Customizing Windows: Tweakomatic vs. Tweak UI

Customizing and standardizing desktop settings across different computers is a common task for an administrator, but it can get complicated. A free tool from Microsoft called Tweakomatic can help. See what it can do and how it differs from other tools.

For years now, Tweak UI has been one of Microsoft's most popular downloads for Windows. In case you aren't familiar with Tweak UI, it's a simple program for customizing the Windows user interface. Recently though, Microsoft has released another similar program called Tweakomatic. I'm going to introduce you to Tweakomatic and discuss the differences between Tweak UI and Tweakomatic.

Installing Tweakomatic
You can download Tweakomatic from Microsoft. The download consists of a 258-KB self-extracting executable file. Double-click on this file and you'll see a message asking if you want to extract and use Tweakomatic. Click Yes and the setup program will display the end-user license agreement. After accepting the license agreement, the setup program will ask where you want to install Tweakomatic. Click OK and the Tweakomatic files will be extracted to the default path or to the alternate path that you specified. Click OK to close the setup program once it has completed.

Using Tweakomatic
Tweakomatic consists of only three files: tweakomatic_readme.doc (the instructions), Tweakomatic.mdb (the database), and tweakomatic.hta (the application). Verify that these files all exist within the same directory and double click tweakomatic.hta to launch Tweakomatic.

Just like Tweak UI, Tweakomatic works by modifying settings within the registry. The difference is that while Tweak UI does its registry modifications behind the scenes, Tweakomatic modifies the registry through WMI scripts. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The primary advantage to using WMI scripts is that you can run them anywhere. Modifications may be applied to the local computer or to remote computers. You can even run the scripts as a part of a logon script, if you want.

The main disadvantage to the script-based approach is that some of the modifications that you can make through Tweak UI simply don't exist in Tweakomatic. This is because some of the things that Tweak UI can do would require very long scripts and pages and pages of documentation on altering variables and values.

So what can Tweakomatic do? In spite of its limitations, Tweakomatic is a fairly powerful tool. While the Tweakomatic interface appears empty initially, Tweakomatic takes a very organized and clean approach to performing various tasks. You must begin by selecting one of the three manageable components from a drop-down list. From there, you must select a task category, followed by the actual task. For example, if you wanted to change how long the system is idle before a screen saver launches, you'd select Windows Settings from the Manageable Components list. Then you'd select Screen Saver Settings from the Task Category list, and then select the Specify How Long The System Waits Before Starting The Screen Saver option from the Individual Task list. You can see an example of this in Figure A.

Figure A
Tweakomatic provides a very logical way of selecting individual tasks.

As you look at Figure A, you've probably noticed the two large script boxes at the bottom of the screen. The script on the left is used for altering the current value. The script on the right is for determining what the current value is. There are also buttons that you can use to change the value specified in the script to something of your own choosing, plus buttons for running the script, saving the script, and choosing which computer the script should run on. As you can see, using Tweakomatic is just about as easy as using Tweak UI.

Tweakomatic vs. Group Policies
Admittedly, there are a few settings available through Tweakomatic that can also be adjusted through the Group Policy Editor. Generally speaking, if your organization uses Group Policies, it's better to make adjustments to such settings through the Group Policy Editor than through Tweakomatic.

The reason that these settings were included in Tweakomatic is because not everyone has an Active Directory environment and not everyone uses Group Policies. Therefore, I would recommend altering the few overlapping settings through Tweakomatic only if you have a stand-alone computer or if you need to alter multiple Windows machines and you don't have Group Policy. Just keep in mind that larger scale alterations are best performed through Group Policy.

Tweakomatic vs. Tweak UI
OK, now that you know how to use Tweakomatic and you know about some of its limitations, it's time for a showdown. Table A contains a list of all of the settings that can be adjusted through Tweakomatic and through Tweak UI. You can use this chart to tell which modifications are supported by which utilities.

Table A
Modification Tweakomatic Tweak UI
Internet Explorer security zones You can fully customize Internet Explorer's level of functionality in each individual zone. Unsupported
IE administrative settings You can control whether IE automatically downloads IE and non-IE components and updates to IE. You can also schedule the synchronization of offline items and can turn the script debugger on and off. Unsupported
Auto completion settings You can enable or disable auto completion for usernames and passwords, online forms, and URLs. Unsupported
Connection settings You can control how much information is displayed when a connection error occurs. You can also require HTTP 1.1 to be used when connecting to a Web server or when using a Proxy Server. Unsupported
Default Web page settings You can specify the home page. Unsupported
Download settings You can specify the default download folder and you can turn the Download Complete message on or off. Unsupported
Favorite settings You can hide items in your Favorites folder that have not been used recently. Unsupported
FTP settings You can show FTP sites in folder view and can choose to use passive FTP. Unsupported
Media and multimedia settings You can configure whether or not IE will display pictures, and play sounds and video found on Web pages. You can also control whether or not IE will attempt to resize or smooth an image. Unsupported
IE security settings This allows you to do things like check a certificate's validity and issue a warning if a certificate isn't valid. You can also issue warnings when information is sent to another Web site or when you are switching between secure and non-secure sites. You can also clear the Temporary Internet Files folder upon closing the browser. Unsupported
User interface settings This allows you to do things like change the color of hyperlinks and control the way Internet Explorer displays error messages. You can also control whether or not IE should run in Kiosk mode. There are too many other settings to list them all here. Unsupported
Command window settings This allows you to control the window size and fonts for the Command Prompt window. You can also control how many commands are buffered and whether the window should use insert or overtype mode. You can select the keys used for file completion and directory completion.
Mouse settings You can reverse the mouse buttons, enable or disable mouse trails, and configure the number of lines scrolled with each turn of the mouse wheel. You can also adjust the X-Mouse behavior. You can adjust the hover sensitivity, the number of lines to scroll with the wheel, and the X-Mouse behavior.
Screen saver settings You can enable or disable the screen saver. You can also select which screen saver should be used and set the time delay and the password. Unsupported
Search settings You can configure the default search options such as case-sensitive searching, and the searching of hidden files and folders, sub folders, and system folders. You can even mandate that tape drives be searched. Unsupported
Start menu settings This allows you to control the overall look and behavior of the Start menu. You can also add or remove menu items such as Administrative Tools, Control Panel, My Documents, and My Music. The Explorer section allows you to control the contents of the Start menu, but not to the extent of Tweakomatic.
Taskbar settings You can group applications together on the taskbar, hide inactive icons, lock the taskbar, and control the number of like windows opened before being grouped within the taskbar. You can enable balloon tips, control groupings, and control which applications appear in the frequently used programs section of the Start menu.
Wallpaper settings You can select which wallpaper to use and whether to stretch, tile, or center the wallpaper. Unsupported
Windows Explorer settings This has too many options to name them all, but you can do things like choosing whether or not to display hidden and system files. You can display compressed files in a different color. You can hide extensions for known file types, and enable font smoothing. You can also control things like how many times the taskbar flashes when a window becomes active and how long the system waits to end a process. The flashing taskbar option is available in the General | Focus section. There are also many options for controlling desktop animation.
About Not available Offers handy tips and direct access to the Group Policy Editor.
Shortcuts Not available You can control what shortcut icons look like.
Command keys Not available You can assign custom key combinations to invoke certain actions.
Desktop Not available You can control which icons appear on the desktop and which icon you want to be the first icon to be placed on the desktop.
My Computer Not Available You can control which drives are displayed through My Computer and what happens when you insert a CD or a DVD into the system.
Control Panel Not Available You can enable or disable individual Control Panel icons.
Templates Not Available You can control which types of documents are available when Windows offers to create a new document.
IE See specific settings at the beginning of this table. You can control the background color and which program is used to open up source code when View Source is selected.
Logon Not Supported You can configure an automatic logon and you can control whether or not AUTOEXEC.BAT is executed.

The verdict
My verdict is that both Tweakomatic and Tweak UI are useful utilities and one is not clearly superior to the other. Tweakomatic seemed to offer much more in the way of tweaking Internet Explorer Settings, while Tweak UI tended to offer more control over the Windows Desktop. Admittedly though, many of the settings available through Tweakomatic could also be controlled through the normal user interface for Windows or IE. The two utilities complement each other nicely and are handy to have around. Tweakomatic is probably a little more handy for administrators, since its functionality can be built into logon scripts.

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