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8/96 HowTo: Optimizing Windows

Dress Up Your System In Snazzy New Icons

By John Woram

YOU KNOW HOW easy it is to change a shortcut icon: Just right-click to open the object's Context menu, select Properties, click on the Shortcut tab and then on the Change Icon button. Make your selection and you're done. What could be simpler?

How about changing your other icons? That's not so simple. The general rule is that if you can see an icon, you can change it. Having just survived a total Desktop (re)decorating session, I can vouch that the rule is still valid, but it's not always easy. Here are a few tips and tricks that seem to work on just about every icon I've found. (In fact, you can even get rid of that little arrow in the lower left-hand corner of a shortcut icon.) I categorized the icon tips into three levels of difficulty: some minor Registry edits required, some not-so-minor edits and for hackers only.

To change the Recycle Bin or Microsoft Network icons, just open the Registry Editor by typing REGEDIT in the Start Menu's Run box. Select Edit/Find, type in the title that appears under the icon you want to change and make sure the Data box is checked.

When the search is complete, you'll notice an open folder (actually, an open key) in the left-hand pane, followed by a long CLSID number encased in braces. Click on the plus sign to show several subkeys, then highlight the one labeled DefaultIcon. The Data column in the Contents pane (on the right-hand side) now shows the path, filename and number for the current icon.

If you like to do things the hard way, double-click on the (Default) entry in the Name column to open the Edit String dialog box. You'll have to edit the Value data line to specify the new icon you want to use. The problem is, you need to know which new icon you want before you start this procedure, because the Registry Editor doesn't offer a browse option.

It's okay to cheat

If you don't have an icon browser (I'll describe one later in the column), you'll have to cheat: Pretend you're going to change a shortcut's icon. When you click on the Browse button to search for a suitable replacement, Win95 opens the System folder, where you'll see a bazillion .DLL files with no indication of whether they contain icons. If you'd like to avoid the aggravation of opening each folder before you find the ones that actually contain icons, here's a hint: SHELL32.DLL contains a bunch, but if you want some really cool ones, try PIFMGR.DLL for Win95's secret stash. You can use your old Windows 3.1x icons by switching over to the Windows folder. They're living in PROGMAN.EXE and MORICONS.DLL. Once you find an icon you like, make a note of the icon's filename and position (the first icon to the far left is in the 0 position, not the 1 position, so you'd count the icons as
0, 1, 2,...).

Next, go back to REGEDIT and type that information into the Value data line, making sure to follow it with a comma and the number of the icon. If you size the Editor window so you can see the Desktop icon, you can observe the change without closing the Editor. Just click the mouse pointer on any open spot on the Desktop and press F5. The icon should change immediately, and if you don't like what you see, you can try something else.

The procedure is similar for the My Computer and Network Neighborhood icons, except these titles don't appear by default in the Registry. To force either title into the Registry, just rename it (you can even "rename" it to the same name) and then do the search. For My Briefcase, check Keys instead of Data, and find the key that begins with {85BBD920.

If you decide to change the Recycle Bin icons, you'll find three entries in the DefaultIcon Contents pane when you click on the plus sign in the left pane and double-click on the DefaultIcon folder: (Default), empty and full. Windows 95 monitors the status of the Bin, and writes the empty or full data into the (Default) column, as appropriate. So, you can change either or both of these icons if you want to restyle it. Or, just reverse them to antagonize, or at least confuse, anyone who may use your system now and again.

Once you've finished changing your Desktop icons, you may want to take on the Start menu. But don't bother searching the Registry for DefaultIcon subkeys for these menu options, because you won't find any. There is, however, an undocumented way to change them, and the Microsoft Plus Pack add-on indirectly shows you how to do so. Win95 supports a Shell Icon subkey, but it doesn't actually write that key into the Registry. Plus does add the subkey, or you can write it in yourself if you're comfortable enough with the Registry Editor to do so. In either case, here's what you do.

Open the Registry and drill your way down to the following subkey:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\explorer.

If you have Plus, you'll see a Shell Icons subkey under the explorer key, and its Contents pane will show a long list of numbers in the Name column, each followed by a path, filename and icon number in the Data column. If you don't have Plus, just follow along anyway. Later on you can add the key yourself, and then do the editing described here.

Each number in the Name column represents a Win95 object that rates its own icon. Under default conditions, there's no need for the Registry to maintain such a list because some icons are specified under various DefaultIcon subkeys, while others are Òhard wiredÓ into the system and not cited in the Registry. Take those Recycle Bin icons, for instance. Prior to installing Plus, Win95 used icons 31 and 32 from the SHELL32.DLL file. But Plus uses its own COOL.DLL file as a replacement icon source. So, if you look in the Name column for icons 31 and 32, you'll see them listed as cool.dll,20 and cool.dll,21 in the Data column. If you view the Recycle Bin's DefaultIcon subkey, you'll find icons 31 and 32 if you didn't install the Plus Pack and 20 and 21 if you did. But if you're using one of the Plus Pack's Desktop Themes, you'll see still other numbers.

Of course, you have to know what object 31 is, because Shell Icons doesn't offer any clue. One more thing: If a DefaultIcon subkey exists for any object, the Shell Icons citation is nothing more than a record of the change Plus made. If you open an object's DefaultIcon subkey and make a change, Win95 ignores the Shell Icons data. And if you change it to something else in Shell Icons, Win95 still ignores the change. In other words, the DefaultIcon data takes precedence, and Shell Icons seems pretty close to useless.

But if there are no corresponding DefaultIcons subkeys, as is the case with Start Menu icons, Shell Icons aren't useless anymore. Consult the table on the next page to find an object's number, then find that number in Shell Icon's Names column and change the Data column entry to the icon you'd like to use.

Make sure it's Safe

Click Here to see a 13.3KB bitmap image of artwork which goes with this article, entitled:
Start Menu Makeover

Now for the fine print. First, you'll need to restart Win95 in Safe mode, then use Explorer to find the hidden ShellIconCache file (note, no extension) in the C:\Windows directory and delete it. As its name implies, the file is an icon cache, which Win95 uses to quickly restore the Desktop every time it opens. If you edit the Registry's Shell Icons by hand, Windows doesn't know it needs to rebuild this cache, and therefore your customization changes won't take effect. But if you erase ShellIconCache, Windows will rebuild it the next time it starts, and your icon changes will be duly noted and made permanent-at least until the next time you feel the urge to redecorate.

If that urge points you toward the little shortcut arrow, here's a way to either get rid of it or change it.

I don't recommend the former-after all, the arrow isn't in the way, and it does help distinguish the shortcuts. But as I said, if you must ...

Open the Registry Editor and search HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT for the lnkfile subkey (remember, you're looking for a key, so be sure to check the Keys box in the Edit/Find dialog) and highlight it. Find the IsShortcut entry in the Contents pane's Name column and delete it. Better yet, rename it as say, xIsShortcut, so that when you realize the little arrow really was helpful after all, you can restore its original name. Then, select View/Refresh and exit the Registry Editor. Click on an empty spot on your Desktop and press F5, and the shortcut arrows should disappear.

If you'd rather just change the arrow to something else, go back to the Shell Icons subkey to add a string value (Edit/New/String Value) named 29, which is the object number for the little arrow. Double-click on this new entry to enter the path, filename and icon number in the corresponding Data column. For instance, C:\Windows\ System\ SHELL32.DLL,30 replaces the little arrow with a bigger one that's positioned in a less obvious place than the default arrow.

For hackers only

For the compulsive Desktop decorator who just can't leave any icon unturned, there remains one more challenge: the little flying window on the taskbar's Start button. Although another flying window appears next to the Taskbar option on the cascading Settings menu, it's not quite the same (look closely). The latter's source is the SHELL32.DLL file, while the former is buried in the USER.EXE file. I suggest letting it rest in peace.

There must be an easier way . . .

You may find all this fun, but you'll have to admit it's a bit of a nuisance rebooting into Safe mode and back again after every change. You can avoid this with a neat shareware utility: Impact Software's Microangelo. This small suite of icon management utilities makes it simple to change almost any icon described in this column. Microangelo's Browser utility scans all files in any folder and lists those that contain icons, and gives you an icon count. For instance, look in the C:\Windows\System folder to find countless files with one (AB.DLL) to 72 (SHELL32. DLL) or more icons. If you already know the file you want, the Librarian will take you directly to it.

Microangelo may not paint a Sistine Chapel on your Desktop, but after a few minutes it certainly won't look like anyone else's. And if you find you've gone too far, there's always the Use Default button.

Senior Contributing Editor John Woram is the author of Windows Configuration Handbook (Random House, 1993). Contact John in the "Optimizing Windows" topic of the WINDOWS Magazine areas on America Online and CompuServe. Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.

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