Get IT Done: Tweak UI for Windows XP allows for more customization

Customize the Windows XP interface with Microsoft PowerToys

Tweak UI, one of the Windows XP PowerToys, lets you alter a vast number of user interface settings. In fact, so many settings are contained in Tweak UI that most folks never explore all of them.

Consultants who have added Windows XP to their skill sets should familiarize themselves with Tweak UI to help determine the best configuration for users. Knowing what settings are available and how to use them can save you a lot of time and frustration when, for example, you’re on a contract with an organization that has recently switched to XP.

First in a series
This is the first of four articles that explores Tweak UI, a productivity tool that allows for the modification of the Windows UI.

New look
If you’ve used previous versions of Tweak UI, you’ll immediately notice changes to the version for Windows XP. Instead of launching from the Control Panel, XP’s version comes as a.exe file; you’ll find a shortcut to Tweak UI on the PowerToys For Windows XP menu.

Once you have Tweak UI for Windows XP up and running, notice that the tabbed interface has been replaced by a much sleeker and easier-to-use tree list configuration, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The new tree list UI makes it easy to track down settings you want to adjust.

When you select a branch in the tree, you’ll see the corresponding configuration settings on the page in the main window. Most of the branches also have several subbranches. Selecting a subbranch reveals a page of related settings.

The About branch
When you first launch Tweak UI, the About branch is selected by default. This branch could be called the Miscellaneous branch because it contains a hodgepodge of settings that really don’t fall into any of the other groupings. The main page also contains a description of how to use the question mark icon to get more information on any of the Tweak UI settings.

When you open the About branch, you’ll find the Tips page, which gives you a set of 21 general tips on using the Windows XP operating system (see Figure B).

Figure B
One of the tips included in Tweak UI

Below that, you’ll find the Policy page, where the Run Group Policy Editor button allows you to quickly launch the Group Policy Editor. You can use this to change computer configurations and user configurations.

The General branch
The General branch contains two pages that could also be considered items for a Miscellaneous branch. The main page on the General branch has a list box of 12 general settings that you can enable or disable by selecting the appropriate check box. These settings are listed in Figure C. In addition to the setting name and description, I’ve included the setting’s default value.

Figure C
Settings on the General page

The second page on the General branch is the Focus page, which allows you to control how applications that run in the background behave. As you know, when you’re working in one application and another application that’s running in the background displays a message, the second application’s taskbar icon flashes three times to alert you to the situation rather than stealing the focus and jumping to the foreground. The settings on the Focus page allow you to disable this feature altogether, configure the icon to flash until you switch to the application, or change the number of times the icon will flash (see Figure D).

Figure D
Tweak UI’s Focus page

The Mouse branch
The Mouse branch contains settings designed to complement those found in the Mouse extension in the Control Panel. In addition to the settings found on the main page, the Mouse branch contains additional settings on the Hover, Wheel, and X-Mouse pages.

On the main page, you’ll find a slider bar that lets you control the speed at which cascading menus open when you hover your mouse pointer over the menu name (see Figure E).

Figure E
The Mouse page

Moving the slider to the left causes the menus to open more quickly; moving the slider to the right makes the menus open more slowly. As you adjust the slider, you can right-click on the Test icon to reveal three sample cascading menus that let you test your adjustments.

In the Mouse Sensitivity panel, you’ll find two spin buttons that allow you to control how the mouse responds to double-clicks and drag-and-drop operations. The Double-click setting lets you indicate how close together, in pixels, two clicks need to be to designate an actual double-click. The Drag setting allows you to indicate how many pixels an icon must move before Windows XP knows that you actually want to drag the icon. For example, a setting of six indicates that you must move an icon at least six pixels before Windows XP considers it a drag operation. Again, you can use the Test icon to experiment with your settings.

On the Hover page, you can configure the Hover sensitivity and time. With the Hover Sensitivity spin button, you can choose the number of pixels that specify the size of the region the mouse pointer must remain within to be considered an actual hover. The Hover Time spin button lets you specify the amount of time that the mouse must remain within that region to be considered an actual hover.

The settings on the Wheel page let you enable or disable the scrolling capability of a mouse wheel. You can also set the number of lines you want to scroll for each notch you roll the wheel. Keep in mind that while you can also set the number of lines to scroll in the Control Panel’s Mouse extension, you can’t disable the scrolling capability there.

The X-Mouse page allows you to turn on the Activation Follows Mouse feature. This feature can be useful, but it’s often misunderstood. Here’s how it works: When you’re running more than one application at a time, chances are good that you switch between windows quite often. If neither of the windows is maximized, you probably move from one open window to the next by clicking that window’s title bar. When you use the X-Mouse feature, you don’t click. You just move the mouse pointer over the title bar of the inactive window and it becomes active—no clicking involved.

Once you enable the X-Mouse feature, you’ll need to select the Autoraise When Activating check box as well. This is a crucial setting; it allows the X-Mouse feature to activate a window and bring the window to the foreground. You can then set the Activation Delay, which allows you to specify the amount of time (in milliseconds) that the mouse pointer must remain over an inactive window before it brings that window to the foreground.

How are you using Windows XP with your clients?
Have your clients who use Windows begun to inquire about migrating their system to Windows XP? How long do you think it will be until your clients do so? Six months? A year? Never? Give us your prediction.



Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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