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This chapter is from the book

Changing the View

The working environment you choose determines how productive you are and whether work is fun or a chore. Microsoft sets up Windows XP a certain way, which is the environment you see when you start Windows XP after installing it. Microsoft chooses the simplest and most limited set of features for the interface because they expect advanced users to modify their environment as needed for comfort.

We've already discussed many optimizations you can make to your setup. For example, you know about the various Explorer bars including Search, Favorites, and History. Now we're going to explore the interface further. You'll learn how to reconfigure your Start menu and generally change the appearance of the Windows XP environment.

Selecting and Configuring the Start Menu

Everyone uses the Start menu at some time during the day. No matter how well you organize your data, using a data-centric approach for working with Windows will only go so far. You need access to the Start menu in order to find applications that don't manipulate data (utilities), work with more than one file at a time (spreadsheets and word processors), or create a new data file.

Windows XP actually comes with two completely different Start menus. The first is the simple menu that you see when you initially start using Windows XP. The second is a classic type that looks similar to the one in Windows 2000. The following sections look at both menu types. Because the Start menu is such an important part of your daily Windows experience, you'll always want to perform this particular customization.

Selecting a Start Menu

Choosing a Start menu is relatively easy. Right-click Start and choose Properties from the context menu. You'll see a Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog like the one shown in Figure 3.25. Notice that there are two menu selections. If you choose Start menu, you'll see the simple Windows XP menu. Selecting Classic Start menu displays a Start menu that looks similar to the one in Windows 2000.

Figure 3.25 Windows XP offers two different Start Menus

Note that both menus offer a Customize button. You click the Customize button assoc-iated with the selected menu to make changes to the appearance of the menu. As we'll see in the following sections, you can do quite a bit to customize both menus, but each offers significantly different customization options.

Aside from the physical appearance differences between the two Start menus, you'll also see differences in the way Windows maintains them. The Classic Start menu relies on the organizational skill of the user. Microsoft provides you with a certain organization, but you're free to move things without too much trouble. The Classic Start menu also presents all of the applications installed on your machine. It's up to you to find the one you need.

The simple, or Windows XP, Start menu presents only the applications you use most often. This means you not only avoid the clutter of the Classic Start menu, but applications can hide as well. You must manually select the More Programs icon to see all of the applications installed on your system. In sum, the simple Start menu is the optimal choice for novice users and those who don't require access to a broad range of applications. It really is the easiest interface to learn.

Simple Start Menu

The simple, or Windows XP, Start menu provides a simplified interface when compared to the Start menu in Windows 2000. You'll find that this theme also applies to the configuration issues for this Start menu. Figure 3.26 shows the General tab of the Customize Start menu dialog box.

Figure 3.26 Customization for the simple Start menu is relatively basic.

As you can see, this tab offers access to features such as large and small icons. You can also choose the number of menu items on the Start menu. The Clear button will clear the list so you can start over. You can also choose to have Internet Explorer and Outlook Express icons on the Start menu.

The Advanced tab shown in Figure 3.27 provides a little more in the way of configuration options. Notice that this tab provides optimizations to the appearance of the Start menu. You can choose to animate the Start menu as it opens. While this feature looks neat, it does waste resources and processing cycles, which is why Microsoft probably turns it off by default. The Open submenus on hover option allows the user to move from item to item without clicking all the time. This is a real time saver. The Highlight newly installed applications option is also a good feature because it makes it easier for new users to find their applications.

Figure 3.27 The Advanced tab allows you to control the appearance, operation, and content of the Start menu.

The list in the middle of the dialog box is one of the more important configuration options. It allows you to choose the items that appear on the right side of the Start menu. You can't unpin or delete the items on the right side of the list, so this represents the only way to reconfigure that part of the menu. In some cases, you can also choose how items appear on the Start menu. For example, you can display the Control Panel as a menu or a link. If you choose the link option, Windows XP will open the Control Panel in a separate window.

The last configuration option on this menu is the recently used document list. Selecting this option displays the recently used documents on the Start menu, allowing the user to employ a data-centric approach when working with some types of applications, such as a word processor. The Clear List button allows you to clear the most recently used documents list. For example, you might want to use this option after you complete a project.

Classic Start Menu

The Classic Start menu offers the user little in the way of protection. You get all the clutter that Windows 2000 had, but you also gain complete access to all of your applications with little trouble. For this reason, power users will likely prefer the Classic Start Menu.

The customization process for the Classic Start menu is about the same as it was for Windows 2000. When you click Customize in the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog, you'll see a Customize Classic Start Menu dialog box like the one shown in Figure 3.28.

Figure 3.28 The Customize Classic Start Menu dialog looks very similar to its Windows 2000 counterpart

As you can see, this dialog allows you to change the way the Start menu presents information. For example, you can choose to use a menu for the Control Panel (expanded form) or open the Control Panel in a separate window. One of the options that I always select is Display Administrative Tools. This option places an Administrative Tools folder within the Start menu. I can access the administrative tools I need without digging through the Control Panel to find them.

The Add and Remove buttons control content within the Start menu. You can add an application that normally doesn't appear on the Start menu, such as the Registry Editor (RegEdit.EXE). Just click Add and follow the prompts. I often wonder why Microsoft doesn't include a special option to automatically add these specialty tools to the Start menu.

The Advanced button opens a two-pane copy of Windows Explorer that's right at the Start menu. You don't have to search for the correct entry within \Documents and Settings.

The Sort button sorts all of the menu entries. You can sort individual entries by right-clicking the menu and choosing Sort by Name from the context menu. This button makes sorting considerably faster.

Finally, click Clear to clear the various lists. This button clears the most recently used documents list. The explanatory text is a little misleading, in this case, because it gives you the impression that the Clear button works with the History Explorer Bar as well. It doesn't; all this button clears is the Documents entry in the Start menu.

Folder Options

You may wonder why I didn't cover folder options as part of Windows Explorer. After all, the Tools | Folder Options command appears within that application. The fact is that Folder Options changes more than just the Explorer interface. Everything you do with this customization will affect the general Windows XP display as well. Every folder you work with will change unless you manually set the options for that folder. The following sections will explain each of the Folder Options dialog box features.

General Options

The General Options tab controls how you interact with folders. It contains three options. The first determines if you use Windows classic folder or enable Web content. If you select the Web content option, you'll see the Web Content pane that we discussed earlier. This pane appears in all folders, even the single-pane folders normally used to hold data files.

The second option determines if you open each folder in the same window as the existing folder or in a new window. Using the existing window tends to keep the display less cluttered. You can use the Back and Forward buttons to move between folders. Using multiple windows has the advantage of allowing you to compare the contents of folders with greater ease. It's also easier to move data between folders when you have a separate window for each one.

The third option determines if you use a single- or a double-click to perform a default action on a file or folder. The single-click method is faster, but the double-click method is the one that most people are accustomed to using. I also find that many people have a hard time displaying the context menu when using the single-click method. The technique you use depends on how attached you are to the traditional way of working with files and folders in Windows.

View Options

The View tab provides some important options. Figure 3.29 shows the options on this tab. Notice that this tab contains advanced features, such as the use of multiple colors for displaying compressed or encrypted files and folders. The tab also contains two options that affect your ability to see hidden files. The first are the two Hidden files and folders options. Select the Show hidden files and folders option if you want to see the majority of your files. You'll also need to clear the Hide protected operating system files option if you want to see everything on your drive. Some users are amazed at what Microsoft considers a protected operating system file. I won't go through all of the options in this list, but it's well worth your while to spend some time looking through them.

Figure 3.29 Use the View tab to control advanced viewing options.

The View tab also includes the Like Current Folder and Reset All Folders buttons. Both of these buttons reset the folder settings for all folders on your system. If you select Like Current Folder, Windows will use the current folder as a template. The Reset All Folders button will set all folders to the Windows XP default settings.

File Types

The File Types tab contains a list of all of the file types registered on your system. The Details area will tell you about the file extension. For example, you'll learn which application will open the file extension.

The New and Delete buttons on this tab allow you to create new file extensions and to get rid of old ones. When creating a new file extension, all you need to provide is the extension. You can also associate the file extension with an existing file type. It's essential that you delete file extensions with care. Even if you remove the application that normally handles the file, Windows may supply a default application that you could use instead.

The Change button allows you to perform a simple association with the highlighted file extension. All you need to do is select an application to associate with the file. Unfortunately, this won't handle every file association need. In that case, you need to click Advanced. This opens the Edit File Type dialog shown in Figure 3.30.

Figure 3.30 The Edit File Type dialog allows you to create complex file associations.

As you can see, this dialog allows you to create complex file associations. You can use it to create multiple actions for each file extension. Creating a file association includes assigning a name to the action, adding an application to open the file, and deciding whether you want to use a simple filename pass or a complex Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) opening scenario. We'll look at the process of working with complex file associations during Day 12. You can also use buttons in this dialog to edit existing actions or delete actions you no longer require. The Set Default button will set the highlighted action as default. Windows XP uses this action when a user double-clicks the file.

The final three options determine how Windows XP interacts with files retrieved from remote sources. I always check the Confirm Open After Download option to ensure downloaded files always receive a virus check. Showing the file extension can also help reduce the risk of opening a virus-infected file posing as data. Finally, the Browse in Same Window option determines if Windows XP opens a separate window to display this file.

Offline Files

Windows XP allows you to download content from the Internet for offline viewing. This allows you to take your time reviewing a document rather than rush through it in an effort to save money on connection time. However, you need some way to control the use of local hard drive space for offline file viewing, and that's where this tab comes into play. Figure 3.31 shows the Offline Files tab.

Figure 3.31 Use the Offline Files tab to control how Internet Explorer uses drive space to accommodate offline viewing of Internet content.

As you can see, most of the options are straightforward. You need to enable offline files before you can use them to store Internet content. It's also important to choose a synchronization strategy. Most people prefer to synchronize files after they finish their online session. That way, Internet Explorer synchronizes any new offline files before you log off. In addition, you'll waste less time waiting to access the Internet when you initially log on.

The next three options control how Windows XP interacts with the user. You can tell Windows XP to remind you about the offline status of your data at specific time intervals. Creating an Offline Files shortcut on the Desktop allows you to access the offline data faster. Finally, you'll want to encrypt sensitive offline data to keep it safe.

The slider near the bottom of the dialog is especially important because it controls disk space used to store offline data. As with everything else Microsoft does, they assume you want to use a full 10% of the drive to store offline content. In some cases, you may want to set that much space aside. However, in most cases, you'll want to experiment with lesser values first to see if you can use drive space more efficiently for other tasks.

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