Get IT Done: Tweaking the Windows desktop

Improve user productivity by tweaking the Windows user interface

Tweaking the Windows desktop means more than just changing the background colors or image. You can resize icons and fonts, make your own color combinations, rename the recycle bin, etc. to customize the desktop to suit your needs. On March 16th Jeff Davis showed us how. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Tweaking the Windows desktop means more than just changing the background colors or image. You can resize icons and fonts, make your own color combinations, rename the recycle bin, etc. to customize the desktop to suit your needs. On March 16th Jeff Davis showed us how. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

MODERATOR: Welcome. Tonight’s Guild Meeting will deal with the Windows desktop. How you can tweak it, modify it, and protect it from users who may want to make unwanted changes. Our Speaker for tonight is Jeff Davis, the community editor for SupportRepublic.

JEFF DAVIS: Greetings everyone. I'd like to thank you all for joining us for tonight's Guild Meeting. We're going to have some fun and maybe even learn something. One of the things I'd like for you to do for me tonight is list your job title and city/location on your first post. From time to time, we'll do roll call votes where I'll ask everyone in the chat room to sound off with a short answer.

Who are you?
RDCROSSEN: Tech Support Analyst II Kansas City, MO.

PEACEFULTRAVELER: Network Admin. Americus, GA.

BO2145AT:Automation technician Utica, NY.

JEFF DAVIS: We're probably supposed to talk about things like mouse settings.

ZORKON: CEO Eagle Systems Consultants Jefferson City, MO.

JCARLISLE: Network Administrator. Louisville, KY.

JEFF DAVIS: Login and/or logon parameters and behavior.

JCARLISLE: Hey... I remember you used to be able to replace the Program Manager in Windows 3.1 with new shells, like the Workplace Shell for Windows that emulated OS/2. Are there such things for Win9x?

JEFF DAVIS: I think TweakUI is one solution. Brien Posey recently wrote a drill down entitled "Taking control of your system with Tweak UI." It lets you eliminate all access to the control panel.

JCARLISLE: Tweak UI doesn't replace the entire desktop does it?

JEFF DAVIS: No, Jcarlisle, but it does let you effectively gray certain functions.

ZORKON: TweakUI is a good tool, but parts are a little flaky and are not dependable.

HUEVOS: In Win2000, is there some way to allow one person to install a program and it will automatically go into the "everyone" start menu level and be available to everyone?

JCARLISLE: What type of things does it let you gray out?

JEFF DAVIS: Huevos, I think that's supposed to be the main point of W2K.

HUEVOS: That it can't be done?

JEFF DAVIS: I must admit — I'm waiting until at least SP2 before I look at Windows 2000 seriously.

We are very selective
HUEVOS: We are selectively testing it for rollout.

JEFF DAVIS: Huevos, no I think that W2K's "big bang for the buck" is its easier control of the client system, like NT policies on steroids.

ZORKON: I tried W2K and ran into some serious driver problems.

JEFF DAVIS: I've been through system upgrades since DOS 3.x, so I know the W2K thing is inevitable. But I like to give new products a burn-in period.

MODERATOR: While we're briefly on the subject of Win2k, please remember to attend our first DAYTIME Guild Meeting tomorrow: Windows 2000: The First 30 Days.

HUEVOS: Would that require an MS server and client? We have Novel server and MS clients.

RDCROSSEN: We have had some problems with Banyan Vines and W2K.

JEFF DAVIS: Zorkon, one of my colleagues couldn't get W2K to recognize an Aztec sound card, a cheap, shouldabeen-recognized card.

MODERATOR: You can control the W2K environment using ZENWorks. It also works on Win9x, NT, and Win 3.x. in a Netware Environ.

ZORKON: I have had a similar problem with SoundBlaster and my Logitech equipment.

HUEVOS: We are looking to use ZENworks.

JEFF DAVIS: The same thing happens every OS upgrade. It takes a while for all the drivers to be tried on various configurations. The drivers get fixed, and the devices run again.

JCARLISLE: I haven’t seen W2K yet. Is the desktop much different than Win9x or NT?

JEFF DAVIS: Here's a quick roll call opportunity for the 10 or so folks who are here. How many users do you support? Our shop, 140.

It doesn’t make a difference
HUEVOS: Not a lot different to me. Just different effects. 140.

JEFF DAVIS: It's a lot like Macintosh 7.0


GJANI: 150 to 175.

TLSNC: No, the desktop is not much different, but if you have used NT, you will have to hunt for most of your support functions.

ZORKON: At Eagle systems we support about 50 on a regular basis.

RDCROSSEN: I support about 150, the department supports about 2,000.

JEFF DAVIS: 140, 15, 150-175, 50, 150/2000 — the marketing folks love this kind of stuff. Thank you for accommodating me.

TLSNC: 50-75.

JEFF DAVIS: Here's my next big question—how many of you require workstation lockdown after a certain period of inactivity? Or do you worry about user-machine level security?

GJANI: No need for workstation lockdown. Not too concerned w/user-machine level security.

HUEVOS: We are planning to tighten our security, but we need to hash out how far.

ZORKON: We only lockdown when the system is not supervised; then it is done manually.

JEFF DAVIS: Here's where I'm going with this. In my role as community editor for the SupportRepublic, I hear all the time from system admins who use either NT or written/behavioral policies to require users to lock 'em down with the screensaver.

RDCROSSEN: We request that our users not lock their systems.

Can I make a request?
PEACEFULTRAVELER: No, but thinking about it.

TLSNC: I worry, but we can't reach an agreement on putting it in place. One day I will not be Henny Penny, and they will be glad I at least have backups!

JEFF DAVIS: I think that's overkill. I think by definition, 99 percent of users don't have any files (or access to shared drives) worth securing. In fact, if our users are supposed to use their machines for business purposes only, apart from managers, human resource and payroll departments, which users have anything they'd want to hide?

RDCROSSEN: Legal and external affairs.

JEFF DAVIS: Case in point: You've got an end user who's brilliant in her job but not technically sophisticated, shall we say. She's used to filing things in My Documents. Along comes the IT police upgrading from W98 to WNT and all of a sudden she has to save her files in "Personal," buried heaven knows where on the drive. She has no private or confidential files on the machine.

HUEVOS: User training can be challenging/repetitive.

PEACEFULTRAVELER: We have a problem with visitors sitting down and taking over a vacant computer seat to check email, etc.

JEFF DAVIS: Here's another hot topic when I talk to small business owners:Internet access. I tend to agree with many of those folks that most of their employees don't NEED Internet access. Let 'em surf on their own time. Peaceful traveler, that's an excellent point. I do tend to leave my Outlook open all day. Huevos, User training challenging? Amen to that 10^6.

TLSNC: I'd agree there, Jeff.

I have to agree
JEFF DAVIS: Peaceful, one thing that comes to mind is teaching users to add a password to their screensaver. If the screensaver is set to kick soon enough, that's a good defense.

PEACEFULTRAVELER: As a small non-profit, the Internet is opening our organization up to many resources in fundraising and volunteer databases.

SCLARKE: Jeff, I'm encountering problems with small businesses (5 to 10 per) who want to share Internet access but can't afford much more than Winproxy and then complain when it's too slow.

TLSNC: Try WebRamps from Ramp networks, sclarke.

ZORKON: Most of our business is accomplished over the Internet and some of our customers do also, but they don't want the other users watching over their shoulders so to speak.

SCLARKE: Sometimes it's a case of penny wise, pound foolish, but often it's lack of money. This is when it pays to be tactful with customers.

JEFF DAVIS: Peacefultraveler, so Web access is a given. Sclarke, is Web access a business requirement for your folks, or a luxury?

JEFF DAVIS: Zorkon, how can businesses help but watch over end users' shoulders on the Web?

HUEVOS: Absolute requirement. Drivers, virus updates, research.

JEFF DAVIS: How many of you have explicit (i.e., in writing) policies about Web access? And if not that, what?

SCLARKE: Needed, Most of the suppliers post product info on secure websites. This info changes daily. (Financial). Since most of the users are CFPs, CAs, LLBs, they think they are above user training or unwilling to spend the time.

HUEVOS: We do. In writing, but it is not enforced too often.

EMOORE: We do.

GJANI: We have no policies.

ZORKON: By keeping our users in their own domain it gives them a little better sense of security. Not saying that it is impossible to get into. There are always some ways to get where you shouldn't be.

SCLARKE: No policies, again since most users are "above" that sort of thing, it's anything goes. This makes it difficult to protect them from themselves, especially WRT security.

RDCROSSEN: We have a written policy and a filtering proxy.

JEFF DAVIS: The reason I bring it up is because I worry about IT people accusing end users of impropriety without the full support of management. RDCrossen, you're rocking. Sclarke, hey if you can get an anything goes gig, I say go for it! :]

HUEVOS: We always go for full management support. Otherwise, it won't stick.

SCLARKE: It makes for an interesting day sometimes 8-0.

JEFF DAVIS: Ladies and gentlemen, we're halfway through our Guild Meeting, and I want to thank you all again for joining us. We have an open forum tonight, so please feel to speak up with any questions. Don't forget to mention your job title and city on your first post.

SCLARKE: Rdcrossen, how many people and what type of employees (i.e. professional, clerical) do you have in your organization?

PEACEFULTRAVELER: Ideally, employees need to feel like their work is too important to waste time surfing, so if IT thinks there is a lot of abuse, they need to talk to management.

SCLARKE: IT Consultant (networking, support, management for small businesses), Ottawa Ontario.

JEFF DAVIS: Folks here's one for you: What keeps you up at night? Regarding IT, your job, your career, that is?

It’s your job
RDCROSSEN: Sclarke, I work for a very large company, there is a little bit of everything there. I support most system developers and legal and external affairs.

JEFF DAVIS: Giani, tonight's meeting was about customizing the W98/NT desktop. We've talked a little about password/lockdown security.

SCLARKE: I get sleepless worrying about a problem happening when the backup decides not to work.

EMOORE: (Job Title: Admin Secretary but I support our Win98 PC's on a Novel network, City: Newport Beach, CA) How do I delete the Inbox icon from a Win98 desktop after I've uninstalled Exchange, and it's still there?

GJANI: I am worried if I'll be able to recover if one of the servers goes down. That pretty much keeps me up (somewhat).

SCLARKE: RDcrossen: Thanks, I'm thinking of moving to a large organization so I can get the type of experience I'm not getting working with small shops.

EMOORE: Jeff, my main concern is finishing my MCSE before the end of this year. I am only an MCP presently.

ZORKON: In our organization, we have found that as long as the employees are accomplishing their tasks they usually spend more time at their stations than at the water fountain. The surfing has been kept to a minimum and has been a very useful practice in keeping them up on where the net is growing most.

RDCROSSEN: Sclarke, I have done both, and yes, they are very different.

JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, if it's not something as simple as deleting something from the Desktop folder, it could be something that requires a registry change. Try running RegClean a few times.

HUEVOS: No really consistent stresses. Pretty good job overall.

PEACEFULTRAVELER: Are there any desktop programs to watch out for, i.e. take up too much memory, conflict with other programs etc.?

Watch out!
JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, MCP-MCSE should be very good for you.

SCLARKE: RDcrossen, did you start in small but then move up, how was the transition, what was the biggest difference/challenge.

TLSNC: Wondering what will crash next at one client site. They have one user who can jam or crash anything electronic.

GJANI: I guess I'll keep my questions more geared toward Win98's desktop.

HUEVOS: We have a couple of those users.

SCLARKE: Tlsnc, I’m amazed that even the smallest offices have this type.

JEFF DAVIS: Peacefultraveler, Realplayer is a common desktop hog. Check everything in your system tray, and you're bound to find some things you didn't know you had (and don't need).

RDCROSSEN: Sclarke, I did consulting for a while and then was hired by one of the companies I consulted for. The two primary differences are the turf wars and not being responsible for everything.

EMOORE: Jeff, since I don't work with NT 4.0 every day, it's tough to get really comfortable with it. But I do have a small network at home I am practicing on. After the 4 Core tests, which electives would you recommend?

TLSNC: Watch the regclean, Jeff. I had to restore what it deleted because it took parts of Netscape and entries out of Network neighborhood (front-page 2k stuff).

GJANI: Win98 in general requires a good amount of RAM. I think having 64mb for the OS alone is OK. But to run apps, at least 128mb. Otherwise you’re looking at the hourglass.

As sands in the hourglass…
ZORKON: Everyone has their "Lethal Dragons” or system killers that don't know the systems as well as they should, and those are the ones to keep under close scrutiny until they figure out where they are.

SCLARKE: Thanks.

JEFF DAVIS: Giani, I read your post about backups. I feel your pain. Anyone who's every had to tell a department "you lost a day" only wants to go through that once.

ZORKON: Here, here 8.

RDCROSSEN: Amen, gjani.

JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, that's a good question to ask I don't have the URL offhand, but one of our resident MCSE's, Erik Eckel, has published a number of articles on how different electives compare.

HUEVOS: We have this free program called startmgr from ZDNET. Works really well at shutting off programs.

EMOORE: Thanks, I have read some of Erik's articles and they were very helpful.

JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, if I were you, I'd come up with a short list of 20 companies of where you'd like to work. Contact them all. Try to find out what electives they'd like for an MCSE to have in their shop. That'll help you decide.

HUEVOS: Also check Start—>Programs—>Startup folder.

EMOORE: Huevos - what do you mean, "shutting off programs"? That's a great idea, jdavis. Very pro-active. :-)

That’s a good idea
GJANI: Humm, that's actually a pretty good idea JDavis, about asking company's opinion about MCSE's electives.

HUEVOS: Emoore, there is a check box by all? Of the programs in systray. You can just uncheck them. Really simple and quick.

JEFF DAVIS: About the 128 MB RAM — there's another given. Every time the OS gets upgraded, you need more RAM to run at a decent speed. It sucks.

LBORLAND: Emoore, (lborland, MCSE lan admin; Phoenix, AZ), I found TCP/IP to be the most useful elective.

HUEVOS: TCP/IP hardest? Emoore, I then went for SQL6.5 because my employer was using it.

EMOORE: Why is that, lborland?

JEFF DAVIS: TCP/IP the hardest? That's what Erik said. Anybody out there got Cisco certification?

GJANI: What is the best way to study for MCSE test? There is so much out there to know, I don’t' know where to start?

LBORLAND: Emoore, everything I do somehow involves TCP/IP configuration.

HUEVOS: Gjani, try

TLSNC: Not me. No one with the Cisco hardware.

SCLARKE: Jeff, I'm just starting CCNA.

ZORKON: There is a small program called "StartCop” works well at changing what you want at startup in case not everyone wants the same support devices running.

JEFF DAVIS: Giani—do you like books? Or do you like multimedia CD? Or classroom instruction? How you start depends on how you learn best.

SCLARKE: Regarding CCNA, I think it could be a great way to differentiate myself in a competitive job market.

I just want to be different
GJANI: Great, I'll give it a try, Thanks huevos.

LBORLAND: Huevos, yes it was the hardest until I took the SQL7.0 exam.

JEFF DAVIS: Huevos, right. Did I forget to mention Web sites? Sclarke, CCNA — I'd say so!

HUEVOS: I love hardware, but am going for MCSE.

JEFF DAVIS: Folks, we're coming up on 55 minutes after the hour, and I want to thank you again for joining us and for being such a talkative group.

EMOORE: I felt really confident after passing the Transponder Workstation tests. But I also studied a lot in the material I got from the class.

HUEVOS: Thanks.

GJANI: I already went to classes for MCSE. It was completely different than going to a simple college class.

EMOORE: How important would anyone say an A+ certification is?

RDCROSSEN: It is required for Toshiba Cert.

LBORLAND: Emoore, I have gotten by without A+, but it would have helped a lot.

HUEVOS: I have heard that A+ is not that important, but I guess depends on employer/client.

JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, I just wrote a review of Sybex's A+ e-trainer CD course, and I loved it. Is it important? If you want to be a PC technician, yes. If you want to get your feet in the door. Yes. But it's basically the entry-level cert, IMHO.

TLSNC: Emoore, check out the MCP section on for electives, as many are being retired at the end of this year and may effect your certification path.

SCLARKE: Cool, those are great shirts, unfortunately I'm rather plus sized, so my wife gets them. :-(

GJANI: It’s pretty good to have A+ cert.

EMOORE: Yep, I'm planning already, tlsnc.

HUEVOS: I hear that NT 4 cert classes are getting rare.

JEFF DAVIS: Sclarke, our beloved and illustrious moderator selects a winner each guild meeting much like the networks do their "player of the game." Sclarke, if you've already got one, guess what.

EMOORE: Lucky wife! I'm with New Horizons and they told me that other places are not doing NT4.0 any more but they still are, because it will be around for a while.

SCLARKE: Jeff, spread the wealth.

JEFF DAVIS: Emoore, the problem with the NT 4 certificationss is Microsoft's insidious retirement plan for those exams.

LBORLAND: Emoore, I found trancender CDs to be very helpful towards passing my exams.

GJANI: Yep, I think it'll be around for a while too.

TLSNC: That is probably very true, emoore.

MODERATOR: Ok gang, it's the top of the hour.

Thanks guys
JEFF DAVIS: Folks, I'd like to close tonight by letting you know that we're always looking for good contributing writers to help us create content for TechProGuild and If you're interested, please write to me at

Folks, it's always a pleasure hosting one of these guild meetings. I wish we could spend more time together. Thanks for visiting TechProGuild and have a great weekend.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes, TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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