Propellerhead Tips 05

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DECEMBER 05

WASTEFUL BIN

By default Windows XP sets aside up to ten percent of your hard disc drive capacity for deleted files sent to the Recycle Bin. Apart from being wasteful it’s rarely necessary to require that much space, and even if it does get full up quicker it will encourage you to empty it more often. To change the amount of space allocated to the Bin simply right-click on the icon and select Properties then move the slider to 1 or 2 percent and click OK.

 

 

SECRET DEFRAG OPTIMISES BOOT UP

As you know Windows has a power defrag utility that can help to improve performance by optimising the files stored on your hard disc drive. Windows XP also has another defrag program that can be run from a Command Prompt and it’s possible to configure it, using ‘switches’, to carry out specific tasks. This one uses the ‘-b’ switch to optimise just the files used to boot up your PC. It uses information logged by XP and it’s quick because it doesn’t touch any other files. You can fire it up from Run on the Start menu (shortcut Winkey + R) then type the following: ‘defrag C: -b’ (without the quotes). Alternatively open a Command Prompt (‘cmd’ in Run on the Start menu) and enter the ‘defrag C: -b’ after the flashing prompt.

 

REMOVE READ-ONLY ATTRIBUTE

If you have ever copied files from a CD to your hard disc you will find that they will have been automatically given a ‘Read-Only’ attribute, which means they can’t be edited until the attribute has been cleared. This isn’t too difficult when it only involves one or two files but if you’ve just copied a batch of documents or images, for example, unchecking the Read Only attribute in the file’s Properties window can be a real pain. Here’s one easy way to unlock all of the files in a folder in one go. In Windows XP open the DOS-like Command Prompt window by typing ‘cmd’ (without the quotes) in Run on the Start menu. Change to the location of the folder where the files are stored using the change directory (cd) command. So, for example, if the files are stored in a folder called mypix, you enter the command: ‘cd c:\mypix’ (again, without the quotes), now enter the following command to clear the Read Only attribute: ‘attrib -r *.* /s’ then press Enter.

 

 

EMERGENCY MOUSE

A couple of weeks ago I showed you how to summon up the Windows OSK (On Screen Keyboard), which can be used in case your main keyboard fails. This tip shows you how to control the mouse pointer from the keyboard should your rodent keel over and die on you in the middle of a critical job; it’s also useful for those with limited hand movement. It’s called Mousekeys and it’s another of Windows Accessibility features. On an XP PC you should be able switch it on using the keyboard shortcut Alt + Left Shift + Numlock after which the pointer is controlled using the Numeric Keypad. If that doesn’t work you can get to Mousekeys through Accessibility Options in Control Panel. Up and down movement uses keys 8 and 2, right and left is 6 and 4, and 1,7,9 and 3 provide diagonal movement. Numeric Key (NK) 5 or Enter represent the left mouse button whilst left click is NK - (minus) + NK 5.

 

 

ON SCREEN RULER

When you see a picture or graphic displayed on your monitor how big is it and what size will it be when it’s printed out? Screen Ruler is a brilliant little freeware program that superimposes a ruler on your screen. You can move the ruler around the screen and make it longer or shorter with the mouse; a right-click menu sets the scale and units (pixels, inches, centimetres or picas) and flips between horizontal or vertical layout. The download zip file is only 143kb and you’ll find a link to the downloaded in the BootLog Software Archive:

 

 

ADD EXTRA DETAILS IN WINDOWS EXPLORER

There’s more to Windows Explorer than meets the eye. There’s a little-known facility that let’s you add extra columns, which can reveal all sorts of additional details about the files stored on your PC. For example, if you have a lot of music files on your hard drive you can display things like Album Title, Track Number, Artist Name and Bit Rate. Folders containing image files can also display the Date Created and even the model of the camera they were taken with. To insert the extra columns all you have to do is right-click on the column header bar and the list of extra options appears. The only thing to watch out for is that it only works when Explorer is in is the Details View, so make sure that is selected either from the View menu or the View icon on the toolbar.

 

 

CREATE XP LOGON ON MESSAGE

This nifty little tip generates an official looking message box when you log on to your PC, you could just use to say ‘hello me’, or do as I do and compose a warning message that might put off an unauthorised user. Please note that this trick involves editing the Registry, it’s not difficult but only attempt it if you know what you are doing and make a backup first. Go to Run on the Start menu and type ’regedit’ (without the quotes) and this will launch the Registry Editor. Work your way to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon 

In the right hand pan right-click on LegalNoticeCaption select Modify and in the empty Value Data box type the title of the message box, in my case ‘Unauthorised Logon Detected!’ then click OK. Next right-click on LegalNoticeText, select Modify and in the Value Data box type your message, I’ve put ‘Self Destruct in 10 seconds’. Click OK and give it a try. The message box will now appear every time you log on and Windows will stop loading until you click OK.

 

 

WHAT’S ON THE CLIPBOARD?

The Windows XP Clipboard is a poor little thing that can only hold one item at a time but that’s another Tip for another day, but if you use it a lot, to copy and paste text or images from one place to another, you may occasionally forget what’s in the Clipboard and run the risk of loosing it if you need to copy something else. The solution is to use a hidden utility called the Clipboard Viewer and you can fire it up by going to Run on the Start menu and typing ‘clipbrd.exe’ (without the quotes. You can make it even more accessible by creating a desktop shortcut. Start by right-clicking on the desktop, select New then Shortcut. In the Location box type the following: ‘C:WINDOWS\system32\clipbrd.exe’ (again no quotes), click Next and give it a name then Finish..

 

 

INCONSPICUOUS ICONS?

If your PC monitor screen resolution is set to 1024 x 768 or higher then you may find your desktop icons are really small and the graphics become indistinct. Not to worry, you can easily make them bigger (or smaller, if you like). Simply right-click into an empty area of the Windows desktop and select Properties from the drop-down menu. Select the Appearance tab and then click the Item drop-down menu, click Icon and in the Size box change the value to increase or decrease the size.

 

 

DOES YOUR PC TALK TO YOU

You may already have discovered Windows XP Narrator, a built-in utility that’s intended to help blind or partially sighted users use Windows by announcing commands and keystrokes but did you know it can also be persuaded to read blocks of text?  All you have to do is open Narrator by pressing Winkey + U (or go to Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility Options) then copy and paste the text you want to be read into Windows Notepad and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter and it will start. Narrator settings -- speed, voice etc., -- can be changed from Speech in Control Panel.

 

 

A MORE INTERESTING MOUSE

Here’s a quick and easy way to brighten up your Windows XP desktop, change your mouse pointer scheme. Why put up with a boring hourglass telling you your PC is busy when you could have a yellow walking dinosaur or a ticking metronome?  All you have to do is go to Start > Control Panel and click the Mouse icon, select the Pointers tab then the Scheme drop-down menu and have a look at what’s available. There are more to choose from in XP Home; presumably Microsoft thinks XP Pro users are too serious or busy for such fripperies…

 

 

WHEN FIREFOX WON’T LET YOU VIEW A PAGE

We all know that Firefox is quite simply the best web browser there is, it fast, secure and free but sad to say there are still some web sites that simply don’t work, or are prevented from opening in Firefox and the only solution is to use Internet Explorer. Microsoft Update is one such, and it has an excuse, but there are others -- and we know who you are -- but rather than faffing around here’s a way to get Firefox to open IE and display the rogue page. It requires a simple add-on or ‘extension called IE View and you can download it from the Mozilla web site. Once installed and you’re on a troublesome page just right click into an empty area of the desktop and select ‘View this page in IE’ and Internet Explorer opens automatically.

 

 

ONE OF THE BEST WORD TIPS EVER!

As you know Word has many hidden facilities, including this one, which by rights should have been installed by default, it’s that good! It’s called the ‘Work’ menu and it resides on the Toolbar in he form of a drop-down menu and gives you single-click access to any documents that you need to open on a regular basis. To install the menu right-click in an empty area of the Toolbar, select Customize, then the Commands tab, scroll down the Categories list, select Built In Menus, go to the Command list, scroll down to Work then drag and drop it onto a Toolbar. To include a document on the menu open it click on the Work menu and click ‘Add to Work Menu’. To remove an entry press Ctrl + Alt + - (hyphen), the cursor changes to a bar, go to the Work menu and click on the item you want to delete.

 

EMERGENCY KEYBOARD

This is another one of Windows XP’s hidden features; it’s called the On-Screen Keyboard or ‘OSK’. It’s just the job for getting you out of trouble if your normal keyboard curls its toes and you haven’t got a spare to hand. It’s also a potential disability aid, for those with impaired movement or find a conventional keyboard difficult to use. There’s a choice of typing modes, you can just click on the letters and characters or you can ‘hover’ the mouse pointer over the keys and the characters will appear. To fire it up all you have to do is go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘osk’ (without the quotes).

 

 

TWO-TONE TITLE BAR

I’ve had a few emails recently from Propellerhead readers asking what software I’m using to get those eye-catching two-tone title bars in the images used to illustrate posts. It’s called Windows, and this neat trick has been a standard feature since Win 95, but it’s quite well hidden, more so in XP and unless you know where to look for it the chances are you’ll be stuck with boring single-colour titlebars forever…So how is it done? Well, all you have to do is right-click onto an empty area of the desktop and select Properties then the Appearance tab. Now click the Advanced button and on the Item drop-down menu select ‘Active Title bar’ or just double-click on the example title bar in the window. Color 1 and Color 2 boxes should now be displayed, if you click on the drop-down arrow next to each ‘Color’ box you’ll see a selection of basic colours but if you click the Other button you will get a full colour palette dialogue box. Make your selection for Color 1 and click ‘Add to custom colour’, then OK and repeat for Color 2, click Apply and your title bars will never look the same again. One last tip, if you use a light colour on the left side of the title bar it can be difficult to read the text but you can change this as well in the Fonts options (below Item), try using black or a strong colour.

 

 

REMOVE UNSIGNED DRIVER WARNING MESSAGE

This is a hangover from the early days of Windows XP, when manufacturers were expected to submit driver software to Microsoft for certification. Very few seem to bother these days, which is why this annoying message appears almost every time you install something new on your PC. It doesn’t necessarily mean the driver is unsafe, just that Microsoft hasn’t checked it. If you mostly use hardware from reputable manufacturers then you can safely disable the warning and speed up the installation process. All you have to do is right-click My Computer, select the Hardware tab, click the Driver Signing button and check the item: ‘Ignore - install the software anyway…’ and the setting will take effect the next time you boot the PC.

 

 

CHANGE DISPLAY SIZE ON THE FLY

If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel you can change the size of fonts and images displayed on your monitor screen with a single click. Just hold down the Ctrl key and spin the wheel, rolling it towards you increases the size and turning it the other way makes everything smaller. This can be really handy when viewing web pages, for example, when the page is too large to fit the screen, or to make small or indistinct typefaces easier to read. Try it other applications; in image editing programs for example it works as a zoom control and if you are having trouble reading emails with tiny print give it a twirl.

 

 

QUICK PREVIEW

Why wait for Windows Media Player (or you chosen player) to open when you just want to preview a media file (AVI, CD Audio, MP3 etc.)? In Windows XP you can fire up the basic Windows Media player, which opens more or less instantly from Windows Explorer. Just go to Tools > Folder Options, select File Types tab, click to highlight the multimedia file type you want to preview (e.g. avi movie files), click the Advanced button then New. In the Action box give the function a name, i.e. ‘Quickview’ then in the ‘Application used to perform action’ box copy and paste the following command:

 

C:\Windows\System32\Mplay32.exe /Play %1

 

Click OK to exit. Find an avi file (or your chosen file type), eight-click on the icon select Quickview and playback will start almost immediately.

 

 

FIREFOX DICTIONARY

If you are using Firefox as you browser here’s another easy way to make it even more user-friendly, by adding a dictionary. It is just one of hundreds of ‘extensions’ that add to Firefox’s already long list of functions and I’ll be looking at some more of them in the coming weeks but try this one first by clicking Dictionary Tooltip and it will automatically download and install. Exit and restart Firefox and give it a try by highlighting and double-click on a word (or press Ctrl + Shift + D) and the definition appears. You can change the size and shape of the Tooltip and configure the mouse and keyboard shortcuts by going to Tools > Extension and double click the Dictionary Tooltip icon, or uninstall it by right-clicking.

 

SKIP XP LOGON

Windows XP is certainly a notch up on earlier versions of the operating system when it comes to security but if you are the only one that uses or has access to your PC it can be a real pain having to log on every time you boot up XP. Here’s a painless way to skip the logon screen and boot straight to the XP desktop, go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘control userpasswords2’ (without the quotes), click OK, select your user name and uncheck ‘Users must enter a user name…’ then click OK. Go to Run again and this time type ‘control userpasswords’, click ‘Change the way users log on and off’ then uncheck ‘Use the Welcome screen’ and ‘Use fast user switching’.

 


Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.

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