Remove the Clutter Left by Your Windows Installation
Windows XP and 2000 add a lot of optional utilities, services, and other baggage to your hard drive when you install each operating system. You can remove some of these nonessentials via Control Panel, but getting rid of others requires a little tinkering with one of your system files.
First, the Control Panel method: In Windows 2000, log on as an administrator, choose Start, Settings, Control Panel, and click or double-click Add/Remove Programs. In XP, click Start, Control Panel and double-click Add or Remove Programs (or choose it from your Control Panel menu). Now click the Add/Remove Windows Components icon on the left to open the Windows Components Wizard. Check or uncheck items to install or remove them, respectively. In some cases, you can fine-tune your choices by selecting an item, such as Accessories and Utilities, and clicking Details. To tune even finer, select a component in the resulting dialog box and click Details again (if the button is available). When you've selected or deselected all the components you would like to add or remove, click OK until you return to the Windows Components Wizard. Click Next and follow the remaining prompts to finish the process. (See "Step-By-Step: Reclaim Hard-Drive Space" to read about other ways to clean up your hard disk.)
Unfortunately, Windows XP and 2000 install a number of components that are not listed in these dialog boxes. For example, in XP you see no options for removing Windows Media Player and other multimedia components, Hyperterminal and other communications utilities, or even some games, such as Pinball. Windows 2000 is even worse, providing no options for removing any games at all or for uninstalling accessories such as Calculator and Character Map.
The good news is that reader Eric Roth of West Hurley, New York, has figured out how to force Windows to give up its secrets. Launch Windows Explorer, choose Tools, Folder Options, and then click the View tab. In the Advanced Settings list, make sure that Show hidden files and folders is checked, and click OK. Now navigate to the Inf subfolder in your Windows or Winnt folder (usually it's in the C: root directory). Inside Inf, look for a file called sysoc.inf, which may appear simply as 'sysoc' if you have file extensions hidden. Save a copy of this file to your desktop or to some other easy-to-find location in case you want to return things to the way they are now.
Double-click sysoc.inf to open it in Notepad. You'll see several lines under the '[Components]' heading that include the word 'hide'. To make all possible components visible, choose Edit, Replace, type hide in the 'Find what' box, and leave the 'Replace with' box empty. Click Replace All and then the Cancel button to close the dialog box. Choose File, Exit and click Yes when prompted to save the file.
Once the file is saved, return to Control Panel, click or double-click Add or Remove Programs (Add/Remove Programs in Windows 2000), and select Add/Remove Windows Components. This list and the nested lists within some items, such as 'Accessories and Utilities', should have more items than they had before (see FIGURE 1). Happy housekeeping!
Make Risky File Extensions Obvious
Some readers were confused by my June Windows Tips column, which advised leaving file extensions hidden (for creating on-screen sticky notes), while the same month's Internet Tips column recommended making file extensions visible (to identify potentially dangerous files masquerading as harmless file types).
Both approaches have their merits: Having file extensions visible can make certain malicious programs in your e-mail in-box more obvious--for example, showing a file attachment such as picture.jpg.exe, which would otherwise have the harmless-looking name picture.jpg. On the other hand, displaying all file extensions all the time looks ugly, makes file names more difficult to read, and increases your likelihood of changing a file's extension accidentally when renaming it.
Fortunately, you can have it both ways. With a little editing of the Windows Registry, you can make Windows display only the file extensions of executable files, which you're less likely to rename or interact with directly. First, back up your Registry in case something goes wrong. Head over to "Step-By-Step: Care and Feeding of the Windows Registry" for step-by-step instructions. Now choose Start, Run, type regedit, and press Enter. Double-click HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT to expand the list of folders (which are called keys in Registry lingo). Within the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT key, scan the list for a key named exefile (not.exe). With exefile selected in the left (tree) pane, right-click in the right pane and choose New, String Value. Type AlwaysShowExt (all one word) and press Enter. The right pane should now have an icon named AlwaysShowExt. Exit the Registry Editor (see FIGURE 2).
You may need to restart Windows to see the effect, but from now on, all application files will have their.exe extensions visible in folder windows and other programs that display file names, even when 'Hide extensions for known file types' is selected. If you change your mind, you can reverse the effect by deleting the AlwaysShowExt icon from the exefile key.
For maximum security, repeat the previous steps for the following Registry keys in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT: cmdfile, comfile (in Windows 2000 and XP only), batfile, and scrfile. If you're concerned about people sending you harmful script files, add the AlwaysShowExt icon to the following Registry keys: JSFile, JSEFile, VBEFile, VBSFile, and WSFFile.
Speedy Shortcut Alt-ernatives
In the June 2000 issue, I listed a handful of double-click tricks for getting around your system faster. You can get even faster access to your Properties dialog boxes by adding the Alt key to your repertoire of clicks and double-clicks. Note that Windows XP users who have selected 'Single-click to open an item' in Explorer's Tools, Folder Options dialog box should congratulate themselves for already knowing about one of the simplest ways to speed up their work. But be sure to substitute "single-click" for "double-click" in the following tips.
System, Network, and Recycle Bin Properties: Alt-double-click My Computer on the desktop to open the System Properties dialog box, and Alt-double-click the desktop's My Network Places or Network Neighborhood (depending on your version of Windows) to open your Network, Network Connections, or Network and Dial-up Connections properties dialog box. Note that in some versions of Windows, these dialog boxes may open in the background (that is, behind any other windows that you currently have open). Finally, Alt-double-click Recycle Bin to open the Recycle Bin Properties dialog box and check or adjust its settings.
Quick Launch Properties: By Alt-single-clicking an icon in the Quick Launch area of your taskbar, you can see its Properties dialog box. And that goes for Desktop, Links, and custom toolbar icons, too (if you've made any of your own).
Launch in back: In some versions of Windows, Alt-double-clicking the speaker icon and the clock in the taskbar tray will open the Volume Control and Date/Time Properties (Date and Time Properties in Windows XP) dialog boxes, respectively, in back of any currently open windows. This is a good thing to do whenever you want to be reminded to check your clock or calendar, or to change your speaker volume, after you close the windows that you currently have open.
Other properties: Alt-double-clicking most drive, folder, file, and shortcut icons opens their Properties dialog boxes. This is handy if you want to change an item's file attributes or network sharing settings, or you want to give a shortcut a custom icon, among other options.
Which DirectX Version?
Many graphics-intensive applications require that you have a recent version of Microsoft's DirectX installed. DirectX enhances your PC's video and audio output to display so-called 3D graphics and produce enhanced sound. To find out which version of DirectX is installed on a Windows 98 PC, search the C: drive for the file dxtool.exe. When you find the file, double-click it to see the version displayed at the top of the dialog box. If you don't find dxtool.exe, either DirectX is not installed on your PC or your version uses the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.
In that case--or if you have a later Windows version--choose Start, Run, type dxdiag, and press Enter to launch the utility. On the first tab (System), you'll see your DirectX version listed near the bottom of the window (see FIGURE 3). Not satisfied with that version? Go to Microsoft.com to download a more recent version, or click the Help button at the bottom of the window to get more information. Satisfied? Make a note of the number and click Exit.
Send your Windows-related questions and tips to email@example.com. Windows Tips pays $50 for published items. Scott Dunn is a PC World contributing editor.