You boot up your brand-new Windows XP computer and suddenly everything's different. "Where are my Quick Launch icons?" "Why doesn't Windows start with my last-opened folders active?" "How do I turn off that column on the left side of my folder windows?" Microsoft makes these changes in an effort to simplify things for people who've never used Windows before. To experienced users, however, the interface changes from one version of Windows to the next just make the OS more annoying. Fortunately, you can turn back the clock to make new versions of Windows act as their predecessors did.
Eliminate taskbar groups: When you have several folder, application, and browser windows open at the same time, the separate sessions for each category share a single taskbar button. You click the button to select the desired window from a pop-up menu (see
Automatically reopen folders: When you log in to Windows 2000, it automatically reopens the folder and Internet Explorer windows that were open when you logged out. To have your last-opened windows reopen automatically in Windows XP, first open any folder window and choose Tools, Folder Options, View; then check Restore previous folder windows at logon under Advanced Settings. Click OK.
Restore Quick Launch: If your Quick Launch toolbar is AWOL from your taskbar, right-click an empty portion of the taskbar and select Toolbars, Quick Launch (see
Rearrange your toolbars: Is your taskbar not where you like it? Do you want to reposition or resize your Quick Launch, Links, or other toolbars, whether on the taskbar or in folder windows? If you try to alter these elements, you may find them unwilling to budge in Windows XP. The fix is simple: Right-click the item in question and uncheck Lock the Taskbar or Lock the Toolbars (see
Banish the blue: Do you hate Windows XP's new rounded blue, olive, or silver title bars? Then right-click the desktop and choose Properties, Appearance. Choose Windows Classic style from the 'Windows and buttons' drop-down menu. If you want to customize the colors, click Advanced and choose a color from the drop-down palette for the element selected in the Item list, or click Effects to customize visual aspects of your windows, icons, and menus. When you get the look you like, click OK twice to exit Display Properties.
Bring back desk icons: If you miss the My Computer and My Documents icons that XP whisked off your desktop, right-click the desktop and choose Properties, Desktop. Click Customize Desktop, and under the General tab, check the icons you want to see on your desktop (see
Lock your Start menu items: Windows XP's new Start menu automatically adjusts to list the programs you use most often. This makes launching Start menu items from the keyboard (by pressing the first letter of the item you want to launch) more difficult to do, both because the list changes so often and because many of the menu's icons may start with the same letter. If you prefer Windows' old, reliable (if less automatic) Start menu, right-click the Start button, choose Properties, Classic Start menu, and click OK.
Kill off peekaboo menus: If you yearn for the good old days of Windows 98's Start menu, which doesn't hide seldom-used items until you click or pause over the double chevron at the bottom, right-click the Start button and choose Properties. Under the Start Menu tab, select Classic Start menu if it's not already selected, click its Customize button, scroll to the bottom of the 'Advanced Start menu options' list, uncheck Use Personalized Menus, and click OK twice to exit the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.
Reveal your Tools menu: To see the Administrative Tools menu when you click Start, Programs, or Start, All Programs, right-click the Start button and choose Properties. Under the Start Menu tab, click Customize next to the version you use (either 'Start menu' or 'Classic Start menu'). To use Windows XP's default Start menu, click Advanced and select one of the first two options listed under System Administrative Tools in the 'Start menu items' list. For the Classic Start menu, check Display Administrative Tools in the 'Advanced Start menu options' list.
Hide common tasks: In previous versions of Windows, you could view Web content in, or add a preview pane to, folder windows. If you didn't like these features, you probably won't like the "common tasks" area on the left side of folder windows in Windows XP. To eliminate it, choose Tools, Folder Options; then, under the General tab, select Use Windows classic folders.
Make folders mind: Windows XP sets a different view for various kinds of folders (Thumbnails view for picture folders, Tiles for audio files, and so on); you can, however, get the look you want for each folder. See Lincoln Spector's instructions from his August 2003 Answer Line column on how to proceed.
Keep tray items visible: The new taskbar tray in Windows XP (the "notification area" near the clock) lets you selectively hide items or see them all with the click of a button. If you want to decide which icons get hidden, right-click the taskbar and choose Properties. Under 'Notification area' on the Taskbar tab, uncheck Hide inactive icons to get the old Windows behavior, or keep it checked and then click the adjacent Customize button to control the status of each icon (see
Smarten up your file searching: A show of hands, please: Who likes the animated character that appears when you choose Start, Search or Start, Find, Files or Folders? That's what I thought. To give it the boot, click Change preferences in the Search Results window and select Without an animated screen character. To approximate Windows' previous search options, click Change preferences and then Change files and folder search behavior, Advanced - includes options to manually enter search criteria. Recommended for advanced users only. Click OK to return to the Search Results window.
Take a giant leap backward. If the XP version of Windows Explorer isn't your bag, try a file manager with a look and feel that goes all the way back to Windows 3.1. Check out Steve Bass's favorites from his August 2003 Home Office column.