Chapter 1 Giving Windows a Facelift

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Chapter 1 Giving Windows a Facelift

Transcript Of Chapter 1 Giving Windows a Facelift

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Chapter 1
Giving Windows a Facelift
When you look at the desktop of most PCs running Windows XP, you see pretty well exactly the same thing. First to strike the eye is the background image, by default the one labeled “Bliss” in the Display Properties dialog box. Next you probably notice the icons, sometimes scattered around the desktop, other times lined up neatly. At the bottom of the screen resides the Taskbar, with its dark blue background and its somewhat garish green Start button bearing white text and the famous pastel Windows logo. Nice sky, nice hill, nice icons, nice Taskbar. But what you need is a desktop and an interface that are all about you.
Of course, nobody is about to suggest there’s anything particularly wrong with the default Windows XP desktop. In fact, the only thing that’s really irksome is the sheer lack of individuality displayed by most of its users. The layout, content, and styles of the desktop are almost infinitely changeable, to the degree that your desktop can look completely different from anyone else’s. For some reason, however, few people do change the default desktop. Customizing your Windows XP desktop makes every bit as much sense as customizing your office or your study, and this operating system offers numerous ways to make it your own.
This chapter focuses on the appearance of the Windows XP interface — colors, screen resolution, fonts, icons, and more — and examines desktop organizational principles as well. By the end, you’ll have all you need to create a desktop that suits your needs perfectly, and one that looks as elegant and organized — or for that matter as chaotic and gaudy — as you wish.
Why Fix It? Is It Broken?
Why would you want to change the default configuration of Windows XP? First, you work with XP’s desktop every single day of your life, often for several hours during that day. Why not, at the very least, make it more pleasing to look at, more to your aesthetic taste? More importantly, you can alter it so that it suits your work methods, your preferences, and your needs. The Windows XP desktop works fine out of the box, but until you customize it precisely to your individual requirements it won’t reflect your work methods as well as it could. Out of the box, some of the elements may be in the wrong place, others get in your way, and others may simply look wrong. You owe it to yourself to make the entire desktop better for you.

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PC Magazine — Windows XP Solutions

In all likelihood, you won’t want to make all the changes outlined in this chapter. But, then again, you might. The most effective Windows interfaces are those in which the user has explored every possible alteration and in many cases made every one of those alterations. The interesting part is that once you make your changes, you’ll probably find everyone else’s desktop somewhat clunky to use.

By definition, customizing your Windows XP desktop means that it’s no longer the standard version. Many organizations frown on customization, in fact, because of potential difficulties for IT personnel and because moving from one machine to another requires readjustment. Unless you frequently move from machine to machine, however, it makes more sense to tailor your most frequently used environment to your own needs. Besides, it doesn’t really take all that long to readjust to the default XP desktop.

Figure 1.1 shows the initial XP desktop in all its uncustomized glory. Prepare to say goodbye to it.

Figure 1.1: The ho-hum default Windows XP desktop.

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Choosing between the Logon Screens
Before you even get to the main XP desktop, you have to pass through the Logon screen. When run for the first time, XP presents you with the standard blue Welcome screen (see Figure 1.2), with colorful icons representing each user account. Click on an account icon, type in the password (if required), and you’re on your way to that account’s desktop.

Turning off the Welcome screen option can provide a significant security benefit in that you can configure it to force users to type in their usernames and passwords in order to log on to the PC. In addition, unlike the Welcome screen, the old Logon dialog box does not automatically display the already existing user accounts. When you use the Welcome screen, by contrast, anyone can simply click one of the user icons and then attempt to guess the password, and if you haven’t enabled passwords for all accounts (an option in XP), you make it extremely easy for outsiders simply to force their way in. Of course, some degree of security still exists, but it’s harder to guess both the username and the password than the password alone.

Figure 1.2: The scroll bar at the far right appears only if all the user icons do not fit on the screen.

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PC Magazine — Windows XP Solutions

But XP’s roots lie in Windows 2000, whose Logon screen looked nothing like Figure 1.2. Microsoft chose the more colorful desktop screen to make XP more visually appealing — and possibly less intimidating, especially for users of XP Home Edition — but the previous Logon screen remains available to you (indeed, if your PC is part of a network domain, you have no choice: Windows switches to the older Logon screen automatically). To switch to this screen, do the following:
1. Click Start and then Control Panel to open the Control Panel folder.
2. Double-click the User Accounts icon.
3. Under Pick a Control Panel icon, double-click User Accounts.
4. Under Pick a Task, choose the option “Change the way users log on or off.” Figure 1.3 shows the result.

If you uncheck the Welcome screen option, you also automatically disable the fast user switching option. You can’t use fast user switching with the older style Logon screen.

Figure 1.3: Changing the Logon screen option.

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5. Uncheck the option labeled “Use the welcome screen.”
6. Click Start, click Log Off, and then click the Log Off icon. After logging you off, XP presents the older Logon dialog box, in which you type your username and password.

Changing the Desktop: Backgrounds, Resolutions, and Color Quality
Once past the Welcome or Logon screen, you come to the desktop itself. This is where you can make the most noticeable changes to the XP interface because for many users the desktop is the interface, providing access to programs, files, and more. When you consider that Windows essentially began (with version 3.0) as nothing but a desktop, a set of clickable icons with no Start button or Taskbar whatsoever, the tendency to work strictly from the desktop makes sense.
But you don’t have to leave the desktop as you find it. If you want brighter colors or no colors at all, go for it. If you want huge icons with huge fonts, go for that as well. If you want a background image showing the Milky Way galaxy, Fenway Park, or Elvis, go right ahead. These options, and many more, are readily available to you.
Changing Backgrounds
Windows XP backgrounds consist of images displayed on the desktop. All users can have their own settings and background. XP provides a fairly wide variety of backgrounds, but if you don’t like any of them, or if you just get bored with them all, you can create your own or download gazillions of them from the Web.
Backgrounds are images. Some are large images, while others are small image files that combine to create a background pattern. Figure 1.1 shows the default XP background; it’s called Bliss, presumably because XP’s developers like blue skies and grassy fields (farmers might very well call this background Work instead). The Bliss background consists quite simply of an image, bliss.bmp (found in the folder \Windows\web\wallpaper), that XP loads every time you log on to that account. You can find all of XP’s large background images in the same folder. You can see the smaller background images, from which XP creates its background patterns, in the main \Windows folder itself. You can use any small image to create your own background. If you choose not to tile it, it will simply occupy a small square at the center of the desktop; Figure 1.4 shows the background named Zapotec, a single image tiled to cover the entire screen.
You can change your background image in two fundamental ways: through the Display Properties dialog box or by assigning any image you find in My Computer, Windows Explorer, or Internet Explorer as the desktop. Any popular image type will do, with BMP, JPG, GIF, and PNG being the most common.

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PC Magazine — Windows XP Solutions

Figure 1.4: A small image tiled to cover the desktop.
To gain the most control over your background selection, use the Display Properties method. You can open the Display Properties dialog box either by double-clicking the Display icon in Control Panel or, more easily, by right-clicking on the desktop itself and choosing Properties from the context menu. Because you need to right-click an unused part of the desktop, you’ll probably find the Control Panel route easier if open windows already fill your desktop.
Whenever you want to see your desktop uncluttered by open program and document windows, click the Show Desktop icon on the Quick Launch toolbar on the Taskbar. This action minimizes all windows; you can restore them all to their previous state by clicking the Show Desktop icon a second time. If you don’t see the Quick Launch toolbar (it’s disabled by default), right-click an empty area of the Taskbar and then choose Toolbars and Quick Launch.

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Chapter 1: Giving Windows a Facelift


With Display Properties open, click the Desktop tab. Figure 1.5 shows the result, with the default Bliss desktop already selected.

In a nice gesture, XP lets you preview the background before you choose it. The preview area is extremely useful when choosing all your interface options.

Figure 1.5: Preview the background before choosing it.
Click each of the icons in the Background area of this dialog box to see which one you want. When you’ve decided, choose it and click Apply or OK. Your desktop immediately takes on that image.
Stretch, Tile, and Center As you click through the selections, take note of one difference between the full images and the patterns. When you choose a full image, such as Autumn, the Position drop-down menu to the right shows Stretch. When you choose a pattern, Position shows Tile. A third option in the Position menu is Center, although none of the images defaults to this choice.
Tile: When you choose Tile, you instruct Windows to display multiple copies of the image, with each copy adjacent to the next, in a pattern of squares or rectangles covering the screen. You can tile any background image, but Microsoft has designed the pattern

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10 PC Magazine — Windows XP Solutions
images specifically with tiling in mind, so they fill the screen properly. Each of the full background images already fills a screen with a resolution of 800x600 pixels (the images are 800x600 in size), and tiling has no apparent effect unless you choose a higher resolution. Once you do, the tiled image results in four adjacent copies of the image across the screen, as you can see in Figure 1.6. Stretch: To compensate for the differences in screen resolution, XP provides the Stretch option. This option dynamically changes the size of the image to match the resolution you’ve chosen. You can stretch any image in this way, but if the image is small, stretching it will cause the image to become pixilated; all images consist of pixels, and when you display a low-resolution image at a higher resolution, the pixels themselves become visible. XP uses background images specifically suited to stretching (800x600 resolution at 96dpi), something to keep in mind if you want to create your own backgrounds. Center: As its name suggests, choosing the Center option centers the background image on the desktop. As you increase the screen resolution, the image stays the same size as before and therefore covers less of the desktop. Choose Center when you have a background image that neither tiles nor stretches well.
Figure 1.6: Tiling the Bliss background at a resolution of 1024x768.

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Choosing Your Own Background Image If you don’t like any of the backgrounds XP provides, or if you simply want to look at something new when Windows launches, you can choose another image entirely. With the Display Properties dialog box open, click the Browse button. XP takes you directly to your My Pictures folder, which is located inside \Documents and Settings\YourUsername. To demonstrate this feature, Microsoft has stored four possible background pictures, all in JPEG format, inside the folder called Sample Pictures: Blue Hills, Sunset, Water Lilies, and Winter. Click any of these pictures to bring it into the Background area of the Display Properties dialog box and then click Apply or OK to accept it.

The Sample Pictures folder is actually a shortcut to another folder, located in \Documents and Settings\ All Users\Documents\My Pictures. When XP is installed, it creates a shortcut to this folder in the My Pictures folder of all user accounts so that all users have access to them.

If you find an image on a Web page you want to use as your background, you can do so directly from your browser. Virtually all modern browsers — such as Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and Mozilla — offer a command to make this happen. When you see the image you want in your browser, right-click it and choose Set as Background (Internet Explorer) or Set As Wallpaper (Netscape and Mozilla). The image immediately becomes your background, and you can stretch, tile, or center it as you can any other background (it is centered by default). Open Display Properties, click the Desktop tab, highlight the generic name of the image — ”Internet Explorer Wallpaper,” “Netscape Wallpaper,” etc. — and choose the options you want. Figure 1.7 shows the Background list with an image selected in the Mozilla browser.
You can also choose background images from some photography software packages. For example, XP includes two graphics programs, Paint and the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. When you have an image file open in Paint, you can set the image as your background by choosing File ➝ Set As Background (Tiled) or File ➝ Set As Background (Centered). If you open an image in the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer, the default viewing program in XP, right-click the image and choose Set as Desktop Background from the context menu.

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12 PC Magazine — Windows XP Solutions
Figure 1.7: All options are available for all background images, no matter where you acquired them.
Where did my background image go?
One of the questionable design choices in XP is its handling of externally selected background images. Whether you choose an image from somewhere else on your PC or from a Web site, XP treats it as a temporary choice. In each case, once you choose the new background image, XP displays it in the Background area of the Display Properties dialog. If you chose a file from your PC, XP shows the file’s name; if you chose an image from the Web, XP displays the generic name “Wallpaper” along with the name of the browser you’ve used (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla, etc.). But as soon as you choose a different background, these images disappear from the list. To choose them as background images again, you have to go out and find them. To prevent this disappearance, copy the file into the folder that contains the built-in background images: \windows\web\wallpaper. This way, you have access to the image whenever you open Display Properties. If you’ve chosen the background from the Web, you’ll need to give it a unique filename, so the best idea is to save the image into that folder directly from your browser.