Archive for August 22, 2009

The Send To menu is one of the features of my context menus that I use the most. The ability to right-click any file and have a shortcut of it sent to the desktop is invaluable. How would you like to make it even more useful? It is very easy to add your own items to the Send To menu, such as folders that you can send files to. Do you have a folder that you store all your music in? How about a folder that you store all your digital photos in? Just follow these quick steps to add anything you want to your Send To context menu entry.

Tip :If you do not see any of the folders that are required in this section, you might have Hidden Files turned on. Because these folders are hidden by default, you will have to tell Windows to show all files.
  1. Click the Start button and select Computer.
  2. Click on your Windows drive and browse through Users\ Username \AppData\ Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo.
  3. You will see all the files that appear in the Send To menu. If you want to add an entry to the menu, just copy a shortcut to this folder.
  4. Let’s say that you want to add your Digital Photos folder to your Send To menu. Navigate to your Digital Photos folder, right-click it, and then select Send To desktop. This will create a shortcut to the folder and save it on your desktop. Next, cut and paste the shortcut that was created from your desktop into the SendTo folder.
  5. If you ever want to remove items from the Send To menu, just delete them from the SendTo folder.

It is that simple. You are now finished customizing your Send To menu.


Hacking the Context Menu in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Tweaking, Vista

What is the context menu? It’s the menu that pops up when you right-click anywhere on your computer. Over the years, these menus have become more and more useful. However, with the extra entries in the context menu, they can become cluttered with options and features that you just don’t need. These next few sections will shown you how you can get your menus back under control as well as how you can take advantage of the new features to make your own context menu entries.

I will start off by removing items from the context menus and then move on to adding and customizing the components of the menus.

Removing items from the context menu

Over time, your context menus can become cluttered with program entries from old programs that you may not use any more. You might experience programs that take over all of your context menus. Compression apps such as WinZip or Picozip always end up adding program entries to all the context menus. I have Picozip installed on my computer and every time I right-click any file or folder, I see five entries from Picozip giving me different compression options. This can be a convenient feature, but if you don’t compress and extract zip files very often, you might not need the added convenience. Instead, you could remove these entries from your context menu, which will give your system a cleaner interface as well as a small performance boost if you have a lot of extra entries in your context menu.

Removing these programs from your context menus can be a little tricky because they can be spread in different places in the Registry. The only way to remove these types of entries is to edit the Registry directly. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button, type regedit in the Search box, and then press Enter.
  2. When the Registry Editor appears, expand the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT folder. You will now see a list of every file type that is set up on your computer.
  3. If the entry that you want to remove from the context menu appears in all context menus, such as the preceding WinZip example, you will have to expand the * folder. Otherwise, expand the folder with the file extension you want to modify.
  4. After expanding the correct folder, expand the Shellex and ContextMenuHandlers folders. Your registry path should be HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shellex\ ContextMenuHandlers.
  5. Look through the list until you find the entry that you want to remove. Right-click the entry and select Delete. You will find that identifying some of the programs is easy. For example, WinZip is labeled WinZip. However, you may run into some items that are listed using their application/class ID or a vague name. If so, do a Registry search of the class ID (Ctrl+F), which is formatted as {XXXXXXXX-XXXXXXXX-XXXX-XXXXXXXXXXXX}, to find other references that will give you clues to what the ID belongs to. If that does not work, try doing a search on Google to see if that turns up anything.
  6. After you are finished removing all the entries from your context menus, just close Registry Editor and you are finished. Your changes will be in effect immediately.

Disable Animations in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in System Modifications, Vista

When demonstrating the Windows Vista user interface, I always get a lot of comments about the animations. Some love them, but others hate them and immediately ask how they can turn them off. This section is for all those users who find the minimize and maximize animations annoying and want to turn them off.

I personally like the animations, but I cannot help but notice how much faster my computer feels when they are turned off. There is not really much of a performance increase, but it just feels snappier because the instant I click Maximize or Minimize or even Close, the window instantly changes or is gone. I recommend giving this section a try even if you like the new animations; you might like the feel even better when they are disabled.

You can disable the animations a few different ways. In this section, I show how you can disable the animations using the Registry. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Click the Start button, type regedit, and press Enter.
  2. When the Registry Editor loads, navigate through HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINES\SOFTWARE\ Policies\Microsoft\Windows\DWM.
  3. Right-click the DWM folder, select New, and then select DWORD (32-bit) Value.
  4. Name this new value DisallowAnimations.
  5. Right-click DisallowAnimations and select Modify. Set the value to 1 and press OK.
  6. Exit the Registry Editor and open a command prompt with administrative access.
  7. You now need to restart the DWM so that it knows to disable animations. Type net stop uxsms followed by net start uxsms to restart the DWM.

When the DWM restarts, the animations are disabled.

Making your own theme enables you to easily back up your visual changes to Windows Vista so that you can distribute your settings to other computers or on the Internet. Making your own theme is actually just like changing the theme. The most difficult part of the process is customizing all the little aspects of the visual elements that make up the user interface. The next few sections walk you through the process of fine-tuning the user interface and then show how you can save your changes and make your own theme file.

Modifying window metrics and fonts

What the heck are window metrics? Well, it is the fancy way of talking about how big everything is. There is a lot that you can adjust that will affect the size of the user interface elements, such as the title bar of a window and other window elements such as buttons. Almost everything on a window has an adjustable size. This section explains how you can alter how your visual style or classic Windows interface looks by fine-tuning the different components of the window.

Another possibility is to fine-tune the fonts used. You can change the size of the font displayed, the style, and even the actual font that is used.

To get started, use Appearance Settings to make the changes:

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize.
  2. Click Window color and appearance.
  3. Select Open classic appearance properties for more color options.
  4. When Appearance Settings loads, click the Advanced button.
  5. The Advanced Appearance window opens. From here, you can change the size and the font for all the different aspects of a window. You can make changes in two different ways. The first way is to use the Item drop-down box. Just expand it and select the item that you want to modify. The other way is to click the object that you want to customize on the Preview picture. This click automatically selects the item from the Item drop-down box for you. Either way, select an item that you want to change. For the purpose of demonstration, I suggest that you click or select Active Title Bar.
  6. After you have selected an object that you want to change, use the Size, Font, and Color settings to customize your window. Keep in mind that most of the color settings here will apply only to the classic Windows interface. If you are running Aero Glass or the non-Glass visual style, the color settings will not affect you.
  7. When you have finished customizing your window metrics, press OK to save your changes.
  8. Press OK once more to activate your changes and close the Appearance Settings window.

You have now finished customizing your window metrics. Next you customize the system sounds.

Modifying system sounds

You can attach sounds to many events such as logging on, logging off, minimizing a window, and maximizing a window. Because I am taking you through all the different things that a theme file will save the settings for, I also go over how to change the settings for the sounds that Windows uses so that you can customize this aspect of your computer, too.

Changing the event sounds is simple. Just follow these steps to launch and configure the sound properties:

  1. Click the Start button, type mmsys.cpl in the box, and press Enter to launch the system Sound properties.
  2. After the Sound properties loads, click the Sounds tab.
  3. To adjust the sound clip for a specific event, click the event that you want to modify by navigating through the Program list
  4. When you have an event selected, the Sounds drop-down list becomes enabled, and you can select the sound clip that you want to use. You can select (None) from the top of the list if you do not want to use a sound for a specific program event. If you cannot find a sound that you like on the list, you can use the Browse button to pick a specific sound file on your computer to use.
  5. Here you can also enable or disable the Windows startup sound by clearing the Play Windows Startup sound box.
  6. When you have finished with your changes, just press OK to save your work.

You have now finished customizing the sound events on your computer. The next step is to customize the cursors of the mouse so that they, too, are included in your theme file.

Customizing mouse cursors

The mouse cursors are yet another item saved in the theme file. Many different pointer schemes are included with Windows Vista. Although not all of them are the nicest-looking cursors, they can really help out in some situations. In addition, Windows Vista includes special large mouse cursors so that the cursors will be easier on the eyes.

To get your cursors set perfectly for your theme file, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button, type main.cpl, and press Enter to open Mouse Properties.
  2. Click the Pointers tab.
  3. You have two options to customize the cursors: You can use the drop-down Scheme box to change all the pointers simultaneously to different styles, by selecting a different cursor scheme from the list. When you select the different schemes, all the cursors change automatically. Alternatively, if you do not like the cursor schemes, you can individually select a cursor from the Customize list by scrolling through the list and selecting the cursor you want to change. Then press the Browse button to change it.
  4. When you have finished customizing your cursors, just press OK, and you are finished.

Now you are ready to move on to customizing the visual style that the theme will use.

Selecting the theme’s visual style

Windows Vista builds on top of the existing Windows XP visual styles, with the addition of support for the new 3D surface-based desktop powered by the Desktop Window Manager (DWM). Visual styles are basically a skin file for the user interface that allows Microsoft to easily change the look of the entire operating system with just one file. Windows Vista includes only two visual styles: Windows Aero (Vista Glass) and Windows Vista Basic. As you might already know, Vista Glass works only on specific supported hardware; those who do not have the correct hardware can use Windows Vista Basic only. Depending on your personal preferences, you might like the new Windows Vista Basic.

Now that you know the fundamentals of the visual style, it’s time to tweak the visual style settings so that when you make your theme file in the next sections it will be included with your sound and mouse settings:

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize to bring up the Personalization screen.
  2. Click Windows Colors and Appearance.
  3. On the next screen, click Open classic appearance properties for more color options. The Appearance Settings window opens.
  4. At the bottom of the window, you will see a Color schemes list.
  5. When you have finished selecting the visual style you want to use, press OK to save your changes.

Configuring Windows Aero (Vista Glass) settings

If you have a computer that supports Vista Glass, you can also customize the color and transparency of the Aero window interface. These settings are also saved in your theme file, so it is a good idea to customize these settings, too. With these settings, you can change the color tint of your windows and adjust the transparency of the glass. Some users have found that the interface works a lot better for them if they disable transparency completely because it makes it easier to see and performs better on their hardware.

Customizing the Windows Aero settings is one of the easiest things to do because these settings are set using Microsoft’s new-settings window format. Just follow these steps to customize Glass your way:

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize.
  2. On the Personalization screen, click Window Color and Appearance.
  3. You have a couple of approaches you can take to change the color tint. You can select one of eight preset color tints. Alternatively, you can come up with your own by expanding Show Color Mixer and then adjusting the Hue, Saturation, and Brightness sliders
  4. You can also disable transparency completely by removing the check in the Enable transparency box.
  5. After you have your color picked, you can fine-tune your selection by adjusting the Color intensity slider.
  6. When you’re finished, press OK to save your changes.

Setting the wallpaper

Most people know how to change wallpaper on their desktop (right-click the desktop, select Personalize, and then select Change Wallpaper), so I’m going to show you a cool little trick to change your wallpaper even faster. This process also allows you to change the wallpaper on multiple computers without having to go to Personalize on each computer.

The trick? Just create a Registry file that you can import into the Registry that will overwrite your current wallpaper information. Doing so is actually easy. Just follow these steps to create your own file:

  1. Open Notepad. (Click the Start button, type notepad, and press Enter.)
  2. Type the following code:
  3. Replace c:\\window\\… with the path and filename to the bitmap that you want to use. Note that in the path, wherever there is a backslash (\), you have to put two of them in the Registry file you are creating because the Registry Editor requires all paths to be in that format. You can change the WallpaperStyle property that will allow you to control how the bitmap image displays on your computer. Setting the value equal to 0 centers the image onscreen. Setting the value to 1 displays the image as if it were tiled or repeated across the entire screen. Setting the value to 2 stretches the image to fit the entire screen.
  4. When you have the text in Notepad looking like the code in Step 2 but with your changes included, you are ready to save the file. Go to the File menu item and select Save As. Then select Save As Type. In the File Name box, enter wallpaper.reg. Keep in mind that you need to have the .reg at the end of the filename so that your computer knows to import the file into your Registry using the Registry Editor.
3.  Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
5.  [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop]
6.  "Wallpaper"="C:\\windows\\MyWallpaper.bmp"
7.  "WallpaperStyle"="1"

10.  After you save the file, just go to the location where you saved it and double-click the file. A screen will come up asking whether you want to import the file into the Registry. Click Yes. Then you are presented with a confirmation screen informing you whether the update was successful.

You must log off and back on if you want to see your changes take effect.

Saving your theme to a file

You have now customized all the aspects that the theme file will keep track of. You are ready to create your own theme file that you can use as backup or give to other people so that they can replicate your changes.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear what exactly the theme file saves. The theme file saves the configuration of all the different parts of Windows Vista that you just modified; however, it does not save the actual files that you used. For example, if you decide to change the sounds of a program event on your computer, you also have to provide that sound clip to anyone or any computer that you want to apply the theme file that you made. A theme file just saves the settings, nothing else.

Now that you understand what the theme file format is, you are ready to get started. Making your own theme file is just as easy as changing one. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize.
  2. Click theme.
  3. On the Theme Settings page, click Save As.
  4. Enter the name that you want to save the theme file as and the destination.

You have now created a backup of your theme so that you can easily change back to it when you customize the user interface in the future. Now it’s time for you to explore more Aero Glass tweaks.

The Group Policy Editor is a great component of Windows Vista that enables you to make dozens of advanced settings changes that are hidden from normal users. This works by defining various rules, called the policy, that tell Windows how to behave.

The collection of policies is what is known as Group Policy, of which there are two types: local and domain based. Local is when the policy resides in and is controlled on the local computer. Domain-based policy is when the policy resides on an Active Directory domain controller that multiple computers are connected to. Domain policy is primarily used only in businesses that need a way to control multiple computers from a central location. In this book, you use local Group Policy to configure the Start panel because most of you are customizing your home computer and do not have it connected to a domain controller. The actual policies and way you set them are the same for both types of group policies, so you can apply these same techniques to a domain policy if desired.

The policies are set and modified using the, you guessed it, Group Policy Editor. This is the tool that you will be using to set the policies to help you customize the Start panel. First, I show you how to use the policy editor, and then I go over all the policies relevant to customizing the Start panel and explain how to use them.

Setting policies with the Group Policy Editor

Using the Group Policy Editor is a lot like using the Registry Editor. It is based on a hierarchical structure of sections that all policies are organized within. All policies are divided into two sections: Computer Policies and User Policies. Computer Policies are settings that apply to components of Windows Vista such as hardware and global feature settings. User Policies are settings that can vary between users on a computer. This is where most of the policies that you will use to customize the look of your interface are located.

Now that you know the basics of the Group Policy Editor, also known as gpedit, let’s dive in and start using the policy editor:

  1. Click the Start button, enter gpedit.msc in the search box, and press Enter.
  2. After the Group Policy Editor has loaded, you will see the hierarchical structure and Computer & User policies sections mentioned previously
  3. Navigate through User Configuration\Administrative Template and then select Start Menu and Taskbar.
  4. You will now see a list of all policies that you can configure. Right-click a policy that you want to configure and select Properties.
  5. On the Policy Properties screen, select the option to turn on the policy or set the policy value, and then press OK
  6. Exit the policy editor and log off and back on. Some policy changes may require a reboot.

Now that you know how to use the Group Policy Editor, the next section shows you all the policies and briefly describes what they do.

list of all the group policies that will help you customize the Start panel (and menu) and the taskbar.

Group Policy Settings to Configure the Start Menu and Taskbar
Open table as spreadsheet

Policy Description
Clear history of recently opened documents on exit Purges document history at logoff.
Clear the recent programs list for new users Purges program history at logoff.
Add Logoff to the Start Menu Controls the logoff option in the classic Start menu and Start panel.
Gray unavailable Windows Installer programs Start Menu shortcuts Provides users with a visual notification of applications that are not available.
Turn off personalized menus Disables the feature that hides uncommonly run programs from the classic Start menu.
Lock the Taskbar Controls the locking state of the taskbar. A locked taskbar does not allow any changes to be made to it.
Add “Run in Separate Memory Space” check box to Run dialog box Adds an additional setting for running programs with the Run box. I recommend enabling this setting.
Turn off notification area cleanup Disables the ability to hide icons.
Remove Balloon Tips on Start Menu items Disables pop-up information when hovering over items in the Start menu.
Remove drag-and-drop context menus on the Start Menu Disables the ability to use the drag-and-drop functionality in the Start menu.
Remove and prevent access to the Shut Down, Restart, Sleep, and Hibernate commands Disables the user’s ability to change the state of the machine. Useful for public computers.
Remove common program groups from Start Menu Allows only user-specific applications to appear in the Start menu.
Remove Favorites menu from Start Menu Hides the favorites shortcut.
Remove Search link from Start Menu Hides the Search shortcut.
Remove frequent programs list from the Start Menu Hides the Frequently Run Programs list.
Remove Games link from Start Menu Hides the games shortcut.
Remove Help menu from Start Menu Hides the help shortcut.
Turn off user tracking Disables all tracking of user programs and documents.
Remove All Programs list from the Start menu Removes the ability to search through the main part of the Start menu, All Programs.
Remove Network Connections from Start Menu Hides the Network Connection shortcut.
Remove pinned programs list from the Start Menu Disables the ability to pin applications.
Do not keep history of recently opened documents Disables the tracking of opening documents.
Remove Recent Items menu from Start Menu Hides the Recent Items shortcut.
Do not use the search-based method when resolving shell shortcuts Disables the ability to search the computer when a shortcut is broken.
Do not use the tracking-based method when resolving shell shortcuts Disables the ability to use NTFS tracking to try to fix a broken shortcut.
Remove Run menu from Start Menu Hides the Run shortcut.
Remove Default Programs link from the Start menu Hides the Default Programs shortcut.
Remove Documents icon from Start Menu Hides the Documents shortcut.
Remove Music icon from Start Menu Hides the Music shortcut.
Remove Network icon from Start Menu Hides the Network shortcut.
Remove Pictures icon from Start Menu Hides the Pictures shortcut.
Do not search communications Disables the ability to search e-mails from the Start menu search box.
Remove Search Computer link Hides the Search shortcut.
Do not search files Disables the ability to search for files that are in indexed locations from within the Start menu.
Do not search Internet Disables the ability to search the Internet from the Start menu.
Do not search programs Disables the ability to search the Start menu from the Start menu search box. This will not make the search box go away. It just becomes inactive.
Remove programs on Settings menu Prevents various settings components from running, such as the Control Panel and Network Connections.
Prevent changes to Taskbar and Start Menu Settings Locks taskbar and Start menu settings.
Remove user’s folders from the Start Menu Hides user folders.
Force classic Start Menu Disables the new Start panel and uses the Windows 2000-style Start menu instead.
Remove Clock from the system notification area Hides the clock.
Prevent grouping of taskbar items Disables application grouping on the taskbar.
Do not display any custom toolbars in the taskbar Disables third-party taskbars or user-made toolbars.
Remove access to the context menus for the taskbar Disables the capacity to right-click the toolbars in taskbar.
Hide the notification area Disables the entire notification area (system tray).
Remove user folder link from Start Menu Hides the User Folder shortcuts.
Remove user name from Start Menu Hides the username from appearing on the Start panel.
Remove links and access to Windows Update Hides the shortcuts to Windows Update.
Show QuickLaunch on Taskbar Enables the Quick Launch toolbar.
Remove the “Undock PC” button from the Start Menu Hides the shortcut for undocking a laptop.
Add the Run command to the Start Menu Provides the Run command on both the Start panel and the classic Start menu.
Remove Logoff on the Start Menu Hides the Logoff shortcut.
Use folders instead of library Enables folder view rather than library view.
Remove the battery meter Hides the power icon in the system tray.
Remove the networking icon Hides the network icon in the system tray.
Remove the volume control icon Hides the volume icon in the system tray.
Lock all taskbar settings Locks the taskbar.
Prevent users from adding or removing toolbars Disables the ability to add toolbars.
Prevent users from rearranging toolbars Locks in the position of your toolbars (similar to locking the taskbar).
Turn off all balloon notifications Disables pop-up help.
Prevent users from moving taskbar to another screen dock location Locks the position of your taskbar.
Prevent users from resizing the taskbar Locks the size of your taskbar.
Turn off taskbar thumbnails Disables the application thumbnails that are shown when you move your cursor over taskbar items when running Aero Glass.

As you can see, there are dozens of useful group policies that will help you customize your desktop more than any other method. Additionally, these policies can be used in a Domain Policy that governs all Windows Vista computers connected to a domain.

Taskbar Animations in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Vista

In Windows Vista when you close an application or window, the buttons on the taskbar gently slide around and resize. This sounds like a great effect, but often on some computers the animation can be choppy and just plain look bad. On my Vista PC, I always disable this option because the animation does not look the best, and the taskbar seems to operate much faster with the animations disabled. I recommend experimenting with this feature to see whether you like the old non-animated taskbar button better.

Follow these steps to disable the sliding taskbar buttons:

  1. Click the Start button, type Performance Information, and press Enter.
  2. When Performance Information and Tools loads, click Adjust visual effects under tasks on the left menu.
  3. The Performance Options window opens. On the Visual Effects tab, scroll through the list and clear Slide taskbar buttons.
  4. Click OK to save your changes.

Your changes are applied immediately. Close the Performance Information and Tools window now, and you will see the difference. Better? I hope you like it.

Disable Pop-up Help in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Registry, Registry Hacks, Vista

Ever notice that when you hover your cursor over a program listing in the Start menu a little help box pops up? This help feature is called Balloon Help. If users do not know what a program does, they can hold the cursor over the program for a second or so and a little message will fade in telling users what it is-if the programmer has set up this feature of the program. For programs that do not have this feature set up for their shortcut, the balloon just tells users where the program is located on their computer.

This feature can be useful for a beginning computer user. However, it can be another annoyance for more advanced users. If you don’t need this feature, why not disable it? Follow these steps to get rid of this feature:

  1. Click the Start menu and select Run, and then type regedit in the box and click OK.
  2. After the Registry Editor has been loaded, navigate though HKEY_CURRENT_ USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced.
  3. Right-click the entry called ShowInfoTip and select Modify.
  4. Set the value to 0 to disable this feature, and click OK.
  5. Close the Registry Editor and log off and back on so that the feature can be removed.

Enable Num Lock by default in Vista

Posted: August 22, 2009 in Tweaking, Vista

Enabling Num Lock by default

If you have a password that has both numbers and letters and you frequently use the number pad to enter part of your password, this hack is for you. I cannot count the number of times that I started to type my password and was then presented with a logon error telling me that my password was incorrect. I would sit there staring at the screen for a second before I realized that Num Lock on my keyboard was not on.

This is a great hack for every desktop computer with a full-size keyboard with a separate number pad. Turning on Num Lock by default on a laptop is not a good idea because usually most laptops do not have a separate number pad. Enabling this feature on a laptop will result in almost half of your keyboard functioning as the number pad, and you would be much better off using the numbers above the letters. To get started, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start menu, type regedit, and press Enter.
  2. When the Registry Editor loads, navigate through HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Keyboard.
  3. Locate the InitialKeyboardIndicators entry, right-click it, and select Modify. To enable Num Lock, enter 2 into the box. If you want to disable it, enter 0 into the box.
  4. Then click OK to save the changes. That’s it!

If you are on a laptop and you attempted to enable Num Lock even though I told you not to and need to fix your system, repeat the preceding directions but replace the value of InitialKeyboardIndicators with 0 to disable the feature.

Would you like to display a message to your users before they can log on? Are any instructions necessary for users of your computers, such as “Do not shut down this computer!” or possibly a security warning informing unauthorized users that they are breaking the law if they try to log on to your laptop? All these are possible with the help of Group Policy. With just a few clicks, you can easily display a message to your visitors.

Using the Local Security Policy editor, you can turn this feature on. Follow these steps to activate it on your PC:

  1. Click the Start button, type secpol.msc, and press Enter.
  2. When the Local Security Policy editor loads, navigate through Local Policies and then Security Options.
  3. Locate the Interactive logon: Message title for users attempting to log on policy. Right-click it and select Properties.
  4. On the Local Security Settings tab, type a title that you would like to use for your message and click OK.
  5. Locate the Interactive logon: Message text for users attempting to log on policy. Right-click it and select Properties.
  6. On the Local Security Settings tab, type your message and click OK.
  7. Close the Local Security Policy editor; you are finished.

As soon as you log off or reboot, the security message settings will be activated.

Windows Vista has a great new look, but after a while, the new look can get old. With the help of some cool tools and tricks, you can customize many components of Windows Vista.

This chapter guides you through customizing two parts of your computer: the boot screen and the Welcome/Logon screen. I show you how to replace the boring boot screen and even how to activate a hidden boot screen.

Then this chapter moves on to a discussion of customizing the second part of your computer startup, the Welcome/Logon screen. This screen can be customized in several ways, such as customizing the user pictures and various settings that will allow you to increase your privacy and change the way the Logon screen behaves. I even show you how to change your Logon screen background.

Customizing the Boot Screen

Every time I turn on my computer, I am forced to stare at the boring Windows boot screen. I must admit that I found the moving bars amusing at first, but after a few months I became bored and wanted something different. Changing the boot screen is not something that Microsoft made easy; however, it is still possible with a few cool hacks.

Activating the hidden boot screen

Over the several years that Windows Vista was in the planning stages and in development, many promises were made about new features and enhancements. One of those promises had to do with high-resolution boot screens. This was going to be a great feature replacing the ancient 256-color boot screen that has been with Windows since Windows 95. Over time, as development of Vista was slipping behind schedule and developers were plagued with hardware compatibility problems with the high-resolution boot screen code, the feature was pulled from the final product.

Although this feature never made it into the released version of Windows Vista, there appears to be some parts of it left in the system. This section shows you a cool trick that will enable a hidden boot screen that looks like it was part of the high-resolution feature. It is nothing super fancy or elegant, but it sure is better than the boring boot screen that Vista shipped with, which looks like it is missing the Vista logo.

Before we proceed, note that some users have problems with using the hidden boot screen-possibly the reason why Microsoft hid it in the first place. If you are one of those users, simply boot into Safe mode and undo the steps for enabling the boot screen. Unfortunately, it is not currently known exactly what hardware has problems with the hidden boot screen. When you are ready, follow these steps to enable this boot screen on your PC:

  1. Click the Start button, type msconfig in the Search box, and then press Enter.
  2. When the System Configuration Utility loads, click the Boot tab.
  3. Locate the No GUI boot box and select it.
  4. Click OK and reboot your computer.

You should see the hidden boot screen after you reboot your PC. As I mentioned earlier, if you have problems with the hidden boot screen, just boot into Safe mode (hold down F8 when you boot up) and remove the check from the No GUI Boot box.

Customizing the boot screen image

The alternative boot screen that you just enabled in the preceding section is a great improvement compared to the boring moving progress bar that shows by default. However, this is still not good enough. With the help of a few cool tricks, you can create your own high-resolution, 24-bit boot screen without hacking any system files.

How is that possible? Thanks to the new language-independent operating system components in Windows Vista, some resources are stored in regional language files rather than the actual system components. This allows Microsoft to easily create a localized version of Windows Vista in any language by just creating new MUI (multilingual user interface) files that contain localized versions of bitmaps and text. Because MUI files are not digitally signed by Microsoft, you can make your own that has your own boot screen image in it, which allows you to customize the alternative boot screen to use any image you desire.

This new feature in Windows Vista provides a great enhancement and alternative to the traditional method of hacking system files as you had to do in previous versions of Windows to do things such as changing the boot screen. In addition, there is a great tool developed by Dan Smith called the Vista Boot Logo Generator that will automatically compile the boot images you select into an MUI file. This makes the overall process simple compared to trying to change boot screens, as you did in the past.

To get started, you need two images, one 800 × 600 and one 1024 × 768 image, both saved as 24-bit bitmap images. When you have those images picked out, resized, and saved, you are ready to follow these steps:

  1. Visit and download the latest copy of the Vista Boot Logo Generator and install it.
  2. Click the Start button, type vista boot logo, and press Enter.
  3. After the boot logo is downloaded, click the Browse for Images button in the 800 × 600 section and select your 800 × 600 24-bit bitmap image. Do the same for the 1024 × 768 section.
  4. After you have both images selected, click File and select Save Boot Screen file as to save your MUI file. Save it to your desktop.
  5. Next you need to replace the winload.exe.mui file located in c:\windows\system32\en-us with the file you just created. However, it is not as easy as a simple copy and paste because the Windows system files are protected. First, I recommend making a backup of the existing winload.exe.mui file so that you can copy it back if you have problems later. To get around the file protections, you need to take ownership of all the files in the en-us folder. Right-click the en-us folder and select Properties.
  6. Select the Security tab and then click the Advanced button at the bottom of the window.
  7. Select the Owner tab, and then click the Edit button.
  8. Select your account from the Account list and check Replace owner on subcontainers and objects. Click OK to apply your changes.
  9. Click OK to exit all the open Properties windows. You need to go back into the folder properties to change the file permissions. This time you will have more rights because you are now the folder owner. Right-click en-us and select Properties again.

10.  Click the Security tab, and this time click Edit.

11.  Click the Add button. Type in your username and click OK. Your account name should now appear on the Permissions list.

12.  Select your account, and then select the Allow column for Full control.

13.  Click OK to save your changes and OK once more to close the Properties screen. You will now be able to copy the winload.exe.mui file you made and saved to your desktop to c:\windows\system32\en-us. After you copy the file and reboot, you should see your new boot screen.

If you do not see your new boot screen and instead see the progress bar, make sure that you turned on the alternative boot screen as shown in the previous section. If you have any problems with your new boot screen MUI file, you can always boot using your Windows Vista install CD into a command prompt and can copy back the old winload.exe.mui file.