by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally
published in Our Computer Player, October 16, 1992
If you're one of the 10 million or so people who've
gotten a copy of
Windows in the two years since the release of version 3.o, take a
right now and go over to your computer. Start up Windows, and take a
at your screen.
If you see a pale yellow background, with the familiar
Program Manager on it, you've got boring, old default Windows. Read on.
This article will help you make your Windows computer unique... all
Many people think that screen IS Windows... that
Program Manager, and
the setup that you get out of the box is the way it's got to be. Not
! Windows is an operating environment that lets you run Windows
and lets you multitask DOS programs if you have a 386 or 486 computer.
Anything else... the "look and feel" to quote a recent spat of
is entirely in the hands of the user. If you don't like the colours,
them. If you find Program Manager awkward, replace it. It's like having
a computer that's made out of plasticene... you can make it look like
(I can already hear some of our readers thinking "Who
cares? This sounds
like an article for artists, or kids, or something. Will it make my
more productive?" Well, yes and no. If you want (and the editors
I'll write another article on speeding up Windows for a future issue.
you CAN customize Windows to show your company's logo on screen if you
want, or you can let your employees personalize their computers. Users
who do this feel more involved in their computers, and are more
(when they're not spending company time playing, of course!) And the
your employees get familiar with the Windows environment, the more
they will work with all their Windows software).
First, a warning... before making any changes in your
make copies of your important Windows files. At a minimum, copy the
Win.ini and System.ini (in your \Windows directory). Even better, make
a new directory, (mine is called \setup). Copy your autoexec.bat and
files into it. Then copy all your *.ini and *.grp files from your
directory. Most of the changes I'm going to discuss are harmless, and
changed back, but having backups is always a good idea.
Lets start with Program Manager itself. There's so
much that you can
do with Program Manager, that I'm going to focus on it in this article.
In future articles in this series, I'll look at other ways to enhance
Windows working environment.
Out of the box, you get a number of standard Program
Groups: Main, Games,
Non-Windows Apps, Accessories, etc. When you install programs, often
create their own Groups. There are no reasons to keep these names, or
these groups if you don't want to. I renamed the Main group
which makes more sense to me, and then added other icons to it. Here's
-- Click once on the Main group icon, so it's
selected, but not opened
Look in your File menu, for Properties. The dialogue box has a space
labelled "Description". Type in a new name, click on "okay". That's it.
-- Maybe you have other groups with utilities in them.
ATM (Adobe Type
Manager) creates a useless program group for this useful utility. Open
up that group, click on the ATM icon. Hold down your left mouse button,
and drag the icon over to the Utilities (or Main) group. That group can
be open or closed. When your icon is on top of the new group, release
button. If you open up your Utilities group, the ATM icon is now there.
(You may want to click on "Arrange Icons" in the Window menu, so you
can see your new icon better). Close the ATM group, select it, and
your Delete key. You can get rid of this program group, even if it has
program items in it.
You can make new program groups if you want. In the
File menu, choose
New. You'll be asked Program Group or Program Item. Select "Group". In
the "Description" space, type in a name, and click okay. Your group
be created, and ready for you to add Program Items. Make groups that
how you want to work. My program groups, for example are:
-- Accessories with the standard Windows mini-apps, like Write and
Notepad and Paintbrush
-- Utilities, which I got by renaming the original 'Main' group, then
adding anything else that looked like a utility.
-- Games, an original group installed by Windows, but with a
lot of other games added
-- Graphics, with another copy of the Paintbrush icon (yes, you can
have the same icon in more than one group !), and other programs
-- Text, for Write, Notepad (again, copied from the Accessories group)
as well as AmiPro and PageMaker, moved out of the groups created by
installation programs, which I then deleted
-- Grades, for spreadsheets about the classes I teach
-- Spreadsheets, for other spreadsheets
-- Windows Apps, for miscellaneous Windows programs
-- DOS Apps, (aka Non-Windows Apps in the Windows installation)
You can put any programs you want into your new
program group... Windows
programs, DOS programs, even documents, which will automatically load
right program to edit them. There a number of ways to do this:
-- Open up your target program group. Again, Open the
File menu, selecting
"New", this time choosing a new program item. Type in a name in the
space, and a complete path and file name in the "Command Line" space.
can add a hot-key, and set it to start up as a minimizes icon if you
-- If you're not sure of the file path or EXE's file
name, click on
the Browse button. This lets you browse your drives, directory-tree,
files, and select the one you need.
-- Alternately, open up File Manager. Play with its
size until you can
see both File Manager and Program Manager on screen at the same time.
the file you want in File Manager, and select it with your mouse. Hold
the mouse button down, and drag the file icon over to the Program
Bring it over to the program group you want, and let go of the icon.
You've just used "Drag and Drop" to automatically create a program
You may want to edit the item's "Properties" as mentioned above to
the item's description.
You can use either of these techniques with any
file... not just with
a Windows program. You can create program items for your favorite DOS
or for a document created by a program. If your document's file
(the three letters after the period in the file name--- for instance
for this file, CUSTOM.TXT,) is "associated" with a program, that
will start up automatically when you click on the document's icon. This
is a nice trick, that more people should be using.
For instance, I'm a teacher. I keep records on each of
my classes in
an Excel spreadsheet. As I mentioned, I've created program items for
of these spreadsheets, in a "Grades" program group. When I click on the
Math 11 icon, Excel starts up, with the records of my Math 11 class
This trick only works if the file extension (*.XLS for
Excel) is associated
with the program. Most Windows programs will do this automatically when
they're installed. If this isn't the case for your files (for instance
if you want to associate a file extension with a DOS program), here's a
simple way to add a new association.
-- Using File Manager, select a data file with the
Click on the menu item "Associate" in the File menu. Enter the program
name and path in the dialogue box labelled "Associate with". If you're
unsure, you can use the "Browse" button (just like in Program Manager)
to find the right program. After you've clicked "okay", you can double
click on a data file with this extension in File Manager to start up
program, or use the data file for an item in Program Manager.
If your data files don't use a standard extension
(many Word Perfect
documents, for instance), you can still use them to create a program
Most programs let you start them up with a document loaded by typing
the document name after the program name at the DOS command line (for
WP51 MYFILE to start up Word Perfect with MYFILE already loaded). Just
create a new program item, with the description MYFILE, and the same
line that you'd use in DOS.
If you create a program item for a DOS program, or for
a document (whether
it's from a Windows program or a DOS program), you'll find that you get
a boring default icon. Have no fear. You can change that. Select the
and in your File menu, choose Properties. Click on the box labelled
Icon". You can now select a new icon for your program item. You can use
the icon from another program (I could use Excel's icon for all my
spreadsheets, for instance), or select a totally new one. Just type in
the path & file name of the other program (or again use the Browse
button). You can get these icons from several sources:
-- Many of the Windows accessories, Progman. exe, for
several alternate icons, and you can easily 'borrow' one for another
item. If you are using Windows 3.1, look for Moricons.dll, which is
a collection of icons just for this use.
-- If you have access to a modem, many BBS's have
files with collections
of public-domain icons, that you can use. These icons are usually small
files, ending with the extension ICO or ICN, and there may be as many
several hundred packed up in a single ZIP file. You can also get a disk
full of icons from most companies that distribute shareware.
-- You can get a shareware or public domain icon
editor, and make your
own. These programs are easy to use mini-paint programs, dedicated to
icons. An icon editor is included with Microsoft's Visual Basic, or you
can look for one on your favorite BBS or other shareware distribution
I like Ike.exe, distributed for free as a PC Magazine utility.
Some people have found themselves getting overloaded
with hundreds of
tiny icon files. You don't need to keep these cluttering up your hard
After you've selected an icon, and associated it with a program item,
icon is added to your program group file (*.GRP). You no longer need
original icon on your hard drive, and can delete the *.ico file, if you
Once you've got your program groups that you want, and
program items in them, think about how you want to display them. I keep
my program groups minimized, in neat rows along the bottom of the
because I'm an orderly kind of guy (or obsessive-compulsive, maybe).
people prefer to leave them all opened up, filling up the whole screen,
but with all the icons viewable, ready to run. With Windows 3.0, this
problems. Each icon that's displayed uses some of Windows small amount
of available "Resources", and Windows 3.0 users who habitually kept all
their groups open, often found themselves getting a low memory message,
even when they knew that they should have had lots of free memory.
I don't want to get into an involved discussion of
memory and resource
use by Windows... but you can always check on how much of each is free
by clicking on "About" in the Help menu of either Program Manager or
Manager. If your Free System Resources drops below about 20%, you may
your system slowing down, or you may be unable to open additional
without shutting something down. Start by closing all those open
Windows 3.1 manages resources better than version 3.0
did, so this will
be less of a problem. So set up your Program Manager screen the way you
want to work, but if you start getting out of memory warnings, be
to change it.
There are a few tricks for Program Manager that are
set up from the
Control Panel (look for the Control Panel icon in your Main (or
group). Open Control Panel, and double-click on the Desktop icon.
see an item for Icon Spacing. This sets how close icons will be
arranged, and works both within Program Manager, and for minimizes
on the desktop itself. I use 100 pixels. Play around. Nearby, if you
Win 3.1, will be the option to wrap long titles. I like this option a
More about Control Panel in future articles in this series.
If you dare to edit your Win.ini file, you can set the
font, size and
style of the letters used in your icon's descriptions. (Remember to
back up Win.ini before editing it). Open Win.ini in Notepad or other
editor (double clicking on an INI file in File Manager will
load it into Notepad). Look for a section near the top, labelled
There will be a number of lines under it that in mine read:
You can edit them to set the font, size, and style used for icons,
both in Program Manager, and on the desktop, as well as whether the
wrap, and how far apart icons will spaced, vertically. Make your
save your file, and restart Windows to see the effects. A more
way to get control over these (and other) functions is to look for the
freeware program, MoreControl. This handy (and free) utility, adds a
Control item to Control Panel that lets you make these changes without
having to edit Win.ini, and without having to quit and restart Windows.
Just when I thought I'd finished this article, I came
the ultimate Program Manager customizer (at least for now). This is a
program called Plug-In, available for trial on your local BBS, or for
from Plannet Crafters, 2580 Runic Way, Alpharetta, GA., 30202, USA. It
installs as an invisible add-on to Program Manager, and lets you add
icons for each program group, as well as custom cursors for the
and arrow. As well, it adds a number of new menu groups, enhancing the
usefulness of Program Manager. Very nice and good value for the $
to always register shareware if you intent to keep on using it !)
You don't need to live with the way Microsoft set up your Program
There are lots of ways that it can be customized to reflect the way you
want to work. It's your computer... it's time you took control. Editor
willing, future articles in this series will help you get power over
Windows desktop, looking at colour and sound, wallpaper, and
to Program Manager itself. Have fun with this (but remember not to get
carried away playing with the Windows environment. Try to get a little
'real' work done as well).