Top Tips




I don’t know if you’ve ever held down a character key whilst typing but if you do then you’ll see that the character is repeated, and quickly starts to fill the line. Maybe this feature is useful to you? If so you can control how quickly the character repeats after you’ve pressed and held the key, and the rate at which it repeats. You can do this from Keyboard applet in Control Panel, just click the Speed tab. Personally I’ve set the Repeat Delay and Repeat Rate sliders towards ‘Long’ and ‘Slow’, so the feature is there if I need it, but it won’t happen by accident. You can also change the rate at which the cursor blinks. I find a slightly faster blink rate makes it easier to spot on larger LCD monitors. While you have the keyboard controls open click the Remap tab and you’ll find a small selection of keys that you can have their functions swapped. Not exactly earth shattering but it might be of interest to some users.



One of the most eye-catching  features of many Linux distributions is the ‘virtual desktop’, which basically means you can switch between four active desktops with the click of a mouse. That feature is also available in Windows XP, though you have to know where to find it. In fact you need to go to the Microsoft website and download a ‘Powertoy’ called Virtual Desktop Manager. Powertoys, as we’ve mentioned on many occasions, are a suite of tools developed by Microsoft (including the most excellent Tweak UI) but they’re not included as standard with Windows XP, or at least not any longer. They’re unsupported but that doesn’t mean they’re in any way buggy or inferior.


But I digress, download and install Virtual Desktop manager. To launch it right-click on the Taskbar, select Toobars then click Desktop Manager and you will see 5 new icons on the Taskbar, one for each virtual desktop and one for a ‘quad’ view. I suspect that you’ll find it hard to go back to a boring single desktop after using it for a while, so what are you waiting for?



Given the choice I’m guessing some of you will like them thin and skinny, others will prefer them to be thick and chunky. I am of course talking about scrollbars the sliding doohickeys down the side and sometimes along the bottom edges your windows. Well, there is a way you can change the width, and it’s a global change that will apply to all of your programs. Simply open Display Properties (Display in Control Panel or right-click an empty area of the desktop and select Properties). Make you way to the Appearance tab and click the Advanced button then on the ‘Item’ drop-down menu select Scrollbars, use the size box to make your change and click OK.  By the way the the default size is 13. You may need to know that so you can put it back to normal after playing around with it; the maximum size (100) it is rather eye catching…



Here’s a way to have your favourite web page (how about BootLog?) or your home page displayed on your desktop. It can be quite handy if, for example you always open your browser on BootLog or maybe even Google, it’ll be right there at boot up, ready to go as soon as you Windows has finished loading. Here’s how to do it. Right click on the Desktop and select Properties or go to Start > Control Panel > Display to open Display Properties. Select the Desktop tab then click the Customize Desktop button. If you want to see your Home Page select the web tab and under Web pages tick the item ‘My Current Home Page. If you want any other web page click the New button and enter the full address in the box that appears.



I don’t know about you but I’m forever opening Windows XP Display Properties, to tweak settings, mess around with screensavers and change the appearance of my desktop -- it may have something to do with my jobs - -but the point is to get to it you have to open Control Panel and click on the Display icon or right-click on the desktop and select Properties. I’ve found a much better way and now I can open Display with a single click on a Quick Launch icon and here is how it’s done. Right-click on the desktop and select New > Shortcut. In the ‘Type the location o the item box’ enter (or copy and paste) the following command:

rundll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL desk.cpl

Click Next, give the new shortcut a name then OK. Now you can drag and drop the shortcut onto the Quick Launch toolbar and you are ready to give it a road test.



Back in the olden days, when Windows 95 roamed the Earth, there used to be a useful little utility -- called a Kernel Toy -- that you could download from Microsoft that would ‘remap’ or change the assignments of certain keys on your keyboard. In theory remapping the keys on a Windows XP system should be easy as the facility is built into the Registry but it’s a swine to get at and I caution novices to mess with the Registry at their peril. Fortunately you don’t have to, I’ve just finished trialling a great little freeware utility, called KeyTweak, that lets you change the action of any key on your keyboard, which you can do directly, or by ‘teaching’ it by pressing the keys you want to change. At last, a way to make those unused buttons do something useful, change Scroll Lock (Scrlk) into sound mute, open your Home Page or display the Calculator, for example. Hours of fun for all the family, and if you get into a tangle you can quickly reset all or any of your changes back to their default setting.



If your Taskbar is still in the default position, at the bottom of the screen, this tip will insert a handy Address bar into it, so you can go directly to web pages or launch programs. Right-click into an empty area of the taskbar, select Toolbars then Address. The word Address now appears on the taskbar and if you double-click on it an address box will appear. I wouldn’t try this if you have used one of my earlier tips and moved your taskbar on the side of the screen, it can do odd things to the layout, which can take ages to undo, as I discovered…  Incidentally, if this tip doesn't work the taskbar may be locked, in which case right-click on the taskbar and deselect 'Lock the Taskbar'.



Does your mouse have a scroll wheel?  Hopefully yes, they’re really useful, but did you know most models have a little known feature called the wheel button. To see if yours is so -equipped press the wheel and it should click. If so you can make it do all sorts of interesting things, indeed something unusual may have happened when you just clicked it, but to take control and assign a function to the wheel button go to Control Panel, double click the Mouse icon and select the Buttons tab and have a look at what’s on offer on the Wheel button drop-down menu. My favourite settings are Undo last action (keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Z) and double-click, but play around with it and see if anything takes your fancy.



Is your PS2 mouse a bit sluggish? Are you finding it difficult to click on titchy icons and menus? If so you might want to try this simple little tweak to make  your  rodent more responsive. Press Winkey + Break to Open System Properties, click the Hardware tab then the Device Manager button and scroll down the list to ‘Mice and other pointing devices’. Click the plus sign to expand the tree and right-click on your mouse and select Properties then the Advanced Settings tab. Increase the Sample Rate setting to 200, click OK and reboot and you should notice a small but useful increase in your mouse’s sensitivity



What happens if you boot up your PC and the mouse isn’t working, or it suddenly stops responding halfway through an important task? You can revert to keyboard controls, using the Alt, Tab and Arrow keys to make and change selections, but did you know you can also control the mouse from the keyboard?


It’s a Windows Accessibility feature called Mousekeys and on most XP machines you can switch it on straight away using the keyboard shortcut Alt + Left Shift + Numlock and you will then find that the mouse pointer can be moved using the keypad keys 8 (up), 6 (right), 4 (left), and 2 (down). 1, 7, 9 and 3 drive the mouse pointer diagonally. Key 5 or Enter is used for the left mouse button and to right-click hold down the minus key on the numeric keypad and press 5. If the keyboard shortcut doesn’t work you can get to Mousekeys through Accessibility Options in Control Panel.



This tip should appeal to minimalists with tidy mind and a good memory as it allows you to remove the names of icons on your desktop. Simply click the icon name once, wait a second and click again and it will be highlighted, press the Backspace key to delete the existing name then press Alt + 0160 and press return and as if by magic the name disappears.



Have a close look at your keyboard. There’s probably several keys that you don’t use and have absolutely no idea what they’re for. Several of them are throwbacks to the old DOS and mainframe computer days, like Scroll Lock and all it does is turn the Scroll Lock light on and off. SysRq (under PrntScn) is another vestigial command, it stands for System Request but again it doesn’t do anything, nor does Pause/Break, though if you press it after the Winkey you will see the Windows XP System Properties box.


What’s the ‘Alt Gr’ key to the right of the spacebar all about? This one actually does get some use and it toggles between characters on US and some foreign keyboards (the Alternate characters are usually printed in green on the keycaps, hence the ‘Gr’). To the right of that there’s usually another mystery key with what looks like a sheet of paper printed on the keycap. This also has a use and if you press it you will find it brings up the right-click content menu of whatever application you are using, just like the right button on your mouse. 



It’s going to happen to you sooner or later and you will spill tea, coffee or soft drink on your PC keyboard. Don’t panic! Unlike the movies it’s not going to explode, catch fire or emit sparks, but as quick as you like  use the mouse to save your work, close any open applications then shut down your PC. You now have a few options, If you are feeling lucky and time isn’t pressing disconnect the keyboard, drain it off, shake out, blot up as much surplus liquid as possible with kitchen towel then let it air dry for at least 24 hours before trying it again.


The chances are quite good that it will work, though if you take sugar in your drinks the keys might be a bit sticky. My preferred method is to actually wash the keyboard under a tap running lukewarm water. It sounds a bit drastic but it will get rid of any sticky residues and probably flush out a lot of gunk that’s been accumulating. Once again it is vital that you remove any surplus liquid and allow to dry in a warm place for at least 24 hours.


If you are feeling brave you could try dismantling the keyboard, by taking the case apart and removing the ‘key caps’ (they should pull off quite easily and carefully dry it out with a soft cloth. However I strongly recommend that you take a picture of it first, so you can put the keys back into their correct locations. If you are in a hurry or it still doesn’t work then don’t waste any more time on it, just get a new one.   



Has your mouse cot a nasty case of the jitters? In the olden days -- three or four years ago -- most of the time it was caused by encrusted grime on the rollers that come into contact with the captive ball in the base of the mouse. This can be easily removed by taking out the ball (they’re usually held in place by a twist-fit ring) and scraping the gunge off with a toothpick. However, nowadays many PC users have switched to the more reliable ‘optical’ type mouse, which has no moving parts. Instead a small low-resolution camera on the underside picks up a reflected beam of light to determine how fast and in which direction the mouse is moving. It works well, most of the time, but the sensor can be fooled by reflective and some types of patterned surfaces. To see if that is the problem just put the mouse onto a sheet of plain paper and see if the pointer tracks smoothly. Check also that the light-emitter and pickup on the underside are free of fluff and dirt; they can be safely cleaned by blowing or a careful application of a cotton bud. If it is still jumpy then it’s probably time to get a new mouse.



Here’s a nifty little tweak to add some extra functionality to your Taskbar. With a few clicks of the mouse you can insert an Address toolbar, so you can search for files on your computer and enter web addresses or without having to open your browser or Windows Explorer first. It’s easy, just right click into an empty area of on the Taskbar and if ‘Lock the Taskbar’ is ticked, uncheck it. Right click again and this time select Toolbars > Address, click and it’s done.



If you use Windows XP you can expect to pay frequent visits to the Control Panel, to configure your computer and change various settings. Fortunately it’s easily accessible from the Start menu but when you click the icon the whole folder opens, which means a short delay and another click to get to the selected tool or utility. Here’s a way to speed things up by changing Control Panel to a menu, rather than a folder. Right-click on an empty part of the Start menu taskbar and select Properties then the Start Menu tab; click the Customize button then the Advanced tab. In the Start Menu Items box, next to Control Panel select ‘Display as a menu’ then OK. You will now find that Control Panel opens as a menu, if for any reason you want to open it as a folder just right-click on the icon and select Open.



Ever wondered where your mouse was hiding? It can be quite difficult to see the mouse pointer in some programs, Word is a good example because the ‘I-bar’ can easily get lost in a block of text and you have to wiggle the mouse to find it. Windows XP has a nifty mouse finder feature built in, that zeros in on its location like a Sonar display when you press the Ctrl Key, it’s also a good way of warning you that you’ve pressed the Ctrl key instead of Shift by mistake. To switch it on go to Start > Control Panel and double click the Mouse Icon. Select the Pointer Options tab and right at the bottom check the item ‘Show



Here’s a quick and simple little tweak to stop nosey parkers and passers-by seeing what programs you have on your PC when you are away from your desk. All you have to do is right-click onto an empty area of the desktop, select ‘Arrange Icons by’ then on the drop-down menu that appears uncheck ‘Show Desktop Icons’ and all of your icons will magically disappear. To get them back again simply repeat the procedure and re-check ‘Show Desktop Icons’



Here’s another one of those undocumented Windows features, and this one works on pretty well any version of Windows using Internet Explorer 4 or above. On your desktop click, drag and drop the My Computer icon to the extreme left side of the screen. After a few moments a vertical toolbar should appear showing the contents of My Computer. This on its own can be quite handy, but it gets better. (By the way if you want to get rid of it or hide it right-click at the top of the Toolbar and select Close or Auto Hide).


Now try this. Click, hold, drag and drop the C: drive icon from the My Computer Toolbar to the extreme top of the screen and a new horizontal toolbar appears. This is the good bit. On the far right side of the new toolbar is a continuation arrow, click it with your mouse and a new vertical toolbar listing the contents of the drive appears on the right side of the screen and you will find that the contents of the drive will be displayed simply by ‘hovering’ the mouse pointer over the folder icons. As before you can close or Auto Hide the top toolbar by right clicking on it.   



Windows XP has a number of interesting hidden features. Try this, go to Run on the Start menu and type 'osk' (without the quotes) and the On-Screen Keyboard will appear -- handy if your regular keyboard packs up. It has two 'typing' modes; you can point and click using the mouse or if you go to the Settings menu and choose Hover, characters will appear if you just point at them with the mouse



How many time a day do you need to go to your PC's desktop, to access a program or icon? Most people either minimise any open windows or root around for the tiny 'Show Desktop' icon on the Quick Launch taskbar. Here are two double-quick alternatives. The first is to use the keyboard shortcut Winkey + D, which instantly minimises all open windows. The second method is to create a taskbar menu for your desktop icons. To do that right click on an empty spot on the taskbar and uncheck (if checked ) 'Unlock the Taskbar' then go to Toolbars and click Desktop. This may or may not display all of your desktop icons, if so click on the dotted lines next to the word Desktop on the taskbar and drag the separator to collapse the menu so that just the word Desktop and the two arrows '>>' are shown. Now, when you want to access a desktop icon just click the double arrows.



G. Sasse wrote in with this one, It's an oldie, but a goodie!


I have found over a number of years that newbies to computing become alarmed at the way their work on screen suddenly vanishes forever and they have to do it all over again. So the best Tip I can think of for someone new to computers is to commit to memory two critical keystrokes. Ctrl + A is the most dangerous, because it highlights all your work, and the next keystroke can wipe it all! Ctrl + Z (Undo) is the Lifesaver, as it will recover any such lost data to the screen before it is overwritten. (The Undo button on many applications does the same job.)



Help is always at hand! If you encounter a problem or get into difficulty, just press F1 and the associated Help file will be displayed. Swapping between open applications in Windows is easy; hold down the left 'Alt' key and press the 'tab' key. Pressing tab again steps through all of the programs the machine is currently running. If for any reason a program freezes, or the mouse stops moving try pressing 'Alt' and you may find that you can still select menus and options, using the four arrow cursor keys. If an application refuses to respond then press and hold down 'Ctrl', 'Alt' and 'Delete' in that order -- once only -- and the PC will display the Close Program window. This gives the opportunity to shut down the offending application, without having to exit Windows.




There are several Windows Explorer keyboard shortcuts worth remembering. Each time you press the Backspace key Explorer steps back one level up the directory tree. The F2 key allows you to rename a highlighted folder and Shift plus F10 brings up the context based pop-up menu. Clicking once or twice on the Size and Modified headings in the right hand 'Contents' window will sort the files in descending (i.e. largest files or most recently modified first) or ascending orders.



Here are some more Windows Explorer keyboard shortcuts. Pressing F4 displays the full contents of the Address/location panel, F5 refreshes the windows, updating any changes you may have made and F6 switches the focus between the various window 'panes'. Ctrl + A selects everything in the right hand window, Ctrl + Z undoes the last action and the Backspace key steps back through the parent directory tree. The asterisk key on the numeric keypad expands all of the directory branches whilst the '-' and '+' numeric keys collapse and expand the tree.



Windows Explorer sometimes seems to have a mind of its own and always seems to open with a different shape, position or icon and display settings. You can make it remember your preferences -- for a while at least - set it up the way you want it to look then press Ctrl + Alt + Shift when you click on the close icon (the 'x' in the top right hand corner). It will eventually forget but it's easy enough to repeat the exercise. It's a lot easier in Windows 98, set up Windows Explorer, go to the View Menu then Folder Options and select the View Tab and press the 'Like Current Folder' button.



If you have a Windows keyboard you obviously know the 'Windows' button (in between Ctrl and Alt keys) brings up the Start menu, but it can do a lot more besides. Win key (Wk) + D is a very quick way of getting to the desktop as it toggles maximise and minimise all windows. Wk + E opens Explorer, Wk + F opens Find, and Wk + R opens Run. System Properties opens with Wk + Pause, Wk + Tab steps through the programs on the Taskbar and Wk + F1 opens Windows Help.



There are several frequently-used multiple key shortcuts in Windows, like Ctrl + Alt + Del (to bring up the close program menu) and Alt + Tab (to switch between running applications) and dozens more in applications like Word, Excel and Outlook. Windows 95/98/2000 & ME has a nifty way to avoid two and three finger gymnastics, it's called 'Sticky Keys' and it's one of the Accessibility Options in Control Panel. It's aptly named because instead of pressing and holding a sequence of keys, you simply press each one in turn, your PC's internal speaker bleeps at you to confirm each key press. The facility can be easily switched on and off by pressing the shift key five times in quick succession.



Sticky Keys is not always installed by default, if you can't see the Accessibility Options icon in Control Panel click on Add/Remove in Control Panel, select the Windows tab then Accessibility and follow the instructions. To enable Sticky Keys open Accessibility Options and select the Keyboard tab, use the Settings button to change the way it behaves. Whilst you're there you might also like to switch on the Caps Lock bleeper, which also uses the PC's built-in speaker. 



It doesn't take long for the Taskbar at the bottom of the screen to fill up with icons; they get smaller as the number increases and it can be difficult to read the labels. You can easily increase the size of the taskbar by moving the mouse pointer onto the top edge of the taskbar where it will turn into a vertical double-headed arrow. Click and hold the left mouse button and you can increase the width of the taskbar by dragging it upwards; it can be expanded to fill half of the screen if necessary. Clearly this takes up more room on the desktop, so make the Taskbar disappear, until it is needed. Click on the Start button, then Settings and Taskbar and check the Auto Hide option. From now on the Taskbar will only be shown when the mouse pointer is at the bottom of the screen.



The right mouse button in Windows has many hidden talents; here are a few to be getting on with. If you've got a lot of open windows and you want to get to the desktop, simply right click on the taskbar. This brings up a menu for minimising, tiling or cascading all windows; right click on the taskbar a second time to restore the windows. A right click on the recycle bin gives the option to empty it straight away. Discs can be quickly formatted by right-clicking on the disc drive icon in My Computer or Explorer.



The Start menu is a fast and easy way to launch frequently used programs, but you can make it work even quicker, and you don't even have to take your hands from the keyboard. Right-click on the Start button and select Open. A window appears, containing all of the Start menu icons. Insert a number (1, 2, 3 etc.) in front of the name of the applications you use most often. Click once on the icon and the name field turns blue. Wait a moment click and click on the text and a cursor appears, then click again in front of the first letter of the name and type in the number. When you have finished close the window. Now you can launch the Start menu and a program by pressing the Windows button on the keyboard, followed by the number. If you're using an older keyboard the shortcut is Ctrl + Esc, then the number.



You can do all sorts of clever things with the items on the Windows 9x Start menu, they can be copied, moved around and have their properties changed but the one thing you can't do is rename them, unless you have Internet Explorer 5.0 or later on your system. However, there is a way around that. You can change the name of an icon by left clicking on it and dragging it onto the desktop, it can then be renamed by clicking into the name field. Next, right-click on the newly named icon, drag it on to the Start button, put the mouse pointer where you want it to go on the Start menu, release the mouse button and choose 'Move Here' from the dialogue box that appears.



Every so often a program window opens in the wrong position or the menus and toolbars have disappeared off the top of the screen and you can't get them back. Here's a simple solution, press Alt + Spacebar to bring up the sizing menu then hold down the letter M and use the down arrow cursor key to bring the window back on to the screen.



From the Start menu in Windows click on Settings, Control Panel and then on the Mouse icon. There you will find a range of settings that control the way your mouse behaves. There's also the opportunity to change the button configuration, useful if you are left-handed. The two most important parameters for PC newcomers are Motion and Click Speed; set both to slow and you'll find the mouse much easier to control. Increase the speed once you get used to how the mouse reacts. Whilst you're there click on the Pointers tab and the Scheme menu, then select the Animated Hourglasses option. This will make waiting for things to happen just a little more interesting...



Here is an easy way to access the contents of your desktop from the Start button, without having to close or minimise any windows. Right click on the Start button and choose Open then on the Start Menu window that appears go to the File menu, select New and Shortcut. The Create Shortcut window opens and in the Command Line box type in the following: 'Explorer /root,' ignore the inverted commas but be sure there's a space between Explorer and the forward-slash, and don't forget the comma after root. Click Next and a window opens asking you to 'Select a title for the program'. Back space to delete the default entry and call it 'Desktop' (or anything else you fancy) and click Finish. The item should now appear on the Start menu, if you click it a window containing the contents of your desktop will open. To remove it from the Start menu go Start > Settings > Taskbar & Start Menu > Start Menu Programs tab and click the Remove button. Find the shortcut on the directory and click Remove.



Bored with your desktop and all those dull little icons? Then do something about it! You can easily create your own icons in Windows using ordinary picture files or graphics created using the Paint program. You could have the pictures of the family or pets representing your programs (no jokes about using a photo of the mother in law to represent the word processor please...), or design your own from scratch. The image can be any size - Windows will automatically adjust the size and shape -- but it must be in the Bitmap (extension .bmp) format. Most paint and graphics program have a 'Save As' facility that will convert picture files from other file types into .bmp format. Once that's done open Windows Explorer, find the picture file and click once into the name field to highlight it, then wait a second and click again to insert a cursor so it can be renamed. Change the file extension from .bmp to .ico, and hit return. Now go to the Desktop and right-click on the icon you want to change and select Properties. On the Shortcut tab you should see a 'Change Icon' button, (you can't normally change the icon on Windows applications) click it and use the Browse button to find your icon picture file, press OK and it's done.



The double-pane view of Windows Explorer makes it easy to navigate around files and folders, if you like you can force all other Explorer type Folders (My Computer, Control Panel, Recycle Bin etc.) to open with double panes. Open a folder, My Computer will do, click Folder Options on the View menu and select the File Types tab. Scroll down the list under Registered File Types to find 'Folder', double click on it and in the dialogue window that appears, under Actions, highlight 'Explore', click Set As Default and then Close. To return to the original single pane view, follow the above procedure, but this time select 'Open' in the Actions box.



If you've had your PC for more than a year or so the desktop is probably starting to get a bit crowded. Of course you can always remove icons and shortcuts you rarely use but if you're the sort of person who hates to part with anything, here's a simple way of packing even more icons onto your desktop, by reducing the space between them. If you can find an empty area on the desktop click into it and the Display Properties window should appear. Select the Appearance tab and under Item highlight Icon Spacing (horizontal). Change the value from the default setting to 30 and click Apply. Now do the same with Icon Spacing (vertical). You may need to experiment with different values and watch out for large overlapping Icon labels. If that becomes a problem edit the text by clicking slowly into the label box three times or reduce the size of the actual icon - the option is on the same drop down menu as Icon Spacing. 



This tip will let you start your ten favourite applications with a single key press, and it gives the numeric keypad on the right side of your keyboard something to do. First press the Num Lock key on your keyboard then right-click your mouse on any desktop shortcut and select Properties. Click the cursor into the 'Shortcut Key' field and press the number key on the numeric keypad that you want to start the program with. Click OK and repeat for up to nine other programs. Unless you have a good memory it's a good idea to make a list. If you use the keypad then you can assign some other infrequently used key or key combination, though make sure it's not used by something else...



Here's a quick and simple little timesaver that will help you to make more efficient use of Windows Explorer. If you are looking for a file or folder in a large directory, rather than spend time scrolling through the list simply click into the Explorer window and type the first letter of the name of the file or folder and hey-presto, Explorer immediately whisks you down to the first file starting with that letter.



Make your right-click Context menus stand out! Right-click on an empty area of the desktop and select Properties or go to Display in Control panel and select the Appearance tab. In the example window display click on the menu bar below Active Window (Normal Disabled Selected) and change the colour from grey to something a bit more interesting, a light red works well; you can choose any colour by clicking the 'Other' button. Click OK and try it out by right clicking. If you click the 'Selected' label on the menu bar you can change the colour of highlighted menu items in all of your programs from dark blue - try light green for a really funky look!



Ctrl is a much undervalued and underused key on your keyboard and it is well worth getting to know, especially when editing, and not just in word processors, but in most text editor windows, and that includes email message windows. Holding down the Ctrl key when using Backspace or Delete erases whole words instead of single letters, and if you use the arrow keys to move the cursor around, press and hold the Ctrl key and it jumps a paragraph, or a word at a time, depending on the direction.


Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.