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May 1996 Features

Customize Your Win95 Shell

You don't have to settle for the way
Windows 95 does things
... it's easy to make it work your way.

By John Woram, Senior Contributing Editor

More than once, you've probably thought to yourself, "Gee, I wish Windows 95 could [insert your request here]." While the feature you want may not be built into the OS, chances are you can use customization options within Win95 to get the desired results. To help you start tweaking your Desktop, we came up with a half-dozen examples of what you can accomplish. Once you're familiar with the general procedure, just modify the instructions to suit the specific feature you want to add to your system.

Make 'Send To' More Convenient

When you access a file's Context menu by right-clicking on a file within Explorer or on a file list, you get a Send To option that lets you forward the file to one of several destinations, such as the available floppy disk drive(s), the Briefcase or a mail recipient. If you add your word processor to the Send To list, you can use the command to send a file directly to the word processor for editing.

Click Here to see a 5.95 KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
The Content Menu's Send-To Option

Of course, this is the long way to open a file. But this technique could come in handy when you want to send an entire group of files to the word processor at once. This trick is equally useful when you have a .TXT file that's too big to open within Notepad (a 64KB or larger file). If you double-click on this type of file, a message asks if you want to open it in WordPad instead. Of course, the answer is no; you'd rather use your own word processor. Instead of double-clicking on a very large .TXT file, open its Context menu and use the Send To option to open the file in your favorite word processor automatically.

To add your word processor to the Send To list, just open Explorer and find its executable file-WINWORD.EXE, for example. Highlight its icon, hold down the right mouse button and drag the icon into the SendTo folder, which is located in the WINDOWS directory on your C: drive. Release the mouse button and select the Create Shortcut(s) Here option. If a shortcut icon to the word processor already exists elsewhere, you can drag a copy of that icon into the folder instead.

You can use this strategy to add other useful destinations to the Send To menu. Placing a HoldThis folder on the C: drive provides a space to store files that you think you can do without but aren't quite ready to toss into the Recycle Bin. First, create the desired folder, then drag a shortcut into the SendTo folder as above. During housekeeping, highlight one or more files that you'd like to put in storage, access the Context menu, select Send To and then HoldThis. The selected files are moved from their original locations into the HoldThis folder. Note: If your files reside on a different disk partition, this procedure only copies them into the folder, leaving the originals in place and highlighted. Press the Delete key to get rid of those.

You can also save time by adding a printer to the Send To list; this lets you print single or multiple files quickly. Just open the Start menu, select Settings/Printers, then drag the desired printer icon to the SendTo folder and release the mouse button.

Customize The Context Menu

Click Here to see a 14.9 KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
The Custom Print PRN File

Any destination that you add to the SendTo folder becomes available to any document or application icon that displays a Send To option on its Context menu. While this method makes it easier to send files where you want them, it's also easier to send them to places you don't want them. A slip of the mouse pointer might send an executable file to the printer, when you really meant to move it to a floppy diskette. Instead of moving the file, you'll end up getting an error message.

You can customize your Context menu so these choices appear only if they are appropriate to the file you've selected. For example, most word processors allow a document to be "printed" to a file instead of being sent directly to the printer. This file, usually identified with a .PRN extension, contains the codes that the default printer requires to print the document. These .PRN files are particularly useful if you need to output to a remote printer. Even if the same word processor is available there, it's much faster to simply copy the file to the printer without first loading it into the word processor. This also allows multiple documents created by incompatible word processors to be sent to the same printer at the same time using a simple copy command.

Traditionally, the easiest way to deal with .PRN files was to shell to a DOS command prompt and type COPY filename.PRN LPT1, or COPY .PRN LPT1 if there are several such files to be printed at once. Letting Windows 95 automate this task makes it even easier. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

1. In Notepad, create a simple one-line batch file called PRINTPRN.BAT. It should contain the following line:

2. Open Explorer's View menu, select Options and click on the File Types tab.

3. Click on the New Type button, locate the boxes listed in the first column and enter the information shown in the second column:
Description of type: Print PRN file
Associated extension: PRN

4. Click the New button and enter the following information as shown above:
Action: Print PRN file
Application used to perform action:
C: \<*path*>\PRINTPRN.BAT

Click Here to see a 6.27 KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
The Cascading New Menu

Once this is done, right-click on any .PRN file. A Print PRN File option appears at the top of its Context menu. Click on it, and you'll see the COPY command executed within a DOS box. If you highlighted several .PRN files, they will be printed in sequence. The Print PRN File option now appears in the Context menu only if a .PRN file is selected, so there's no danger of sending a non-.PRN file off to the printer by accident.

To further refine the procedure, do the following:

5. Use Explorer to find the PRINTPRN.BAT file that you created in Step 1.

6. Highlight the file, open its Context menu and select Properties.

7. Click on the Program tab and make the following modifications:
Run: Minimized
Close on exit: (Put a check in this box)
Change Icon button:
(Select any appropriate icon)

These steps permit the print job to take place without the distraction of a DOS box.

Expand the Desktop Context Menu

The New option on the Desktop Context menu lists various document formats such as Text Document, Bitmap Image and Wave Sound. The list is updated as you install new applications. Highlighting any listed item creates a new icon on the Desktop. For example, if you select Bitmap Image, an icon called "New Bitmap Image.bmp" appears. Double-clicking on that icon opens the Paint applet with the empty New Bitmap Image.BMP file loaded.

To add an application type to the New list, run the Windows 95 REGEDIT.EXE utility from the Start menu and click on the plus sign next to the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT key. Scroll down the list of sub-keys until you find the extension of the program you wish to add. Then perform the following steps:

1. Make a backup copy of the Registry before editing any of its keys.
2. Open the Edit menu and select New/Key.
3. Type ShellNew in the New Key 1 box and press Enter.
4. Open the Edit menu again and select New/String Value.
5. Type NullFile in the New Value 1 box and press Enter.
6. Exit the Registry Editor.

The next time you select the Context menu's New option, you'll see an entry called Write Document. If selected, it puts a "New Write Document.wri" icon on the Desktop. Double-click on the icon to open WordPad.

Be careful to associate a particular file type only with the appropriate program. For example, the Wave Sound option does not open the Media Player, which is a playback-only device. Instead, it opens the Sound Recorder (SNDREC32.EXE), which is used to create a new waveform file. If you attempt to create a new Wave Sound item via Media Player, you'll see a misleading memory-error message.

Streamline the Desktop Context Menu

Cut down the clutter on the New list of the Desktop Context menu by including only the file formats you use regularly. You can quickly and easily delete unwanted formats by simply reversing the procedure described above. Open the Registry Editor and find the extension for the application you want to remove. Click on the plus sign next to the extension key, highlight the ShellNew sub-key and delete it. Don't forget to make copies of the Registry before implementing any changes.

Execute Apps Automatically

In its default configuration, the System Agent found in the Microsoft Plus Pack automatically executes various housekeeping chores. It checks disk space every hour, runs ScanDisk and the disk defragmenter daily, and launches a thorough ScanDisk perusal on the first of the month. That alone makes it worth the price of admission. You can make System Agent even more valuable, however, by adding other chores to the applet's To Do list. You can ask it to do just about anything at just about any time. For example, it can remind you to take a break every hour or so, or launch your communications software daily at 3 p.m.

Assuming the System Agent already resides on your taskbar, automation of just about any task is only a few mouse clicks away.

1. Double-click on the System Agent icon on the taskbar.
2. Open the Program menu and select Schedule a New Program.
3. Enter the name of the program you'd like to execute.
4. Click on the When to Run button.
5. Use the Change Schedule dialog box to specify the conditions under which the program should run.

Rearrange Your Desktop Icons

Click Here to see a 7.10 KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
The Microsoft Office Shortcut Bar

Your Desktop should exhibit your own unique style, just as your office or home does. It's easy to drag icons from one location on the Desktop to another, but you can also move groups of icons by "drawing" a box around them. Just put the mouse pointer above and to the left of any icon, hold down the left mouse button and drag the pointer across the icons you'd like to move. Release the button when the desired icons are highlighted, and drag the group to another location. If the icons you want to move are scattered about the Desktop, just hold down the Ctrl key while selecting them. To re-caption an icon, right-click on its caption and choose Rename.

You can also add personal flair to the Microsoft Office Shortcut Bar installed on your Desktop. Dragging a shortcut icon onto the bar provides one-button access to that program. The icon will appear as a new button, and its title will be displayed if you move the mouse pointer over the button. Use the Office Customize option to rearrange the buttons according to your preference. You can also drag them to a different spot, or right-click on an icon to see a menu of options.

Don't Stop Now

If you've followed these instructions, day-to-day tasks in Windows 95 will already be easier and faster. But remember: If you can dream it, you can do it. So use your imagination and come up with other ways of making the Win95 shell the best it can be-without expensive add-on programs.

Senior Contributing Editor John Woram is the author of Windows Configuration Handbook (Random House, 1993). Contact John in the "Optimizing Windows" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. To find his E-Mail ID Click Here

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