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Advanced Windows XP User Features

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This chapter is from the book

Windows XP comes with more ways to modify your interface than any previous version of Windows. Not only can you use the new Windows interface, but many of the features of the Windows 2000 interface are available as well. All of this flexibility means that you can have the interface you really want—the one that will make you most productive. Unfortunately, all of this flexibility can also mean confusion on the part of the user. That's why I placed what I consider advanced user features in a separate chapter.

In the preceding chapter, we looked at the simplified Windows XP interface. This interface is easy to use, but doesn't provide much in the way of flexibility. Windows XP also supports what I call a standard interface, the kind of interface that most Windows users have come to expect. This chapter will show you how to convert from the simplified interface to the standard interface that many power users will want. In addition, we'll discuss how to obtain the Windows 2000 interface. Just because you're using Windows XP doesn't mean that you have to settle for an interface that doesn't suit your tastes.

Part of using the standard interface is negotiating the Classic Start Menu, the one found in previous versions of Windows. Chapter 2 discussed the new, simplified Start Menu that you'll see when you start Windows XP. This chapter concentrates on the standard menu components as well as on the standard toolbars. In fact, I'll show you how to create your own toolbars to make working with Windows more efficient.

One issue we really didn't discuss in the preceding chapter is the Desktop—the part of the display where you place icons, applications, and data files. Windows XP has two different Desktops. The first is the standard desktop found in even the old versions of Windows 9x. The second is the relatively new Active Desktop. We'll discuss both desktops, and you'll discover how to make maximum use of the Active Desktop if you decide to take the plunge and use it.

You learned in Chapter 2 that Explorer is one of the first tools you should learn how to use, and everyone should learn to use it fully. We only scratched the surface in Chapter 2. This chapter discusses advanced Explorer techniques. You'll learn how to configure Explorer to suit your needs and use it to reconfigure your system, and you'll even get some customization tricks that no one should be without. Most importantly, you'll learn why this tool is so essential for novice and expert alike.

This chapter ends with a discussion of some important but miscellaneous interface configuration issues. You'll learn about the Startup folder and how to use it to make your system self-configuring (at least to an extent). Anyone who has read Chapter 2 will see the effects of using Web content in folders. You can change the appearance of the Web content to suit your needs, so the effects in Chapter 2 are only the beginning. These sections will also tell you about screen savers and themes. If you used themes under Windows 9x and liked them, you really need to see how Microsoft has improved theme support for Windows XP.

Switching to the Standard Interface

The simplified Windows XP interface has many appealing features, but it also hides some of the power of Windows. If you perform the same tasks every day, the hidden features may not make much of a difference. An accountant who uses the same application all day to compute someone's tax bill won't worry much if he or she doesn't see the Administrative Tools folder. However, many power users will find the hunt for their favorite administrative tool frustrating. Speed is of the essence for the power user.

The standard interface is one that reflects the power of the original Windows 9x interface and the functionality of the Windows XP feature set. It allows a power user to find what he needs quickly. The same interface that confuses the novice and thwarts someone who performs the same task every day makes the power user more efficient. I'm making these distinctions because the myth of the perfect interface seems to pervade the media. The perfect interface is a myth. There's only the interface that works best for you, which is why I'm happy to see that Microsoft is adding much-needed flexibility to Windows XP.

Enabling the standard interface is as simple as making a few changes to your environment. Begin by right-clicking the Start Menu and selecting Properties. You'll see the Start Menu tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box, shown in Figure 3.1. Select Classic Start Menu, as shown in the figure. (I'll show you how to customize this menu in the "Start Menu Customization" section of this chapter.) You'll find that the Classic Start Menu has most of the same features of the Windows 2000 Start Menu, but that the look and feel of the Start Menu differs slightly.

You'll also need to consider other features for the standard interface, such as Taskbar configuration. Power users will often hide the Taskbar to free screen real estate for application use. In addition, power users will often add standard and custom toolbars to their Taskbars. For example, I keep a list of folders on my desktops for all my current projects. I make those folders instantly available, even with applications open, by adding the Desktop toolbar to my Taskbar. We'll discuss enhancements to the standard Taskbar in the "Using Toolbars" section of this chapter.

Figure 3.1 Switching to the standard interface means using the Classic Menu setup.

A final user interface adjustment for the standard interface is to modify Windows Explorer. Power users have many ways of using Windows Explorer. Most prefer a clean environment that's fast to use. Often, this means disabling Web content or at least creating customized Web content. As you saw in the preceding chapter, the default Web content, although helpful, is space consuming and not particularly helpful to someone who already knows how to perform basic tasks with Windows.

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