The ultimate tweaker’s guide to Windows

Don’t like the way Windows works? Who does?

But just because the operating system doesn’t look and work the way you want doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with it as is. Windows is extremely tweakable; if you dig a little, you’ll find that you can customize it in almost any way you want.

To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to tweaking Windows. It covers both XP and Vista and lets you do all kinds of things you might have thought were impossible — replacing your boot screen, tweaking the Control Panel, speeding up Windows Flip 3D and more. Look for the XP logo and Vista logo icons to see which tips work in which OS.

The tweaks vary in the expertise you’ll need. In some cases you’ll get down and dirty with the Registry, so if you’re not certain you know how to make a DWORD value, for example, read “The tweaker’s guide to the Windows Registry” first. (Be sure to read the instructions for backing up the Registry before you attempt any Registry edits whatsoever.) .

In other cases, you’ll just have to dig into hidden corners of menus and folders. But in all cases, you’ll tell Windows exactly how you want it to behave … and it will bow down to you, the master.

Editor’s note: We’re assuming that any system settings you change will be on your own computer. Always check with your IT department before altering a company-owned machine.

1. Speed up Windows Flip 3D

Windows Flip 3D, which gives you a pop-up preview of all your open windows, is one of Windows Vista’s coolest new features — but if your hardware isn’t up to snuff, its operation can be jagged and sluggish.

With a Registry tweak, you can speed it up and smooth its animations by limiting the number of windows it will display.

  1. Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit at the Start Search box or a command prompt.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\DWM
  3. Create a new DWORD value and name it Max3Dwindows.
  4. Set the value to the maximum number of windows you want displayed. If you have severe performance problems, set it at 4; you can always re-edit and up the number later.
  5. Exit the Registry Editor.

For the change to take effect, you’ll need to either restart your PC or restart Vista’s Desktop Windows Manager (DWM). To do the latter, launch an elevated command prompt (which means you’re operating the command prompt with administrator rights) by typing cmd in the search box and pressing Ctrl-Shift-Enter. Type net stop uxsms and press Enter. Then type net startuxsms and press Enter. Windows Flip 3D will now be sped up.

With the new settings in effect, Windows Flip 3D will display only the number of windows you’ve told it to. If you have six windows open and your set maximum is four, only four will be displayed at a time. As you scroll through your windows, each new one will replace an old one.

2. Improve Explorer’s Send To menu
When you right-click a file or folder in Windows Explorer, a menu that lets you take a variety of actions pops up. One of these is Send To, which allows you to send the file to any one of a list of locations — for example, to a drive, a program or a folder.

But the programs and destinations that appear in the list by default may not be the ones you want to send things to. It’s simple to add destinations or programs and to take away others. You’ll merely add or take away shortcuts from a special Windows folder.

In Windows Vista, go to C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo where username is your username.

In Windows XP, go to C:\Documents and Settings\username\SendTo where username is your username.

In both cases, the folder will be filled with shortcuts to all the locations you find on your Send To context menu.

To remove an item from the Send To menu, delete the shortcut from the folder. To add an item to the menu, add a shortcut to the folder by highlighting the folder, choosing File –> New –> Shortcut (on Vista, you’ll need to press Alt to get the File menu to appear) and following the instructions for creating a shortcut.

The new setting will take effect immediately; you don’t have to exit Windows Explorer for it to go into effect.

3. Open the command prompt from the right-click menu
For accomplishing certain tasks, such as the mass deleting or renaming of files, the command prompt is the ideal tool. Often, you’ll combine its use with Windows Explorer, and so you may want to open the command prompt at the folder that’s your current location in Explorer.

Wouldn’t it be nice to add an option to the right-click context menu that would open a command prompt at your current folder? For example, if you were to right-click the C:\My Stuff folder, you could then open a command prompt at C:\My Stuff.

In Vista, it’s easy to do. Hold down Shift when you right-click in a folder window, and a new option appears on the context menu: Open Command Window Here. Select it and there you are in an appropriately located command prompt.

In XP, that option doesn’t appear, but you can add it with a Registry tweak.

  1. Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit at the Start Search box or a command prompt, then go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes\Folder\shell
  2. Create a new key called Command Prompt. For the default value, enter whatever text you want to appear when you right-click a folder — for example, Open Command Prompt.
  3. Create a new subkey beneath the Command Prompt key called Command. Set the default value to Cmd.exe /k pushd %L
  4. Exit the Registry. The new menu option will show up immediately. Note that it won’t appear when you right-click a file; it shows up only when you right-click a folder.

4. Resize desktop icons
Not happy with the size of the icons on the desktop or in Windows Explorer? It’s a snap to change their size in Vista. Press the Ctrl key and scroll your mouse wheel (or trackpad equivalent) forward to enlarge the icons, or toward you to shrink them. You’ll have many degrees of size to choose from, and they’ll stay at the new size until you change them again.

If you don’t have a wheel on your mouse or trackpad, there are still several ways you can change the size of the icons. For a quick way, but with few choices for icon sizes, right-click the desktop and select View. You can now choose small, medium or large icons.

If you want more choices, right-click the desktop and choose Personalization. Click Open classic appearance properties for more color options, click the Advanced button, choose Icon from the drop-down list, and use the Size control to change the size. Click OK, then keep clicking OK until all menus disappear.

In Windows XP, right-click the desktop and choose Properties. Click the Appearance tab, then the Advanced button. Choose Icon from the drop-down list, and use the Size