After Hours

10 cool things you can do with TweakUI

The handy TweakUI PowerToy can help you overcome a variety of Windows XP annoyances and limitations and lets you create an environment that suits your working style.

The handy TweakUI PowerToy can help you overcome a variety of Windows XP annoyances and limitations and lets you create an environment that suits your working style.


In the recent article 10+ PowerToys that can expand your control of Windows XP, we shared a list of feature-enhancing XP utilities. Among them was TweakUI, which deserves some special attention due to its sheer scope. From helping you customize Internet Explorer to controlling how the command prompt behaves, TweakUI includes dozens of features that often go unnoticed but that can be real timesavers. In this article, I'll tell you about my 10 favorite TweakUI capabilities. Some are on my list because they make my life easier, while others are useful in the work environment.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download and as a TechRepublic photo gallery.

1: Control panel control

The Control Panel Extensions element in TweakUI allows you to selectively enable and disable the display of individual Control Panel applets. This is useful when you want to allow users to retain relatively significant control over their desktops but want to limit some of the damage they can do on their own. Disabling Control Panel applets in this way only turns off the display of those applets. They are still available through other means, but not through the Control Panel itself. Figure A shows this tool in action. Figure B shows the results of disabling Control Panel access to the Main Control Panel applet, which allows access to the mouse and keyboard control items.

Figure A

The Control Panel Extensions TweakUI tool

Figure B

The Mouse and Keyboard aren't shown.

2: Autologon

TweakUI's popular Autologon tool (Figure C) lets you log on to the desktop as any user. This capability is useful for standalone, task-specific workstations, such as e-mail kiosks or computers connected to public information displays. In most cases, you want these services to automatically recover after incidents such as power outages or even simple reboots, and Autologon helps make that possible. Of course, inappropriate use of Autologon can also be a huge security issue, so do be careful with it.

Figure C

The Autologon configuration screen

3: Taskbar and Start Menu options

For me, few things are more annoying than the constant barrage of balloon tips that clutter the bottom of my desktop. Worse, each one demands attention, thus taking me away from the task at hand. Luckily, TweakUI can eliminate the interruptions through the use of the tool's Taskbar and Start Menu configuration options (Figure D). They enable you to disable balloon tips and taskbar notification icons. Expanding the selection adds more options, including a feature that allows the customized grouping of taskbar application buttons. The Start Menu item provides options for allowing or disallowing specific applications on the More Frequently Used Programs section of the Start menu.

Figure D

Taskbar and Start Menu options

4: Preventing apps from stealing focus

I really dislike it when I'm working on a project and another application decides to come between me and my work by stealing focus for itself. I'd much rather just receive notification that another application wants my attention and be able to address the notification when it's convenient for me. As you might have guessed, Tweak UI has an app for that. The TweakUI General | Focus option (Figure E) lets you keep your focus where you want it. By default, this option will force Windows to flash the would-be thief's taskbar icon three times to notify you that the app wants something.

Figure E

Keep the application focus where you want it.

5: Alt + Tab application selection

I tend to work with many applications simultaneously and often have many windows open for each one -- so it's possible that I have dozens of windows open at the same time. The Alt + Tab window can sometimes be limiting, since it shows only a few windows before requiring me to scroll. With monitors today larger than ever, there's no reason why the Alt + Tab window can't be expanded to show more rows and columns. On the General | Alt+Tab page (Figure F), you can choose the number of rows and columns you want to display when you browse through the open applications list.

Figure F

Decide how large you want the application selection window.

6: Windows Explorer customizations

Pretty much every aspect of my desktop is customized in some way. From specific items on the Start menu to customized icons in my system tray, I like things to be easily accessible... for me. I doubt that I'm unusual in my desire to customize my computing environment to suit my tastes, and it looks like the creators of TweakUI understood this desire and built some customization features into the tool. These features can also be used by corporate IT to lock down the desktop computing environment.

As you can see in Figure G, TweakUI offers quite a few options that can be used to simplify and customize various aspects of the desktop. For instance, you can decide exactly what will appear on the Start menu, how thumbnails will appear (with or without a little arrow), and a whole lot more.

Figure G

Customize Windows Explorer.

7: Centralized Autoplay options

Depending on the system, Autoplay can sometimes be a problem. Or you may just want to control what happens when, such as when you or one of your users inserts a music CD. With TweakUI, you can, from a central location on each system, decide on which drives Autoplay should be allowed (Figure H) and what actions should be taken for each specific Autoplay handler, such as copying music from a CD or playing a DVD (Figure I).

Figure H

On which drives should Autoplay be enabled?

Figure I

Configure how specific Autoplay actions take place.

8: Desktop icons

A few default icons can be placed on the desktop: Internet Explorer, My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, and the Recycle Bin. TweakUI lets you decide which, if any, of these icons should be displayed there (Figure J). You can also decide which icon -- My Documents or My Computer -- should appear first in order on a particular desktop.

Figure J

Decide which icons should appear on the desktop.

9: Command prompt customization

No matter how good the GUI gets, the command prompt is, and probably always will be, a key component for most Windows administrators. From time to time, even users may need to use the command prompt. TweakUI includes a number of command prompt customization options, such as defining which keys to use for filename and directory completion. Figure K shows TweakUI's command prompt customization options.

Figure K

Configure command prompt completion options.

10: Centralized control of local access control options

Many IT departments opt to use Group Policy to control certain rights at the client level, but TweakUI also provides significant capability in this area. By configuring TweakUI's Access Control options (Figure L), you can control such items as which users are allowed to manage file shares and printer shares and who can connect to administrative shares  and access performance counters. When you choose one of these items in TweakUI's Access Control window, you can use the Change button to select which user accounts can perform the selected action.

Figure L

Manage access control options.


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Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

37 comments
slc9350
slc9350

I've been using TweakUI since it was invented, and it's great for those of us who are control freaks and hate the MS defaults. I contacted MS tech twice asking if there will be a TweakUI for Win7, but they wouldn't give me a straight answer. Anyone know? tnx

penney_jay
penney_jay

Is this a review of the top tools of the decade? How about something for this year or next? How about - how to do these things in Windows 7.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I suspect anyone interested in PowerToys for XP found them years ago. Anybody seen any for W7?

bigredbird
bigredbird

Thanks for the "missing link". Should have been in the body of the article. Saves me a couple of seconds on Google.

geistmeister
geistmeister

Would not touch Win 7 right now. I never use the first release of an OS. Just asking for trouble. I remember when XP was release. Problems Problems Problems. Eventually the problems got fixed, and now XP is as reliable that anything from Microsoft can be. I liked windows 2000 better. Unfortunately, Microsoft quit supporting it. But, I digress,Just remember. Before there was Microsoft, there was IBM. Big Blue and Big Red. They both work under the philosophy "just good enough".

lvanderburg
lvanderburg

Yes. I agree that the artical is a bit dated, but there are still millions of PCs out there that are still running XP. Not everyone is moving to 7 right away.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Not even migrating to 7 until 2011 or 2012. At least at work.

bigredbird
bigredbird

While it's true that TweakUI has been around for a number of years (as has XP), there are those of us who regularly read TR but are not primarily in the IT business, and an article like this is a good reminder. I have used TweakUI in the past to customize my environment, but have not looked at it in a couple of years. There are some features that I have not used and plan to revisit. Life is about learning (and sometimes re-learning!).

vucliriel
vucliriel

Hahaha... Must have fallen through the cracks in the editing room and surfaced 8 years later...

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Wondering if the TechREpublic writers have ran out of things to write about. Not the first time recently. While the majority still use XP, the OS itself will be "retired" in just ovedr 4 years [unless Microsoft extends it]. I think by now most techies know of this tool. As Palmetto said, a Win 7 version from Microsoft would be nice.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

Some articles written on Tech Republic reach out to the newer people in our industry. I teach at a technical school with students that aspire to work in our field and I always mention TR as a great site to come and get a lot of useful information written by people in the industry. So while this article is juvenile for a veteran like us, it is golden for a newbie.

cjreynolds
cjreynolds

There is a new TweakUI out there for vista, and I think it may work for Win7, also. Just do a search on "TweakVI" (yes, VI as in Vista).

tresgonzalez
tresgonzalez

Moving the these folders to another partition or hard drive way to make easy backups and restore C drive without affecting users files.

tresgonzalez
tresgonzalez

Moving the these folders to another partition or volumen is a nice way to make easy backups and restore C drive without affecting users files.

cjreynolds
cjreynolds

I love tweakui - always have. I've used TweakVI on Vista, not sure if it works for Win7 (see previous post). But I fully agree with geistmeister - wouldn't touch a new OS that has been out for less than a year (preferably 2). I ALWAYS wait a year or 2 before upgrading to a new OS, or new PC technology in general. Let'em get the bugs out first. Plus, the longer an OS is out, the more resources you have for it in the form of OEM(OSM) support, bug fixes, and help from forums like this one :) Thanks, TR - Keep up the good work!

paladin2
paladin2

Windows 8 is scheduled to come out in 2012, two years before XP support is scheduled to end. Microsoft will be watching closely and taking into account how many people stick with XP when they're putting the new OS together and I'd sure like a Windows 8 that takes up no more than a gig or two more than my tuned and clean XP instead of the three times larger (actually a bit more than 3) Wista 7. It's not that I don't like 7, I've been running the Ultimate version for 6 months, and like Vista Business which came with my 'downgraded' XP factory install and Vista was not the nightmare that the reputation that came with it. It came with SP1 and I had it on my Precision laptop with 8Gb of memory and a QX9300 processor and the only 'problem' I had was with it's size, like 14 or 15GB! And all for a prettified GUI? Because neither Vista or 7 has gigs worth of anything worthwhile I've been able to find. 3.4GB XP and almost 12GB for my Windows 7 install? For some groundbreaking new system I'd take that fact into consideration but this has no groundbreaking or even intriguing features other than a Disney/Mac looking face lift. Most of the new 'features' I can get from Stardock at a much lower cost in space. And Opera already has the 'snap' or whatever they're calling the two pages at a time thing. Stick with XP and if enough do the same maybe Microdeaf will hear the message.

dogknees
dogknees

With this information. It doesn't need to continually appear on "new" lists. Give us new stuff only. If I want something old, I'll search.

eyesak
eyesak

If this article is not for you - I have installed Tweak UI before - found that I did not need it - That is why I am going elsewhere now - other sites or articles are a click away. Cheers!

KiloWatt1975
KiloWatt1975

I have so much Graphic software and Hardware, I can not go update an OS, until software, 32bit, can be installed on to a Win7 OS with no issues, or the SW/HW has updated to 64bit. XP will hang on just as Win98 did, for 5+ years after MS EOL,end of life/support.

ajaypatel333
ajaypatel333

i have used windows for gazillion years. yet never really delved in to this. i follow NBC's dated mantra.. "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you".. and there are plenty of people like me who appreciate these things. keep 'em coming.

KiloWatt1975
KiloWatt1975

Be sure to teach your kids, the Wrong Question, is the one never asked! I had 6 elec/techs at an interview, and asked them to write the 3 formulas of Ohm's law, and not one could. GoodLuck

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The material itself is excellent. I just question this much attention to a utility that's been around since 2004 or so. This doesn't break any new ground, and there are hundreds of existing articles on this PowerToy. I'd like your students to think TR is about more than five-year-old technologies.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Just right click the user's My Documents folder and choose properties. There you will find the current location and a button named move. This will move the whole my docs to anywhere you want. I generally make a second partition on the users PC and move it all there so I can re-load Windows if necessary without losing any users data.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

One view is that the space used can help indicate the quality of the code. If I have two OS and both provide the same functions but one takes half the storage space that the other does while both remain equally reponsive, I'm going to consider the smaller storage foot print more. Increasing hardware resource should also never be a justification for sloppy code. The idea that code bloat is fine because we can all afford a little more storage space is really the wrong way to look at it. If my office is messy, the solution is not to get a bigger office but to better organize the space I have. Consider size between two OS where the difference is unwanted functions imposed on the install. OS A does XYZ. I only need function X but YZ have to be present because they are too integrated into the code base. Instead, I'll use OS B which provides X, Y, Z independently and I'll only install the minimal base plus needed function X. Bigger code base also means more complexity which means more opportunity for bugs including a higher potential for exploitable vulnerabilities. I only need the minimal base, an ftp deamon and storage for user files. A GUI and other unrelated functions is just wasted resources and increase risk of a successful breach.

dogknees
dogknees

What is this obsession people have with the space it takes up? It's not like hard disks cost a fortune. 14-15 Gig costs less than $1.50. Why do you need to be able to see where the space is used? Are you an OS programmer that knows every in and out of Windows? Unless you are, what basis do you have for determining what the space is used for? It's about time people focussed on what matters. What it does. Space is essentially free and shouldn't be relevant to a decision between OSes.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Ohm's Law, properly phrased, states that in an electrical circuit, the current I is directly proportional to the voltage E and inversely proportional to the resistance R. The mathematical statement is [pre]I = E / R[/pre] Not knowing how to derive the power equations, though, is just wrong.

KiloWatt1975
KiloWatt1975

I've got a hole in Daddy's arm to prove you right! Those elec/techs all wrote, E = i * r R = e/i I = e/r. So I asked what about Power. They all said, oh, P=IE, so I asked them, what is I^ * R, that's Isqr * R and none of them could say Power. None of them got moved up to Engineering either. First rule of electricity I was taught, don't panic! 1963-64 1975 VA174 NAS Cecil Field Fla. I kept the squadron's huskey off base named Kilo. Watt came at the same time, as I had a complete heath kit Oscope ect..

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's not at all pleasant providing R when E is present.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Hell, I get to experience it at least once a day in my work. Ain't got but one big eye in the middle of my forehead, can't write, don't know zip about wave functions -- but I sure as hell do experience the physiological dismay of all three terms.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Whoever told them they were electronics techs lied. etu

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

I do agree that TweakUI is not juvenile I just meant that it's elementary in the sense that it's something that most of us have heard about. On the other hand, learning about it opens up the possibility that there are more things out there and for a newbie. When a newbie reads about TweakUI, they become familar with the fact that there are tools in place to make their job easier.

7uckingc0cks
7uckingc0cks

It's really just an interface similar to the msconfig util but much more valuable. It makes the required changes for you but you certainly can make them yourself. It's one stop for ALL of windows' registry points which affect these various areas. Personally my favorite is the "Prevent Sealing Focus" feature. What a pain w/o TUI...

KiloWatt1975
KiloWatt1975

I recently helped someone, do a redirect on a non-web based Quad system, so IE tmp..ect.. no longer stores on his system drive. Redirecting in XP is pretty easy, and so is Cloning your OS/programs drives, to always have a bootable drive. I know I'll get a Win7 OS/parts this spring, for software I've owned for years are ported 64bit, but some of my hardware vendors are not posting their OS64bit updated drivers. IMHO, wait until your sure a new OS will install your SW/HW before buying a new PC/OS, so you don't have any issues like Vista64 did to 32bit SW/HW. HappyHolyDaze

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