Get IT Done: Tweak the Windows 2000 Professional interface and boost user productivity

Boost user productivity in Windows 2000 Professional

Those who work directly in end-user support know that adding shortcuts to the Start menu impresses people more than the new replication topology you just implemented between your domain controllers. And making that interface change that the CEO wants on his or her computer can often raise the value of your services as much as the behind-the-scenes work you do every day. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the user-pleasing things you can do with the Win2K Pro interface.

In a graphical user interface, icons are obviously the primary means of opening programs. Thus, organizing the icons of applications and utilities so that they’re easy to access is a key to optimizing productivity. Icon access can be divided into several categories.

First, there are the programs you need frequently, which you should be able to access with one or two clicks. Then, there are the programs you access only occasionally, but often enough to demand a shortcut that allows access in about five clicks. Finally, there are those rarely used programs you access just a couple of times a year. For accessing that type of program, Windows Explorer or My Computer will usually suffice.

Customizing the Quick Launch toolbar
For the easiest-access shortcuts, the best Win2K feature is the Quick Launch toolbar. If you’ve worked with Windows 98, you’re probably already familiar with Quick Launch, which is a part of Internet Explorer 5 and not the Windows GUI. However, Quick Launch doesn’t work with Windows NT, so its addition to Win2K is a handy enhancement that eliminates the need for less-stable and more memory-hungry tools, such as the Microsoft Office Shortcut Bar. Let’s take a look at how it works.

When you log on to a machine for the first time in Windows 2000, the Quick Launch toolbar is enabled by default. As Figure A shows, the toolbar contains icons for Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Show Desktop, which minimizes all running applications.

Figure A
The default Quick Launch toolbar

If the Quick Launch toolbar isn’t displayed, you can display it by right-clicking on the Taskbar, clicking Toolbars, and selecting Quick Launch, as shown in Figure B. Once the Quick Launch toolbar is displayed, you can customize it.

Figure B
Enabling the Quick Launch toolbar

You can position Quick Launch in various places. If you need fewer than five icons on the Quick Launch toolbar, you can leave it where it is or move it to the other end of the Taskbar, whichever you prefer. To move the toolbar, simply click on the gray bar on its left side, then drag the toolbar to the right side of the Taskbar and let it go.

If you want more than five icons on the toolbar, I recommend placing it below the Taskbar. Otherwise, the Taskbar will become overcrowded. To accomplish this, first move the Quick Launch toolbar to the right side of the screen, as explained above. Then, click on the top of the Taskbar and drag it up until it becomes twice its normal size. The Quick Launch toolbar will automatically drop down below the Taskbar, as shown in Figure C. There are other options for positioning the toolbar, such as the one shown in Figure D, and you can experiment with them by clicking and dragging the toolbar and the Taskbar into different configurations.

Figure C
Quick Launch toolbar below the Taskbar

Figure D
Quick Launch toolbar to the left of the Taskbar

Once you position the Quick Launch toolbar, you can start customizing the icons. To remove an icon, simply right-click on it and select Delete. You can also click on an icon and drag it off of the Quick Launch toolbar and onto the desktop or into the Recycle Bin. Conversely, to add icons to the toolbar, you simply drag and drop icons from the desktop, Windows folders, or from the Windows Explorer. One of my favorite ways to add icons is to go to Start | Search | For Files And Folders, and then search for the name of the program I want to add to the Quick Launch toolbar. When the program comes up after the search, I simply drag and drop its icon from the search results onto the toolbar.

If you want to get to the root folder where the Quick Launch toolbar icons are stored, go to \SystemRoot\Documents And Settings\ProfileName\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\. If your Win2K Pro machine doesn’t have a Documents And Settings folder, replace that part of the path with \Winnt\Profiles. Also, the Application Data folder is a hidden folder, so you must have Show Hidden Files And Folders activated in Folder Options to access it.

Customizing the Start menu
Since the introduction of the Window 95 interface, the Start menu has traditionally been the primary means of managing icons in Windows 9x and NT operating systems. It’s still the best place for you to access less frequently needed programs so you don’t have to scour Windows Explorer to find and open them.

Windows 2000 Professional makes it even easier to manage the Start menu because it lets you right-click on shortcut and folder icons on the menu. This makes it simple to delete unneeded items and keep the Start menu less cluttered. It also enables you to quickly rename any of the menu items.

To add shortcuts and folders to the Start menu, you still have to do it the old-fashioned way—by delving into the file system. Go to \SystemRoot\Documents And Settings\ProfileName\Start Menu. Again, there’s no Documents And Settings folder, so you should replace that part of the path with \Winnt\Profiles. You can add shortcuts and folders to the Programs menu by opening the Programs folder within the Start Menu folder and copying and pasting shortcuts and directories into this folder. If you don’t want to copy and paste, select File | New | Shortcut or right-click and then choose New | Shortcut and enter the path to the desired program or Browse your way to the program. Have you ever noticed how some programs place shortcuts above Programs on the Start menu? If you want to add one of these, simply add a shortcut or folder to the Start Menu folder in your profile (the path listed above).

If you want to add shortcuts and/or folders to the Programs menu (or above it), and you want all users to be able to access them on the computer, you need to add the items to the All Users profile. You must have administrator privileges to do this. With administrator privileges, you can also change the shortcuts in the profiles of any users on the machine.

Windows 2000 Professional contains some other nice additions for customizing the Start menu. One of the most prominent features is Personalized Menus, which hides the shortcuts you don’t use often. This feature is enabled by default, but fortunately, you can disable it. Go to Start | Settings | Start Menu And Taskbar and deselect the Personalized Menus check box. Most of the other Start Menu settings will probably look familiar; however, if you go to the Advanced tab, shown in Figure E, you’ll notice some great new options. These options include Expand Control Panel, Expand Printers, and Scrolling Programs. Figure F shows an example of the expanded Control Panel.

Figure E
Advanced tab of Taskbar and Start menu properties

Figure F
Expanding the Control Panel

There are a number of other gems among these settings. You should play around with them and see which ones can decrease the number of necessary clicks and increase your productivity.
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