Windows Tweaks

Whether you’re loyal to XP or you’ve upgraded to Vista, here’s how to take control of your OS.

Sort Programs Alphabetically
If you have a ton of programs loaded, Windows’ seemingly haphazard way of listing them when you pick All Programs from the Start menu can be maddening. But you can have them listed alphabetically. Click Start and All Programs, then right-click on any folder or program name. Select Sort by Name from the shortcut menu, and the list will be sorted alphabetically. The catch: You’ll need to do this periodically, as Windows won’t automatically alphabetize new programs.

Apply One View to All Folders
You might expect Windows Explorer to learn your preferred view (thumbnails, icons, list, details, and so on) when you open a folder, but it doesn’t. To set windows so they each open with the same view, click on the Views icon in Windows Explorer (next to the Folders icon, not the “View” menu bar), and then select the view you want to apply to all folders. Then click on Tools in the menu bar, then Folder Options. Click the View tab, and click Apply to All Folders. Click YES and OK, and the changes should stick.

See beyond My Docs
Microsoft wrote Windows Explorer to open at My Documents by default, but you can reset in to launch in any folder you choose. Select Accessories from the All Programs list, right-click on Windows Explorer, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. On the resulting panel’s Shortcut tab, append “/n, /e, /select, C:\” (no quotes, but note spaces after the commas and before the /n) at the end of the string of characters in the Target box. Now, Explorer will display all of your folders, not just My Documents.

Hide It Quick
Moonlighting at work? Add a shortcut to your desktop that launches your screen saver instantly. Select Search from the Start menu, and have Rover (or Fido, or whatever that mutt’s name is) look for “*.scr” files. Select the screen saver you want, right-click on its entry, and scroll to the Send To. On the resulting shortcut menu, select “Desktop (create shortcut)”, and you’re set.

Defrag by Default
Periodically defragging your hard drive can keep your system from slowing down, but hardly anyone actually does it. So schedule Windows to do it automatically. Select Performance and Maintenance from the Control Panel, choose Scheduled Tasks, and double-click Add a Scheduled Task. In the Scheduled Task wizard, select Browse and type %systemroot%\system32\defrag.exe and hit Open. Set Windows to defrag weekly at a time when your machine will be on but you won’t be using it. Enter your login and password if prompted, then check the “Open advanced properties for this task” box and click Finish. In the Run box in the pop-up window, add “C:” (no quotes) to the existing command and click OK.

Learn to Share in Vista
Windows XP tried to enable file and folder sharing across a network, but getting it to work was a bear. Vista smooths the process. From Explorer, select a file or folder, then choose Share from the command bar. Enter the network name of the user you want to share with and enter the appropriate rights (read only, etc.).

Store Your Password
What happens if you forgot your Windows XP administrator login password? You have to reload the OS, that’s what. So create a password-reset disk now before that happens. Log into your PC as an admin, and from the Control Panel, click on User Accounts. Select the account you want to create the disk for, and in the Tasks list to the left of the main window, click “Prevent a forgotten password” (in XP) or “Create a password reset disk” (in Vista). In the wizard, select the location of the drive (XP requires a floppy, but vista will accept a USB thumb drive) and follow the prompts. Store the disk in a safe place. Just don’t forget where it is!

Rescue Earlier Versions of a File
If you’ve ever accepted changes in a document and lived to regret it, Vista’s Previous Versions feature can be a lifesaver. In the Documents Explorer, select a document and click the Previous Versions option on the command bar. Then choose the earlier save of the file you want to restore. (But be warned: All subsequent changes made to other versions will be lost).

Remote Access Made Easy
Ideal for road warriors, the Remote Desktop feature in XP Pro (and improved on Vista) lets you access and control your PC from any Web-connected remote machine. To enable it, select Performance and Maintenance from the Control Panel. Click on System and select the Remote tab, then check “Allow users to connect remotely to this computer.” (Be sure the firewall you’re using is set to allow exceptions.) To connect, on the remote PC open Accessories from within All Programs list, and select Communications. Type in the name of the host PC you want to connect to, and enter the proper login when prompted.


A thirty-something code ninja + web diva. Former New Yorker who's passionate about web development, HTML/CSS, beautifying things and marketing.

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