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Chapter 4. Tinkering Techniques > Cleaning Up the Desktop

4.1. Cleaning Up the Desktop

The default configuration of Windows Me—including the way the desktop and Start Menu are configured and which Windows components are included—was decided upon by a committee at Microsoft. The motivation was not so much ease of use as it was how to best showcase the features included in the new operating system. This criterion may be great for the marketing department at Microsoft, but it doesn't make for a very pleasant experience for the user.

The best place to start when customizing an interface is to throw out all the stuff you don't want, which will make much more room for the stuff you do want. By not being forced to wade through dozens of icons to find the one you want, you can complete your work more easily and with less aggravation.

4.1.1. Clear the Desktop of Unwanted Icons

When you first install Windows Me, the desktop is littered with icons, some of which can be removed easily and some of which cannot. Although the Recycle Bin is intended as a means by which objects throughout Windows can be deleted by dragging and dropping them into it, many items cannot be deleted this way. This inconsistency is partly due to Microsoft's concern that users will irreparably damage the operating system and partly due to the Microsoft support department's expectation of having to repeatedly answer the question, "How do I get my MSN icon back?"

There are two types of objects that reside on the desktop (not including the taskbar or Start Menu). Those objects that are physical files or shortcuts to files are simply stored in your desktop folder (usually \Windows\Desktop); these items can be deleted or moved as easily as any other file on your hard disk. All other objects are virtual objects , in that they don't represent physical files on the hard disk. Virtual objects include My Computer, the Recycle Bin, and My Network Places. What follows should help you remove any unwanted icons from your desktop that can't be removed using traditional means.

Following the solutions for the common desktop icons, see Section 4.1.2 for a more global solution.

4.1.1.1. My Network Places

The My Network Places icon appears on your desktop if you have any networking components installed, including those for your Internet connection.[1] See Chapter 7, for more information on networking:

[1] Although Windows 2000's My Network Places folder contains local network resources as well as Internet connections, the Windows Me equivalent only contains local network resources and is of little or no use on a computer not connected to a local network.

  1. Double-click on the TweakUI icon (see Appendix A) in Control Panel, and choose the Desktop tab.

  2. Remove the check mark from the My Network Places item, and click OK. (If you've renamed the icon, it will be listed under the new name.)

The obvious consequence of hiding My Network Places is that all of the resources it provides will then be unavailable. If you're not on a network, this is not likely to pose a problem. For those on a local network, any resources previously available through the My Network Places will be unavailable unless mapped to a drive letter (see Section 7.1 in Chapter 7 for more information).

4.1.1.2. Soultion 1: Recycle Bin

Having the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop can be convenient, but because there are other ways to delete an object (such as right-clicking on it and selecting Delete or selecting an item and pressing the Del key), it really isn't necessary. Furthermore, there's a Recycled folder on every drive (it's hidden, so you'll have to configure Explorer to show all files), which works just like the Recycle Bin desktop icon. Solution 1 shows one way to hide the Recycle Bin:

  1. Double-click on the TweakUI icon (see Appendix A) in Control Panel, and choose the Desktop tab.

  2. Remove the check mark from the Recycle Bin item, and click OK.

4.1.1.3. Solution 2: Recycle Bin

There's a more interesting solution, one that may provide a little insight into the Registry and Windows system objects. We can add a Delete option to the Recycle Bin's context menu, which may be useful, for example, if you're setting up one or more computers for someone else and want to give them the option of removing the Recycle Bin easily. (See Chapter 3 for information on making Registry patches to automate changes like this.) Figure 4-1 shows the altered context menu.

Figure 4-1. Adding the Delete option to the Recycle Bin's context menu


Follow these steps to add the Delete option:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}\ShellFolder\. You know you have the right Class ID key if its (Default) is set to Recycle Bin. It may be easier to locate this key by searching for the first few characters of the Class ID or for the text Recycle Bin.

  3. Double-click on the Attributes value, and replace the contents with 70 01 00 20. Note that this is a binary value, and the input box may not behave like a normal text box; if you mess up, just choose Cancel and try again.

  4. Close the Registry Editor—the change should take effect immediately.

  5. You now have the option of deleting the Recycle Bin at any time by right-clicking on it and selecting Delete.

Solution 2 will also add the Rename option to the Recycle Bin's context menu. See Section 4.1.4 later in this chapter for more information. To restore your Recycle Bin to its default, removing the Rename and Delete options from its context menu, start by following the previous instructions for the Registry. Instead of the value specified in step 3, however, change it to 40 01 00 20. Note that this won't restore the Recycle Bin's original name—you'll have to do that manually. If you've deleted it with Solution 2, use TweakUI (Solution 1) to get it back.

4.1.1.4. My Computer

The My Computer icon provides access to the Control Panel and all of your drives. Because these resources are also accessible through Explorer and the Start Menu, the My Computer icon on the desktop isn't strictly required. You may want to remove it to avoid clutter or as part of some security measure.

The following process doesn't actually remove the icon from the desktop, although it does render it invisible while still allowing access if you know where to look. Although there isn't a perfect solution for getting rid of this icon without clearing all the icons from the desktop, the following solution should satisfy many of you:

  1. Double-click on the Display icon in Control Panel, and choose the Effects tab. See Figure 4-2.

  2. Select the My Computer icon in the Desktop Icons box, and click Change Icon.

  3. Choose a blank, transparent icon to replace the one that's there. Don't look for one included with Windows; you'll probably have to create it using your favorite icon editor (one that supports transparent pixels; see http://www.annoyances.org for third-party software). Press OK.

  4. Right-click on the My Computer icon, select Rename, and replace the title with a single space.

    Figure 4-2. Use Display Properties to change the icon of My Computer

4.1.1.5. Really stubborn icons

Once in a while, you'll encounter an icon on your desktop that you just can't get rid of. Whether it's from another Microsoft upgrade or some other application, the information is usually stored in the same place.

TweakUI, as described in some of the previous solutions, should be the first place you look to remove a desktop icon, because it's the easiest method. In some situations, though, TweakUI won't list the icon or simply won't be capable of removing it. Here's a last resort for getting rid of stubborn icons:

  1. Open the Registry Editor. (If you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3.)

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Micro-soft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer\Desktop\NameSpace\.

  3. The key itself will most likely be devoid of values, but it should have a few subkeys, which will be named something like {645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}. These codes are called Class IDs and point to other parts of the Registry that contain more information about them. Class IDs are stored in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID branch and are discussed in Appendix C.

  4. Start by clicking on a key and looking at the (Default) value to the right. It should contain a description of the item. If it doesn't, you can still find out to what it is by right-clicking on the key name in the left pane, selecting Rename, then right-clicking on the text itself, and selecting Copy. This will copy the key name to the Clipboard. Then move to the top of the Registry tree (select My Computer at the root), and select Find from the Edit menu. Right-click on the Find What field, and select Paste. Click Find Next to search through the Registry for that key. When you find it, do a little digging in that key and its subkeys to find out what it's really for.

  5. If one of the keys under the ...Namespace branch turns out to match the item you're trying to get rid of, you can go ahead and delete the key.[2]

    [2] See Section 3.7 in Chapter 3 for a way to write a script that makes it easy to remove icons repetitively from the desktop.

    Now, deleting an item here is a little like deleting a shortcut in Explorer: it doesn't actually delete functionality from your system, it only removes the pointer to the information from the desktop namespace key. If you're worried that you might want it back some day, highlight the key, select Export Registry File from the Registry menu, and save it to a file. See Chapter 3 for more information on Registry patches.

  6. When you're done making changes, close the Registry Editor and refresh the desktop. See Section 2.3.1 in Chapter 2 for more information.

4.1.2. Hide All Icons on the Desktop

The following solution will disable the display of all icons on the desktop, including any files in your Desktop folder, as well as the virtual icons discussed in the previous sections. It doesn't involve the actual deletion of any data, it merely instructs Windows to leave the desktop blank.

This solution won't affect your taskbar or Start Menu. A benefit of this solution is that, unlike the previous solutions in this section, it has no effect on the desktop contents when viewed in Explorer. So, for example, your My Network Places icon will still be accessible there, even if it's no longer displayed on the desktop.

If you hide all icons on your desktop, it will no longer respond to right-clicks. To open Display Properties, use the Control Panel:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer.

  3. Double-click on the NoDesktop value. If it's not there, select New from the Edit menu, and then select Binary Value; type NoDesktop for the name of the new value.

  4. Replace the contents with 01 00 00 00. Note that this is a binary value, and the input box may not behave like a normal text box; if you mess up, just choose Cancel and try again. If at any time you wish to restore the desktop icons, type 00 00 00 00 into the NoDesktop value or just delete the value altogether.

  5. Click OK and close the Registry Editor. You'll have to log out and then log back in for the change to take effect.

4.1.3. Customize My Computer

Aside from the Start Menu, the My Computer window is the gateway to all the resources on your computer, including all your drives, folders, files, printers, and the Control Panel. There are many ways to customize My Computer, including adding and removing items from the window and changing the look and behavior of the icon itself.

To customize the icons of the drives in the My Computer window, see Section 2.2.6 in Chapter 2.

4.1.3.1. Rename My Computer

This one's easy, and it takes effect immediately. The name you choose will appear as the caption of the My Computer icon, both on the desktop and in Explorer, as well as the title of the My Computer window and anywhere else the My Computer object is referenced.

To rename the My Computer icon, right-click on it and select Rename. Type whatever name suits your fancy, and press Enter.

4.1.3.2. Change the My Computer icon
  1. Double-click on the Display icon in Control Panel, and choose the Effects tab. (See Figure 4-2.)

  2. Select the My Computer icon in the Desktop Icons box, and click Change Icon. Click Browse to choose another file; the default is Explorer.exe.

  3. Once you've chosen an icon, click OK. Your changes will take effect immediately.

4.1.3.3. Redirect the Desktop icon

All of My Computer's default resources are also available in Explorer and the Start Menu, so you may prefer to connect another program to the My Computer desktop icon. For example, if you prefer Explorer's hierarchical Tree View to My Computer's Macintosh-style navigation, you can configure My Computer to launch Explorer:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\ {20D04FE03AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}\shell. You know you have the right Class ID key if its (Default) value is set to My Computer.

  3. You'll see an existing key already in this branch named find representing the Search command in the My Computer icon's context menu. Select New from the Edit menu, and then select Key. Type Open for the name of the new key, and press Enter.

  4. Right-click on the new Open key, select New again and then Key. Type Command for the name of this new key, and press Enter.

  5. Click once on the new Command key, double-click on the (Default) value in the right pane, type explorer.exe in the box, and press Enter. Your Registry Editor window should resemble Figure 4-3, except that I've also included some optional command-line parameters (discussed in Section 2.1.6 in Chapter 2). You can, of course, replace explorer.exe with the full path and filename of any other program you'd rather use.

  6. Close the Registry Editor when you're finished. Click on an empty area of the desktop, and press F5 to refresh the desktop so that this change will take effect. Double-click the My Computer icon at any time to start the specified application.

Figure 4-3. Use the Registry Editor to customize the My Computer icon


Now, right-clicking on the My Computer icon will display a context menu with two separate Open commands: one bold and one normal. The bold item will launch the customized action, and the normal one will open the traditional My Computer window. Using this method, you can also add entries to My Computer's context menu; see Section 4.2.2 later in this chapter for details.

4.1.3.4. Add entries to the My Computer window

The My Computer window, by default, contains links to all your drives, as well as to the Control Panel.[3] To add more system objects to the My Computer window and, consequently, to Explorer, follow these steps:

[3] In previous versions of Windows, the Scheduled Tasks, Printers, and Dial-Up Networking icons also appeared in the My Computer window, but they've been moved into the Control Panel in Windows Me (and Windows 2000).

  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to:

    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
         explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace

    You might want to create a Registry patch of this branch before continuing, in case you want to restore the default.

  3. Under this branch, you should see one or more keys—each named for a different Class ID. For help in identifying unlabeled keys, see Section 4.1.1.5 in Section 4.1.1 earlier in this chapter.

  4. To add a new key, select New from the Edit menu, and then select Key. You can then enter any Class ID for the name of the key, and the corresponding system object will be added to the My Computer folder. See Appendix C for a table of Class IDs, or copy and paste a Class ID from elsewhere in the Registry.

  5. Refresh the My Computer window to see your changes by pressing the F5 key.

This solution does not work as you might expect for all system objects. For example, the My Network Places icon will behave erratically if placed in My Computer. You'll have to use a little trial and error to get the desired results.

As with the Start Menu and the Send To menu, you can add items (shortcuts, folders, etc.) to the My Network Places window by adding shortcuts to the \Windows\Nethood folder, should that appeal to you.

4.1.3.5. Remove unwanted entries from the My Computer window

There are two ways to remove icons from the My Computer Window. The first is to follow steps 1-3 in the previous Section 4.1.3.4 and simply delete any keys for unwanted objects. Not only is that time consuming, it affects only namespace objects—not drives. The following solution is simpler for this particular task and allows removal of drives as well:

  1. Double-click on the TweakUI icon in Control Panel, and choose the My Computer tab.

  2. Uncheck any drives you wish to be hidden from My Computer, and click OK. Note that removed items should also be removed from Explorer.

4.1.4. Customize the Recycle Bin Icon

Although you can rename any file or folder on your hard disk, as well as almost any system object (including My Computer and My Network Places), Windows won't allow you to rename the Recycle Bin—at least, not without a little fuss. To rename the Recycle Bin to something more compelling, such as "Garbage," "Trash," or "Inanimate Carbon Rod," follow any of the following procedures.

4.1.4.1. Add the Rename option to the Recycle Bin's context menu[4]

[4] This is similar to Section 4.1.1.3 in Section 4.1.1 earlier in this chapter.

  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{645FF0405081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}\ShellFolder\. You know you have the right Class ID key if its (Default) is set to Recycle Bin.

    It may be easier to locate this key by searching for the first few characters of the Class ID or for the text "Recycle Bin."

  3. Double click on the Attributes value, and replace the contents with 50 01 00 20.[5] Note that this is a binary value, and the input box may not behave like a normal text box. If you mess up, just choose Cancel and try again.

    [5] Use the value 40 01 00 20 to revert the Recycle Bin back to its default configuration. Note that this won't restore the name to its default, which you'll have to do manually. If you've deleted it with Solution 2, use TweakUI (Solution 1) to get it back.

  4. Close the Registry Editor. The change should take effect immediately.

  5. You now have the option of renaming the Recycle Bin at any time by right-clicking on it and selecting Rename. See Figure 4-1 for a preview.

4.1.4.2. Manually rename the Recycle Bin
  1. Open the Registry Editor (if you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3).

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{645FF0405081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}. You know you have the right Class ID key if its (Default) is set to Recycle Bin.

  3. Double-click on the (Default) value in the right pane, and replace the text Recycle Bin with any new name you wish. Click OK, and then close the Registry Editor.

  4. Click on an empty area of the desktop, and press F5 to refresh the desktop so that this change will take effect.

4.1.4.3. Change the Recycle Bin icon
  1. Double-click on the Display icon in Control Panel, and choose the Effects tab. (See Figure 4-2.)

  2. Select the Recycle Bin icon (either full or empty) in the Desktop Icons box, and click Change Icon. Click Browse to choose another file; the default is Explorer.exe.

  3. Once you've chosen an icon, click OK. Your changes will take effect immediately.

If you have Norton Utilities installed, you can right-click on the Recycle Bin, select Properties, and choose the Desktop Item tab to rename the Recycle Bin.

4.1.5. Change the Icons of System Objects

Although direct support isn't built into Windows for changing the icons used for the various system objects, such as the Control Panel, Dial-Up Networking, and the generic folder, it can be done. The icons discussed here are referred to as shell icons and are standard Windows icons used for Windows' virtual objects ; that is, objects other than individual drives, folders, files, and shortcuts. Following are the three ways to change the icons of system objects.

4.1.5.1. Solution 1: Basic system objects
  1. Double-click on the Display icon in Control Panel, and choose the Effects tab.

  2. The Desktop icons section lists, by default, five icons: My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, Recycle Bin (full), and Recycle Bin (empty). Select any icon here, and click Change Icon to choose a new one. Click Browse to choose another file.

  3. Once you've chosen an icon, click OK—your changes will take effect immediately.

4.1.5.2. Solution 2: Default folder and drive icons

This solution allows you to choose the default icon for all drives and folders. To change the icon for a particular drive or folder, see Section 2.2.6 in Chapter 2. Despite the fact that Drive and Folder are listed in the File Types window, the default icons can not be changed without editing the Registry:

  1. Open the Registry Editor. (If you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3.)

  2. For the icon used for drives, expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Drive\DefaultIcon. Likewise, for the icon used for folders, expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\DefaultIcon.

  3. Double-click on the (Default) value in the right pane. This value contains the file containing the icon and a number specifying the index of the icon to use (0 being the first icon, 1 being the second, and so on).

    You can specify any valid icon file here. If the file is not in your system path (see Chapter 6), you'll need to specify the full pathname (e.g., c:\icons\ugly.ico). If the file only contains one icon, or if you want to use the first icon in the file, you can omit the trailing comma and number.

    The default icon used for drives is C:\Windows\System\shell32.dll,3, and the default icon used for folders is C:\Windows\System\shell32.dll,8 (assuming Windows is installed in C:\Windows.).

  4. When you're done, close the Registry Editor. You may have to log out and then log back in for this change to take effect.

4.1.5.3. Solution 3: All other system objects
  1. Open the Registry Editor. (If you're not familiar with the Registry Editor, see Chapter 3.)

  2. Expand the branches to: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{class id }\DefaultIcon, where {class id } is one of the Class IDs listed in Appendix C. If the Class ID for the object you want to change is not listed there, do a search in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\ branch for the formal name of the object (e.g., Recycle Bin). You can back up this entry before you change it by creating a Registry patch at this point (see Chapter 3).

  3. Double-click on the (Default) value in the right pane.

  4. By default, most system objects will have the (Default) value set to something like shell32.dll,17, which means that Windows will use the eighteenth icon in the file Shell32.dll (0 being the first icon, 1 being the second, and so on).

  5. You can specify any valid icon file here. If the file is not in your system path (see Chapter 6), you'll need to specify the full pathname (e.g., c:\icons\ugly.ico). If the file only contains one icon or if you want to use the first icon in the file, you can omit the trailing comma and number.

  6. If a file contains more than one icon, the easiest way to find out which number corresponds to the icon you want is to browse the file in Windows. To browse an icon file, take any existing Windows shortcut (or create a new one), right-click on it, and select Properties. Choose the Shortcut tab, click Change Icon, type the desired filename, and count from the left—zero (0) is the first, one (1) is the second, and so on.

  7. This change should take effect the next time you refresh the folder containing the object you've just customized. For example, press the F5 key while the desktop is active to refresh any desktop icons.

Although you can't change the icons for applications, you can change the icons for shortcuts to those applications, such as those used in the Start Menu and on the desktop. Just right-click on the desired shortcut, click Properties, choose the Shortcut tab, and click Change Icon. You can also change the default icon used for application documents (e.g., the icon used for all files with the .txt extension). See Section 4.2.2 later in this chapter for more information.

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