Customizing Windows

More Than 200 Hacks,Tweaks,Moods,and Customizations.

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Customizing The Start Panel - Chapter 1

Customizing user navigation is the next stop on the Windows XP customizing
road trip. In the last chapter, with the help of some cool hacks, you were able to change and improve the boot and logon screens. This chapter will pick up where Chapter 1 left off and will show you how to customize and improve the visual navigation elements of Windows XP.

This chapter starts off with customizing the look and contents of the cool new Start panel. This new screen can show a lot more than just your recently run programs. If you do not like the new Start panel, you can find out how to get the old classic Start Menu back. Then, you will learn some cool hacks to improve and customize the classic Start Menu. You cannot customize the Start panel and then leave out customizing the program listings. I will show you some cool hacks that will customize this as well.

To finish this chapter up, you’ll learn how to customize the taskbar on the bottom of your screen. The taskbar is a very essential part of navigating your computer. I will show you how to customize and improve its features and will give you some new ideas on how you can use it that may dramatically improve your experiences with Windows XP.

Customizing the Start Panel
The Start panel is what I call the new replacement for the traditional Start Menu that we are all familiar with from using previous versions of Windows. I call this the Start panel because it is not just a menu anymore. It is now a collection of various links and features all thrown onto one panel that pops up. It offers many new features, such as a dynamic list that places your most frequently run programs on the panel so that you can easily access them without having to navigate throughout the entire program listings. Additionally, the Start panel has replaced all of the icons on the desktop except for the Recycle Bin so that your desktop will look much cleaner
and uncluttered.

Different tools and hacks are available that will allow you to customize the Start panel. Almost everything on it is customizable. You can add and remove items that are displayed, and you can even change the way it looks.With the many different options available, you can customize the way that different parts of the panel works. For example, you can change the number of frequently run programs that are displayed.

When you have finished reading these next few sections, you will have transformed your Start panel into something that is even more useful for your everyday tasks.

Using Group Policy Editor to customize the Start panel
The Group Policy Editor is a great tool that makes customizing the Start panel a snap. It is a very powerful tool that was not originally designed to be a tool that can customize but a tool for workplace management. Group policies were originally designed so that administrators can limit what a user can do on their computer. Let’s say you are responsible for hundreds of Windows machines at work. Most likely, you will want to limit what users can do on their computers so that they don’t accidentally install a harmful program or change a system setting
that renders their computer useless. Group policies make it possible to limit a user’s access to critical areas of the operating system.

The most common use of the Group Policy Editor is to edit policy information on a domaincontroller. The domain controller can be thought of as a computer on a corporate network that is in charge of security. It is like a database of usernames, passwords, and configuration information. The Group Policy Editor is used by administrators to modify the user configuration data. The next time a user logs onto their computer, new policy information is downloaded and applied. Now the user is limited in what they can do on their computer.

Although the Group Policy Editor is primarily used for computer management in a business, it can also be used to customize an individual computer running Windows XP Professional. Because Microsoft wanted to support both small and large businesses, they have included a copy of the Group Policy Editor with every copy of Windows XP Professional.With that inclusion, even if a company was not large enough to have a domain controller, they could still limit and fine-tune a user’s experience. Unfortunately,Windows XP Home does not come with a copy of the Group Policy Editor. This exclusion was not by accident. Microsoft chose not to include a copy of this utility with XP Home because the Group Policy Editor was designed to be a business utility. And, well, XP Home is meant for use in the home.

Think you can get the Group Policy Editor to work by copying over the program file to a computer running Windows XP Home? Sorry, but I tried doing so, and the program would not start. So, the discussion in this section will only apply to those working with Windows XP Professional. If you are running XP Home, you will not be missing out on too much; the next section about adding and removing the different navigation icons will be compatible with your version.

Now that you know all about the Group Policy Editor, it is time to learn how you can use it to customize the Start panel. The Editor will enable you to enable and disable various different features. First, you’re going to find out how to get the Editor up and running. Then, you can check out a list of all of the relevant features you can use to customize the Start panel. To begin customizing, follow these steps:

1.Click the Start Menu and select Run. Then type gpedit.msc into the box and click OK. This will start up the Group Policy Editor. If you get an error, make sure that you have typed the name of the file correctly and that you are running Windows XP Pro.

2. Now that you have the Group Policy Editor up and running, you will want to navigate to the Start Menu and Taskbar settings. This can be done by expanding the User Configuration, Administrative Templates, and the Start Menu and Taskbar folder.

3. Once you have navigated through the Editor, you will see a list of all of the different features of the Policy Editor. A number of features listed will only apply to the taskbar.Table 1 lists all of the relevant features and provides a description of what they will do. For the sake of demonstrating how to use the Editor, let’s assume that you want to remove the username from appearing on the top of the Start panel. Use your mouse to locate Remove User Name from the Start Menu list. Right-click it and select Properties.

4. The Remove User Name from the Start Menu Properties window will load. Then, to turn the feature on, just click the circle (known as a radio button) next to Enabled

5. Then, just click OK and you are finished.

Table 1. Group Policy Features to Customize the Start Panel

Feature = Description

Add Log Off to Start Menu = If you do not have the Log Off button on your Start panel, this feature will display it when you set it to Enable. Some installations of Windows XP do not have this feature enabled by default. With these, the only way to log off your computer when the button is not displayed is to first click the Shutdown button and then click the Log Off button from the Shutdown menu that pops up. It is much easier and faster to just click the Log Off button in the first place.

Remove All Programs list from the Start Menu = This feature will take out the All Programs link that displays the list of all of the applications installed on your computer. This feature is useful if you want to limit the programs someone has access to on your computer, or if you just want to do away with the old menu altogether. Set this feature to Enable and say goodbye to your program list.

Remove Logoff on the Start Menu = This feature will remove the Logoff button from the Start panel. If you are one of the lucky users and your installation of Windows XP includes the button to log off, you can enable this feature to get rid of the button, if you have no use for it.

Remove pinned programs from the Start Menu = Pinned programs are the list of programs that appear in the top left corner of the Start panel. By default, programs such as Internet Explorer and either Outlook Express or Microsoft Outlook are displayed in this area, which shows the list of frequently run programs. If you would like to remove these links to programs so that you will have more room to display frequently run programs, set this feature to Enable and you are set.

Remove user name from Start Menu = You already have experience with this setting from the procedure I walked you through. If you do not want your username to be shown on the top of the Start panel, then enable this feature. This may seem like a useless hack at first, but it may be useful in a variety of cases (such as if you are concerned about the security of your computer). Anyone that clicks your Start buttonwill be shown your username. If you operate an Internet café or manage public computers, you are strongly advised to enable this feature.

Prevent changes to Taskbar and Start Menu Settings = Once you get your Start panel and taskbar (see Customizing the Taskbar) looking the way you want, a good way to lock in your changes is to enable this feature.

If you want to get your username back, just repeat the above directions but select the Disable Radio Button instead and then click OK.

Table 1 shows a list of all of the great features that will help you customize your copy of Windows XP Pro.

Caution: Wait to enable the feature that allows you to prevent changes to the taskbar and Start Menu until you have finished reading “Customizing The Look Of The Startup”. Otherwise, you may run into unexpected programs as you are customizing various parts of your computer.

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