Top Tips




The Places Bar is the left hand panel in the Open and SaveAs dialogue boxes used by Windows and most Windows applications. It contains a set of icons for frequently used locations and folders on your hard drive including Desktop, My Computer, My Documents and so on. But what if you want to change them or include your own folders, let’s say you keep all you images in a folder on the C: drive called ‘Pix’? There is a way to customise the Places bar to show your Pix folder and that’s using our old friend Tweak UI for XP. Tweak UI is a freeware utility from Microsoft, down load the file and open the program. Go to Common Dialogues > Places bar, click the ‘Custom’ button and either make a selection from the drop down menu of Windows presets or enter your own by typing in the drive letter and path, which in the case of our example would be C:\Pix.



Hibernation mode in Windows XP is useful for putting your PC to sleep for extended periods, and quickly reviving it in the state that you left it, with the programs that you were using still open. However not all PCs display the Hibernate option when you click the Turn Off Computer button on the Start menu. This could be because Hibernate mode isn’t enabled or supported. To find out open Control Panel, double-click Power Options then the Hibernate tab (if displayed) and check ‘Enable Hibernation’, then OK. If Hibernate still won’t appear on the shutdown dialogue box try pressing the Shift key and the Standby button should change to Hibernate. After a few shutdown and boot-up cycles the Hibernate button should become a permanent fixture and you will need to press Shift to make the Standby button appear.



You might think you are well protected with your anti-virus software, firewall, malware scanner and all of the other bits of software designed to protect your PC but the fact is malicious programs can still slip past your defences but there is something more you can do to safeguard your programs. Windows XP has a built in facility called Data Execution Protection that keeps a watchful eye on System files but its coverage can be extended to monitor for suspicious activity in all of the programs on your PC. To switch it on open System Properties by pressing Winkey + Break (or right-click My Computer on the Start menu and select Properties) Next select the Advanced tab, under Performance click the Settings button then select the Data Execution Protection tab and check the option ‘Turn on DEP for all programs and service…’ Click OK and after a restart it’s done.



If you are anything like me and an inveterate tinkerer, then you’ll be a frequent visitor to Windows Device Manger, to fiddle with configuration settings or undo all the damage you keep doing to drivers and so on. The quickest way I know to get to it is to use the keyboard shortcut Winkey + Break then click Hardware and the Device Manager button. Now I’ve got an even faster way, a one-click desktop or Quick Launch shortcut. It’s dead easy, right click on an empty portion of your desktop and click New > Create Shortcut. Use the Browse button to work your way to the file ‘devmgmt.msc’, which you should find in C:\WINDOWS\system32, select the file, click Next, give the shortcut a name click Finish and the deed is done.



If Windows XP has been misbehaving recently - crashing or slowing down -- then there’s a chance that one or more of your critical system files may have been changed, possibly by malware or a virus. It’s easy enough to check and eliminate from the list of possible causes. Just go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘sigverif’ and this will start the Windows File Signature Verification utility. It takes a few minutes as it cross-checks files against its database and at the end you will get a report showing any files that haven’t passed the test, along with the date they were modified, which might point to a program or application you’ve installed that’s behind the problem. 



I’m sure you know that by pressing the Alt + Tab keys you can switch between the various programs and applications running on your PC but did you know that there’s a simple way to make the Application Switcher a lot more useful, and interesting to look at? Well there is, and it’s called Taskswitch, a free little add-on from Microsoft; in addition to the normal icon view it also generates a preview or thumbnail of the applications you are switching between. It’s part of the Powertoys suite (which includes the most excellent Tweak UI). Just click on the download link, accept the defaults and it’s ready to run.



You are probably sick of me wittering on about the importance of using non-guessable passwords, especially for on-line transactions, banking and so on. I’ve mentioned websites that will come up with random assortments of letters and numbers on several occasions but did you know Windows XP can be persuaded to generate a gobbledegook password? It’s easy; just go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘cmd’ (without the quotes) and a DOS like command prompt window opens. At the flashing cursor type the following:

net user administrator /random’

(no quotes and don't forget the space before /random). Press Enter and up one pops and don't forget to make a note of it...



If you share your PC with others you obviously know that it is next to impossible to keep your personal files and data private, but there is a way. The trick is to use a built-in Windows facility for protecting System files, by ‘hiding’ them from view in Windows Explorer and all of the programs on your PC. To hide a folder and its contents simply open Windows Explorer then right-click on the folder icon. Select Properties and under Attributes check ‘Hidden’. In order for this to work Windows Explorer must be set to hide nominated files, so go to Tools > Folder Options, select the View tab and a short way down the list make sure that the item ‘Do not show hidden files’ is checked. 



Windows XP is fairly forgiving but if you routinely have a lot of folder windows open you may find that Windows crashes or freezes when you switch between folders. This is due to the way Windows manages RAM memory; each open folder is allocated the same amount of memory, whether it needs it or not. This isn’t very efficient it puts a big stain on the CPU and memory resources when you switch between folders. You can reduce the chances of a crash by changing the way Windows handles these processes. Go to Folder Options in Control Panel and select the View tab. In the Advanced settings window scroll down the list and check the item ‘Launch folder windows in a separate process’. Click OK and it’s done.



This tip might interest Windows XP users who work in a busy office and who find that they are occasionally and unexpectedly called away from their desk, leaving their PC’s unattended. Clearly this has security and privacy implications but the good folks at Microsoft have come up with a solution in the shape of a screensaver called Winexit. After a preset period it will automatically exit any running programs then log the user off.


Winexit is free but the only trouble is Microsoft has bundled it in with a lot of other utilities, in the Windows 2000 Resource kit, which you have to download in order to get at it. When the download has completed and it has finished installing open up the Resource Kit folder (you should find it in C:\Program Files\Windows Resource Kits\Tools), right-click on Winexit.scr, select Install and the Display Properties box appears, click Settings and set your timings as appropriate. 



Windows Paint as you know is a handy, though not especially sophisticated image editing program. In amongst the tools there’s a zoom control and if you click on the magnifying glass icon you’ll see there’s a choice between 1x, 2x, 6x and 8x magnification. In fact there is another hidden setting of 10x magnification but it requires some precision mousing to get at it. Open a picture in Paint then click on the Zoom icon to open the magnification selector box, now place your mouse pointer very carefully in the tiny space below 8x and left click the mouse.



Those of you who have been around Windows for a while may remember NetMeeting, a really handy utility that lets PC users communicate over the Internet using live text, webcam and ‘whiteboard’. Sadly it fell into disuse -- it was a swine to configure on a dial-up connection -- and when Windows XP came along it had apparently disappeared. It’s well worth getting to know once again, especially if you have a webcam and broadband. You and a webcam-equipped friend can set up a private one-to-one link simply by inputting each other’s IP addresses (and if you want to find out what your IP address is click here).


NetMeeting is included with Windows XP but it has been hidden away. To install it simply go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘conf’ (without the quotes), then follow the prompts. Set up your webcam first, (Tools > Options > Video) and when you can see yourself in the video screen (click the Start Video button) you can link up to your friend by clicking Call > New Call and enter their IP address in the To box. Your friend should do the same (they enter your IP address) and all being well the two-way video link should be established.    



I’m sure you know all about defragging your hard disc drive, to optimise your PC’s filing system and hopefully make Windows run more smoothly, but did you know you can also defrag the Windows Registry? This is the large system file that controls just about every aspect of Windows and like your data files it can become disorganised, which can slow your PC down. To defrag the Registry you will need a freeware tool called NT Registry Optimiser. It can reduce the size of your Registry by up to 10%. It does this not by deleting anything, but by making more efficient use of the space it occupies so it should be quite safe. Nevertheless I still recommend that you set a new Restore Point before you use this tool, and make sure that all of your backups are up to date.



If you are using Windows XP and you have a webcam then you have the makings of a simple time-lapse video security system. It’s ideal for keeping watch on your home or property, or capturing the wildlife visiting your garden. All you have to do is download a free utility from Microsoft -- it’s part of the PowerToys suite -- called Webcam Timershot. Once installed you can program it to take and save a still image at preset intervals, from once a second to once every 999 days. The pictures are saved in a file location of your choice as *.jpg images, in a choice of resolutions, and you can view them using Paint or the image viewer of your choice.



This tip can be a real lifesaver if you have inadvertently opened a window and somehow managed to move it off the screen and no amount of mouse clicking on the edges will bring it back. You can manually move any active window around the screen -- even if you can’t see it -- from the keyboard by pressing Alt + Spacebar + M. The mouse cursor then changes into a four-headed arrow and you will now find that the hidden window can be bought back into view using the keyboard’s cursor arrow keys.


Tip-in-a-Tip: this also works the other way around and you can make a window disappear by shifting it off the screen, using the same technique. This could be handy if, for example, you need to leave your PC unattended for a short while and you don’t want nosey parkers to see what you are doing.



Here’s another tip for speed demons, determined to shave the last few nanoseconds off their Windows XP boot up times. Truth be told this one probably won’t save more than a second or so but every little helps. The idea is that XP wastes time and resources checking to see if there are any devices connected to empty IDE slots on the PC’s motherboard. To stop this happening open Device Manager (Winkey + Break > Hardware > Device Manager) and click on the plus sign next to the IDE ATA/ATPI listing to expand the tree. Right click on Primary IDE Channel and select Properties then the Advanced Settings tab. If either Device 0 or Device 1 is ‘Device Type’ box is empty (not greyed out) change the drop down menu setting for this box to ‘None’ and click OK. Repeat for the Secondary IDE Controller listing. Note that if you add a new IDE device you will have to go back and change the Device Type drop down menu back to Auto Detect.



Well, it might be handy to know one day… A hidden utility in Windows XP Pro*, called Systeminfo will also tell you a lot more about your computer, including how long it has been running, what patches and updates have been installed and probably more than you want to know about your computer’s motherboard and memory. To unearth this treasure trove of trivia just go to Run on the Start menu, type ‘cmd’ (without the quotes) then when the DOS type window opens type systeminfo’ (no quotes again) after the flashing prompt press Enter and prepare to be amazed.


* If you are using Windows XP Home don't worry, you can still try systeminfo, simply download systeminfo.exe HERE, copy the file into your Windows System32 folder and follow the procedure above.



The Windows Task Scheduler is an extremely useful but surprisingly under used facility that allows you to launch programs or carry out routine tasks, like backups, at scheduled times. Here’s a quick and easy way to get to know it, by programming it to play a tune, so you could use it as an alarm clock, to wake you up in the morning, or remind you to do something at a particular time. Open Windows Explorer and navigate your way to the folder you use to store your MP3 or music files then open Task Scheduler by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools. Now all you have to do is drag and drop your chosen MP3 or music file into the Task Scheduler window. Right click on the music file icon, select Properties then the Schedule tab and set your times and dates, click OK and it’s done. Note that if you haven’t set a User Password for Windows it won’t work -- this is a safety feature -- so if you want to use Task Scheduler you will have to set one up, as you can’t leave the password field blank.



USB pen drives have become a source of some concern for a lot of system administrators. There’s almost nothing to stop someone with one of these devices from using it to copy or steal data from PCs in offices, commercial premises, schools and colleges. In fact the problem was addressed in Windows XP Service Pack 2, which includes a new Registry key that stops data being copied to USB memory devices by classifying them as Read-Only media; this tip shows you how to use it.


Safety Warning! This tip is for advanced users as it involves editing the Registry. It’s not difficult but tinkering willy-nilly with it can cause problems. Even if you know what you are doing you should still set a new System Restore Point or backup the Registry.


Now that’s out of the way open the Registry Editor (type 'regedit’ in Run on the Start menu) and work your way to:




If there is no StorageDevicePolicies subkey shown you will need to create one by right-clicking into the right-hand pane select New > Key; right click on the new key and Rename it. Double click the key to select it and from the Edit menu select New > DWORD Value and give the new value the name WriteProtect, press Enter then double-click the new value and set it to 1. Exit Regedit and reboot. To revert back to open access change the value to 0 or delete the key



This tip is for XP ‘power users’ who use their PC’s for audio recording. The idea is that in normal use your PC’s CPU allocates its time doing lots of small jobs, which is fine for normal applications, but high end audio programs do a lot of intensive calculations in the background, which means they have to wait their turn. This tip gives priority to the Background Services, effectively giving them a bigger slice of the CPU cake. To make the change open System Properties by pressing Winkey + Break, select the Advanced tab then under Performance click the Settings button. Select the Advanced tab and under Processor Scheduling click ‘Background Services’ then OK. If you notice a drop in the performance of other applications just switch it back.



This really quick and simple XP tip lets you launch any program or application that’s on your desktop with a simple keyboard shortcut or ‘Hotkey’ combination. Just right-click on the program’s desktop icon and click Properties then select the Shortcut tab. Click your cursor into the Shortcut Key box (it should say ‘None’) and press any number, letter or symbol key and if it’s available it will be automatically added to the end of Ctrl + Alt + . You can now use the Hotkey to open your program at any time simply by pressing Ctrl + Alt + your chosen character. 



Recent versions of Windows Explorer running under Windows XP Home and Pro can suffer from an annoying glitch. It can cause the PC to freeze, slow down, drop a network connection or make Media Player stutter whenever you right-click on a file icon in Windows Explorer. If this has ever happened to you there is a simple workaround, which will have to do for the moment as apparently Microsoft are still working on it. Go to Start > Control Panel and double-click the Display icon, select the Appearance tab then click the Effects button. Deselect the top item ‘Use the following transition effects for menus and tool tips’. Click OK, then OK again to close all the boxes and with a little luck the problem should disappear.



Several times a year I hear from distraught Windows users vainly trying to re-install their operating system only to find that they’ve lost their product registration key. The obvious thing to do is keep it in a safe place but if you’ve lost yours and are concerned that wouldn’t be able to carry out a reinstall then all is not lost. Simply download a little freeware utility called Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder and it will display your product key and give you the option to save it to the Windows Clipboard, so you can make a copy of it. Keyfinder works in all versions of Windows (from 98 onwards) and recent editions of MS Office.


Here’s a quick bonus tip for XP users. If for any reason you ever need to find out if your copy of Windows has been activated simply type ‘oobe/msoobe /a’ (without the quotes) in Run on the Start menu and your PC’s activation status will be displayed.



If you install a lot of programs on your Windows XP PC will know only too well that it has an extremely annoying habit of telling you, that you’ve just installed a new program… To get rid of that irritating announcement all you have to do is right-click onto an empty area of the Taskbar, select Properties then the Start Menu tab and click the Customize button. Next click the Advanced tab and deselect the item ‘Highlight newly installed programs’ and click OK and it will never bother you again.



This quick and simple little tip is for anyone who shares their PC. The idea is that it disables the Shutdown button, so the PC can’t be switched off accidentally. When you really want to shut down the machine you have to enter your Logon. To begin go to Start > Control Panel and select Performance and Maintenance then Administrative Tools (or go direct to Administrative Tools in XP). Select Local Security Policy then double-click to expand Security Options. Scroll down the list in the right-hand window to ‘Shutdown: Allow system to be shut down without having to Log on...’, double click the entry and select the Disabled button then click OK



As you know over time the Windows filing system can become disorganised and this will eventually lead to a slow down and a reduction in performance. ‘Defragging’ the hard drive can restore order but most of us forget to do it regularly and leave it until the system has started to slow down. Here’s a way to program Windows to automatically Defrag your drives once a month or every few weeks. Go to Start > Control Panel and click Performance and Maintenance then Scheduled Tasks (or just go direct to Scheduled Task in Windows XP) and double-click Add Scheduled Task. This will launch the Scheduled Tasks Wizard. Click Next then the Browse button to C:\WINDOWS\system32, click defrag.exe and select Open. Now you can give it a name and set the timings for defrag to run and when you have finished check the box ‘Open Advanced Properties …’. If there’s more than one User Account on your PC you may want to set up a Password, otherwise leave the fields blank. To finish off in the Run line add n the drive letter for the disc you want to defrag after the command, so it should look like this: C:\WINDOWS\system32\defrag.exe c: click OK and it is set.



By default Windows XP sets aside up to 10% 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.



The default Windows XP visuals look pretty but they do nothing for system speed; in fact some of them can slow your PC down quite noticeably. Not all of the fancy fripperies are bad, though, and you can still keep the XP look and feel without sacrificing too much performance. Here’s how, go to Start > Control Panel > System, select the Advanced tab then click the Settings button under Performance. For the best compromise between speed and appearance  uncheck everything except:


Show shadows under menus

Show shadows under mouse pointer

Show translucent selection rectangle

Use drop shadows for icons labels on the desktop

Use visual styles on windows and buttons


Click Apply and OK to exit the dialogue box and your new visual settings will be applied.



If you do not use the Hibernate feature on your Windows XP computer then you could be losing a large chunk of disc space equivalent to the size of your PC’s RAM memory. When Hibernate is enabled Windows creates a hidden system file, called hyberfil.sys. To switch it off and reclaim the space go to Control Panel > Power Options (or Performance and Maintenance > Power Options) select the Hibernate tab and deselect ‘Enable Hibernation’.



This tip probably won’t save you much time but it is an interesting little exercise that creates a file or desktop shortcut that takes you directly to the Windows XP Shutdown dialogue box. Start by opening Windows Notepad by going to Start > Programs > Accessories (or your chosen text editing program) then enter, or better still, copy and paste the following line:


(new ActiveXObject("Shell.Application")).ShutdownWindows();


Next, give the file a name -- something like ‘Quikexit’  -- use Save As on the File menu to save it in a folder where you can easily find it. Open Windows Explorer, locate your newly created txt file and change the extension to ‘js’, in other words change ‘Quickexit.txt’ to ‘Quikexit.js’. You can ignore the Windows warning about changing file extensions. It’s now ready to use. If you double-click the file you’ll see the shutdown dialogue box, or you can turn it into a shortcut by right-clicking on it, select Send To and ‘Create Desktop shortcut’



Worried about someone interfering with your PC while you are out of the room or away from your desk? Windows XP has a powerful Locking facility built in but before you even think about using it make absolutely sure you know your password, particularly if you don’t use it to log on to your machine! To invoke the lock press Winkey + L, the Lock is engaged and the only way to get back is enter your password. If the Windows XP Logon screen appears instead that means Fast User Switching is enabled. If you want to turn it off go to Control Panel > User Accounts, select ‘Change the way users log on or off’ and deselect ‘Use Fast User Switching’.



Here's the updated version of the popular shutdown shortcut for Windows XP. Just right-click onto an empty area of the desktop then select New then Shortcut from the menu that appears. Click the Browse button and navigate your way to: C:\Windows\System32\Shutdown.exe.

Click Next, give the shortcut a name and click Finish. Now right-click the new shortcut, select Properties and in the Target box, add the command line ‘switch’ -l (to log off), -s (to shut down) or -r (to reboot). A basic shutdown shortcut command line should look like this:


C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -s


If you want to add a 3 second delay to the Shutdown then add the ‘-t xx’ switch, thus:


C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -s -t 03


To avoid mistakes simply copy and paste the command into the Target box. Your can also add own your own comments or text in the Shutdown box with a  -c "Your text" switch.



A lot of Windows XP users may experience a sudden and unexpected shut down and restart, which is not very convenient if you happen to be in the middle of something. This is caused by a setting in Control Panel and by default XP will automatically reboot in the event of a system failure. Of course when something drastic goes wrong the PC may well be unusable but there is a small chance it may recover or at least leave you with enough functionality to save your work. At any rate you have nothing to loose by switching this facility off and you can find it by going to Start > Control Panel > System. Select the Advanced tab, under Startup and Recovery click the Settings button and deselect ‘Automatically Reboot (Restart) on System Failure’, click OK and exit.



The way Windows Explorer has been configured in XP to open on the My Documents folder drives a lot of people nuts. It doesn’t have to be that way. All you have to do is right-click the Windows Explorer icon or shortcut that you use and select Properties. Next, in the Target box add the following ‘switches   /n,/e,c:   where c: is your primary hard drive. The Target command should now look like this:


%SystemRoot%explorer.exe /n,/e,c:


Don’t forget the space before /n and the commas after the n and the e.



Although most Windows XP users quickly adapt to the look and ways of the desktop and menus some just don’t get on with it, do not like it or simply hanker for the good old days. Fortunately Windows XP lets you revert to the old Windows 9x style with a few clicks of the mouse. All you have to do is right-click onto an empty area of the desktop and select Properties from the drop-down menu. Select the Themes tab and on the Themes drop-down menu click Windows Classic then click Apply. Alternatively you can change just the buttons and icons by going to the Appearance tab, and choose Windows Classic Style from the Windows and Buttons drop-down menu then click OK. 



Here are a couple of quick and simple tips to help you tidy up and customise your Windows XP Start menu. You can get rid of that annoying list of ‘frequently used’ programs that XP insists on displaying by right-clicking into an empty area of the Start menu and select Properties. On the General tab, under Programs, click the Clear List button and set the ‘Number of programs on Start menu’ to zero. Now, if you want to create your own more functional list of frequently used programs go to the All Programs list at the bottom of the Start menu, click to open the folder of the program that you want to include then right-click on the actual program icon and select ‘Pin to Start Menu’ from the list.



Did you know that you can change the appearance of the boring little yellow folder icons in Windows Explorer and My Computer? All you have to do is right-click on the folder icon you want to change, select Properties from the drop-down list then select the Customize tab. At the bottom, under Folder icons click, the ‘Change Icon’ button and you will be presented with several dozen alternative designs. Make your selection, click OK and the new icon will replace the standard one. If you ever want to change back simply follow the same procedure and when you get to the icon selection click the Restore Default button.



If you ever need to re-install Windows XP you can save yourself the bother of going through the Product Activation procedure by making a copy of the activation files stored on your PC. Simply pop in a blank floppy, open Windows Explorer and work your way to C:\WINDOWS\system32 and copy the files wpa.dbl and wpa.bak to a floppy disc or USB memory stick and keep it in a safe place. Following reinstallation, when you are asked to of you want to Activate Windows XP decline the kind offer and let the installation continue. When it has finished reboot XP and press F8 to start the computer Safe mode. Open Windows Explorer, work your way to C:\WINDOWS\system32 once again, rename the existing wpa.dbl and wps.bak files (call then wba.old 1 and 2 for example) and copy your backed your wpa files from the floppy or memory stick into the same location. Exit Windows and reboot.



Thanks to Richard H. for this very useful tip for anyone who want to safeguard their data:


I have seen numerous articles encouraging computer users to partition their hard drive or to install a second hard drive in order to keep their documents separately in case the operating system (in my case XP Pro) crashes. After giving detailed instructions on how to do the deed they all seem stop short of telling you what do after you have installed or partitioned the drive. I recently saw the solution, which had up until now escaped me. 


The solution is to use MS TweakUI , first create the new folder on the drive or partition you want to use then in Tweak UI click Special Folders in the My Computer section, select My Documents (in the present drive) and select "change location", inserting either the new partition or the second hard drive.  All future documents are then automatically stored on the new hard drive.



Here’s a little oddity for Windows XP users with five minutes to spare. Buried deep in a system sub-folder there’s quite a pleasant little tune that you’ve probably never heard, unless you were present when Windows was being installed on your PC. After that it’s never played again, unless you know where to look for it. To hear what you’ve been missing open Windows Explorer or My Computer and work your way to C:\WINDOWS\system32\oobe\images and look for a file called ‘Title.wma’ or possibly ‘Windows welcome music.wma’. It should be around 2.56Mb in size. Double click the file and this will open Windows Media Player, or your preferred media player and proceed to regale you with a gently swooping (though somewhat repetitive) melody for the next five and a half minutes.



Here’s a really simple way to personalise your Windows XP computer, with a custom screensaver using your own stored digital images. Right-click on an empty area of the desktop select Properties then the Screensaver tab. Scroll down the list and click My Picture Slideshow. By default it will use photos stored in My Pictures but you can switch to any other folder by clicking the Settings button, and from here you can also adjust picture dwell time, size and transition effect.




Here’s a tip for advanced users with troublesome Windows XP Pro PCs (it also works with XP Home but see note below). Repeatedly restarting in Safe Mode can be a bit of a chore so here’s a way to add Safe Mode start to your Boot Menu. Right click My Computer, select Properties then the Advanced tab, under Startup and Recovery click the Settings button then the Edit button. Boot.ini opens in Notepad. Carefully highlight and Copy the line: ‘multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINDOWS=”Microsoft Windows XP Professional” /fastdetect’. Paste the copied line immediately underneath the original and change “Microsoft Windows XP Professional” to Microsoft Windows Safe Mode”. At the end of this line add the following ‘/safeboot:minimal /sos /bootlog’ (without the quotes), Save and Exit Boot.ini, restart and Safe Mode should be listed on the Boot Menu.


N.B if you don’t see a Boot Menu when you start Windows XP select the option in the Startup and Recovery dialogue box (see above) by checking the item ‘Time to display Operating Systems’ and reduce the time setting to between 5 and 10 seconds.




This quick tip will only save a couple of seconds by disabling the Windows XP ‘splash screen’ that appears during boot up but every little helps! Go to Run on the Start menu and type’msconfig’ (without the quotes) and select the BOOT.INI tab. In the lower half of the box, under Boot Options check the item /NOGUIBOOT, click OK, Restart your PC and work out what you are going to do with all of those extra seconds you have just saved…




If you haven’t installed Recovery Console on your computer you can start it using your Windows XP installation disc, however you first have to change the PC’s ‘boot order’. To do that you need to enter the BIOS program (see your PC or motherboard manual) and set the PC to boot from your CD-ROM drive. Load the XP disc, restart the PC and after Windows Setup has finished you will see a menu screen. Choose the second option ‘To Repair a Windows XP installation using Recovery Console press R’. If you don’t have an XP disc you can download a set of XP start up files from Microsoft, which you copy on to 6 floppy discs. For more details go to:





If you cannot get SP2 to load properly or you can’t resolve your problems by any other means then the first thing to uninstall SP2. Normally this is quite straightforward from Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel, it should be listed under Windows XP Updates (make sure the ‘Show Updates’ box is ticked at the top of the page). However, in some cases this may not be displayed and there’s a selection of alternative methods involving the use of a hidden Service Pack uninstaller, System Restore and the XP Recovery Console at:




Windows XP normally only needs to be reactivated following a clean install on a freshly formatted hard drive but occasionally the Product Activation Key may be lost during a reinstall, in which case you will have to go though the activation process. You can avoid this by making a copy of the file C:\windows\system32\wpa.dpl on a floppy disc (it’s less than 20kb) and keep it somewhere safe. If following a reinstallation you are asked to reactivate Windows simply rename the existing \wpa.dpl file to \wpa.old and copy your backup file from the floppy into the same location.




It’s not always clear what the items on the Startup list are for and whether or not they’re important, superfluous or possibly even dangerous, like a spyware or adware component. If you are not sure whether to uncheck an entry refer to the very comprehensive list of common Startup items at:




The Restore Points created by System Restore use a lot of space, a gigabyte or more in the case of large hard drives. One simple and safe way to claw back some of this space is to delete old redundant RPs. To do that go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools and click Disk Cleanup. Your system drive (usually C:) should be selected by default, click OK and when it has finished scanning your system click the More Options tab then the Clean Up button next to System Restore and all RPs, with the exception of the current one, will be erased




Regular readers will know that Windows secretly logs the address of every web site you have ever visited from the day you first switched on your PC in hidden and protected files called index.dat. You may also know that over the years we have been a big fan of a freeware index.dat cleaner utility called Spider but unfortunately it doesn’t work on Windows XP. Now the long search for an effective freeware cleaner for XP is over, and it’s called (excuse the language…) Crap Cleaner or ‘CC’ as we’ll refer to it from now on. It does a bang-up job of removing all traces of your web browsing, as well as clearing out all of the other little tell tales that Windows stores and it also includes a registry cleaner utility. For more information about CC and links to the download go to: It is freeware, there are no adware or spyware components and it is polite to make a small donation to the author if you find it useful and continue to use it.




Remote Assistance may not work if one or both PCs are behind a Firewall, if so they should be switched off for the duration of the session. PCs on a network may require permission from the Administration before Remote Assistance can be used. If you use Remote Assistance regularly, with help from the same person, then you can save time by clicking ‘Save Invitation as a File’ (on the opening page of the Remote Assistance wizard), and the next time you use it just attach the file to an email message. One final point to watch out for, whilst you are controlling a remote PC you will using the other user’s mouse and keyboard settings, which means you may accidentally encounter unfamiliar keyboard shortcuts, or reversed mouse buttons, if they are left-handed.




Shortly after you have started using your new XP computer you will receive messages telling you that your password will expire, usually in 14 days. If you are happy with your passwords and do not want to change them go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘control userpasswords2’ (without the quotes of course) and on the dialogue box that appears select the Advanced tab then the Advanced button. Double click the Users folder and right click the user name whose setting your want to change and select Properties then check the box ‘Password never expires’.




You half expect the Tellytubbies to come waddling over the rolling green desktop and where would Windows XP be without little balloons appearing every five minutes, telling you about something or other it has just done? Some find the cutesy design theme quite endearing; others would like to have a few words with the designers but the good news is that almost everything can be changed, and the dreaded ‘Balloon Tips’ can be banished forever using XP version of our old friend Tweak UI (see Jargon Filter). As regular readers will know Tweak UI is part of a suite of tools called Power Toys, which are unsupported by Microsoft but don’t let that worry you, they’re usually very safe to use. PowerToys are free and can be downloaded from:


and the Tweak UI utility is only around 500kB. After it’s installed you’ll find it on the Programs menu, double-click the Taskbar option and in the Setting Window deselect ‘Enable Balloon Tips’ then OK.

While you are at it have a look through some of the many other useful things Tweak UI can do, including an auto log-on facility, which is useful if you are the only user.




Windows XP is very stable but it’s certainly not immune to crashes and when it does you are presented with an offer to report the error to Microsoft using Windows Error Reporting (WER). It’s well meant and should, in theory, help Microsoft to identify bugs and glitches a lot faster, but it can become very annoying when you are trying to install a piece of hardware or software and the message keeps popping up. More worringly Error Reports can also contain a considerable amount of personal information about you and your PC, including credit card numbers, PINs, passwords and so on -- read the Privacy Statement, it's quite scary! To switch it off go to Control Panel and click System, select the Advanced tab then the Error Reporting button at the bottom and check the item ‘Disable Error Reporting’ and click OK.




Generally speaking automatic updates are quite a good idea and it means your PC will always have the most up to date security patches and bug-fixes but a lot of people don’t like the way that Windows automatically decides for itself when to search and download updates and for those with slower dial-up connections it can be inconvenient. To switch off automatic updates completely, or tell Windows to ask permission before accessing the Internet go to System in Control Panel, select the Automatic Update tab, change the Notification Settings as appropriate then click OK.




Microsoft are keen for us all to start using MSN Messenger (.NET Messenger) for chatting and video telephony but a lot of people still prefer the much friendlier NetMeeting program. The good news is that it is included with XP but it has been buried away; to get it up and running all you have do it go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘conf’.




For some reason best known to Microsoft, Windows Explorer in XP opens on My Documents, which can be incredibly frustrating if you’re trying to access the contents of your C: drive. Fortunately there is a solution, the first step is to create a desktop shortcut to Windows Explorer, so go to Start > Programs > Accessories and right click on the Explorer icon and select Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut). Return to the desktop and right-click on the new Windows Explorer icon and select Properties. In the Target line, after explorer.exe, add the following ‘/e,c:\’, so it should now read … explorer.exe /e,c:\

(Note the space between .exe and /e, there’s a comma after the /e and it’s a backslash, not forward slash after c:). You might also want to put a copy of this shortcut onto the Quick Launch toolbar, under the Start button, to do that hold down the Ctrl key (to make a copy) then drag and drop the new Windows Explorer icon.




You probably know that you are using Windows XP and may not want to be reminded every time you boot up, in which case why not disable the XP opening screen? This is easy, just go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘msconfig’ then select the Boot.Ini tab. Check the item ‘/NOGUIBOOT’, click OK and when prompted restart your PC. This time it will go straight from the opening white progress bar or a blank screen to the XP desktop. You may get a warning message from the System Configuration Utility telling you the PC is in Selective Startup Mode, this is not a problem though and you can safely tick the ‘Do not show this message…’ check box.




XP has a wealth of alternative mouse pointer and cursor schemes. Go to Mouse in Control Panel and click the Pointers tab then the Scheme’ drop down Menu. (If you are in Category View click Appearance and Themes then Mouse Pointers). If you are using XP Pro have a look at Dinosaur or if you are of a musical disposition try Conductor; in XP Home you should also find Ocean and Sports schemes.




Windows Explorer has several new features for displaying and sorting files and folders. One of the most useful is Show In Groups, which is enabled on the View menu. You can now select the type of grouping that you require, if you click on the Name header the groups will be alphabetical, click on ‘Type’ and they will be sorted so that documents, images and spreadsheets etc. are grouped together. As a further enhancement you can enable Show In Groups in Details, Icons, Tiles and Thumbnails Views.




The security features in XP are obviously a welcome change to Windows 9x, which is about as a secure as a wet teabag; however, forgetting your logon password could be a major inconvenience. You could write it down somewhere but that rather defeats the object - XP does have a recovery utility that you should make use of if you are prone to forgetfulness. With a blank formatted floppy to hand go to Control Panel, click on User Accounts then your account name. In the Related Tasks pane on the left select the item ‘Prevent Forgotten Password’, pop in the floppy and follow the on-screen instructions. If you forget your password XP will give you the option of using your recovery disc to help you to reset your password so keep it in a safe and secure place and don’t for heaven’s save label it ‘Password Recovery’…




Sooner or later XP, like all incarnations of Windows, slows down as it becomes overloaded with redundant files and Registry entries so if your machine is starting to get a bit sluggish try this quick and simple trick that should help to speed it up a bit (or maybe even a lot…). Go to User Accounts in Control Panel and create a new account, make sure it’s an Administrator type and this will allow you to copy across and export all of your data files and settings from your old account in to the new and hopefully much livelier one.




Here’s a useful tip if you want to make sure your children switch the PC off at a particular time, or even limit your own usage to prompt you to go home/get to bed at a reasonable hour. XP has a built-in utility called Shutdown that can be programmed to switch the PC off after a predetermined delay. To use Shutdown go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘cmd’ (without the quotes) and this will bring up a DOS type window. Now type the following command: ‘shutdown.exe –s –t xx’, where  –s is the shutdown ‘switch’,  -t is the time switch and xx is the delay in seconds. So, if you want the PC to shutdown in 15 minutes, say, the command would be: ‘shutdown.exe –s –t 900’. When the Enter is pressed the countdown begins, with a dialogue box on the screen showing the time left and warning the user to save their work. For a full list of the switches available for this utility just type shutdown.exe at the command prompt.




Here’s how to switch on the built-in Internet Firewall in Windows XP. This very useful feature protects your PC from snoopers but for some reason it's not enabled by default, or easily found, unless you know where to look. The procedure is Start > Control Panel > Network Connections, highlight your Internet or Network connection then click Change Settings in the Network Tasks Window. Select the Advanced tab and check the item 'Internet Connection Firewall' and its done.




The internal clocks in most PCs are usually fairly accurate but they can drift by a few seconds a week. XP has a useful facility that allows you to synchronise your PC to an atomic clock when you are connected to the Internet. The next time you are online double click on the time display on the taskbar and select the Internet Time tab, check the item ‘Automatically Synchronise…’ and click the Update Now button. If the time-server web site selected by default is slow to respond or busy you can find a list of alternate servers at:



Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.