The following is an assemblage of helpful tweaks I have found in various places for Windows XP. I recommend most of these tweaks to increase performance, add stability, and enhance security. Some just make life with XP a little easier J

System Restore

Unless you're very confident with your PC, enable System Restore and create a new restore point prior to doing any tweaking. You can do this by doing the following:

1. Press the Start button and click on Help and Support. Or, click on an empty area on your desktop then press F1 to bring up Help and Support. Or open MSConfig (Start>Run>MSConfig) and click the Launch System Restore button.

2. In the Help and Support Centre, click 'Performance and Maintenance'.

3. Click 'Using System Restore to undo system changes' and then click 'Run the System Restore Wizard' under the 'Pick a Task' heading. If you get an error saying System Restore has been disabled, see my first WinXP Guide and undo any tweaks which disable System Restore. You'll need Administrator access to do that.

4. In the System Restore Wizard, click Create a Restore Point and follow the prompts to save your system state in a new restore point.

5. At any time, if you wish to return your computer to the state it was in when you created the Restore Point, follow steps 1-3 above to get to the System Restore Wizard. Then click 'Restore my computer to an earlier time', and select the date on which you created the restore point you wish to return to.

Remove text from desktop icons

Tool: None

Right click on the icon whose title you want to remove and select Rename. Instead of entering any characters in the text box, hold down the ALT key and type 255 (ALT + 2 + 5 + 5). Note you need to use the NUMPAD numbers for this to work (i.e. the numbers to the right of your arrow keys, not the ones at the top of the keyboard). When you release the ALT key the title will be blank, and you can press ENTER to accept this (blank titles are usually denied under Windows, but not this way). For every other icon for which you wish to remove the title, do the same as above, but for each subsequent icon you'll have to add a '255' to the end of the string you enter. That is, to blank a second icon name, you'll need to hold down ALT and type 255 then 255 again, then release ALT. For a third, you'll have to type ALT 255 255 255, and so on.

Remove the box around desktop icon titles

Tools: System Properties

If you followed my first XP Guide, you would have removed most fancy visual effects for maximum performance. However, if you've applied the 'Remove text from desktop icons' tweak above, and you still see a faint box where the text was (and you're fussy about things like that), you can remove that box by doing the following:

1. Go to Control Panel>System>Advanced and click the Settings button under Performance.

2. Put a tick against the Visual Effects tab and tick 'Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop'. Click OK.

3. Check your desktop. The boxes should be gone, regardless of whether you removed the text or not. If they're still there, right click on the desktop, look under Arrange Icons By and make sure there's no tick against 'Lock Web Items on Desktop'.

This effect is a virtually insignificant drain on performance, so re-enabling it won't do any major harm if you want a cleaner looking desktop, particularly if you've removed icon text labels. However hardcore performance nuts should leave it off as suggested in my first XP Guide.

Create desktop icons for Shutdown or Restart

Tool: Create Shortcut Wizard

Instead of clicking Start>Turn Off Computer and selecting Shutdown or Restart, you can create desktop icons which automatically shutdown or restart your PC with just a double-click. This tweak makes use of the Shutdown.exe command to create a new shortcut as follows:
Shutdown Icon

1. Right click on an empty area on your desktop.

2. Select New>Shortcut.

3. In the first box of the Create Shortcut Wizard, type "Shutdown -s -t 00" (without quotes). Click Next.

4. Call the shortcut something like "Shutdown PC" or my favorite "Die you Bitch" (without quotes) and click Finish.

5. To add the finishing touch, right click on this new icon, select Properties, click the Change Icon button and select an appropriate icon.

Reboot Icon

Follow the same steps as for the Shutdown Icon, but substitute the following steps in place of the corresponding ones above:

3. In the first box of the Create Shortcut Wizard, type "Shutdown -r -t 00" (without quotes). Click Next.

4. Call the shortcut something like "Restart PC" without quotes and click Finish.

Create Desktop icon to lock the computer

Tool: Create Shortcut Wizard

1. Right click on an empty area on your desktop.

2. Select New>Shortcut.

3. In the first box of the Create Shortcut Wizard, type "Rundll32.exe User32.dll,LockWorkStation" (without quotes). Note there is no space between the comma and LockWorkStation, which is also one word. Click Next.

4. Call the shortcut something like "Lock PC" (without quotes) and click Finish.

5. To add the finishing touch, right click on the new icon, select Properties, click the Change Icon button and select an appropriate icon.

Now whenever you click this icon your PC will instantly be locked, and can only be accessed by the user entering a correct password in the Login box. Note you can also lock the computer at any time by press WINDOWS + L. Also note that if you have an account with no password, locking the desktop is a little pointless as anyone can login by just leaving the password field blank and clicking OK to log back in.

Make a slideshow screensaver

Tool: Display Properties

To make a customizable slideshow screensaver from the pictures on your drive, do the following:

1. Go to Control Panel>Display Properties and select the Screensaver tab.

2. Under the screen saver list, select 'My Pictures slideshow'.

3. Click the Settings button.

4. By default the slideshow will use the pictures in your My Pictures folder and subdirectories. You can set the location for the pictures it uses by clicking the Browse button and choosing a new path.

5. Customize how long you want each picture to display before changing, and also how large the pictures are to be. Make sure you tick the 'Allow scrolling through pictures with the keyboard' option. Click OK.

6. You can either select the Preview button to start the slideshow straight away or set the time before the screensaver starts. Once it starts, you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard to move through the pictures or wait the specified time for each new picture.

Backup and Restore emails in Outlook Express

Tool: Outlook Express

Backing up emails

If you want to back up the emails you've saved in Outlook Express, and restore them later on, follow these procedures:

1. Open Outlook Express, go to Tools>Options and open the Maintenance tab.

2. Click the Store Folder button and highlight the directory path shown with your mouse (right-click on the text and choose Select All).

3. Right-click again on the highlighted text and select Copy.

4. Go to Start>Run and right-click in the box. Select Paste, then click OK. This opens an Explorer window in the folder where Outlook Express holds your emails and email folders as .dbx files.

5. The folder names should be self-explanatory. Select individual .dbx files where you stored emails and copy them to another location for backup purposes

Restoring emails

To restore these emails back into Outlook Express, say after a reformat of Windows, follow these procedures:

1. Open Outlook Express, go to File>Import>Messages.

2. Select 'Microsoft Outlook Express 6' from the list (or whichever version of OE you saved the messages under).

3. Select 'Import mail from an OE6 store directory' and click OK.

4. Browse to the directory where you backed up your Outlook Express messages as .dbx files. Click OK, then click Next.

5. Click All Folders, select Next, then select Finish. Your messages should be restored as you saved them.

You can also use the Import and Export functions in Outlook Express to save and restore your Address Book, Email account and Newsgroup account data. These aren't detailed here, but the procedure is similar to that outlined above.

Block spam with Outlook Express built-in features

Outlook Express has some useful features for blocking spam emails. Spam is unsolicited email with useless content...if you live on Earth you would have received some by now. These built-in features can be used to sort mail automatically and ignore/block individuals for example. Note that these tools don't work for IMAP and HTTP (i.e. Web-based) email accounts such as Hotmail. Use these tools for your POP3 accounts (i.e. non-webmail based), such as the ones your ISP provides, or Yahoo when set up as POP3.

To access and set up these tools do the following:

1. Open Outlook Express and go to Tools>Message Rules and select Mail.

2. Click the New button to create a new rule. The New Mail Rule window will open.

3. Select a condition for your rule. For example, we'll choose 'Where the message is more than size'. We can set the size parameter for this rule in Step 5.

4. Select the action for the rule. For example, 'Move it to the specified folder'.

5. Set any parameters required for the rule by clicking on the blue underline text in the Rule Description box. For example, we'll click on the Size text and choose 40KB as our size limit for the rule set up in step 3. We'll click on the Folder text and choose Deleted Items.

6. Give the rule an appropriate name, such as 'Large email redirector' in this example. Click OK.

7. In the Mail Rules window, put a tick next to the new rule and click the Apply Now button. If you want to add more parameters or change the rule, click the Modify button, and go back through steps 3 6 above until you're happy.

8. Create as many rules as you like, and arrange them in order of priority/application to new messages by using the Move Up and Move Down buttons.

Now when you receive an email, the above rule will automatically check its size and if it's over 40KB, will redirect it to your Deleted Items folder automatically. You can have a quick look in there after checking your mail and see if it's anything you want to keep, otherwise just empty the deleted items and you've cleared some hefty spam straight away.

Create more rules once you identify patterns in your email. For example I was getting a lot of spam emails with phony virus screensavers attached. So I set up a new rule which automatically deletes from my mail server (so I don't even download them) any emails with 'Screensaver' in the message body. Worked a treat too! Eventually they stopped, so I deleted the rule.

Of course you can do a lot more with Message Rules, such as block individuals, accounts from particular domains (such as MSN, Yahoo or AOL), etc. Experiment with the tool as it is very powerful. If in doubt, set the action for the rule to redirect flagged mail to a separate folder you set up and see if any legitimate mail is getting caught up by the rule. Also, create multiple rules to finely sift through the mail and get rid of the genuine rubbish.

Services

To access: Start>Run>services.msc or Control Panel>Administrative Tools>Services

To save space here I've only listed the services I recommend to be set as Disabled or Automatic. The remaining Microsoft Services not listed below should be set to Manual. If unsure, set a service to Manual rather than Automatic or Disable. The settings recommended here are safe for almost all systems, allowing all the common WinXP functions to work. Make sure to read the WinXP Services Guide (link at the end of guide) to find out more and customize services to suit your system setup.

Automatic:

Cryptographic Services
DHCP Client
DNS Client
Event Log
Plug and Play
Protected Storage
Remote Procedure Call (RPC)
System Event Notification
Task Scheduler
Themes
Windows Audio
Windows Management Instrumentation
Windows Time

Disable:

Alerter
Automatic Updates (manually update using Internet Explorer>Tools>Windows Update)
Clipbook
Error Reporting Service
Fast User Switching Compatibility
Help and Support
Human Device Interface Access
IMAPI CD-Burning COM Service
Indexing Service
IPSEC Services

Messenger (Absolutely disable this bugger)
NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing
Network DDE
Network DDE DSM
Performance Logs and Alerts
Portable Media Serial Number
Print Spooler (Set to Automatic if you have a printer installed)
Remote Desktop Help Session Manager
Remote Registry
Routing and Remote Access
Secondary Logon
Security Accounts Manager
Smart Card
Smart Card Helper
System Restore Service
TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper
Telnet
Uninterruptible Power Supply
Upload Manager
Volume Shadow Copy
WebClient
Wireless Zero Configuration
WMDM PMSP Service
WMI Performance Adapter

Remember, the Microsoft services not listed above should be set to Manual.

For details on what all these services do, check out Black Vipers web site at

http://www.blkviper.com

 

Remove Hidden Windows Components

If you've been looking for a way to remove Windows Messenger or other Windows components that don't show in the Add or Remove Programs applet, here's the secret. Windows keeps a list of components in a file called Sysoc.inf in C:\Windows\ Inf. Some of the entries under the [Components] heading, among them the line for Messenger, include the word hide. To make them visible to the Add or Remove Programs applet so that you can remove them, you have to delete the instruction to hide them.

First, make sure that Windows Explorer is set to display hidden files: In Windows Explorer, choose Tools | Folder Options, then the View tab, and set the option to Show hidden files and folders. Also remove the check from the check box labeled Hide protected operating system files (Recommended).

After clicking OK, you can navigate to the C:\Windows\Inf folder. Open Sysoc.inf in Notepad and find the line msmsgs=msgrocm.dll,OcEntry,msmsgs.inf,hide,7. Delete the word hide, being careful to leave the commas. Save and close the file.

Next, go to the Control Panel, choose Add or Remove Programs, and when the applet opens, choose Add/Remove Windows Components. Windows Messenger should now appear in the list. You can make other hidden components appear in the applet by following the same steps.

Tightening Your Connections

1.   Click on Start, Control Panel, then Network Connections. Right click on your Internet connection & select Properties, then the Networking tab.

  1. Select & Uninstall (Or at least Untick) File & Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks & Client for Microsoft Networks if not required for your system.
  2. Select Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) then the Properties button, then the Advanced button.
  3. Now select the WINS tab & Untick Enable LMHOSTS Lookup & Disable NetBIOS over TCP/IP.

 

5.    Now click on Start, Control Panel, Administrative Tools then Services.

     TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper. Enables support for NetBIOS over TCP/IP (NetBT) service & NetBIOS name resolution. For improved security it would be best not to use NetBIOS & as a result you should set this to Disabled.

  1. Close the Services utility & Network Connections & restart your PC as required for the changes to take effect.

Here are some links for more detailed tweaks using WinXP,

http://www.techspot.com/tweaks/windows_security/index.shtml

http://www.tweakxp.com/tweakxp/

http://www.extremetech.com/category2/0,3971,530826,00.asp

 

The following link is very well written, with lots of screenshots detailing the installation of XP and how to customize XP right after it has booted for the first time.

http://firingsquad.gamers.com/guides/winxp1/

I hope in some way several of these tweaks have helped out.

Mike