Last month I started this Windows XP training series by discussing ways to customize
the Start Menu and Task Bar. However, we also slipped into
the Display dialog
box to check out two important features: how to move back to the Classic
Windows display and how to set the Clear Type option.
This month, just to keep you confused and guessing, we'll concentrate
on the Display dialog box, but before we move into that, I'm going to backtrack
and tell you about a couple Task Bar features that I forgot to mention last
The Task Bar, Revisited
Someone asked me what the Links item was on my Task Bar image
in the last issue. I really was planning to tell you about that. Sorry, just
As you can see in the image below, there are two items on my Task Bar that
you might be curious about. One is the Desktop item, the other the Links item.
These are actually shortcuts I've added to my Task Bar that allow me to quickly
access all my favorite items on my Links toolbar from Internet
I'm amazed at
how many people don't know about the Links toolbar in IE. It's a real favorite
of mine! (I'll give you a quick lesson in that in a minute...that is, if
I don't forget!)
Back to the Task Bar...
By adding the Links shortcut to my Task
Bar, I can quickly access any of
my favorite web sites with just a couple clicks. No need to open IE first
and navigate to any favorites list.
Same with the Desktop shortcut you see next to the Links shortcut. Let's say
I have a bunch of applications open and realize I need to get to some working
file I, conveniently, keep on my desktop. Rather than wasting time minimizing
all those apps, I can just click the Desktop shortcut and find the file in
the list. This list shows everything currently stuffed on my desktop.
You can easily add these, or other toolbars to your Task Bar, in Windows XP,
by right clicking the Task Bar and choosing Toolbars.
There you'll see that several are already listed and ready to be applied
with just a click. But you can also choose to add a New
Toolbar. You can
literally turn any folder
on your computer into a Toolbar.
And you don't have to have them sitting on your Task Bar. You can
grab them and move them to any location on your desktop. From floating on
your desktop to docking it along any side of your screen. In the image below,
I've grabbed the Desktop toolbar that was on my Task Bar at the bottom of
the monitor and moved it up to the top of my screen. By right clicking on
this toolbar, I can also choose to have it Auto Hide.
Auto Hide means that the toolbar will disappear from my desktop view when
I'm not using it. But if I move my mouse up to the top of my screen, it'll
pop out to allow me to quickly click on whatever I need.
Now, there are other ways to quickly access the desktop if you don't
want to mess with this additional toolbar. In the last
article I showed you how to turn on the Quick Launch toolbar, as shown
below. One of the default icons that will appear on it is the Desktop icon.
This is true in most all recent versions of Windows. So you can get to your
desktop with just a quick click on that button. Note that your icon look
will vary depending on the version of Windows you have.
And if that wasn't enough...you can always quickly access the desktop through
a shortcut keystroke, commonly call The Boss Key. Why is it called
that? Well...let's say you're surfing the web when you should be working.
The boss comes up to see how you're doing. Hit the Windows
+ M key (for minimize)
and all the open applications on your desktop will instantly become minimized
onto the Taskbar. So the boss won't see what you were really doing!<smirk>
To maximize those apps again, so you can get back to your important surfing
(once the boss is gone), just hit Windows/Shift + M to maximize them
Note that Windows + D will also display the desktop.
While we're on the subject of things I forgot to mention about the Task
Bar, one last item that can be quite useful is the ability to tile open application
windows on your desktop. This feature can be accessed by right clicking
on any vacant space on the Task Bar.
I frequently use this feature when I need to move around a lot of files on
my computer. Rather than just opening one window of Windows Explorer, I open
two. Then I tile them, either horizontally or vertically.
This allows me to set one view to the source folder and another to the destination
folder. Those of you who can remember back to Windows File Manager in
Win3x will remember this ability. This allows you to easily drag files from
one window to another without a lot of navigating up and down your folder's
tree structure. Great time saver if you're like me and have tons of folders
on your computer.
But this feature is also useful for dragging files from one application to
another. Maybe you have a chart in Excel and want to toss it in a Word doc.
Just tile the two apps, grab that chart and drag it into your document to
set an instant link to the file!
Internet Explorer Links
Okay, one more side trip and I promise we'll get on with the subject at hand...the
Display dialog box. But first, I promised to show you the Links toolbar in
You may have noticed this tiny listing in IE that says Links. It's actually
a special type of favorites toolbar.
Right click anywhere in a vacant area of IE's toolbar area and choose Unlock
Toolbars. Then you can click and drag the Links toolbar out to maximize it
along the top of IE.
You can now add either direct web site shortcuts to the Links toolbar, or
you can add a category folder and use that to organize your sites by
adding them into that folder. This saves you from having to always open/close
the favorite task pane along the side, because you can now just store tons
of favorites right on this convenient toolbar.
When you want to save a special site link to Links, just be sure to
select it from the list when you choose Favorite > Add,
as you can see below.
Windows XP Display
Alright, enough side-tracking. Time to get after that Display dialog.
You can access the Windows Display dialog box a couple different ways. You
can right click your desktop and choose Properties. Or go
> Control Panel and you'll see the Display icon.
When you open this dialog box, you'll see several Tabs along the top.
We already discussed the Theme tab in the last
article. This is where you
can set your desktop theme to change the look of the overall windows, desktop
and icon displays. And if you wanted to revert back to the old Classic
Windows look, you can switch from within this dialog box.
If you want to change the picture that is displayed on your desktop, you'll
want to access the Desktop tab. Maybe you have a favorite
photo that you'd like displayed on your desktop...like that shot of the grand
kids or your dog? You can choose any of the current images that come with
Windows XP, use some additional ones you might have purchased, or click the
Browse button and go find any photo on your computer to display it on your
A wonderful feature is the ability to decide what default icons
you want displayed on your desktop. Time was when you didn't have a choice.
But now, by clicking the Customize
Desktop button, as shown above, you can pick and choose, as well
as change the way some icons look.
If you select an icon in the display of this dialog and click Change
you'll see more choices.
Note! If you want even more icon choices, be sure to read this TechTrax
article: Changing Windows Cursors and Icons.
Also, if you find that you have a lot of icons gathering on your desktop,
many that you rarely use, you can use the Clean Up Wizard to
move those icons into a folder to help you clean up your desktop. Personally,
I prefer to do this manually. But you have the option here if you want to
let Windows clear away the dust for you.
There's a somewhat annoying default, that I believe might only be the default
in the XP Home version? It locks the icons to the desktop so when
you add a new one, they reorder themselves. My Mother's computer started
this way. I personally found it to be a pain, because I prefer to move things
and have them stay there to more easily find what I need. If your desktop
suffers from this affliction, know that you can turn off this feature (or turn
it on if your kids are always moving stuff around) by accessing the Web tab
under the Desktop tab, as shown below.
Also, if you have a special web site you want to monitor, you can set that
site as your default desktop view. In fact, if you want, you can even have
email sent to you, or someone else, when the site changes. When Greg is planning
to take our plane out, I like to keep a close eye on the weather. So I can
have my desktop display a local radar to more easily keep watch. Or maybe
you have a favorite tech or news site and want to know when it's been updated?
You can customize all types of settings here and have your desktop keep you
updated with events.
Everyone has a favorite screen saver they enjoy. You can choose your current
screen saver through the Screen Saver tab. Most have special
setting options you can customize, too. So nose around and see what they
And if you're using a laptop, or otherwise concerned about conserving energy,
be sure to click the Power button. There you can set all kinds
of special power saving options. When you're not using your computer, these
features can power it down for you to save energy.
If you're really particular about how your version of Windows looks, you can
customize the look of every individual item you see! Maybe you really like
the majority of some theme, but wish this or that was a different color.
Or maybe the text contrast is a little difficult for you to view?
You can access the Appearance tab and click Advanced. There you'll see a drop
down for Item. You can choose an item from this list and use the color settings
to adjust the way the item looks. You can see the adjustments in the display
window above the list.
But what if you don't know what a particular item is called? No problem. Click
on that item in the display window and it'll be selected for you from the
list. Then make the desired changes.
And don't forget to click that Effects button and choose Clear
Type. I personally
find that option a very nice display improvement, especially on a laptop
Suggestion! Be sure to save your current theme settings
before you go nosing around, clicking buttons to change the view. You can
do this by using the Save As feature in Themes and
giving your current look a name. This way, when you totally trash the current
view, you can easily go back to what looked good before you started messing
Note! I'm skipping the two MSI tabs shown
in my screen shots, as they are special tabs related to my
own video display.
Oh there's lots of trouble you can get into under the Settings tab!
And because of that, I'll give you a word of warning here...don't screw up
Oh sure...I've been telling you to nose around, experiment. And that's a good
idea with lots of these display settings. But under the actual Settings tab,
I'll tell you to use caution, particularly under the Advanced button.
If you're not paying attention to what you're doing, you can change
something and have a heck of a time trying to find your way out of Wonderland,
Alice! If you're the type who just can't resist a challenge of messing with
their computer...at least keep notes explaining what you've done,
or better...what you're about to have done before you've done it so you
can more easily undone it...or your monitor might be done for!
Okay, it might not become that serious. But use a little caution
so you don't change to some video setting that won't work and then realize
you have no idea what the correct setting is so you can't change it back.
Ahem...can you tell I speak from experience on this one?<sheepish
Plus, I can't really give you a lot of advice about these settings because
yours will, most likely, not look like mine. These Advanced video
driver (monitor) settings are customized to the type of video driver that
you have on your computer and they match the type of video card inside your
computer. So unless you have the exact same one I have (image under next
section), your tabs/options will look much different. And there are tons of
video card/drivers on the market.
However, there is one setting of which you'll want to take note. If you suffer
from video freezing, you'll want to find out where your Hardware
Accelerator is located. Mine is shown below under my Settings > Advanced
Yours may be elsewhere?
If your computer often times freezes up, you may be using the wrong version
of your assigned video driver. (Note the description under the slider. It
explains each slider click and what it might help. Turning it off explains
that it could help if your computer stops responding, i.e., freezes up, often.)
Or maybe you upgraded some programs, but have never upgraded your video driver?
The strain of the more advanced program features may cause your video driver
to go belly-up. You can test this theory by lowering your
Hardware Accelerator. (Learned this little trick back at the
1997 MVP Summit. It's gotten me out of a lot of trouble, several times over
Note that freezing can also be caused by too much junk in your TEMP folder
or too much junk running on your poor little ol' system. Or maybe you have
some addins causing conflicts? But you can give this test a shot. If it helps,
it probably means that you need to locate your video driver manufacturer's
web site and download/install an updated driver.
Note! If you have no idea what I'm talking about when I mention
the TEMP folder, read this article: Maintaining
Your Computer. And if addins don't ring a bell, read
of Word's Most Common Problems.
However, realize that if you use video intense programs, such as watching
DVDs or running apps that allow you to capture video from a camera, you
may lose this ability if you lower this setting. So use this as a test only.
If it helps the freezing issue, get the new driver. Don't just continue to
plug along with your accelerator dragging on the ground at a lower setting.
Upgrade and boost it back up to a full level.
Well, that should give you enough ammo to get yourself into lots of trouble
until next month. As always...I have no idea what we'll look at next time.
So you'll just have to come back to see what else we can dig into.