Published in Gulf Times on January 22, 2002

T(we)aking control of Windows

You have changed the way your desktop looks by replacing the background picture. Your mouse pointer looks way cool. You have even replaced the standard Windows icons with those of your own making. But there is more to customising Windows, writes DANIEL LAM.

ANYONE who has ever used a Windows PC for any length of time knows how to customise the computer. You can change the background picture, change how the icons look and respond to the mouse pointer, change the mouse pointer itself, etc. But there is more to the art of "tweaking" Windows than a few simple ways of making it look, and act, the way you want it to look. 

There are plenty of utilities available in the market and on the Internet that allow you to go beyond such simple tweaking. Some of these utilities are freeware (that is, free to download and in some cases, distribute), some you have to pay for. 

One utility that comes free, with Windows 98 no less, and is one of the more useful (and small in size) is simply called Tweak UI. The UI stands for User Interface, and Tweak UI allows you to do just that ... modify the way you "interface" with the operating system.

Tweak UI is not new ... it has been available for users since Windows 98 came out, and is part of Microsoft's PowerToys group of utilities. PowerToys were originally developed by Microsoft's Windows 95 programmers to allow them to "play" with the interface without having to toy with the system registry. But despite shipping PowerToys with Windows 98 (it is found on original copies of the Windows 98 CD-ROM), Microsoft won't accept responsibility for it's use. Microsoft's website states clearly that the "productivity tools called PowerToys ... are unsupported tools". 

In short, use them at your own risk. It didn't help that the Tweak UI that came with the Windows 98 CD-ROM is buggy. If you want to try Tweak UI, it is best you download the latest version, Tweak UI 1.33, from Microsoft (point your browser towards "http://www.microsoft.com/ntworkstation/downloads/PowerToys/Networking/NTTweakUI.asp" - I checked ... it's still there). 

A word of caution though: Tweak UI allows you to make major (but fun) changes to your Windows operating system. The utility gives you access, albeit indirectly, to the Windows Registry, and tampering with the Registry always carries a certain amount of risk if you don't know enough to undo the changes. 

Basically, if you are a computing novice and are not about to risk the health of your system, then forget about Tweak UI ... it is not for the faint-hearted and risk-adverse. If you are game for more control over Windows, read on. 


How to obtain a copy of Tweak UI
Users of Windows 98 should not have to look far for Tweak UI ... version 1.25 of the utility should be found on the Windows 98 CD-ROM (the actual location may vary, but it should be in the folder marked Tools or PowerToys). However, version 1.25 is buggy, and will not work very well with Windows 95. If you have an Internet connection, hop over to Microsoft (Uniform Resource Locator, or URL, given above) and download Tweak UI 1.33. It is a small zipped file (between 65kb to 110kb) and is self-extracting. This version works with Windows 95, Windows 98 (Second Edition as well), Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 2000. 

Oh yeah, back-up your current Registry settings before you install Tweak UI ... just in case. 


Installing the utility
Once you have downloaded or located Tweak UI, it's time to install it. Locate the file called TweakUI.inf (the .inf extension means that it is an information file ... kind of tells Windows what to do). If you downloaded it from the Internet, C:\WINDOWS\TEMP is the default location. Right-click the file's icon, and choose Install. Once the installation is complete, an "Introducing Tweak UI" Help window pops up. Close it to complete the installation. 

And a-Tweaking we go
Once installed, and once you are ready to start tweaking, go to Start, Settings, Control Panel and click on the Tweak UI icon to launch the utility. Launching Tweak UI brings up a dialogue box with a series of tabs along the top. 

Absolute power (well, almost!)
Let's examine Tweak UI, one tab at a time. By the way, the options and features available depend on the version of Windows your computer is running, and whether it is part of a network or not (for example, if you are using Windows ME, you'll get an additional IE tab). For the purpose of this article, I ran Tweak UI on a networked computer running the earliest version of Windows that the utility can be used in: Windows 95. 

By default, Tweak UI opens with the Mouse tab selected. 


Mouse:
Click on this tab and you will find settings that you can adjust to alter the way you point and click your way around Windows. If you are tired of the speed in which pop-up menus, well, pop up, make use of The Menu Speed area. Under Mouse Sensitivity you can change your double-click and drag settings. If you are using a scroll mouse, you can also turn the scrolling wheel on or off, adjust how fast it scrolls through a page, or even set your mouse to automatically go to the default setting. 

General:
Next to Mouse we have this tab that allows you enable or disable on-screen effects such as Smooth Scrolling, Window Animation, and Beeps On Errors. Previous versions allowed you to set Windows to display its version number on your desktop for quick reference, and had a Special Folders option that allows you to tell Windows where to store common program files. I presume these were removed to make for a less buggy Tweak UI. 

Explorer:
The features here can be fun to play with. The Shortcut Overlay feature gives you several options for displaying shortcut icons, and the Startup area lets you display a Tip of the Day on startup. In the Settings portion of the tab you can make further modifications. 

Desktop:
Choose from a variety of special Desktop icons you can save as files to any folder or rename. Folders that are checked are displayed on the Desktop ... if you want to hide a folder, such as Recycle Bin or Network Neighbourhood, click on the appropriate the box to remove its check mark and it goes away. A word of caution: Be careful about removing Desktop icons, as this can cause some Windows features to stop working. It has happened to me before (yes, I was very young and overly enthusiastic once). 

My Computer:
Uncheck drives you don't want displayed in your My Computer window. For most users there is really no need to play with this feature. Also, although I haven't encountered this personally, certain computer experts warn that using this feature can prevent you from using the Explore or Open commands in My Computer. 

Control Panel:
This is another tab with features that you should be careful with. You can add or remove both standard and third-party Control Panel icons by removing check marks or adding them next to the proper .CPL files. Before you tamper with this, I suggest that you create a shortcut for the .CPL file first, so that you can still access the files even when the Control Panel doesn't show them anymore. 

Log On:
In previous versions of Tweak UI, this was called the Network tab. It logs you onto any network that uses Client for Microsoft Networks automatically each time you start Windows. Keep in mind that your logon password won't be encrypted if you use this option. It also prevents you from using the Clear Last User option on the Tweak UI Paranoia tab. If you have reason to believe that security is a concern with regards to your computer (say, someone in your office may be snooping around your workstation), skip this option. 

New:
This tab contains options on which types of New documents you can create on the Desktop when you right-click and select New. 

Add/Remove:
This tab maintains the list of programs you can uninstall from the Add/Remove Programs dialogue box in Control Panel. You may be familiar with the case where programs already uninstalled still have entries in the Control Panel's Add/Remove programs feature. With Tweak UI, you can dispense with the entries. Click on an obsolete entry and select Remove. You can also change the parameters for the uninstall option ... click on a program, select Edit, and change the description for the program or the path to its uninstaller. Use the New command to manually add a program to the list if you know the path to the uninstall program. 

Boot:
Boot controls startup options, such as allowing and disallowing function keys such as F4 to boot the previous operating system. 

Repair:
This tab fixes problems with icons, file associations, the FONTS folder, Regedit, system files, etc. Select the repair you want and click the Repair button to perform the option you select. If you have had to reinstall Windows to fix problems before, this feature may save you that step. I have used this feature a few times, but to really fix problems, nothing beats a clean install. 

Paranoia:
The very useful, and most famous, tab in Tweak UI ... the Paranoia tab. It allows you to hide your activities from other computer users, such as clearing your Internet Explorer history and Document history files each time someone logs onto your computer. Paranoia also enables and disables Windows' penchant for playing audio and data CDs automatically, and saves Illegal Operations errors to a file called Faultlog.txt. 

Can we turn back the clock?
What if you have made various tweaks and decide you don't like them, and want to reverse it? In many cases, you can actually reverse the changes you make with Tweak UI ... you may have noticed that on several tabs there is a Restore Factory Settings button. Not all tabs contain this button ... those that don't make permanent changes. 

The final word
Tweak UI users have a level on control over Windows that non-users don't. For those willing to take the risk, Tweak UI is great fun. It's not really THAT risky, actually, especially if you know what you are doing, but whether you are a veteran PC user looking for a better computer experience or a novice eager to try new things, tread lightly ... avoid making changes that you don't fully understand. In general, however, you can perform plenty of tweaks without causing serious harm to your computer or to Windows. 

Above all, enjoy the power you that Tweak UI grants you.