Hardware

Get IT Done: Clear the clutter on users' desktops with SysAssist

Move little used icons off the desktop with this utility


Every user you support has programs and data files that they live and die by. You've probably noticed them when you've gone to a workstation to do some work and found shortcuts clogging up the desktop. You can clear up these shortcuts on the desktop by using SysAssist 3.0.

What's wrong with plain old shortcuts?
Microsoft has been using shortcuts on the desktop since Windows 95, quickly allowing users to start programs. There are two main problems with shortcuts. First, they clutter up the desktop. At higher resolutions, you can easily fit hundreds of shortcuts on a desktop. Finding, say My Network Places, in among hundreds of icons can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Secondly, each shortcut on the desktop is actually reflected by a .lnk file on your hard drive. This file contains all of the properties for each icon, including the path to the icon's image and what program should run when you click it. The .lnk files are usually small, no more than 2 KB, but if you get enough of them, they can add up to serious disk space. Also, don't forget, due to slack space on your hard drive, depending on the operating system on the workstation and the file system used, a single 500-byte .lnk file may actually take up to 64 KB of space on a hard drive. Combine the wasted space with the extra files that programs like virus scanners have to scan and, you can see, hundreds of icons to track can become a problem.

SysAssist allows you to compile shortcuts to all your favorite PC programs and hide them in one compact menu on the system tray. You can add as many programs to this menu as you want. In addition to regular programs, you can use SysAssist to launch Web sites, open folders, and play MP3 files.

At first glance, it might not seem like much of an improvement over just putting the icons on the Start menu. But it is better for two reasons. First, icons in the Start menu still have .lnk files associated with them, so even though you've cleaned up the desktop, you still have the storage problem to deal with.

Second, you can use the special timer feature to run applications stored in SysAssist up to one week later. With this special timer feature, you can even have a message sent to another computer in your network when the application has been started by the timer.

Obtaining and installing SysAssist
You can get SysAssist 3.0 by visiting the SysAssist Web site. Click on Download Now to download the file. The Web site says that it's only a 400-Kb download, but, in reality, the file you'll download, Install.exe, is about 1.5 Mb in size.

When the program is finished downloading, run Install.exe. This will start the SysAssist Install Program. Although not a true Setup Wizard like most installation programs you've used, it works basically the same way. The only thing you really have to do is pick an installation directory.

Running SysAssist
SysAssist runs in the System Tray. You can start it after you finish the installation program. To manually start SysAssist, click Start | Programs | SysAssist 3.0 | SysAssist 3.0.

You can also configure SysAssist to run automatically at start up. To do so, click the SysAssist icon and select Options. When the menu appears, click Preferences | Run At Startup.

By Default, SysAssist only includes one menu item when you first install it. This is a menu item that will allow you to bring up the folder list for your C: drive. The first thing you'll want to do is to start adding menu items.

To do so, click the SysAssist icon in the System Tray and then go to Options | Add Item. This will display the screen shown in Figure A. As you can see, you have four choices—you can either add an application, a Web page, a folder, or an MP3.

Figure A
You add items to your SysAssist menu from this screen.


In the Application Title field, enter the title of the program as you want it to appear in the Menu. In the Application's Full Path field, enter the executable and pathname for the program. If you don't know the path or the executable, click the Browse button. Once you've entered all of the information, click Add.

If you want to change a menu, you can do so by clicking Options | Open Menu Manager. When you do, you'll see the screen shown in Figure B. By default, the Edit Menu tab is selected.

Figure B
The Menu Manager allows you to update menus.


Select the Menu item in the right window. If you want to remove the item, click Remove. To change the item, click Edit. Then you can make the changes you want in the Application Title and Application's Full Path fields.

SysAssist allows you to maintain multiple menus. To create a new menu, click the New Menu tab. Type a menu name in the Menu Name field and click Create. Then you can go back to the Edit Menu page to add or change items.

To switch menus, you can go to the Open Menu tab. Select the menu you want from the list and click Open. You can also switch menus by clicking the SysAssist icon in the system tray and then clicking Options | Load Menu.

If you click the Preferences tab, you'll see the screen shown in Figure C. Here, you can change the way SysAssist works.

Figure C
The Preference tab allows you to make changes to the way SysAssist works.


You can select the default menu from the Default Menu drop-down list. The other options on the page are pretty self-explanatory. If you select Send Message When Complete, SysAssist will prompt you to enter a hostname. This name is the NetBIOS name of the computer you want to send a message to when the program completes.

The Hr, Min, and Sec drop-down lists contain the times when you want the program to automatically execute. Hours are represented in military time, and, beyond the standard 24-hour clock, SysAssist allows you to specify up to 167 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds, which is 7 days and almost an hour.

Keeping SysAssist current
You can check for updates for SysAssist by going to Options | Check For Update. When you go to download and install updates, make sure SysAssist is not running in the System Tray. You can also check the Task Manager to see that it has not been loaded.

A word of advice to Windows 9x users: There are cases where a prompt will appear and say that the files you are using are out of date and need to be updated. The installation program will perform the update and ask you to restart the computer. There has been feedback saying it caused problems, more specifically instability, within the OS. So, as a word of advice from me, I would not recommend using the program if you haven't received this prompt. Not all Windows 95 and 98 users will receive this prompt. So give it a try for yourself and, if you don't receive this prompt, then just cancel it—what can it hurt?

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