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More Tweaks in Your UI
I used Microsoft's free Tweak UI applet in my March column to illustrate how a typical application writes data into the Windows 95 Registry. I couldn't cover everything in one column, and now there's even more because Microsoft has updated Tweak UI since then. Here's a quick description of new items, a look at older features that didn't make it into the previous column, and two "gotcha" warnings. If you need the latest Tweak UI, it usually hangs out at http://microsoft.com/windows/software/powertoy.htm.
The options on this tab rewrite the Windows 95 MSDOS.SYS file and take effect the next time you start the system. Using the Boot tab is certainly easier than editing MSDOS.SYS yourself, and that brings me to "gotcha" number one. If you have the OEM Service Release 2 (SR2) version of Windows 95, don't try to dual boot back into DOS 6.x, despite the presence of a check box next to "Allow F4 to boot previous operating system." If you check it, the StartUp menu might display a "Previous version of MS-DOS" option. That could be a problem. If you're lucky, you'll just see a brief message that says, "Your previous MS-DOS version is not supported," and Windows 95 will open as before. If you're not so lucky, you may boot into DOS 6.x and all will appear to be well. But all is not well, as you'll discover the next time you try to boot into Windows 95 and the system hangs.
The problem is that SR2 had no trouble swapping your start-up files so the system would boot into DOS 6.x, but then it got confused when it tried to restore the Windows 95 start-up files. That results in an unbootable system. The solution is to boot from the emergency diskette. Then use the SYS command on that diskette to transfer the Windows 95 system files back to the hard drive.
Once you've recovered, you might want to go back to the C: root directory and remove all start-up files with an extension of DOS so history won't repeat itself. Don't forget IO.DOS and MSDOS.DOS, which may be hidden. The next time you mistakenly try to boot back into DOS 6.x, you'll get a Files Not Found message, and Windows 95 will open normally. Also reopen Tweak UI and clear the check box next to "Allow F4 to boot previous operating system."
My Computer tab
This tab displays a list of drives A through Z, with a check box next to each one. If a box is checked, that drive letter (if present on the system) will show up in the My Computer and Explorer windows. The list of disabled drive letters is written into the following Registry key:
If selected drive letters are disabled via the My Computer tab, the data is written into the subkey's Contents pane. (See sidebar "Hidden Drives.") If you're using Regedit.exe to edit the Registry, you might see something like this:
If you're using the System Policy Editor (Poledit.exe), you'll see:
You might use this scheme to block the casual user's access to selected drives-for example, drive x:, which is the host for your compressed drive C:, or a regular drive reserved for your own use. If such a drive is at the end of your drive letter sequence, its absence won't be immediately obvious in Explorer. Note, however, that this is simply a cosmetic cover-up. Anyone who knows about Tweak UI can see which drives are concealed. You can display their contents in a DOS box, and the change has no effect on applications accessing the drives.
As one more bit of Windows 95 trivia, note that Tweak UI saves data in binary format, and the System Policy Editor saves data in dword format. Data is converted from one format to the other according to the most recent means of access.
This tab is the newest kid on the Tweak UI block, and a puzzling addition at that. If you're prompted for a user name and password when Windows opens, enter that information on the Network tab and check the Log on Automatically box. The next time Windows opens, the prompt dialog box appears briefly, then disappears, and the session begins without user intervention. But if that's what you want, you don't need Tweak UI. You can dump the password prompt by going into Control Panel/Passwords. Click on the Change Windows Password button, type the current password into the Old Password box and press the Enter key three times to bypass the entries for New Password and Confirm New Password. Then select the User Profiles tab and enable the radio button next to "All users of this PC use the same preferences and desktop settings." Restart the system, and the password prompt will vanish forever, or at least until you decide to reinstate it.
Tweak UI's auto log-on feature may be convenient under one condition, though. If you're the only one who uses the computer, you may have set up a password so that others can't mess with your configuration. But if you start and restart your system many times during the course of the workday (as happens around here), the password prompt becomes a nuisance. If so, use the Network tab to temporarily enable auto log-on. Just remember to disable it when you want to restore password protection.
And now for "gotcha" number two. The user name and password entered via the Network tab are written into the Registry in unencrypted form, so all intruders who know their way around can read your password. All they need do is open the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE key and drill down to the SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Winlogon subkey. Its Contents pane displays the following information in straight ASCII text for all the world to read:
Your actual password and user name appear in place of the "secret" and "yourname" entries shown here. One more warning: If you subsequently disable auto log-on, the AutoAdminLogon entry is deleted, but your password and user name remain in place, so make sure you erase them, too.
Last October I showed you several ways to protect yourself against Big Brother, Big Sister or just the office busybodies. Apparently there's more paranoia out there than I suspected, and Tweak UI's tab of that name makes it even easier to hide the evidence of your recent Windows 95 activities. For example, the check boxes in the Covering Your Tracks section will edit the following new Registry key on OSR2 systems:
Depending on the specific checked box(es), a Contents pane entry with the uninformative Name of "1" shows the following string value in its Data column:
If the data value is 0, that means all check boxes are cleared. A 1 means
In case of a real paranoia attack, just click on the "Clear selected items now" button at any time to perform the desired Clear operations, which otherwise take place only at log-on.
It's a bit of a reach to place nice little CD audio features on a tab labeled "Paranoia." But that's where they are nevertheless, along with a check box that creates a FAULTLOG.TXT file.
You can use the five repair buttons on this tab to perform minor surgery if needed.
Rebuild Icons. Windows 95 occasionally gets a bit confused about the icons it's supposed to display, especially if the hidden SHELLICONCACHE file contains erroneous data. Depending on the nature of the problem, clicking on this button may resolve it.
Repair Fonts Folder. In order to function properly, the C:\WINDOWS\FONTS folder must have its system attributes set, and a valid copy of the DESKTOP.INI file must be present. Whenever you suspect a font-related problem, click on this button to repair any damage that may have affected this folder.
Repair System Files. Applications sometimes replace a critical DLL or other file with another version, which may lead to start-up problems. When you click on this button, you copy the correct backup versions of such files from the hidden :\WINDOWS\SYSBCKUP folder back to the C:\WINDOWS\ SYSTEM folder.
Repair Regedit. Under normal conditions, the Registry Editor's vertical Split Bar should be aligned so the Key Pane is clearly visible, and both the Contents Pane Name and Data columns should likewise be visible. In order to fix a problem with any of these items, you need to close the Registry Editor, open Tweak UI, select the Repair tab, click on the Repair Regedit button, close Tweak UI and reopen the Registry Editor. Better yet, forget what you just read and make the adjustments manually.
Repair Associations. The pop-up Help text advises that this button returns icons to their factory settings and restores the default associations for standard file types. But it seems to have no effect on Desktop icons. It does restore associations to their default settings, and the opening Welcome Screen reappears the next time Windows 95 opens.
Click on Tweak UI's Mouse tab Tips button and search the index for "wheel" to read about features "available only if the operating system contains native support for a mouse wheel." Hint: Windows 95 doesn't contain this support. You will find these features already available, however-on the Wheel tab of the Intellimouse.
Consulting editor John Woram is the author of The Windows 95 Registry: A Survival Guide for Users (MIS: Press, 1996). Reach John care of the editor at the addresses on page 20.