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Chapter 4. Tinkering Techniques

Chapter 4. Tinkering Techniques

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 XP 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 first thing I do when I hit a roadblock or find a "feature" in Windows is jump into the Registry and try to fix it. The more I hack away at Windows' flaws, the easier it gets, and the leaner, cleaner, and less annoying Windows becomes. The solutions in this chapter illustrate this point.

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.

Many people don't realize 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, and this is one of the main reasons that Windows enjoys such a large market share. Although the variety of solutions presented here are a testimony to the power and flexibility of Windows XP, 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 is used to illustrate broader concepts and methodology.

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 Windows' built-in support for ZIP files nor disable the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer application. However, by excavating the Registry and many of the more obscure dialog boxes, you'll discover 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 and subsequent chapters.

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. Furthermore, once you've made a change you like, you can back it up with a Registry patch of its own, making it easy to restore it should it be overwritten by an application installer or Windows Update.

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