'll have to dig into hidden corners of menus and folders. You'll tell Windows exactly how you want it to behave – and it will do as it's told.

We're assuming that any system settings you change will be on your own computer. You should always check with your IT department before altering a company-owned machine.

Resize your desktop icons

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

It's very straightforward to change the size of desktop or Windows Explorer icons in Vista. Press Ctrl and scroll your mouse wheel (or trackpad equivalent) forwards to enlarge the icons; backwards to shrink them. There are many sizes to choose from. They'll stay at the new size until altered again.

If you don't have a wheel on your mouse or trackpad, there are several ways you can change the size of the icons. For a quick way, but with few choices of icon sizes, right-click the desktop and select View. You can now choose small, medium or large icons.

For more choice, right-click the desktop and choose Personalization. Click 'Open classic appearance properties' for more colour options, click the Advanced button, choose Icon from the drop-down list and use the Size control to change the size. Click ok, then keep clicking ok as prompted. In XP, right-click the desktop and choose Properties. Click the Appearance tab, then the Advanced button. Choose Icon from the drop-down list and use the Size control to change the size of the icons. Click ok, then keep clicking ok until as prompted.

Resize desktop items

Remove your icon shortcut arrows

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

If the large shortcut arrows on your Vista desktop icons offend your aesthetic sensibilities, get rid of them using the Vista Shortcut Overlay Remover. Run this app and choose to make the shortcut arrow smaller and lighter or remove it altogether.

At first, you'll see a shortcut arrow, but the Windows Vista Shortcut Remover will soon get rid of it.

As you might suspect, Vista Shortcut Overlay Remover won't work with Windows XP, but XP users can use Microsoft's free Tweak UI PowerToy to accomplish the same thing.

Run TweakUI and choose Explorer, Shortcut. Choose 'Light arrow' or select 'None' to remove it completely. Log off and log on again for your changes to take effect.

TweakUI

Unclutter XP's Control Panel

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Windows XP's Control Panel isn't exactly a model of simplicity – it's cluttered with many applets that you rarely, if ever, use. You can tweak it, however, to hide many applets.

To hide unused applets in Windows XP, launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit at the Start Search box or a command prompt. Go to Hkey_Local_Machine\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Control Panel\don't load.

If the 'don't load' key doesn't exist, create it by choosing Edit, New, Key and naming it 'don't load'. The key, as its name implies, determines which Control Panel applet icons will be loaded into the Control Panel.

To hide an applet, create a new string value whose name is the filename of the applet you want to hide. For example, to hide the Mouse icon, the string value would be main.cpl. To create a string value, place your cursor on Hkey_Local_Machine\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Control Panel\don't load, then select Edit, New, String Value and, for the value, give it the filename of the applet you want to hide.

You'll still be able to run those applets from the command line (and they may also appear in other places, such as XP's Common Tasks list on the lefthand side of the Control Panel window). You just won't be able to see their icons in the Control Panel.

You won't be able to hide every single Control Panel applet you find. Underlying the Control Panel is chaos; although many applets are .cpl files, some are links to folders or are controlled by .dll files. You'll only be able to hide applets controlled by .cpl files.

Create a separate string value for each applet you want to hide, then exit the Registry. To make a hidden applet appear again, delete its string value from this same Registry key.

Display as a menu

Cascading Control Panel

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Turn the Control Panel into a cascading menu for quick access to applets. To run an applet that you've hidden, type its name in the Run box or command line.

Maybe you'd like to bypass Windows' Control Panel altogether. If so, you can force Windows to display Control Panel applets in a cascading menu when you choose Control Panel from the Start button.

To do this in Windows XP, right-click the taskbar and choose Properties, Start Menu. Choose the Start menu button, click the Customize button next to it, then choose the Advanced tab. Under the Control Panel heading, choose 'Display as a menu'. Click ok twice to finish.

The process is virtually identical in Windows Vista. Right-click the taskbar and choose Properties, Start Menu. Then click the Customize button next to the Start menu item, scroll down to the Control Panel heading and again select 'Display as a menu'.

Click ok twice to finish.

XP control panel

Animate Vista's network icon

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Here's a quick way to see whether you're sending or receiving data over your network or the internet on a Vista PC: animate the network icon that sits in the system tray.

Right-click the icon and select 'Turn on activity animation'. Whenever data is being sent or received, the icon will subtly light up. To turn off the animation, right-click the icon and select 'Turn off activity animation'.

Change your Windows boot screen

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.
Tired of seeing the same old Create or find a 24bit .bmp graphic for your new boot screen. You'll need two versions of the graphic: one that's 1,024x768 pixels in size and one that's 800x600.

If you can't create them yourself, use Google image search. Under each result you'll see the dimensions of the graphic. Adding the word 'wallpaper' to the search subject may help.

Don't worry if you come across a Jpeg graphic. You can still use it, because Internet Explorer (IE) can save it as a .bmp. Right-click the image in IE, select 'Save Picture As' and, in the 'Save As Type' drop-down menu, select Bitmap (*.bmp) and click Save.

Save time by finding one 1,024x768-pixel image, then resizing it an 800x600-pixel file (in addition to its original 1,024x768 size). A great, free tool for achieving this is IrfanView. Download, install and run Vista Boot Logo Generator. Click 'Browse for image' to select your graphics.

Select File, Save Boot Screen As, then save the file to any location on your hard disk. The program will save the files as a single file: winload.exe.mui.

Copy the saved file to C:\Windows\System32\en-US. There will already be a
file in that folder named winload.exe.mui. Make a copy of it first.

Now run the MSConfig utility by typing 'msconfig' at the Search box or command prompt and pressing Enter. Click the Boot tab, select 'No GUI boot' then click ok.

Restart Windows to see your new boot screen in all its full-colour glory.
Note that, depending on your configuration, Vista may not allow you to overwrite the winload.exe.mui file. If that's the case, you'll need to do some extra work.

Run the command prompt as an administrator – type 'cmd' at the Search box and press Ctrl, Shift, Enter. Then enter the following command: 'takeown /f C:\Windows\System32\en-US\winload.exe.mui'.

You'll get a message that you have ownership of C:\Windows\System32\en-US\winload.exe.mui. Type 'cacls C:\Windows\System32\en-US\winload.exe.mui /G xxx:F' (where 'xxx' is your username) at the command prompt and press Enter.

You'll be asked whether you want to proceed. Press the 'Y' key and then press Enter. After that, you'll see the message: 'Processed file: C:\Windows\System32\en-US\winload.exe.mui'.

You can now go ahead and copy winload.exe.mui to C:\Windows\System32\en-US and proceed with the tweak.

Boot screen

XP boot screen changes

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

With the help of a third-party app, Windows XP users can change their boot screens as well. Download, install and run the free program BootSkin (find it at stardock.com). Scroll to any boot screen and click Preview for a larger view. Once you've found one you want to use, click Apply.

The next time you boot your system it will use your new boot screen. But you're not limited to the boot screens in the program. Click 'Browse boot screen library' and you'll be redirected to the WinCustomize BootSkins Gallery; it has thousands of boot skins. Choose one (or create your own) and you'll be set with a new boot screen.

XP boot screen

Speed up Vista search

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.
Windows Vista's search can get bogged down if you've got a lot of files, emails and contacts on your hard disk. But there's a simple way to make searching zippy again.

Most of your searches will be done in the Search box on the Start menu – and those are probably the times when you're looking for fast results.

Here's a way of speeding up searches that are launched from the Start menu.
First, decide what type of information you're usually looking for when you use the Start menu's search box.

After you've decided that, right-click the Start button and choose Properties. Click the Customize button, which is located next to the Start menu entry; the Customize Start Menu dialog box will appear.

Deselect the boxes next to any type of content you don't want to search. For example, if you only want to search for programs, deselect the boxes next to 'Search communications' and 'Search favourites and history'. Select 'Don't search for files'.

If you only want to search for files, untick the boxes next to 'Search programs', 'Search communications' and 'Search favourites and history'. And so on.

Click ok when you've made your choices, then press ok again. Search will speed up considerably from now on.

Start Menu

Get a Caps Lock warning

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

One of the more annoying computing experiences is accidentally hitting the Caps Lock key and typing a lengthy chunk of text in capital letters.

There's a simple way to get Windows to beep a warning when this happens.

In Windows XP, select Control Panel, Accessibility Options. At the bottom of the screen, tick the box next to Use ToggleKeys and click ok.

In Windows Vista, select Control Panel, Ease of Access, 'Change how your keyboard works'. Then tick the box next to Use ToggleKeys and click Save.
Use your own user account graphic Don't want your user account picture to be a rubber ducky, a snowflake, a goldfish or a pair of horses? No problem – you're not stuck with what Windows offers. You can use any picture you want, so long as the picture is in .gif, Jpeg, .png or .bmp format.

In Windows Vista, choose Control Panel, User Accounts and Family Safety, 'Change your account picture'. You should see a screen that presents a few preset options.

To bypass these, click 'Browse for more pictures', then navigate to the picture you want to use and click ok.

To achieve the same result in XP, go to the Control Panel and choose User Accounts. Click on the account you want to change and choose 'Change the picture', 'Browse for more pictures'. Find an image and click ok.

For those interested in saving effort, there's a quicker way to get to the screen that lets you customise your picture. Click your account picture in either XP or Vista, and a screen will appear that lets you change your user account.

Speed up Vista

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

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 scratch, its operation can be jagged and sluggish. With a simple Registry hack, you can speed up Windows Flip 3D and smooth its animations by limiting the number of windows it will display.

1. 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.

2. 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 four; you can always re-edit and up the number later. Exit the Registry Editor.

3. For the change to take effect, you'll need to either restart your PC or restart Vista's Desktop Windows Manager. 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 should now be much speedier.

4. 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.

Vista Flip 3D

Improve Explorer's Send to menu

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

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

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.

1. In Windows Vista, go to C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo (where username is, er, your username).

In XP, go to the Send To folder. Adding an item to this folder makes it available in the Send To pop-up menu. Find it at C:\Documents and Settings\username\SendTo.

In both cases, the folder will be filled with shortcuts to all the locations you find on your Send To context menu.

2. To remove an item from the Send To menu, delete the shortcut from the folder. To add an item to the menu, add a shortcut to the folder by highlighting the folder, choosing File, New, Shortcut (in Windows Vista you'll need to press Alt to get the File menu to appear) and following the instructions for creating a shortcut.

The new setting will take effect immediately; you don't have to exit Windows Explorer for the effect to be applied.

Send to menu

Right-click to open a command prompt

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

To accomplish certain tasks, such as mass deleting or renaming of files, the command prompt is the ideal tool.

Often, you'll combine its use with Windows Explorer. Because of this, you may want to open the command prompt at the folder that's your current location in Explorer.

But wouldn't it be nice to add an option to the right-click context menu that would open a command prompt at your current folder? For example, if you were to right-click the C:\My Stuff folder, you could then open a command prompt directly at C:\My Stuff.

1. In Vista, it's easy to do. Hold down Shift when you right-click in a folder window and a new option appears on the context menu: 'Open Command Window Here'. Select it and there you are – in an appropriately located command prompt.

2. In XP, that option doesn't appear, but you can add it with a Registry tweak. Launch the Registry Editor by typing 'regedit' at the Start Search box, then go to Hkey_Local_Machine\Software\Classes\Folder\shell.

3. Create a new key called 'Command Prompt'. For the default value, enter the text you want to appear when you right-click a folder – for example, 'Open Command Prompt'.

4. Create a subkey beneath the Command Prompt key called 'Command'. Set the default value to 'Cmd.exe /k pushd %'.

5. Exit the Registry. The new menu option will show up immediately. Note that it won't appear when you right-click a file; it shows up only when you right-click a folder.

Open command prompt

Tweak Vista for peak performance

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Vista's lack of speed annoys us as much as it does everyone else. So we've come up with some straightforward and practical ways to improve its overall speed.

Slim down the user interface

Regardless of the task at hand, Vista puts up a beautiful screen; but you wouldn't run a marathon wearing a tuxedo.

Get Vista out of its tails and into some joggers.

1. Start by scrapping the Sidebar. Its analogue clock and RSS feed are nice, but you may decide they're not worth the CPU cycles they use. Right-click the Sidebar and select Properties. Deselect 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts', then click ok. The Sidebar will be gone with your next boot.

2. Next, turn off some of Vista's cool-looking but cycle-eating visual effects. Click Start, type 'sysdm.cpl', press Enter and tell the User Account Control dialog box to Continue. In the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab, then click the Settings button in the Performance box.

In the resulting dialog box's Visual Effects tab, deselect whichever options you can live without, such as 'Animate windows when minimising and maximising'. Alternatively, let Windows decide and select 'Adjust for best performance'.

Faster file and folder access


Shaving a few seconds off loading a file will be of little help if you still spend three minutes looking for it.

3. Look at the top lefthand corner of Windows Explorer or a File Open dialog box. The box located there, called Favorite Links, contains, er, Microsoft's favourite links. To add a link to one of your favourite folders there, drag the folder from the Folders box underneath into Favorite Links.

You can arrange the links by dragging them up and down. You also have the option of removing one or more of them from the box by right-clicking the item and selecting Remove Link.

4. You can save some time in your file and folder search if you put everything in one cascading menu. By adding your desktop to the taskbar, you can make every folder on your computer and network easily accessible along with all the shortcuts on your desktop that usually hide behind open program windows. Simply right-click a blank spot on the taskbar and then select Toolbars, Desktop.

5. On top of that, there's no need to go through any menus to load a program if you know that program's name. Simply click Start, or press your keyboard's Windows key, then start typing the application name. You don't even have to start at the beginning of the name; typing 'Elements', for example, will bring up Adobe's Photoshop Elements. When the program name appears, press Enter.

Below the program name you'll see a list of documents and (if you use Vista's Windows Mail program) email messages containing that word. Those additional search results can be handy, but they slow down the search.

6. You can boost the speed of the Start Search by restricting where it looks for the string of characters you type. Right-click the Start button and select Properties. On the Start Menu tab, click Customize, then scroll down until you find the various Search options. The more options you leave selected there, the slower but more thorough your Start Searches will be. Lincoln Spector

Sidebar

Tweak XP and Vista to network nicely

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

When you combine Windows XP and Windows Vista PCs on the same peer-to-peer network – the sort you might have at home or in a small office – you may run into all kinds of problems. It may be difficult for your Vista PCs to find your XP PCs and vice versa.

The Windows Vista Network Map (perhaps the best networking feature Microsoft has ever introduced into Windows) won't work properly with XP PCs. They won't show up properly on the network map, if they even show up at all.

Fixing workgroup woes

The first problem is that the default name for your workgroup on the network has been changed. In XP, the default name for the network is 'MSHome'; in Vista, it's 'Workgroup'.

1. The fix for this problem is easy; you can change the workgroup name in Windows XP to match the name of your Vista network. In XP, right-click My Computer, click the Computer Name tab, then click Change. Then, in the Workgroup box, type in the name of your Vista network name.

2. If you've used the default workgroup name in Windows Vista ('workgroup') then simply type that in. However, if you're not using the default, change it to whatever name you've given your Vista network
and click ok.

3. After you click ok you'll get a confirmation dialog showing that you've successfully changed the workgroup name. Click ok again, then restart your computer.

An alternative is to give both your XP and Vista machines new workgroup names – as long as they match.

4. To change the name of your workgroup in Vista, right-click My Computer and select Properties. You'll see the name of your PC as well as its workgroup name. Click Change Settings then, in the screen that appears, click Change. Type in the new name for your workgroup and click ok.

5. As is the case with Windows XP, you'll get a confirmation
that Windows Vista's workgroup name has been changed. However, you'll have to restart your computer for the changes to go into effect.

Change XP logo

Patch XP for a Vista network

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Making sure both XP and Vista are on the same workgroup goes some way towards making the PCs get along on your network – but it won't go all the way. A bigger problem you have has to do with the new Windows Vista network map.

The network map is possibly the best addition that Windows Vista has made to networking. To get there, select Control Panel, Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center, View full map.

The map shows you all the PCs and devices attached to your network – those in your entire network, not just your workgroup. Hover your mouse over any device to view details such as its IP and MAC address. Click a PC to connect to it.

There's a fly in the ointment, though. Vista sometimes finds and maps items but doesn't know what to make of them or where on the network they fit. Nor will Vista give you any information about them if you hover your mouse over them.

The problem is that to discover information about devices, Vista uses a new protocol, called Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD). LLTD is built into any Vista PC, which is why they show up properly on the network map. However, LLTD isn't built into Windows XP.

You can fix the problem by downloading and installing the Layer Topology Discovery Responder. This application will enable your XP PC to show up on the network map, with the mouse hover in full working order.