Had enough of Windows’ shenanigans? I’ll show you how to print elegant folder lists, dispatch Balloon Tips and annoying icon wizards, and copy files that won’t copy. Plus, I debunk a performance hoax that’s making the rounds on the Net.
Do you think XP causes less trouble than Vista? Sign our petition to Save XP.
Disable Customize Notifications
The Hassle: In your last column, you explained how to hide and restore the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the System Tray. Easy for you to say–the Customize option in the Taskbar tab of the Properties menu on my PC is grayed out.
The Fix: Leave it to Microsoft to make things confusing. Right-click the Taskbar and choose Properties–‘Hide Inactive Icons’ is checked, right? Clear that check box, click Apply, and you’re in business. And if you ever trash your system tray, grab a copy of the Taskbar Repair Tool: It’s a miraculous freebie ($5 for the Pro version) that fixes dozens (36 to be exact) of taskbar, quick-launch, and system-tray problems.
Battle Balloons and Icons
The Hassle: I bought a laptop with Windows Vista (I know, silly me). The OS keeps asking to remove desktop icons, and the Balloon Tips are driving me nuts. Have a solution?
The Fix: I agree–Windows’ Desktop Cleanup Wizard is ever so annoying. (Hey, Microsoft, I like my old, unused shortcuts!) In XP, you can disable the wizard with a VB script from Kelly Theriot. Grab the freebie from our Downloads library. It’s safe, so ignore any security warnings.
The process is easier in Vista: Right-click on the Desktop, choose Properties, Desktop, Customize Desktop, and clear the Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard Every 60 Days check box. You can ditch Balloon Tips in XP with Doug Knox’s VB script; in Vista this script can be a killer, so you’ll want to read the instructions on the gHacks page about it.
Print Any Folder List
The Hassle: My friend asked for a printed list of all my MP3s. I spent an hour and still couldn’t figure out how to do it.
The Fix: There’s an easy way to do this, and a hard way. Me, I’m lazy (it’s the genes), so I use Karen’s Directory Printer. The free utility generates folder and subfolder listings in every way imaginable, including (or excluding) the file size, creation date, and attributes. For you purists avoiding extra programs, Microsoft has a weekend project to print folders from your context menu in XP or Vista. Be aware, though, that it involves batch files, folder mods, and Registry hacks.
Beware This Speedup Hoax
Not everything you read on the Internet is true. I spotted a tweak–a modification of the Quality of Service (QoS) Packet Scheduler’s settings–that purportedly gives both XP Professional and Vista a 20 percent bandwidth boost. I wish. I tried it, as did a few buddies. Though some of us didn’t see a thing, others, me included, perceived improved performance.
Unfortunately, it was merely the power of suggestion–Microsoft’s experts say the tip is bogus, and I believe them. However, if you use Wi-Fi, tuning your router’s QoS settings can help with some applications. Check out Becky Waring’s “Optimize Wi-Fi for VoIP, Video, and Gaming” and then read Preston Gralla’s “Internet Boosters” and Michael S. Lasky’s helpful “Five Quick Fixes for Internet Connection Hang-Ups” for more.
Tool of the Month
Copy Stubborn Files With HoboCopy
I watched a neat Flash streaming video on a Web site and wanted to keep it to view offline. I found the file sitting in the temp folder and tried copying it to another folder. No luck–the error message ‘File in use’ was the only thing I saw. None of my copying tricks worked; and when I closed the browser tab that was playing the video, the file was automatically deleted.
But now I’ve outsmarted Windows with the help of HoboCopy, an obscure, slick utility that uses Volume Shadow Service to copy files (and folders) that are in use. Once you get the hang of this command-line tool, it’s easy to work with. For help, read the How-To Geek’s tutorial.
Related story: Quick fixes to common Windows annoyances
If you’ve got a multi-slot media card reader, chances are you face a mess of drive letters every time you double-click My Computer. I’ve finally outsmarted the Redmond kids in my battle with the dumb way Windows handles drive letters–and in this column I give you the fix. Plus, I share an easy way to restore the fickle Safely Remove Hardware icon to your system tray, and a trick to combat Insertus idioticus–by disabling the Insert key.
Disable Unused Drive Letters
The Hassle: My PC has a built-in memory card reader, and the only slots I use are for CompactFlash and SD cards. Yet when I try to find the card I’ve just inserted in Windows Explorer, I always seem to click the drive letter of an empty slot. Do you have a fix?
The Fix: First, let’s start by eliminating the card reader drive letters you don’t use. Log in as Administrator, open Windows Explorer, and insert your memory cards into the card reader slots. Jot down the corresponding drive letters and, using the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the System tray, remove the memory cards.
From the Start menu, run diskmgmt.msc. Under Disk Management, you’ll see all your drives. Find the unused drives in the lower panel–they’re listed with a drive letter, a disk number, and a ‘No Media’ designation. Right-click, select Change Drive Letter and Paths, click Remove, click Yes, and say adios. Cool, no?
My preference is to push the drive letters of the remaining memory cards near the end of the alphabet–and to use mnemonics for easier recall. I use drive letter “W” for the wide CompactFlash card and “S” for the smaller SD card. (I’ve also assigned mapped network drives to Y and Z.)
From that same spot in the Disk Management applet, right-click, choose Change, and pick a letter from the end of the alphabet.
This reassignment trick also keeps the drive letters of my temporary USB devices–two hard drives, an MP3 player and flash drive, and a GPS unit–all neatly stacked just after my last fixed drive.
Restore the Safely Remove Hardware Icon
The Hassle: Where’s my Safely Remove Hardware icon? One day it’s here, the next day it’s missing from the system tray!
The Fix: The icon is probably just hidden. Right-click Start, select Properties, choose the Taskbar tab, click Customize, scroll to Safely Remove Hardware, and make the behavior Always Show. Alternatively you can keep the icon hidden (and your Systray uncluttered) and force it to appear when you need it by creating a desktop shortcut. Right-click your desktop, choose New, Shortcut, insert the line C:\WINDOWS\system32undll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL hotplug.dll in the ‘Type the location of the item:’ field, and click Next. Rename the shortcut USB Remove.
Disable the Insert Key
The Hassle: Can I turn off the Insert key on my keyboard? In Word, I keep hitting it and typing over too many of my golden words.
The Fix: I don’t know why it’s still around–the Insert key is as useless as the human appendix, and my giant-sized thumb hits it early and often. But it doesn’t matter because I’ve disabled it.
You can globally disable the Insert key in any of three ways: If you have the skills, follow the instructions for the one-minute Registry tweak at the Tech-Archive site. An easier way: Download and save my small Registry file onto the desktop; click it and then click Yes (don’t worry, it’s safe, so ignore any your security program warnings).
Unfortunately, Word thoughtfully ignores the Registry tweak, so here’s a Word how-to: Click Tools, Customize, and in the dialog box, choose Keyboard. In Categories, scroll to and click All Commands, and in the Command panel, select Overtype. Highlight Insert in the Current keys box, click Remove, and click Close until the dialog boxes close.
To reset the Insert key in Word, repeat the above steps, but after you select Overtype, select Press new shortcut key, press the Insert key, click Assign, and click Close until the dialog boxes close.
Tool of the Month: RegEditX for XP and Vista
Hassled when someone (like me) asks you to use the Registry? I have a free add-on that turns the run-of-the-mill Windows Registry tool into to a superhandy, power-user utility. Take, for example, the arduous task of fiddling with the Registry’s plus and minus icons to reach a specific key.
RegEditX instead lets you copy and paste a long Registry key right into the address field, as if you were in a browser, and then whisks you directly to the entry. Heck, you can go directly to the key with one line: Just type RegEditX and the starting key in the Run command. (My favorite is Favorites, a way to easily get back to Registry keys you often access.) Download RegEditX.