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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