Living with Windows XP: How to Set It Up the Way You Want It

by Rob Locher
  1. Setting up the task bar. The task bar (the thing on the bottom of the screen that contains the start button) is locked down by default, which is a new feature with XP. If you right-click the taskbar, and make sure that there is no check mark next to "Lock the Taskbar", then you can make changes to it. After you have it the way you like it, lock it down again and you won’t be able to accidentally resize it.
  2. Quick launch icons. Those are the little tiny icons next to the start button introduced in Windows 98. I assume that you want these. To enable them, right-click the task bar and click Properties. Check the box that says "Show Quick Launch". The quick launch icons that you already had and didn’t know it will appear. Chances are that you have quick launch icons for AOL, MSN, and seventeen others. Of course you only want icons for the programs that you use the most there, and the rest are clutter. To delete the ones you don’t want, right-click each one and click Delete. If you unlock the task bar (step 1), you will see some small blue dots to the right of the quick launch icons. This is the border of the area that your quick launch icons are allowed to fill; if there are too many icons, the extras will be hidden. You may need to drag this border right or left appropriately. You must have the task bar unlocked to move the border, and I highly recommend that you lock the task bar again as soon as you are finished.
  3. The benefits of right-dragging files or icons. This actually has been a feature of Windows for a several versions, but lots of people don’t know about it. You will need it later in this document, so I will tell you how to do it. What I mean is, if you drag a file or icon from one place to another, Windows sometimes assumes that you want to copy the file. Sometimes it assumes that you want to move the file. Sometimes it assumes you want to create a shortcut to the file. In my experience, Windows is right about two thirds of the time, and it is very annoying when Windows is wrong. Fortunately, there is a better way. If you right-drag the file or icon, a menu will pop up asking if you wish to move the file, copy the file, or create a shortcut. You need only click on what you want to do. Note that copying a shortcut (quick launch icons and start menu items are actually shortcuts in disguise) is the same as creating a new shortcut that points to the same thing as the first shortcut.  If you don't know what right-dragging is, it's dragging with the second mouse button (instead of the first mouse button you use most of the time), which is the right mouse button if you are right-handed and have a two-button mouse. 
  4. Windows Explorer . If you were used to Windows Explorer, you will probably prefer to have it handy in XP.  I will tell you how to create a quick launch icon and a desktop icon for Windows Explorer. You can find it in start -> All Programs -> Accessories, but that’s not very convenient. First, make sure that you can see part of the desktop (no programs are filling the whole screen). Next, click start -> All Programs -> Accessories, and leave the start menu up on the screen. You will see an icon for Windows Explorer (which I mentioned earlier is a shortcut in disguise). Right-drag the icon onto the desktop, and click "Copy Here". You will then have a desktop shortcut for Windows Explorer. Next, right-drag the desktop shortcut onto the quick launch icon area. You will know when you are in the correct area because a shadowy vertical bar will appear where the icon will go. After you let up the mouse button to stop right-dragging, click "Create Shortcuts Here", and you will have a quick launch icon for Windows Explorer.
  5. Setting Up Windows Explorer. The default settings for Windows Explorer are atrocious, and presume that the highest priority should be to make recent Macintosh users comfortable. Large icons are nice and all, but do they really have to suppress file extensions? Well fortunately you can change all that nonsense if you want to. (If you like that nonsense, I apologize.) To do so, first launch Windows Explorer. Click Tools -> Folder Options. Click on the View tab. This brings up a dialog in which you have many choices that affects how Windows Explorer looks. I don’t have time do describe all of them, so feel free to experiment; just remember what you did so that if you don’t like it you can change it back. I recommend that you check both "display the full path" boxes, and uncheck the "Hide extensions for known file types".
  6. Large Icons versus a List of Files in Windows Explorer. The default setting when you are viewing a directory in Windows Explorer is large icons. I don’t know about you, but most of the time I want a list of files with details about the file size and the last-modified date instead. This setting is actually per directory, which is a good thing; in my opinion large icons are better for the Control Panel, for example. I will tell you how to make the default setting be a file list with details. First, launch Windows Explorer. Change the setting for the directory you are looking at to be "Details" (meaning a file list with details) by clicking View -> Details. (There is also a convenient icon at the top of the Windows Explorer window, at the far right next to the "Folders" button, which can do the same thing.) You should now have a list of files with the details including file size and modification date. To make this the default for every directory, click Tools -> Folder Options, click the View tab, and click the "Apply to All Folders" button. A dialog will pop up asking if you really want to do it; click yes. When you are done with the Folder Options dialog, dismiss it by clicking the OK button.