Customizing Windows pt 2
by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. First
in Our Computer Player November 20, 1992
Windows is the ultimate playdough environment. Like
playdough, you can
bend it and shape it any way you like. Like playdough, it comes in an
infinite variety of colours. Last issue, we focused on cusomizing
Manager, the program that most users think of as being "Windows".
But Program Manager isn't Windows. It's just a program
that runs in
the Windows environment that you can use to start programs. Because
free with Windows, and because it's loaded by default, most users look
no further. Program Manager is severely limited, however.
-- You can't nest program groups within program groups
(the way you
can have multiple levels of sub-directories in DOS or folders within
on a Mac). I can't have a Spreadsheets group, and have a Finances group
and a Grades group within that.
-- Unless you use a 3rd party add-in (like the
shareware Plug-In I mentioned
last issue), all your program group icons have the same picture. This
of defeats the purpose of easy to recognize icons.
-- File Management functions are only available
through a separate program,
File Manager, again unlike the Mac Finder where you can start a program
or copy a file all on the same screen.
THE OLD SHELL GAME
Luckily, Windows is not really dependent on Program
Manager. It's set
up, by default, as the shell. This means that it starts up when you
Windows, and when you exit the shell, you return to DOS. Windows is
so that any program can be designated as the shell, just by editing a
in your SYSTEM.INI file that reads (surprise) SHELL=
with the name of your desired program. You can even make that an
One person I know hates Windows, but likes to use Microsoft Publisher.
On my advice, he's listed Publisher as his shell-- when he starts
Publisher automatically starts up, and when he quits Publisher, he's
of Windows. It seems silly to me, but he's happy.
Because of its drawbacks, there's a thriving market
for programs that
replace Program Manager. These range from minimalist free or shareware
alternatives, to highly ambitious commercial products like Norton
for Windows. I'll give two examples reflecting very different
to Program Manager.
BARE NAKED WINDOWS VERSUS WINDOWS ALL DRESSED
I use a freeware program called Backmenu v.1.39 (later
shareware). It doesn't use icons at all. Instead, clicking my right
button on any blank piece of screen gets me a floating menu. This menu
permits up to four levels of sub-menus, that are easily customized to
any Windows or DOS program, load a file into an application, etc. It
hardly any memory or system applications, and it is very fast. Because
of its minimalist philosophy, you have to be prepared to learn how to
its menus by hand. I like it because it's fast and powerful, and easy
users like my children to use. I'm just as happy using text menus as
through icons. As well, the practical joker in me likes being able to
the computer running with a screen running my wallpaper picture, but
else. If you don't know the right-button trick, there seems to be no
to get the computer to do anything.
Norton Desktop for Windows (currently at version 2) is
opposite of freeware BackMenu. This commercial product takes up about 8
megs of hard drive space, compared to 40k for BackMenu, and does slow
Windows (at least when it's first starting up). On the other hand, it
an enormous number of sophisticated new capabilities. While I don't use
it, many people can't imagine running Windows without it. You get an
Program Manager replacement, permitting you to nest groups within
As well, you get drive icons on screen, that give you file management
You can view a wide range of data files, drag files to a printer icon
print or to an eraser icon to delete them (with the ability to store
for a user-configurable period of time before they're really gone). It
ships with a wide range of utilities including several calculators, and
a backup program. Buy NDW and you may never need to see Program Manager
or File Manager again.
In between these two extremes are a huge number of
programs, most available
as shareware so that you can try them out before you buy. Two other
alternatives are SloopManager, which replaces Program Manager with a
with extra menu items, and, like NDW, the ability to nest program
and File Commander, which lets you customize your File Manager menus,
that you can start up your applications from the File Manager menu-bar.
So look around, and pick the shell that feels most
comfortable to you.
Then let's go ahead and customize the desktop. Unlike the Model-T Ford,
which came in any colour you wanted, as long as it was black, Windows
more adaptable. We're going to use colours, pictures, and sounds to
the Windows setup on your machine respond to your personal tastes.
This time, we're going to be mostly working with
Windows Control Panel.
If you're using Program Manager, there should be a Control Panel icon
the Main group (which I always rename 'Utilities'). Go ahead--- open
COLOUR YOUR WORLD
Let's start with Colours. (Or as Windows, being
American, calls it:
"Colors".) When you open it, you'll see a small view of your Windows
with many of the customizable sections shown or named. Above that, is a
listing of colour schemes. One is already chosen... to see others,
on the down arrow to the right. These are groups of colours, already
together for you by Microsoft's select group of interior decorators. If
you select one of these schemes, the mini-view below changes to let you
see how it will look, before changing your real setup.
You can choose one of these ready-made schemes, or
alter one as you
prefer. To alter one of Microsoft's decor ideas, or create a whole new
one, click on the Color Palette button below the mini-view. A panel
48 basic colours will appear, and some empty boxes for custom colours.
You can click on an area on the mini-view, or choose a screen element
the drop-down list, then select one of the colours for it. If none of
colours strikes your fancy, click on the Define Custom Colours button.
You get a new screen with a colour spectrum. Click anywhere -- move
cursor around until you find just the right shade. Or you can try to
numbers into the Red-Green-Blue or Hue-Saturation-Luminosity boxes to
precisely the shade you want. To the left of these are two boxes
Colour and Solid. The Colour box shows the dithered pattern that is
used to produce your shade, while the Solid box shows you the closest
colour from the palette of colours that Windows is using for your
You can choose either as your custom colour.
When you've got your colours set the way you want
them, save them as
a new colour scheme, and click OK to apply them to your real desktop.
Unfortunately, you'll discover that you weren't able
to change the colours
used in Windows Help screens this way, and that with many vga adapters,
the hypertext words (the ones that you can click on to get more
appear in a pale green that's almost unreadable. Even though these
aren't choosable in the Control Panel Colours selection, you still can
customize them. Here are two ways:
-- If you've got a modem, poke around on local
bulletin boards for a
program called More Control. This invaluable freeware program consists
of a couple of files to be added to your \windows\system directory. The
next time you open Control Panel, a More Control icon appears in the
Open it up, and you've got... more control ! One of several
found here is the ability to set your Help colours directly from a
palette. There are a number of other things here that Microsoft left
of the standard Control Panel.
-- If you don't have More Control, you can make all
the same changes
by directly editing your INI files. Before you take the plunge, back up
these files. Copy Win.ini and System.ini to Win.bak and System.bak. In
fact, why don't you do the safe thing, and back up ALL your *.INI and
files to another directory. That way, if anything awful happens to your
Windows setup, you can always recreate it quickly and easily without
to reinstall and fiddle with everything.
To edit Win.ini (or any INI file), use a text editor
or word processor
that can save as text. Windows Notepad is a safe way to do this, or the
SYSEDIT.EXE program that Windows hid in your \Windows\system directory
and didn't tell you about. Win.ini is divided into a number of sections
with headings in square brackets... look for a section called [Windows
Help]. You may see some lines like these from my file (if not, make
PopUpColor=128 0 255
JumpColor=0 128 0
MacroColor=255 0 0
IFJumpColor=255 128 0
IFPopupColor=0 0 128
These list the special words in the help files, and
define a colour
for each. The numbers are the amount of red, blue, and green (RGB) that
combine for each colour, ranging from 0 to 255. You can find the RGB
that make up a colour from the Custom Colors dialogue box we looked at
earlier, or by opening Paintbrush, and using the Option menu's Edit
selection. (My colours, by the way, are bright shades of purple, green,
red, orange, and blue).
LOST IN THE DESKTOP
If you've still got the interior decorator urge, you
can do more to
your desktop. Back in Control Panel, open the Desktop icon. (What a
Lots of neat tricks here... there's the screen saver, for example.
Like all the mini-applications that ship with Windows, it's no match
the fancy commercial products like Intermission or After Dark. But it
as is, and there are a growing number of inexpensive shareware saver
to add to it. One package even includes a randomize module, so you
always need to look at the same saver. Another shareware program,
lets you set screen corners to turn the screen saver on or off, just
the expensive products. As well, if you have any of Microsoft's Windows
GamePacks, you can use the Idlewild saver modules by copying them,
with the file IWLIB.DLL into your \windows directory.
Here's also where you set your icon spacing and
word-wrap, if your icon
titles have been overlapping, and hard to read. You can adjust your
blinking rate, and the thickness of your windows' borders.
More fun, though is to play with patterns. Again, a
wide variety are
included... tulips, scotty dogs, tweed, etc. And it's easy to create
own. And adding a pattern to the desktop does not drain memory or
speed if these are an issue.
Next, take a look at wallpaper. Again, a selection of
were installed in your Windows directory. You can see if you like any
them as backgound wallpaper. Most of the one included are small, 16
pictures, that you can TILE, to repeat all over your screen, or
one copy in the center.
But you're not limited to those. Any graphic, saved or
Windows BMP format can be used as wallpaper. You will need a video
that supports the number of colours used, however. A 256 colour picture
viewed with a standard 16 colour video driver can appear quite ghastly.
Here you need to make some choices, however. A large, 256 colour
can make a lovely wallpaper, but it will slow your system down. 256
(or higher) drivers are slower than 16 colour drivers since they make
computer do more work every time the screen is redrawn. And asking your
system to redraw a complex picture every time a program's window
is making a lot of extra work. If you don't have memory and processor
to spare, don't bother. (Note that a small, tiled 16 colour picture
far less demands than a large, full-screen picture).
As for me, I chose pretty over fast, and have a 256
picture of two Chinese dragons.
STOP, HEY, WHAT'S THAT SOUND?
Finally, Windows 3.1 lets you add sounds to your
that Mac owners have been doing for eons. If you have a sound card
then you can play with the couple of WAV sound files included in your
directory. Double clicking on one from a File Manager list, should open
up the Sound Recorder, and let you play or edit the sound. (Sorry Ad
owners, you can't use the WAV sounds). But what about the millions of
without a compatible sound card?
Well, Microsoft ALMOST included a driver for the PC's
then chickened out at the last moment. They weren;t satisfied with the
sound quality, and it was incompatible with a few systems.
they changed their mind (again) and released the driver on their
board. It has quickly made its way to most BBS systems that stock
software, and shouldn't be too hard to find. If you get it, install it
using the DRIVERS icon in Control Panel. Then, you too can play the WAV
sound files. Don't be too disappointed, however. You're still using the
49 cent speaker inside your computer's box. It's not going to be CD
You may find that they work better if you use the Sound Recorder to
the speed... you can double or halve the speed to make the sound more
As well, you should probably set up the driver to "Enable interupts
playback". This won't improve your sound's quality, but it will prevent
a sound from ruining a critical download or other time-sensitive
Again, you'll find many sounds available from local bulletin boards if
you have a modem.
Listening to your sounds is okay, but when you've
installed a sound
driver, you get a SOUND icon in Control Panel. You can use this to
sounds to eight Windows events. On my system, when Windows starts up,
5th Symphony plays. When I quit Windows, a voice says "Time to go home,
now!". Okay, it's through the tinny internal speaker, but it still
the dog. For more control, look for the shareware WHOOP IT UP! (their
It gives you more Windows events, and even lets you connect sounds to
(Some of us dread the spread of cheap sounds across
100 million PCs--
try and imagine an office full of computers barking, playing snippets
sound, or quotes from Star Trek at random intervals... especially
those 2 inch speakers).
Customizing Windows lets us all put the personal back
in personal computing.
Even if some of these enhancements seem silly, they help make Windows
like a comfortable place to work, and let your computer be truly your
It is important for computer users to feel at ease with their machines.
Even in the dullest workplace, this can lead to increased productivity.
(As if fun needed an excuse).