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Windows, we hardly know ye

Tips and tricks for Windows XP.

While Windows XP is arguably the most stable version of the OS in the history of Microsoft, it can be a little hard to get used to. Certain settings and commands, for instance, don’t work quite the same way that they once did. Also, there are new options to try out, play with, and decide whether or not you like. In other words, there’s a lot to learn.

In this month’s column, we’ll take a look at several tips and tricks for intrepid Windows XP users who want to have a little more control over their PCs. Some of the tips are simple common sense, while others force you to delve into the nitty gritty of the Windows XP operating system. All the tips have been tested and they do work, but use them with caution and make sure to back up your system before changing anything that can’t easily be changed back.

Windows’ “Open Apple” key

Unlike Apple’s fabled “Open Apple” key, the Windows Logo key found on most current PC keyboard just hasn’t caught on. In fact, chances are you’ve ignored it altogether, simply because all it seemed to do is display the start Menu. But that just isn’t so.

Combined with other keys, the Windows Logo key (Logo for short) provides shortcuts to the following commands:

Logo: Display the Start menu

Logo + D: Minimize or restore all windows

Logo + E: Display Windows Explorer

Logo + F: Display Search for files

Logo + Ctrl + F: Display Search for computer

Logo + F1: Display Help and Support Center

Logo + R: Display Run dialog box

Logo + break: Display System Properties dialog box

Logo + shift + M: Undo minimize all windows

Logo + L: Lock the workstation

Logo + U: Open Utility Manager

Available since the days of Windows 95, Logo has received little respect from the millions of PC users worldwide. But once you start using it you’ll never want to go back.

NetBEUI

NetBEUI (NetBios Enhanced User Interface) is an enhanced version of the NetBIOS protocol used by network operating systems such as Windows for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, LAN Manager, and LAN Server. The protocol is useful in a variety of circumstances, especially if you’re using a LAN that isn’t connected to the Internet and have opened ports outside your shared server’s firewall in order to use certain services, programs, or applications.

For whatever reason, however, Microsoft decided not to support the NetBEUI protocol under Windows XP, and thus the option to install the NetBEUI isn’t included in the list of installable protocols. Ironically enough, though, the files needed to install the protocol are included on the Windows XP CD-ROM.

Click Start and select Control Panel, and then choose Network Connections

Right-click the adapter you want to add NetBEUI to, and then click Properties

On the General tab, select Install

Choose Protocol, and then click Add

Select Have Disk, insert your Windows XP CD-ROM, open the valueaddmsftnetnetbeui folder, click the Netnbf.inf file, and then click Open

Click OK, and then click OK again to complete the installation.

You can now use the NetBEUI protocol. Be warned, though, that if something goes wrong, Microsoft won’t help because it doesn’t support the protocol. So use this tip at your own risk. And don’t install NetBEUI without your network administrator’s approval.

Disabling services

Services are essentially TSR (Terminate Stay Resident) programs that start up when your Windows XP computer boots. They continue to run in the background while your computer is on, whether they’re needed or not. And some of the services simply aren’t needed. But be warned: Deleting services that are needed by your PC can cause all sorts of problems, so it’s a good idea to check out the Windows XP Home and Professional Services Configuration Web site for a very detailed list of what can and can’t be disabled. To disable services:

Click the start button

Click on Control Panel

Select Administrative Tools and choose Services.

If you don’t have a printer, for example, and don’t need the Printer Spooler running in the background, simply find this service in the list of available services, right-click it, and select Properties. Once the Properties window has loaded, select the Start Up drop box and choose Disable, and then click OK. Reboot and, just like magic, no more printer spooler.

Time for a little fun

Has anyone ever won Minesweeper, the little game that comes with Windows XP? Despite hundreds of games and way too many hours lost to the addicting little freebie, I’ve never once beaten the mines. At least not legally. If you’re tired of losing and you’re of a mind to cheat, however, there is a way:

Start Minesweeper

Type “xyzzy” without the quotes

Hit Shift and Enter at the same time

Minimize all application windows that hide the desktop. The uppermost pixel in the top left corner of your desktop will turn black when you mouse over a mine, and white when it’s safe to click.

This cheat will also work with Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 but, alas, it won’t work on any other Windows version of Minesweeper.

Five quick tips

1. User profiles

Unlike previous flavors of Windows, XP lets you switch between user profiles without rebooting. The new feature saves time but can clog up your memory, eventually forcing the reboot you were trying to avoid. To avoid memory problems, choose Start and select Logoff to log off completely before switching profiles. You can still switch between profiles fairly quickly but won’t eat up memory in the process.

2. Boot the animations

Tired of Windows XP animated searches? To get rid of the time-wasting cartoon, open any folder, press F3 to start a new search, and click the Change Preferences tab, located at the bottom left corner of the Search Companion window. At the top of the window, check the box marked “Without an animated screen character.” Voila! No more annoying animations.

3. Reclutter the desktop

Unless you installed Windows XP over an older version of Windows, the only icon on your desktop will be the Recycle Bin. Do you miss having your screen littered with icons? There is a solution! Right-click the desktop and choose Properties, click the Desktop tab, and then select the Customize Desktop button. You’ll see a list of icons under the menu titled Desktop Icons. Check the radio box next to each icon you want to appear on your desktop, click OK twice, and you’re done. Instant litter!

4. Get your PC talking

Are you tired of reading words on your monitor and want to hear your computer talk? Select Start and choose Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, and Narrator, or simply press the Windows key simultaneously with the letter U to open the Utility Manager. Microsoft Narrator, an accessibility option designed to assist readers who are blind or have impaired vision, will start automatically. Once you’ve read through the introduction, click OK and you’ll be greeted with a dialog box of Narrator options. Select the desired options then minimize the dialog box. No more squinting! To turn Narrator off, click the Exit button or right-click the Narrator taskbar icon and select Close.

5. Disable auto-update

Windows XP is configured out of the box to periodically scan for and automatically download updates to the operating system. But what if you’re doing something else when Windows XP decided to download new update files? If you have anything less than a DSL or cable broadband connection, your system will more than likely slow down while the new files are being downloaded. To control or disable automatic updating, open the System icon in the Control Panel and click the Automatic Updating tab. To check for updates manually, open Internet Explorer and select Windows Update from the Tools menu.

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