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This chapter is from the book

Active Desktop: A View of the Internet

Active Desktop allows you to place content from the Internet or an intranet on your Desktop. It enables you to get work done quickly and with much less effort. However, I find that Active Desktop comes in handiest in handling information overload.

The following sections look at the Active Desktop approach to working with Windows. You'll learn what sets Active Desktop apart from the Explorer interface. You'll also encounter tips and techniques for making Active Desktop work for you.

What Is an Active Desktop?

All the desktops you've used to-date are static—in other words, they don't change. Active Desktop does change. The desktop you used today won't be the same desktop you see tomorrow. When you arrive at work or start up your machine at home tomorrow, the contents of your desktop will change to reflect the new day.

Here's another way to look at Active Desktop. Think, for a second, about the newspaper. You receive a newspaper every day and place it on your desk. The one from yesterday gets thrown in the trash. Your desktop has changed—it contains new content that reflects what you're doing today. Likewise, Windows XP will change the content of your desktop each day to reflect changing events when you use Active Desktop. If you subscribe to a news channel and display it on your desktop, the display will change each day to reflect the changes in the news.

Active Desktop does more than change content. Consider what happens when you go to look for something on your local machine, the network, or the Internet. In the past, you used three different procedures to get the data you needed. Your local machine required one procedure, the network required another, and the Internet something different. Windows XP allows you to keep all your resources in one place. You'll be able to find the data you need without really thinking about where it came from.

Let's expand your horizons a little bit. Consider the role of a supervisor. If you want to direct people's attention to a specific event, a bit of data, or another company-related matter, you usually have to write a memo and distribute it to everyone. Wouldn't it be nicer if you could just place this information on the person's Windows Desktop? Windows XP permits you to do this. A company intranet can easily supply everything necessary for a supervisor to direct what an employee is doing. In addition, you can monitor employee progress without looking over his shoulder by looking at his desktop on the company intranet.

The following sections will help you get started using Active Desktop. After you understand its principles, how you use it is really a matter of how much imagination you have. Active Desktop, unlike the static desktop of old, has very few limitations.

Active Desktop Usage Tips

If you decide to use Active Desktop, you need to use it efficiently to get the maximum benefit. Some people stuff their Desktop with every folder available, making it just as cluttered as their actual office desk. What happens now that you can also fill the Windows XP Desktop with additional information from the Internet? This could cause some people to have real problems using Windows XP; the Desktop could become cluttered to the point of being unusable. The following points should help you keep the clutter to a minimum:

  • Avoid excess When using Active Desktop, decide what you need and what you don't need. After all, do you really need that folder containing last year's financial report? Determine the contents of your Desktop by frequency of access; this keeps your desktop uncluttered and makes you more efficient. If you visit the same Web site every day, it pays to place it on your desktop.

  • Create a filing cabinet Active Desktop is designed to give you the Internet on your desktop. The Internet uses links and pages to organize information, much as you'd use drawers and file folders to organize information in a filing cabinet. We've all seen Web pages that are really nothing more than links to other places. You could create pages of this sort to help organize and cross-reference information that you need every once in a while, but not on a daily basis.

  • Consolidate as necessary Some people work on many different projects at the same time and need access to many sources of information. Trying to keep these desktops uncluttered might seem like a losing proposition. You can avoid this problem, however, by consolidating what you need into folders. For example, you might have on your Desktop right now four or five folders that contain information for the same project. Consolidating that information into one master folder would make life easier.

  • Use a Taskbar toolbar You can save space on your desktop and make it easier to access your projects in the process. Create a toolbar for the Taskbar and point it to a local or network directory. Pointing your toolbar to a network directory can be more efficient than using the Desktop, which is an added bonus for people in a workgroup. That way, everyone has the same list of folders with the same names and shortcuts. Because everyone has the same project list, there's less confusion when talking to other people. In addition, the manager can keep the project folder list up-to-date by managing a single directory rather than trying to keep track of many employee desktops. We discussed toolbar usage in the "Using Toolbars" section of this chapter.

  • Minimize your Web pages In most cases, you don't need to view in their entirety the Web pages you frequent. A small view is usually sufficient until you need the information the page contains. I normally reduce the size of a Web page to the minimum possible, but large enough that I can still see any changes as Windows XP automatically updates the page content for me. You can always resize the page later to get a full view of the content it provides.

Customizing the Active Desktop

Previous versions of Windows allowed you to perform extensive customization of Active Desktop. Microsoft has stepped back from this technology after realizing that not everyone used it. You can perform all of the customization required for Active Desktop using the Web tab of the Desktop Items dialog box. Access this dialog box by right-clicking the Desktop, choosing Properties, selecting Desktop, and, finally, clicking Customize Desktop.

The default view shows the Web Pages field on the left side of the Desktop Items dialog box and four buttons on the right side. The Web Pages field usually contains two entries: Internet Explorer Channel Bar (optional) and My Current Home Page. Checking either of these options will display it on the Desktop.

Click New if you want to add a new Web page. The New Active Desktop Item dialog box will allow you to browse Favorites, manually type a uniform resource location (URL), or visit Microsoft's gallery to add a new URL to the Web Pages field. Click OK, and you'll see an Add Item to Active Desktop dialog box. Click OK again, and Windows XP will download the new page from the Internet.

Use Delete to remove an URL from the Web Pages field. Windows XP won't allow you to remove your home page from the list.

Highlight an URL and click Properties to display the Web Page Properties dialog box. The General tab of this dialog box contains statistics, such as the last time you visited the site and the number of visits. The Make This Page Available Offline option allows you to store the page on your hard drive rather than download a new copy every time you want to view it. The settings on the Schedule tab of the Web Page Properties dialog box determine when and how Windows XP downloads the Web page. The Download tab determines how Windows XP handles the Web page. For example, you can specify the number of link layers to download and the amount of disk space the Web page can use. This is also the tab where you enter your name and password information.

Web pages require updates from time to time if you want to keep the content fresh. Windows XP allows you to set individual pages for automatic or manual updates. Automatic updates occur on a predefined schedule. Manual updates require that you highlight the affected URL and click Synchronize.

The final option on the Web tab of the Desktop Items dialog box is Lock Desktop Items. Checking this option prevents users from moving Active Desktop content around. This feature is nice to use once you have your Active Desktop arranged and don't want to change it by accident.

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