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Icons

Strictly speaking, an icon is any small picture used to symbolize an object or a function in the interface. Icons commonly appear in menus and on toolbars, but the term is most often used to describe the objects that represent files and folders on your Desktop and in Windows Explorer.

Chapter 2 covers the basic use of icons, especially in the way they can be opened, moved, copied, and deleted. Right-click any icon to display its context menu. (See “Context Menus”, earlier in this chapter.)

The image used for a given icon depends on the type of object it represents, as does the procedure for customizing that icon. For example, the icons for My Computer, Recycle Bin and other Desktop “namespace” objects can be customized by right-clicking on an empty area of the Desktop and going to Properties Desktop tab Customize Desktop.

The icon used for a document depends on its type; all .txt files use the same icon, all .jpg files use the same icon, and so on. Icons for most file types can be changed by going to Tools Folder Options Files Types tab in Explorer (see Figure 3-9). The exceptions are application executables (.exe files), which have their own icons. All folders (except special folders, like My Documents and My Pictures) use the same icon, and cannot be changed without a third-party add-on like Microangelo (Version 5.5 or later; available from http://www.impactsoftware.com/).

Figure 3-11. Windows XP comes with a large collection of images for your shortcuts


You can change the icon for any Windows Shortcut or Internet Shortcut by right-clicking, and selecting Properties Change Icon. By default, the Change Icon dialog box for a shortcut usually points to \Windows\System\shell32.dll, which contains over 200 different icons, including the standard icons for folders, disks, and so on. A browse button lets you search for other sources of icons, but where do you browse?

Icons can be stored in a variety of files, including .exe and .dll files (program components) and .ico files (standalone icon files). Even .bmp (Windows bitmap files) can be used for icons. Browsing for icons can be time consuming, though, since the Change Icon dialog can only look inside one file at a time. The alternative is to use Explorer: the standard file icon for .ico files is the actual icon it contains, making it easy to peruse an entire folder full of icon files (although you’ll have to switch to the Thumbnails view to see your .bmp files).

Although other Windows files (such as \windows\explorer.exe) have additional icons, you may want to look on the Web for decent icons to decorate your workspace (and there’s no end to web sites that contain freely downloadable icon libraries). Since I have a particular fondness for the NeXT interface from the 1980s, I’ve found the icons at http://pcdesktops.emuunlim.com/ to be especially nice.


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