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Windows XP Tips & Tricks

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17 September 2008

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Windows XP Tips & Tricks

Does Microsoft Windows XP drive you mad? Here are a few tips that can help you tame the beast.
In this writeup, you will learn about tips and tricks that are special to Microsoft Windows XP. I suggest you read the writeup 101
Tips & Tricks To PC Performance for tips that work with all 32-bit Windows operating systems (Windows 95, Windows 98,
Windows Me, Windows 2000 and Windows XP). If some of the PC hardware-related concepts mentioned here seem alien to you,
then read writeup PC Hardware Explained. If you find that these writeups do not really address that problem that you had come
in search for, then you can mention it in my discussion forum.

Go Down


If you want Windows XP to be installed on a hard disk partition of your choice, then during the
installation procedure at the Setup Options screen, click on Advanced Options and check the
I want to choose the install drive letter and partition during Setup. See screenshot.
For the ideal partition setup, see the Disk Partitions section of 101 Tips And Tricks To PC
Numerous shortcomings have been discovered in Windows XP since it was released and
Microsoft has released several Service Packs to patch these up. These special packs can be
downloaded free from the Microsoft's website. Many computer magazines carry the latest special
packs on their cover CDs. Get one from a friend and install it if downloading it via the Net is a
Windows XP needs at least 128 MB of system RAM. If your laptop shares the RAM with the
onboard video card, then make sure the installed RAM is more than 128 MB.


The first thing you should be doing after installing Windows XP is to install the Windows XP
drivers of your motherboard.
Next, check Device Manager to see if there are any hardware that have not been recognised
or have a yellow question mark against them. Get the Windows XP drivers for these devices and
install them. Start installing your applications only after your hardware and drivers have been
properly installed.


Sometimes, when you start the PC, Windows will stop loading and freeze even before the
logon screen is reached. When you restart the PC in safe mode, you will see that Windows hangs
right after MUP.SYS file is loaded, although this file has nothing to do with this particular
annoyance. If this problem affects only NT-based OS installations such as Windows XP and 2000
and not FAT-based OSs Windows 95/98/Me installations on your machine, then the problem is
due to some error in the BIOS. Just reflash the BIOS with a good copy of the BIOS file. Refer to
your motherboard manual for instructions on flashing the BIOS. You can get the latest BIOS file
from the motherboard or the BIOS manufacturer's website.

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It is always better to have a logon procedure for your sessions. If by default this was disabled,

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enable it. Go to Control Panel User Accounts Change the way users log on and off.
Here, uncheck the box at Use Welcome Screen and click on Apply Options.
For security reasons, many people set the logon window to require Ctrl+Alt+Del. On
stand-alone machines, there is only a roundabout way to bring this behaviour. Type gpedit.msc
in the Run dialog box. Click on
Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\Security Options.
On the right-hand pane, double-click on Interactive logon: Do not require CTRL+ALT+DEL
and select Disabled.
To change the log-on picture, go to Control Panel User Accounts Change an
account. Here, click on your user account. Now, click on Change My Picture and then Browse
for more pictures. Here, select a picture of your choice and it will appear in the logon window.
If after creating or modifying the user account you are not able to log in, just press the Enter
key (You may not have set any password.) Or, change the UserID to Administrator and try with
the same password. This will work if the administrator account has not changed. After logging in
as Administrator, change the password of your account.
As soon as you log on, Windows Messenger will also start. To prevent this, start Windows
Messenger and go to Tools Options Preferences and uncheck the checkboxes for Run
this program when Windows Starts and Allow this program to run in the background.
Sometimes, the Computers Near Me might be missing from My Network Places. To get it
back, create/modify the Last Domain (string) value in the
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer to 0,0,Unknown.
You can put a message box just before someone logs on to your Windows PC by creating the
following string values under the key HLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT
\CurrentVersion\WinLogon\: LegalNoticeCaption (title of the message box) and
LegalNoticeText (contents of the message).

Boot Menu

If you have more than one operating system, then you will see a boot menu after the
computer completes the POST (Power On Self Test). After you install Windows XP, Windows XP
will become the default choice in the boot menu. To change this, go to Control Panel
System Advanced Startup and Recovery Settings Default Operating System
and select the OS that you want to be made default.
To change the number of seconds that the boot menu is displayed (after which the default OS
is loaded), change the Time to display list of operating systems. My suggestion would be 5
If you have Linux and some other OS installed in your machine, wouldn't you like to load it
from the Windows boot menu? If so, read the How To Multi-Boot Operating Systems.

System Settings

Windows XP may display an annoying "Low Disk Space" warning in the notification area
(system tray) whenever free disk space in any drive goes below a minimum threshold. To
disable this behaviour, open REGEDIT, create a DWORD value "NoLowDiskSpaceChecks" on the
right-side pane for the key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies
\Explorer and give it a value 0.
In the System Failure section in the Startup and Recovery tab, there is a checkbox for
Send an administrative alert. If you have no use for this, uncheck it.
If debugging information is of no value to you, select none from the listbox at Write
debugging information.
To save space, turn off System Restore by selecting the checkbox at Turn of System Restore
on all drives in the System Restore tab.
If automatic updates feature bugs you, then turn it off by checking the radio button at the
Turn off automatic updating. I want to update my computer manually in the Automatic
Updates tab. Just make sure you have installed the latest special packs and patches and
antivirus updates prior to this.
To prevent Windows XP sending or accepting remote connections uncheck the checkboxes at
the Remote tab.
In Windows XP, the Device Manager is buried under a lot of windows. For easy access to it,
create a shortcut for devmgmt.msc.


Windows XP, unlike Windows 9x/Me, has easily configurable background processes.
In NT-based systems such as Windows XP, there are so many of them running at
the same time that turning off some useless services will help in performance. If you
turn the setting for these services to Manual, then they will not hog so much

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resources and will come up only when asked to. Right-click on My Computer and
select Manage. Here, choose Services to look at the list of services that are
running. Some of the Automatic services here can be changed to Manual. DO NOT
TRY THESE TIPS if you do not understand them properly.
If you have no use for Automatic Updates, then change it manual.
If you do not want to start processes logged in as a different user, change Secondary Logon
to manual.
If you do not use Task Scheduler, then turn off Task Scheduler service to manual.
If you do not have a printer, turn the Print Spooler service to manual.
If you are unlikely to use a wireless network or device, then turn off Wireless Zero
Configuration service to manual.
If your computer is a standalone machine and is not connected to a LAN/WAN, then set
Alerter, Computer Browser, Messenger services to Manual. The Messenger service is not to
be confused with MSN Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger. It is used to broadcast messages on
a network, then set it to manual. This service is a source of annoyance that is known as
"Messenger Spam." If the Messenger service is very important to you but you don't want spam
messages, then you have to block the ports 135, 137-139 and 445 in your firewall.


The Windows XP special effects department can take a lot of memory and CPU time. Disabling
these can increase performance. For this, go to Control Panel System Advanced
Performance Settings Visual Effects Adjust for best performance.
Do you miss the volume control icon in the system tray? Then, go to Control Panel
Sounds and Audio Devices Device Volume and check the Place Volume icon in the
The Quicklaunch toolbar by default may be disabled. Enable it by going to Control Panel
Taskbar and Start Menu Taskbar Appearance Show Quick Launch.
You can add icons to the QuickLaunch toolbar for easy access to your favorite programs,
folders, websites, etc. For this, create the shortcuts on your desktop and drag them to the
QuickLaunch toolbar.
When you add icons in the QuickLaunch toolbar, you will find that the toolbar does not
resize itself. To allow this, right-click on the taskbar and click on the Lock the Taskbar option.
If you want to create another toolbar. The create a folder and put your shortcuts in it. Now,
right-click on the taskbar and choose New Toolbar from the Toolbar menu. In the dialog box,
select the folder that you had just created.
The system tray, by default, hides icons that are not currently active. To change this
behaviour, right-click on the taskbar, click on Properties to go to Taskbar and Start Menu
Properties and uncheck the Hide Inactive Icons checkbox. Or, you could click on the
Customize button to display the Customize Notifications. You can then choose to selectively
display or hide system tray icons listed there.

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Windows XP's short and fat Start menu can be a pain in your wrist. Your favorite program
could be hidden in deep recess under it. For easy access, navigate to the program in the Start
menu and right-click on its option and select Pin to Start menu.
In Windows XP, the Active Desktop settings has been hidden away. It is not where it used to
be in previous versions of Windows. It is available at Control Panel Display Customize
Desktop Web.


People who find the new Windows Explorer windows a bit confusing, should make use of
the Favorites menu instead to navigate easily to different locations. Open those folders or
locations that you often visit, select the Add to Favorities options in the Favorites menu.
Whenever you feel lost, just pull down the Favorites menu and select the folder you want to go
Windows XP's Search feature searches inside zip files (compressed folders) too. This can
slow down the process. To stop this behaviour, enter regsvr32 \winnt\system32\zipfldr.dll
/u in the Run dialog box (Start Menu). You might want to use a program like WinZip to deal
with compressed folders. To get that functionality back, use the same line without the /u switch.
The search pane of Windows Me/2000 was more user friendly than that of Windows XP. So, if
you want to return the Windows Me/2000 interface, then open up Regedit and navigate to
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\CabinetState. On the right-hand
side, create a string value Use Search Asst and give it a value no, and ye shall be blessed.
If you like the Explorer's lean-mean look of yesteryears and want to avoid the miserable
sidebar, go to Folder Options Tasks and select Use Windows Classic Folders.
In the Details view of Windows Explorer, if you right-click on a column heading, you will be
able to customize the view with other hidden headings.

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Windows sets the speed of COM ports to 9600 bps by default. To prevent this low speed from
being a bottleneck to your dialup Internet connection, change the speed of the COM port used by
the network connection that you use for connecting to the Net to 921600 bps by modifying string
value of the COM port under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows
Windows XP offers great support for wireless networks particularly those with WiFi.* Almost
all notebook PCs today are based on Intel Centrino (Duo) or AMD Turion platform, which provide
wireless support out-of-the-box. When using wireless devices, there is an enevitable tradeoff
between security and ease of use. An unsecured wireless network creates the possibility that
someone can hack into your network/PC or just someone you stealing your Internet bandwidth.
This is because network packets are sent over the air and special software such as Network
Stumbler or AirSnort can sniff these packets and break their encryption code. So, what choices
do you have? An accepted industry-practice for securing wireless networks involves the use VPN
(Virtual Private Networking) and IP tunneling software.
An easier solution would be to provide network access based on the MAC addresses of the
network client computers. A MAC address is unique and cannot be easily changed because it is a
hardware-assigned number. Airports, hotels, restaurants and clubs offering free Wi-Fi Internet
access to their patrons can ask for the MAC address of the PCs of their clients and add these to
the MAC address table on the wireless access point. This prevents freeloaders lurking in the area
from illegitimately using the free service. To obtain the MAC address, customers can be asked to
type cmd in the Run dialog box on the Start menu and enter the command ipconfig /all,
which displays information about the PC's network adaptor including its MAC address.
* - Wi-Fi does not stand for Wireless Fidelity. It is merely a play on the term Hi-Fi (High Fidelity).

Use software such as Rambooster to cope up with the bigger memory requirements of
You can create some custom menu options to the context menu of My Computer using
Regedit. Create a key at
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}\shell and give it a name like
DM_Command. On the right-side pane, change the default value to Device Manager. Create
another key under
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}\shell\DM_Command called
Command. On the right-side pane, change its default value to start devmgmt.msc. Now, close
Regedit and right-click on My Computer to see the effect. You can create such custom menu
options for any other commands. Your choices are limited only by your imagination. But, do
remember that meddling with the Registry is not for novices. See screenshot
With the above tip, the order in which your custom menu option appear can be controlled by
changing the name of the key that you create under shell. For example, if you name it
ZDM_Command, it will appear last in the menu order.
Similarly, you can create custom menu options for My Network Places too. Just create the
keys under
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{208D2C60-3AEA-1069-A2D7-08002B30309D}\Shell. For Recycle Bin, it
should be under
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}\Shell. The DM_Command stands
for Device Manager Command. I chose to name it like that. You can use your imagination when
naming these keys, but the Command key is compulsory. You have no freedom on that.

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Create a shortcut for Task Manager (taskmgr.exe) on the Start menu for quick access.
This will come useful when you have to turn off or kill any processes. You can also press
Ctrl+Shift+Esc for the same purpose.
If Windows hangs, then open up Task Manager and look for any programs that is shown as
Not Responding. Right-click on that program and select End Process. If there are no such
processes, then the Windows shell is probably the offending program. Move to the Processes
tab and select explorer.exe. Right-click on this and select End Process. When you kill
explorer, the desktop and the taskbar will disappear. Now, give the three-button salute and bring
up the Task Manager. Select New Task from the File menu and type explorer. This will restore
your desktop and taskbar.
If the above tip fails to revive Windows, trying logging off and logging in again. If that fails
too, restart.
Outlook Express by default might prevent access to certain attachments that it suspects might
contain a virus. This is the reason why you get the OE has removed the unsafe attachment
error. To prevent this, go to Tools Options Security and uncheck the box for Do not
allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus.
Disk Clean Up might seem to hang when it does the "Compress old files" routine. If you wait
long enough, it will complete that job, but for most people it seems to "hang." To avoid this,
export the registry key
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches for
safekeeping, just in case you want it back later on. Next, delete the Compress old files key.
Read through 101 Tips And Tricks To PC Performance for tips that are common to all
32-bit Windows operating systems. You will be missing a lot if you did not look into that page.

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For hardware issues, see the illustrated guide PC Hardware Explained.

V. Subhash, 2008.
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