95 and later versions (Windows 98, Windows ME) and Windows NT 4 and
family (Windows 2000 and Windows XP) offers a user interface with
several improvements over Windows 3.1-- long file names, icons on the
Desktop, a Start Menu with multiple levels of nesting, and a Taskbar
showing running applications are just some of them.
users too often find that after installing more than a bare minimum of
programs, the Desktop, Start Menu, Toolbar, and System Tray become
overly cluttered--making it difficult for users, whether students or
teachers, to easily find what they need to simply start their desired
programs. Luckily, we can clean up the Desktop and Start Menu, giving
Windows 9x a cleaner interface that is both more attractive and much
easier to use.
Clean up the
of us have Desktops cluttered with many icons--some of them leftovers
the Windows 9x installation, but not really needed, and others icons
created by program installations. Ask yourself whether users need
to each icon--if not, maybe it should be deleted. You may want to
create folders on the Desktop, and store some of your icons there. Or
are the icons better off in an easily accessible place in the Start
Menu or down as mini-icons in the Taskbar's Toolbar area, rather then
the Desktop at all? Personally, I prefer a cleaner Start Menu, since
it’s always accessible, while program windows often cover up
computers that I’m in charge of have just a few icons on
Computer, Network Neighborhood, Recycle Bin, NetVista, and a
customized Shutdown Windows icon.
to delete many of the extra junk--for instance, the Setup the
Microsoft Network , and Online Services Folder icons
easily deleted. Check your icons-- if they have a little arrow in the
lower left corner, they're shortcuts. Delete them freely; the original
file they point to will still remain. If you have bunches of shortcuts
for programs and files that you rarely use to start those programs, be
brave... just get rid of them!. However, there may be problems trying
remove several of the other icons added by the Windows 9x setup-- In
Windows 98, right-mouse clicking on them, and choosing Delete from the
popup context menu can remove several of these. In Windows 95, however,
this is not an option..
way to remove seemingly unremovable Desktop icons is with
free TweakUI Control Panel add-in. There are
several versions of
this. The original version (which works with versions of Windows up to
WinXP) can be downloaded from Microsoft at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/downloads/contents/wutoys/w95pwrtoysset/default.asp?site=95
. Users of the original version of Win98 users will find a newer
already on the Win98 CD, in the \tools\reskit\powertoy folder. (Note
that the Win98 version will also work with Win95 if you have Internet
Explorer 4.0 or later installed). A so-called Win2000 version (aka
TweakUI 1.33), which works with Win95 (with IE 4 or later), and all
other Windows versions up to (but not including) WinXP can be
. With all of these versions, locate the TweakUI.inf file, and
right-click--choosing Install from the popup
context menu. This
will add TweakUI to the Control Panel--it can be opened from there. It
includes multiple tabbed pages, with lots of handy options. (More on
TweakUI in my tutorial at: http://www.zisman.ca/tweakui).
users need a totally different version, available from: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/pro/downloads/powertoys.asp.
Unlike the other versions, this installs as an application rather than
a control panel icon, and includes enhances abilities.
The Desktop page offers the ability to remove or
standard Desktop icons--simply remove the checkmark besides the icon,
and click Apply or OK and the
icon will disappear from the
even TweakUI won’t let you remove the My Computer
Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom and mercy, really wants you to keep
that one around. You can, however, use TweakUI’s My
to hide individual drive letters from My Computer- but before doing
that, you should be aware that this also hides those drives from
File/Open and File/Save dialogue boxes in your applications, and may
have other unexpected consequences as well.
Desktop icon to be aware of is My Briefcase.
users have been using it as their own spot for saving
documents--sometimes with some peculiar results. My Briefcase
designed for this--it is a special folder with special properties. It
was designed for users who are moving documents back and forth between
computers, perhaps on a floppy from work to home and back again--My
Briefcase is designed to help keep the various versions of the same
document up to date. Unfortunately, it’s awkward and
confusing to use--
my opinion is to simply delete it. If you really want a folder on the
Desktop for storing documents, use My Documents or
own. (If you delete My Briefcase and change your mind, get it back by
right-clicking on the Desktop, and choosing New and then Briefcase).
want to right-click on an empty spot on the Desktop--from the popup
context menu, choose Arrange-- then chose By
Name to line
up the icons. Repeat, choosing Auto Arrange so that
automatically stay lined up.
has a nice option to automatically clean the desktop every 60 days,
removing icons that haven't been used. To set this option, right-click
the Desktop and choose Properties from the popup menu. Go to the Desktop tab, and
click the Customize
Desktop button. You can
turn on or off the option to [
Run Desktop Cleaner every 60 Days, and can click to Clean Desktop Now.
done manually or with WinXP's Desktop Cleaner, you’ll have a
Desktop, which you can decorate with a tasteful graphic of your choice.
Let’s get control of the Start Menu.
Cleaning up the
messy Start Menus have too many icons in two places--the top of the
Start Menu (above the Programs submenu), and within
submenu itself. Both can (and should) be cleaned up. In order to get
Start Menu under control, it may be helpful to know how Win9x stores
the Start Menu. Menu items are shortcut icons (like the Desktop icons),
while sub-menus are folders within the main Start Menu folder. If you
don’t have individual log-ins, then you just have a single
folder with C:\Windows--if you have individual log-ins, each user-name
gets its own Start Menu folder, with their own set of shortcuts and
folders. (And you may need to clean up the Start Menu and Desktop for
each log-in individually).
access these using My Computer or Explorer, and change the Start Menu
deleting, copying, or moving files and folders, just as with any other
set of files. However, it can be a pain to wallow through the levels of
folders to find where you’re going--and there are a number of
jump straight to editing the Start Menu.
way--right-click on an open piece of the Taskbar, and select Properties
from the popup context menu.
dialogue box that opens up, go to the Start Menu
tab and click on
the Advanced button.
get is an Explorer-view of the Start Menu-- where again, you can create
new folders, copy, delete, and move shortcut icons to your
that shortcut icons are not the same as program icons--making 5 copies
of a program’s icon would result in a lot of wasted hard
space--five shortcut icons take virtually no space, but make it easy to
start the program up from five different places-- so feel free to
scatter shortcut icons generously).
Take it from
on the software you’ve installed and your Win9x version, you
a bunch of icons at the top of the Start Menu--above the Programs
folder. New Office Document, WinZip, Windows Update Wizard,
folder full of assorted Corel WordPerfect icons (of which you use only
one), and more-- things that probably don’t need to be in a
in-your-face location in the Start Menu.
going to wholesale delete icons--you may find yourself wanting them
someday, as unlikely as it may seem right now. Instead, we’ll
used icons to lower levels, while making the most-used icons much more
creating a new folder--click on the File menu, then New, then Folder--
edit the folder’s name. At home, I call this one Check
while at Chief Maquinna Elementary School, I call it Maquinna--
no matter what the name, it becomes the only thing appearing at the top
of the Start Menu--and it will contain copies of the most commonly-used
shortcut icons. Drag everything else and drop them on top of the Programs
folder, to move them out of the way for now. Take a peek at the Start
Menu--you should see a (for now) empty menu on top, and everything else
in a probably messy Programs sub-menu.
like many users, when you click on Programs, you see multiple columns
folders, and a bunch of loose items at then end (or in Win98, you may
have a single column with a little triangle at the bottom, to continue
scrolling). If you double-click on the Programsfolder
Explorer-view of the Start Menu, you see the same--but now you can do
something about cleaning it up.
with, make a number of new folders, named with categories of
application-types. At Maquinna, the folders I add are:Applications(for
various programs that get productive work done),Cd-Roms (for
encyclopedias and other programs that need to have a CD inserted), Education(for
all sorts of educational games and programs), Games, Internet (for
Netvista, Netscape, Internet Explorer, and more), and Utilities(for
all those things that are more tools than programs that you actually
open on their own--virus programs, mouse, sound, and video utilities,
movie viewers, etc). I also keep the existing Accessories
for all those miscellaneous programs that come with Windows
Paint, and more, along with that Windows Update Wizard we may have
from the top of the Start Menu. And don’t forget to leave the Startupfolder
alone--Windows uses it to store icons for programs that start up
drag nearly all the other folders and shortcuts within the Programs
folder into one or the other of these folders--take a peek at your
Menu--it’s more organized already!
each folder, and look at the contents--look for icons that you or your
students use quite regularly--perhaps KidPix or Microsoft Works, or
Windows Paint, or Netvista, or All the Right Type. Select the icon, and
it to the left-hand side of the window, where you should be seeing a
list of folders--including, at the top, the new folder you created for
your frequently-used icons. Lift the right mouse button to drop it onto
that folder--a context menu will pop up with choices: Move
Copy Here, Create Shortcut Here, orCancel.
Copy, to drop a copy of the icon here. Repeat for all frequently-used
while, I made sub-folders of the Maquinna folder--one for each
and gave each it’s own set of icons. (Remember, multiple
take much extra hard drive space). That way, each class knew where to
look for its stuff--but it required an extra click to get anything
started, and was a bit more awkward for the grade 1s and 2s-- this
year, I’m using a single folder with everyone’s
icons. Feel free to
you install new software, be prepared to do some menu cleanup
afterwards-- too few programs allow you to choose where to put their
icons--and even the ones that do don’t make it easy to place
in a folder buried inside another folder.
get one computer set up the way you want, you can copy the entire Start
Menu structure onto a floppy disk (or a shared network drive), and copy
it onto other machines-- as long as your programs are all installed
the same actual folders on each machine--if not, you’ll get
don’t know where to point--and Windows isn’t
incredibly clever about
finding the correct file if it’s in the wrong location.
automatically keeps its Start Menu items in alphabetical order. Windows
98 doesn’t--but if you open the Start Menu, and right-click
on an out of
order item, you’ll find Sort by Name in
the popup context
menu. Unfortunately, you’ll need to repeat for each out-of
Windows 95 Start Menus are relatively safer from students fingers than
the Win98 equivalents--with Win98, you can right-click on an item right
in the Start Menu, and choose (for example) Delete
or Rename from
the popup menu. Luckily, few students have figured out right-clicking--
and I don’t propose to teach them--do you?
Explorer 4 add-on to Windows 95, and carrying through subsequent
versions of Windows, Microsoft added Toolbars,
optional sets of little icons either on the left-hand side of the
Taskbar (beside the Start button), or on the right-hand side, beside
System Tray. The default set loaded is called the Quick Launch Toolbar.
It includes an
icon to Show Desktop--
step minimizing all open windows. (Click it again to restore the
windows). Also included are icons for Internet Explorer, Outlook
Express, etc. The QLT can be turned on or off, or other toolbars chosen
by right-clicking on an unused piece of the Taskbar, and selecting Toolbars >
from the popup menu.
Personally, I find having half-a-dozen or so often-used program icons
this area useful. More icons than that becomes cluttered and hard to
You can add shortcuts of your choice to the QLT by placing a shortcut
on the Desktop, and dragging it to the QLT. Similarly, you can drag
icons around the QLT to reorder them. You can remove icons by dragging
them from the QLT to the Recycle Bin. For instance, the Show Desktop
icon sounds handy, but have you ever used it?
Similarly, several program installations add icons to the QLT, often
without asking permission. If you don't open those programs that way
(and when did you ever open the QuickTime Player from an icon anyway?)
feel free to remove it-- you can always add it back later if you change
In Windows XP, Microsoft doesn't display any Toolbars by default, but
you can add the QLT if you like as described above. If you find it only
shows a few icons, with more hidden behind a >>
symbol, right-click an
unused spot on the Taskbar, and uncheck the Lock the Taskbar
item; this will let
you drag the right-side of the QLT area to give it more display room.
The System Tray
This is the
area on the
right-hand end of the Taskbar, with the clock and optionally other
icons. Often quite a few icons end up there, making it difficult to
and crowding out the space for running programs on the main area of the
Taskbar. Some WordPerfect installations, for example, add icons for
each of the many components of the suite. (One of the reasons to always
pick the Custom
option and pay attention to the choices).
Unfortunately, unlike the Start Menu, Desktop, or Toolbar areas, Tray
icons can be hard to get rid of. Many of these icons represent programs
that are actually running, set to autoload at startup, and there are no
standards for how to access them.
Once again, take a look at the icons and ask yourself whether you can
remember actually clicking on each to access its program. If you don't
actually regularly use one of these icons, you may not want it taking
precious desktop space. Useful icons include the little speaker icon
(for adjusting volume), a little monitor icon (for setting resolution
and colour depth), and an icon for your anti-virus program. Most others
are rarely used in my experience. Often mouse or video software adds an
icon that duplicates settings available in the Control Panel-- but how
often do you need to fiddle with these settings?
Try clicking it once, double-clicking it, or right-clicking. Hopefully,
one of these techniques will either open a program or pop up a menu.
Look for an option to disable the icon. Simply closing the program may
not be good enough-- it may come back the next time you restart.
Windows 98, ME, and XP users may want to go to the handy MSCONFIG
utility-- click Start, then Run, then type MSCONFIG and click OK. Go to
the StartUp tab. This lists programs that run automatically at startup.
Persistent Tray icons can be turned off from here, though it may take a
bit of experimentation to find what to turn off. If you use a different
Windows version that lacks MSCONFIG, download the free Startup Control Panel
Windows XP has a nice option that will automatically clean up the
System Tray area, hiding icons that haven't been used often. You can
options for it by right-clicking an unused area of the Taskbar, and
selecting Properties from the popup menu. At the bottom of the dialogue
box, there's an option to [
Hide inactive icons
. Clicking the Customize
lets you set options
for individual icons-- opting to always show, never show, or hide when
Windowas NT, 2000, and XP are a bit different...
versions are designed for multiple users, and different users can have
different desktops and start menus, with different pictures, but also
with different icons present. Although they work in the same way as
single-user versions of Win95, 98, and ME, they also become a bit more
complex. If you are logged in as a user with Administrative priviledges
in one of these operating systems you can clean up everybody's desktop
and start menu. Of course, maybe some of these users may like having a messy
here's how it works:
Right-click on the Start button. Choose Explore or Explore All Users
from the popup
menu. An Explorer window will open up with a tree diagram of folders on
the left and the contents of a folder on the right. Notice the folder
named Documents and
Within this, are subfolders for each user, such as one named Alan Zisman. Note
also the subfolder
named All Users.
Within each of
these, are separate Desktop, Start Menu, Favorites, and other
Items in the Alan Zisman desktop and start menu folders (etc) only show
up when that user is logged in. Items in the All Users subfolders
present, no matter who is logged in. Clean up both your personal Start
Menu and Desktop items, and the All Users items. (It's probably a good
idea not to mess with other users' desktop and start menus without
Unfortunately, it's not always clear where icons will end up when you
install software under NT, 2000, or XP. Some install programs let you
choose subfolders-- and may list folder names twice if, for instance,
there's a folder with the same name in both your Start Menu and the All
User Start Menu. Other install routines will install in one place or
other without asking you or telling you which they are using.
It's a bit of
a pain to
have to tidy up the Desktop, Start Menu, Toolbar, and System Tray.
Especially since even after you clean them, they just start getting
But then, it's like your physical desktop... or at least my physical
envelopes, cables, piles of magazines, and the like have a tendancy to
pile up wherever there's a flat surface. From time to time, I have to
clean up. Why should our computers be any different?