Let's face it: Customizing the behavior and appearance of Windows is not intuitive. Maybe there are certain items you'd like to have in your Start menu, or maybe you'd like to change Windows' default behavior when you click or open a menu. Don't know where to go to make these little changes? Fortunately, Microsoft's free Tweak UI tool (named for its skill of making changes to the user interface) gives you a single place to do everything.
Most people never find out Tweak UI exists. First released as part of Microsoft's Power Toys applications for Windows 95, Tweak UI is, essentially, a control panel that agglomerates nearly all Windows interface settings controls within a single location. The current version is compatible with all versions of Windows--95 and 98, 2000, NT 4, and Millennium. Microsoft doesn't offer any support for it, but it's simple to use.
Installing Tweak UI
To begin, download Tweak UI from PC World's Fileworld. You can also get an older, all-OS-compatible Tweak UI installer from a Windows 98 CD-ROM (Tools\Reskit\Powertoy\Tweakui).
Once you've saved the tweakui133.exe archive where you can find it on your hard drive, double-click it to unzip it. The archive unzips the files that install Tweak UI (into the C:\Windows\Temp directory by default, though you can save them anywhere).
When the extraction finishes, navigate to the directory where the files unzipped, then right-click tweakui.inf and choose Install. As part of the briefer-than-usual installation process, you'll see the Tweak UI help file open. You can browse this file now or later, but the installation doesn't complete until you close this window.
To start using Tweak UI, click Start, Settings, Control Panel, then double click the Tweak UI icon. For a tool that purports to allow you to customize nearly every aspect of the user interface, Tweak UI's UI is no-nonsense. Settings are grouped by tabs named for the general area of the Windows UI that they modify: The Mouse tab, for instance, contains all the settings that modify mouse behavior.
Tweak UI 101
Tweak UI is convenient because it groups commonly used user-interface controls in one place. The application itself makes changes to the Windows Registry, so be sure to back up your Registry before using the utility for the first time. (To back up your Registry, click Start, Run, type regedit, then click OK. In the Registry Editor, click Registry, Export Registry File, choose a memorable filename, and click Save. If you need to restore your Registry, double-click the saved Registry file, and click Yes when it asks you to overwrite your Registry with the backup.)
When using Tweak UI to adjust Windows settings on a machine that different people use, be careful about using functions that will apply to all users (meaning those who log on to the computer with different log-on names). Settings that affect only the current user will be indicated with a "per-user setting" notation at the bottom of the help screen.
Here are a few of our favorite tabs in Tweak UI and what you'll find in them:
Paranoia: If you share your computer with coworkers or members of your family, you may want to use some of these settings. The settings in this tab let you cover your tracks. The check box labeled "Clear Internet Explorer History at Logon," for example, will erase the URL history every time you log off (or shut down) and back onto (or reboot) the PC--perfect if you're looking for a job on your work computer. This same function can also be used for recently opened documents, search terms used in the Start menu's Find tool, user log-on names (a systemwide setting), and some aspects of Windows Explorer.
IE: The IE tab lets you make adjustments to Internet Explorer's behavior and add some useful features. Checking the box labeled "Show Favorites on Start Menu" gives you easy access to your favorite URLs by allowing you to launch Web sites without having to open the browser first. A copy of your Favorites folder will appear in your Start menu. You can also add folders for My Pictures and My Documents to the Start menu using the controls in this tab.
Repair: This little gold mine can help you repair your system. For example, if you install a program that replaces or deletes a needed system file, you may get errors that can create a problem on start-up. This feature checks the hidden SysBckup folder and replaces damaged or missing files as necessary. To use this feature, select Repair System Files from the pulldown menu on the Repair tab, then click the Repair Now button. Another common problem: You install software that changes the icons for your common applications. Using the same tool, you can rebuild icons, repair the registry editor, enable hot-keys, and handle other damaged parts of your system.
Logon: If you work in an office and reboot often, having to type in your password every time you log on to your computer can be a nuisance. This tab allows you to bypass that process by letting Windows automatically log you on to the system at start-up. Check the box labeled "Log on Automatically at System Startup," enter your username and password, then click Apply. Keep in mind that the password is not encrypted, and anyone with access to your computer will be able to use RegEdit to read it. This feature works only for the Microsoft Networking log-on dialog, and the Clear Last User setting located under the Paranoia tab must be disabled in order for this to work.
Desktop: This feature is ideal if you allow your kids (or others) to use your computer and you don't want them to access certain icons residing on the desktop, such as the Network Neighborhood. Removing the icon doesn't make it impossible to use those features; it just takes them out of (or puts them within) easy reach. Uncheck the box next to any icon you want to remove, and it will disappear. To add it back to your desktop, just place a check in the box. And if you want to rename any of the icons (I prefer the name Circular File to Recycle Bin), just right-click any of the icons in the list, and pick Rename.