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Windows Desktop Tips & Tricks

Sun Advocate/Progress Webmaster

The Microsoft Corporation made Windows XP available in 2001. Since then, virtually all new PCs have shipped from computer manufacturers like Dell and HP with Windows XP pre-installed. The following is a list of various tips and tricks that might help you get a little more use out of Windows. Note that all of them apply to Windows XP, but some apply to older versions of Windows as well (instructions may vary on older versions).

• Tip 1 - Bypass Autoplay (most versions)

Today, CDs and DVDs support a feature called autoplay. Autoplay allows certain programs or features stored on the disc to activate when the disc is inserted in the computer (a program's installer launches, for example, when the CD is inserted). Autoplay can be a great thing at times; however, sometimes it can get in the way.

When inserting a disc that is equipped with Autoplay, hold the Shift key on the keyboard until the disc spins down (a few moments). No Autoplay!

Note that the next time you insert a disc into the drive, Autoplay will activate (unless you press the Shift key again, of course!).

• Tip 2 - Bypass Recycle Bin (most versions)

Normally, when a file is deleted, it is safely moved into the Recycle Bin. If the file is deleted by mistake, it can be salvaged by opening the Recycle Bin, right-clicking the file or folder, and selecting "Restore."

However, there are occasions when you may want to delete a file, and you don't want it placed in the Recycle Bin (you want the file permanently deleted). To permanently delete a file (bypass the Recycle Bin), hold the Shift key and press the delete key. You will be asked to confirm the deletion. Be aware that once a file leaves the Recycle Bin, it is not recoverable by any reasonable standard (there are ways experts can salvage permanently deleted files, but it cannot be guaranteed). Once a file is removed from the Recycle Bin, don't expect to get it back.

• Tip 3 - Copying and Moving Files (most versions)

Normally, when you drag a file or folder from one storage device and drop it onto a folder of another storage device, it copies the file or folder (duplicates it onto the other storage device). In contrast, If you drag a file or folder from one folder and drop it into another folder on the same storage device, it will move the file or folder.

If you are holding the Shift key when you drop a file or folder onto a folder on another storage device, it will move it rather than copy it. This is a nice feature that comes in handy when you want the file to be moved and not just copied.

• Tip 4 - Turn on ClearType (XP only)

With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a feature called ClearType which makes text more readable and crisp on digital LCD monitors (flat panels and other high definition displays).

To enable this feature, go to your Control Panel and double-click Display. A window titled "Display Properties" will open. Click on the "Appearance" tab, then click on the "Effects" button located on the right edge of the window. Another window titled "Effects" will open containing various options. Click the check box that says "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts" and then select "ClearType" from the drop-down menu just under that check box. Click OK on the "Effects" window, and then click OK on the "Display Properties" window.

• Tip 5 - Behavior of Start Menu items (Windows ME/2000/XP)

Newer versions of Windows allow you to control the behavior of various Start Menu sub-menus (like the Control Panel, for example). For example, should the Control Panel icon on the Start Menu invoke the Control Panel itself when clicked on, or should it list all the Control Panel icons in a sub-menu when the mouse is hovered over it?

To change the behavior of any Start Menu entry, open the Control Panel. Double-click the "Taskbar and Start Menu" icon, which will invoke a new window. Click on the "Start Menu" tab. Two options, "Start Menu" and "Classic Start Menu" should be visible. Regardless which option is selected, click on the "Customize" button.

Assuming "Start Menu" (and not "Classic Start Menu") was selected, and you hit the "Customize" button, you should see a new window appear. Click on the "Advanced" tab.

Under the text, "Start Menu items," there is a series of options for various Start Menu entries. For example, under "Control Panel" there are 3 options ("Display as a link", "Display as a menu" and "Don't display this item"). The first option is the default behavior and means that if you click on the "Control Panel" icon on the Start Menu, it will open the Control Panel in a new window. The "Display as a menu" option will mean that when the mouse is hovered over the Control Panel Start Menu icon, a sub-menu with all the Control Panel icons will appear. The third is obvious - don't display a Control Panel icon on the Start Menu.

Once you have made your changes, click OK on the "Customize Start Menu" window, then click OK on the "Taskbar and Start Menu Properties" window.

• Tip 6 - Turn on Desktop Icons (XP only)

By default, Windows XP hides certain icons from the desktop to save desktop space (My Computer, My Network Places, Internet Explorer and My Documents). Fortunately, you can easily customize what icons are visible on the desktop.

First, go to your Control Panel and double-click the "Display" icon. A new window titled "Display Properties" should appear.

Second, click on the "Desktop" tab. Then, click on the "Customize Desktop" button, located near the bottom of the window.

A new window, titled "Desktop Items" should appear. There are 4 check boxes located in the "Desktop Icons" area. Simply check the box to make the corresponding item display on the desktop, and uncheck it to hide the item from the desktop.

After you have checked or un-checked the necessary boxes, click "OK" to close the "Desktop Items" window. Then, you'll have to click "OK" again to close the "Display Properties" window.

• Tip 7 - Pin to Start Menu (XP only)

Windows XP automatically lists commonly used programs on the left side of the start menu (you could call it a "recent programs list"). These are actually shortcuts that will actually invoke the listed program if clicked on.

This list often changes as you run different programs on your computer. However, you can make certain programs permanently "stick" to the list. Simply right click any icon in the recent programs list and select "Pin to Start Menu." Doing so will put a permanent copy of the icon at the top of the list. If you decide you don't want the permanent icon at the top of your list, simply right-click it and select "Unpin from Start Menu" and the permanent entry will be removed.

Note that the recent programs list isn't displayed when the "Classic Start Menu" (which looks like the Start Menu from older versions of Windows) has been selected.

• Tip 8 - Copying shortcuts from the Start Menu to the Desktop (most versions)

Sometimes program installers won't create program shortcuts on the desktop, but they will create shortcuts in the Start Menu. If this is the case, and you want a shortcut on the desktop, you can easily copy the Start Menu shortcut to the desktop.

First, click on your Start Menu button, and highlight "All Programs" with your mouse pointer. Then, browse to the program shortcut that you want to copy (so the mouse pointer is hovering over the icon).

Second, drag the icon to the desktop using the right mouse button and drop it onto your desktop (Note: If you use the left menu button instead, the icon will be moved from the Start Menu to the desktop, not copied). A small menu should appear where you drop the icon. Click the "Copy here" option with the left menu button and a copy of the icon will appear on the desktop.

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