Top Tips




Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it, but this simple little trick is well worth remembering the next time you are trying to search for something or check a file name in Windows Explorer. As you probably know you can adjust column width by manually on the column ‘separators’ and make them wider or narrower, but there’s a better way. If you double-click on the separator it will automatically adjust column width to the longest file name or item in the column to the left.


For those of you who are new to Windows it’s also worth knowing that you can sort item in columns by clicking on the column headers. For example, to sort folders or files alphabetically double click the Name header, click once and the order is A to Z, click again and it sorts the column Z to A. To arrange items by date click the Date Modified header (once for most recent at the top, twice for oldest at the top), and the same trick works for File Types and any other column headings you see, both in Windows Explorer and most Explorer type dialogue boxes.



Here’s a neat little tweak that overcomes a minor irritant by changing the way Windows Explorer and My Computer displays drive names and letters. Normally they are listed by drive name then drive letter. This tip switches them around, so that Local Disc (C:) becomes (C:) Local Disc. It involves making a small change to the Registry, it’s not difficult but it’s not really for novices and if you don’t know your way around the Registry and how to make a backup then it’s probably best avoided.


If you are still with us and want to give it a try set a new Restore Point (just in case) then open the Registry Editor by going to Run on the Start menu and type ‘regedit’ (without the quotes). Work your way to:





Right click in the right hand pan, select New > DWORD Value and rename it ‘ShowDriveLettersFirst’ (without the quotes). Double click the new DWORD icon and change the Value Data to 4 then close Regedit. Open Windows Explorer or My Computer and the drive letter and name should now be reversed.



There are bound to be several folders on your PC that you’re opening several times a day, My Documents is a likely candidate, but this trick works on any one. The idea is you can put your chosen folder icon on the Taskbar and when you click on it, it opens, giving you fast and easy access to the contents. Start by right-clicking on an empty area of the taskbar and select Toolbar > New Toolbar and use the Browse button to find the one that you want. Click OK and it’s done, now all you have to do is click on the little double-arrow symbol beneath the folder name and all will be revealed.



I have never quite understood why My Computer in Windows XP has a different ‘look’ to other folders so if you are anything like me you like this simple little tip, which switches it to a normal Windows Explorer type view. Open My Computer then go to Tools > Options and click the File Types tab. Close to the top you will see ‘(NONE) Folder’. Click to highlight then click the Advanced button. Click ‘explore’ to highligh6 then click Set Default. Click OK then Close to exit the dialogue boxes.



Windows XP has a very useful way of making your files and folders easier to get at, by arranging them in Groups. It works best on folders that contain a number of sub-folders or lots of different files. To see what it looks like open Windows Explorer or My Computer, right-click into an empty area then select Arrange Icons By and on the pop-out menu that appears click Show in Groups. Immediately all of the files and folders should be grouped together alphabetically, but there’s more. Right-click into an empty space again, click Arrange Icons, as before, but this time select form one of the sort criteria: Name, Size, Type, Modified etc, and see if that makes it easier to find what you are looking for. If you want to revert back to the normal view simply uncheck ‘Show in Groups'.



System Restore in Windows ME and XP is an invaluable facility that may well save your bacon one day but if you let it, it will gobble up vast amounts of hard disc space, especially on today’s large drives. By default SR is allocated 12 percent of the drive’s capacity but you can safe reduce this figure, without compromising its ability to get your PC back up on its feet again following a nasty crash. In fact SR only needs 200Mb of free space but limiting its capacity by too much will reduce the amount of data it stores and the number of restore points, so it is important to strike a balance. To change the setting in Windows XP open System Properties by pressing Winkey + Break then click the System Restore tab. Select your System drive (usually Local disk C:) then click the Settings button. Move the slider to the left. On drives 80Gb or more I suggest allocating between 500Mb and 1Gb of space. If you have a second drive used purely for data storage you might as well disable System Restore for that drive, as it serves no useful purpose.



If you use the Thumbnail View in Windows Explorer you may be wondering why some folder icons show a little image, and others don’t?


If the folder contains images Windows will make an apparently random selection but you can override this with a picture of your choosing. All you have to do give the picture you want to use the name ‘folder.jpg’ (without the quotes) and save it in the selected folder. This simple trick can also be used to good effect on folders that contain multimedia files. Your chosen folder.jpg image automatically becomes that folder’s ‘Album Art’ image when it is opened in Windows Media Player, which you will see if you go to View > Visualisations.



Windows XP has a very useful feature in My Pictures called Filmstrip that allows you to quickly step through and display image files stored in the folder. You can add this feature to any other folder in Windows Explorer. Just right click the folder icon, select Properties then click the Customize tab. On the ‘Use this folder type as a template’ drop down menu choose either ‘Pictures’ or ‘Photo Album’ and if you like tick the ‘Also apply this template…’ option and click OK. When you next open the folder you will find that Filmstrip has been added to the list of options when you select the View menu or click the View icon on the toolbar.  



If you use your PC to listen to music, or perhaps need to access our picture files regularly or in a hurry, here’s a way to create a simple keyboard shortcut that will quickly open any folder in Windows Explorer whilst other programs are running and maximised. This is what you do: open Windows Explorer, right click on the folder you want to access  (My Music, My Pictures, etc.) then click Send To > Desktop Create Shortcut. Right click on the folder icon on your desktop, select Properties then the Shortcut tab. Click into the Shortcut Key box press Ctrl + Alt then a letter or symbol of your choosing (e.g. M for Music, P for pictures). In some cases you may find that the shortcut character is already in use by something else when running a program, in which case go back and try another one.



How many times has your PC asked you to ‘Insert the Windows CD’, when you are installing a new piece of software or hardware? It’s okay if you are super-organised and know exactly where you can lay your hands on the disc but for the rest of us it means scrabbling around in drawers and cupboards to find it (actually I know exactly where mine is -- see this Top Tip).


Admittedly Windows XP is nowhere near as demanding as previous versions but it still happens, so here’s a way to avoid seeing that message. (Before you ask, if Windows was pre-installed on your PC and it didn’t come with an installation disc you almost certainly don’t need to worry about this Tip…).


Just pop your Windows XP disc in the CD drive and when it open click ‘Perform additional tasks’ and then ‘Browse this CD’. Right click on the I386 folder and select Copy, now open Windows Explorer, highlight the C:\ drive, right-click and select Paste and hopefully you’ll never need to play hunt the disc ever again.



Did you know in Windows XP you can add extra columns to the Details View in Windows Explorer? There are lots to choose from, just right click onto the column header bar and a list appears. If you have a large collection of MP3 or music files the Bit Rate, Artist, Album title, and Track Number columns should prove useful. For picture files try Date Created and Camera Model. Don’t forget, this only works in the Details View, so make sure that is selected, either from the View menu or the View icon on the toolbar.



Following on from the Top Tip change the size of Thumbnail images in Windows Explorer -- see below -- here’s another way pack more images in the display by switching off the filenames. Simply hold down the Shift key when you double-click to open a folder in Thumbnail View. Windows Explorer will remember the setting so if you want to restore the filenames just repeat the exercise.



The Thumbnail View in Windows Explorer can be really useful for previewing images stored on your hard drive but the size of the thumbnail images are fixed, which may be inconvenient if you have a lot of images in each folder, or you just want to see more detail. If you know your way around the Windows XP Registry then there is a way to adjust the size but as always I have to stress that Registry editing is not for novices, and you should always make a backup first.


Start by opening the Registry Editor (‘regedit’ in Run on the Start menu) and click your way to:





Right click into the right hand window and select New > DWORD Value and change the default name to 'ThumbnailSize’ (without the quotes). Next double click the newly created key and in the Value box enter a number between 32 (smallest) and 256 (largest). Close Regedit and open Explorer and check your newly shrunken or enlarged thumbnails for size.



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.



Here’s a nifty little Windows XP trick that lets you quickly preview multimedia files (AVI, CD Audio, MP3 etc.) in Windows Explorer, without having to wait for Windows Medial Player or your chosen media player to open. All you have to do is open Windows Explorer then go to Tools > Folder Options and select the File Types tab. Scroll down the list and click to highlight the multimedia file type you want to be able to preview. e.g. avi movie files, then 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 the dialogue boxes and it’s done. Now in Windows Explorer find an avi file (or your chosen file type), on the menu that appears select Quickview and the file will immediately start playing.



Windows Explorer is great for navigating your way around your hard disc but it doesn’t really tell you much unless you delve into the Details and Properties views. SpaceMonger is a brilliant little freeware program that shows you exactly what you’ve got on your PC’s drives and removable media, and how much space is being used with a clear, colourful and easy to understand visual map. You can zoom in on the contents of files and folders and you can also use it to delete those monster redundant files you never knew you had.



Whilst flash drives are very convenient there are other ways of transporting or carrying important data around with you. If you have a digital camera or MP3 player you can normally use the memory card or drive to store word processor documents, spreadsheets etc. The card or drive will usually show up as a removable storage device in Windows Explorer whilst downloading pictures or tunes when the camera or player is connected to the PC by a USB cable. You can also drag and drop files into the card using a USB memory card reader, which you can take with you, when travelling on business or holiday, so the contents of the card can be read on other computers




Every so often you may want to transfer files between PCs on floppy disc. It's no problem, providing the file is no larger than 1.4Mb. If it is you could compress the data, or use multiple floppies, but there's another option, compress the disc. Windows 95 (and 98) has a utility called DriveSpace. It is intended to increase the capacity of hard disc drives, but it works just as well with floppies, almost doubling their capacity, to around 2.6Mb. Insert a clean disc into drive A: and from the Start Menu click on Programs, then Accessories then System Tools and open DriveSpace. Click on the disc icon or choose compress from the File men and follow the instructions




If you need to quickly make a copy of a floppy disk -- maybe a colleague needs to see some files you've been working on -- then Windows can help. From your desktop or the Start Button open My Computer then right-click on the floppy disc icon and select Copy Disk on the menu. Windows then reads the entire contents of the disc into the PC’s memory; a bar graph shows how the copy process is progressing. When the indicator reaches halfway Copy Disc will ask you to remove the original disc and load a blank formatted floppy. Make sure there's nothing on it or it may be overwritten, click OK and the information is read back to the second disc.




Send To is one of the most useful facilities in Windows Explorer. By right clicking on a file, the Send To option will instantly copy the file to another folder, a floppy disc or the clipboard, but it can do many more things besides. You can add any application or drive destination to the Send To list and save yourself a lot of time moving files and opening applications.


Unfortunately the default locations for Send To are a bit limited, but there’s a way around that. Send To Toys is an invaluable little utility that lets you add to (and remove) items on the Send To list with a single click. It’s freeware and compatible with all flavours of Windows 9x, 2000 and XP and the download is only 400Kb. The link to the download can be found at:




Go to the Start menu then Programs and open Windows Explorer. Scroll down the list to the Windows folder, open it, locate and double click on Send To. Now go up to File on the menu bar, select New, then Shortcut and use Browse to find the application you are interested in. Open the folder and look for the relevant *.exe file, single click to highlight and select Open. You will be asked to give the program a name -- if you don't want to use the default -- then click Next and Finish and the item is added to the Send To list. 



Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.