Windows XP will introduce us to some radical changes, but none will be critiqued as much as the new user interface. In fact, ever since the first glimpse, people have been talking about the new look and feel of Microsoft’s latest operating system. This Daily Feature will introduce you to some of the customization you can add to the Start menu and Taskbar of the Windows XP user interface.

First glance

Figure A

At first glance, very little seems to have changed on the Windows desktop. As you can see in Figure A, the colors are softer and the icons are different, but the Start button and Taskbar are very similar to previous Windows versions.

Figure B
The Start menu now contains two columns and is more task-oriented.

You might be wondering what all the fuss is about. As soon as you click on the Start button, you’ll begin to discover just how different Windows XP really is. The Windows XP Start menu has been completely revised. (See Figure B.)

Across the top of the redesigned menu is the name of the user currently logged on to the workstation. This could be a helpful feature in the corporate environment as users move from desk to desk.

On the left side of the Start menu, you’ll find three sections. The top portion of the menu contains links to common Internet tasks, such as using Internet Explorer and e-mail. When you select a default e-mail application, it will replace the generic e-mail icon, as shown in Figure B.

The middle section on the left side of the menu displays the last five applications that you’ve used. This feature makes launching often-used programs from the Start menu very simple.

Figure C

The last section on the left side is the More Programs menu. As shown in Figure C, the More Programs menu lets you locate and launch the applications that are installed on the workstation. This menu looks just like the legacy Start menu.

On the right side of the Start menu, the top section contains links to the specialized folders My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music. Users will enjoy having easy access to them through the Start menu, rather than having to search their desktops for the shortcuts. This section also includes selections for My Computer and My Network Places.

Moving down the right side of the Start menu brings us to the Control Panel icon. This replaces the Settings menu found on the legacy Start menu and contains even more tools for working with your computer, such as tools for administering user accounts.

The lower right section contains the Help And Support, Search, and Run options. You won’t find anything new here other than the organization of the Start menu.

Finally, the bottom of the Start menu contains the selections that you’ll use to log off or shut down the computer. The Turn Off Computer option gives users the same functionality as the Shut Down option in legacy Windows versions.

Configuring the Start menu

Figure D
The upper part of the Taskbar configuration dialog box lets you configure the Taskbar’s appearance.

You can’t please everybody, so Microsoft has included new options users can choose to configure the interface for personal preferences. To access the configuration dialog box, right-click on the Taskbar and select Properties. The Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box has configuration tabs for the Taskbar and Start Menu. (See Figure D.)

When you select Lock The Taskbar, you’re preventing the Taskbar from being moved anywhere else on the screen or preventing someone from accidentally moving it off the screen. Auto-Hide The Taskbar performs the same function as in other legacy Windows versions; when this option is selected, the Taskbar will be hidden from view until you point to the area where it is supposed to be, making it reappear for use. The Keep The Taskbar On Top Of Other Windows option lets the Taskbar be visible at all times.

If you consistently open many versions of the same application, such as 10 Internet Explorer windows, you can use the Group Similar Taskbar Buttons option; instead of having 10 sessions on the Taskbar, you’ll have one Internet Explorer selection. To move among the different windows, you can click on a pop-up menu and select the one you want.

Figure E

The lower part of the Taskbar configuration dialog box lets you configure the tray area of the Taskbar. The first selection, Show The Clock, is self-explanatory. The next option, Hide Inactive Icons, helps users avoid the clutter that can occur with too many items in the tray. When this option is selected, the tray will look similar to what is shown in Figure E. The clock is displayed but the majority of Tray icons are hidden from view. The double arrows on the left side of the Tray let you expand the Tray area when you need access to the icons displayed, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Windows XP also gives you a way to customize the icons in your Tray. Clicking on the Customize button to the right of the Hide Inactive Icons selection will display the Customize Notifications dialog box, shown in Figure G.

Figure G

To change the way the Tray icons are displayed, highlight the desired item and then click on the drop-down menu arrow, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

In addition to being able to customize the Taskbar, you can also configure the Start menu. To do so, click on the Start Menu tab on the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box.

This dialog box lets you select whether you want to use the Windows XP type of Start menu or the Classic Start menu. You can also modify it to your preferences by clicking on the Customize button.

Figure I

Figure I illustrates the types of changes you can make to the Windows XP Start menu using the Customize Start Menu dialog box’s General tab. You can choose to use large or small icons, and you can select the number of last-used programs that are displayed on the Start menu. You can also select whether you want Internet Explorer and your e-mail client of choice to be displayed.

Figure J

The Advanced tab, shown in Figure J, gives you a wealth of customization options. The top part of the dialog box gives you the following options: Animate Start Menu As It Opens, Open Submenus On Hover, and Highlight Newly Installed Applications.

Figure K

Figure L

The middle section, Show These Items On The Start Menu, offers the most customization options. For example, you can specify that the Control Panel open as a menu, rather than a separate window. This feature helps avoid yet another window being opened on the desktop. To make the change, you must select the As Menu option, as illustrated in Figure K. After applying the change, you can access the Control Panel options directly from the Start menu, as shown in Figure L.

The bottom section of the Customize Start Menu dialog box lets you select whether or not you want to display the most recently used documents. This is a personal preference; it’s not a default setting in Windows XP. If you decide to use this option, you can clear the list of documents from the Start menu by clicking the Clear List button.

Windows XP provides you with a plethora of options with which users customize the new operating system for ease of use and personal taste. Here, I’ve covered how to customize the XP interface you’ll use most, the Start Menu and Taskbar. In addition to customizing the user interface, all of the configuration changes are stored in a user profile, ensuring that every user who logs in will be able to make the Windows XP user interface as personal as he or she wants it to be.