25 top Windows tips. (includes related article)
by Clifton Karnes, Jan Altman, Herb Tyson
Anyone who's worked for more than ten minutes with Windows or Windows applications knows that there's always more than one way to complete any task. What's easiest may not always be best. What's most intuitive may not be the fastest.
Windows, Excel for Windows, and Word for Windows are all well-documented products, but it's no easy task ferreting out the high-octane power nuggets in those hundreds of pages of dense text. And each program includes many undocumented features.
To give you a quick start into the Windows fast lane, we've asked our experts for their best tips for Windows itself and also for two popular Windows applications, Excel and Word.
So, go directly to your computer, fire up Windows, and take these tips for a test drive.
1. Bypass Task Manager and zoom between Windows and DOS programs
You can use the Task Manager or press Alt-Esc to move between Windows and DOS applications, but both methods can be slow.
Use Alt-Tab and Alt-Shift-Tab.
1. Run any DOS application. (If you don't have one handy, run DOS Prompt from the Main group.)
2. With the DOS application full screen, press Alt-Tab to cycle forward through all the applications on your desktop. You'll see the name of the application on a band at the top of your screen.
3. Press Alt-Shift-Tab to cycle backward through your applications.
2. Replace Program Manager with another shell
Program Manager is Windows' default shell, but you might prefer to use a different shell, one that takes less memory, for example.
Change the shell = line in SYSTEM.INI.
1. Run SysEdit and select your SYSTEM.INI file.
2. Find the line that says shell=progman.exe.
3. Change the line to shell=winfile.exe.
4. Experiment with other programs. The MS-DOS Executive (MSDOS.EXE), for example, makes an excellent shell.
3. Load programs rather than run them
When you double-click on an icon or filename or run a program with Program Manager's or File Manager's File, Run command, the application runs full screen, which is often an incovenience.
Load programs you want to run minimized.
* Shift-double-click on any icon in Program Manager or any filename in File Manager or MS-DOS Executive that you want to run minimized.
4. Create a macro to view or edit nonassociated text files
With File-Manager, there are two ways you can view files easily: You can associate the file's extension with Notepad (or another text-editing program) and double-click on the file, or you can drag the file to a Notepad icon (in Windows 3.1). The first method only works if the file is associated, and the second method requires that Notepad be minimized on your desktop.
Use a Recorder macro to load the file at the cursor in File Manager (or MS-DOS Executive) into Notepad.
1. In File Manager or MS-DOS Executive, select a file to load into Notepad.
2. Open Recorder, configure the program to ignore mouse movement, choose a name for your macro, and start recording.
3. In File Manager, press Alt-F, P, and Ctrl-Insert to copy the selected filename to the Clipboard. Press Tab, Tab, Enter to exit the dialog box.
4. Press Alt-F, R, and type NOTEPAD.EXE in the text box followed by a space.
5. Press Shift-Insert to paste the name of the file into the text box.
6. Press Enter.
7. Stop Recording the macro, and assign the macro a keypress such as Ctrl-Alt-N.
5. View Recorder macro keystrokes
After you create a Recorder macro, it's often essential to review its keystrokes to see if it does what you want it to. Use Recorder's secret viewer feature.
1. Run Recorder and select the macro you want to view.
2. Hold down the Shift key and select Macro, Properties (either with a mouse or the keyboard).
3. Your macro's keypresses will appear in a list box.
Reading this keystroke list can be tricky. You'll see two entries for each keypress--one for when the key was pressed and one for when the key was released. For example, if you press the A key, you'll see Key Down, a and Key Up, a Shift, Alt, and Ctrl keys also have up and down states, so a key combination with one of these will have four entries in the list. For example, Shift-A will look like this:
Key Down, Shift Key Down, a Key Up, a Key Up, Shift
Note that shifted characters don't appear in the listing as we see them onscreen. For example, the asterisk (*), which is the shifted state of the 8 key, is listed like this:
Key Down, Shift Key Down, 8 Key Up, 8 Key Up, Shift
6. Open two drive windows in File Manager
Copying files from one drive to another in File Manager is difficult unless you open two drive windows simultaneously.
With one drive window already open, Shift-double-click on any other drive icon.
1. Open the first drive window by clicking (or Shift-clicking) on the drive icon.
2. Open the second drive window by Shift-double-clicking on the drive icon.
3. Choose Window, Tile, or press Shift-F4 to arrange the windows.
7. Move and copy icons from one group to another
Copying and moving icons from one Program Manager group to another is often a necessity, but you don't always get the results you expect.
Move icons by dragging and dropping them, and copy icons by pressing the Ctrl key while dragging and dropping.
1. To move an icon from one group to another, first make sure both source and destination groups are visible (the destination group can be either restored or minimized).
2. Click on the icon you want to move and hold down the mouse button (this is normally the left mouse button, unless you've changed the primary button with Control Panel).
3. While holding down the mouse button, drag the icon to its destination and release the button.
4. To copy an icon, repeat steps 1 through 3 above, but press the Ctrl key while you drag and drop.
Note that in Windows a minimized group can't be an icon on another group.
8. Start each Windows DOS session with a special prompt
If you run programs from Windows and from DOS, it's sometimes difficult to remember whether you're at the DOS prompt itself or at a DOS prompt in Windows.
When you run the DOS Prompt from Windows, set the PROMPT environmental variable so the session is identified as a DOS session in Windows.
1. Run Notepad and start a new file called DOS.BAT.
2. Type in the following lines, substituting anything you'd like for [WIN]: PROMPT [WIN] $P$G COMMAND
3. Use this batch file as your DOS prompt from Windows, and it will look like this: [WIN] C:[unkeyable].
9. Skip the Microsoft brag screen at startup
Microsoft's startup screen can become boring (as can one you've created yourself).
Skip the startup screen.
* Instead of typing WIN or WIN/s, where is a switch, type WIN: or WIN/s: to bypass the startup screen. This works with the original WIN.COM or a new WIN.COM you create yourself.
10. Reinstall any Windows program without running Setup
Often you need to reinstall just one program, file, or group of files from the Windows distribution disk. Usually you can't do this without reinstalling all of Windows.
Learn to decompress the files on the Windows distribution disks.
1. Find the EXPAND.EXE program on the Windows distribution disks. (It will probably be on disk 1 or 2.)
2. Copy this file to your WINDOWS subdirectory.
3. You'll notice that most of the other files on the disk have extensions that end with an underscore (_)--for example, WINHELP.EX_, MOUSE.DR_, and so on. These are compressed files. (Note that in early versions of Windows, the compressed files end in EXE, but they are not executable.)
4. To uncompress one of these files, for example WINHELP.EX_, type EXPAND A: WINHELP.EX_ C:/WINDOWS/WINHELP.EXE.
C: /WINDOWS/WINHELP.EXE is the executable file you're creating.
(Your source and destination drives may be different from A and C used above.)
11. Change the default icon title font
Windows' default font for icon titles can be hard to read.
If you have Windows 3.1, you can substitute a different font for the default.
1. Run SysEdit and select WIN.INI.
2. Find the [Desktop] section, and insert the lines IconTitleFaceName=Fontname IconTitleSize=Fontsize where Fontname is the name of a font on your system and Fontsize is the size, in points, you want to use.
A good choice for an alternative to the default 8-point MS Sans Serif is the System font (which is only available in 10 point). To make System the title font, your lines would look like this: IconTitleFaceName=System