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Chapter 4. Tinkering Techniques

Chapter 4. Tinkering Techniques

Why would we want to tinker with the operating system? Well, if you were perfectly happy with Windows Me right out of the box, odds are you wouldn't be reading this book. We tinker with Windows to make it better: to improve the interface, to reduce the amount of work required to complete a task, to make it run more smoothly and efficiently, and most of all, to make it less annoying (you saw that one coming).

The most important part of software design is the interface. The interface is the only link we humans have with the machines we use—the better the interface, the better the link, and the more useful the machine will be. Because the Windows Me software has already been designed and written, the most we can hope to do is to tinker with it so that it works more like we think it should.

The unfortunate methodology behind the design of the Windows interface is that it's supposed to be usable by the lowest common denominator: the person who has never seen Windows before. Don't get me wrong, one of the most important interface design considerations is its ability to be used by the uninitiated. But there are three main problems with this approach if not done correctly. One, such an interface can be inherently condescending. Two, no user is a beginner forever. Three, users are not all the same.

What many people don't realize is that it is possible to have an elegant, simple interface that is easy and comfortable to use by beginners, yet is not limited in its usefulness as users gain experience. A dumbed-down interface is not the answer.

One of Windows' strong points is its flexibility. For example, the fact that you can reprogram almost any system object on the desktop to serve a different function, is one of the main reasons that Windows enjoys such a large market share (see also Section 1.1 in Chapter 1). Although the variety of solutions presented here are a testimony to the power and flexibility of Windows Me, I'd also like to note the need for such solutions in the first place.

This chapter takes advantage of the basic topics covered in Chapter 2—such as shortcuts, system objects, and some of Windows' more obscure settings—as well as usage of Registry, discussed in Chapter 3, to customize Windows beyond Microsoft's intentions. We'll start by clearing some of the clutter caused by the installation of Windows and move on to customizing whatever is left over to suit your needs. Although most of these solutions target specific annoyances in the operating system, each one can be used to illustrate a broader concept.

Now, we certainly don't expect every user to feel compelled to take all the advice in this book; not everyone is going to want to turn off the Documents menu in the Start Menu or remove certain system objects from the desktop, for example. However, by excavating the Registry and many of the more obscure dialog boxes, you should see other things along the way that will assist you in resolving your own annoyances.

If you haven't reviewed Chapter 3, I suggest you do so at this point. It covers the Windows Registry and the Registry Editor, which are used extensively in many of the solutions in this chapter and later in the book. Many solutions require that you change a setting in the Registry and then restart Windows for the change to take effect. You'll learn from these examples how this whole system works and, hopefully, how to solve problems that aren't covered by the material here.

Registry patches, discussed in Chapter 3, are great for backing up portions of the Registry and can be used to undo any changes you may decide to make here. Once you've made a change you like, you may want to back it up in a Registry patch of its own, so you can easily restore it if it's overwritten by an application installer or Windows Update.

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