Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Windows XP tweaks: that damned language bar, reverting styles and mouseover focus

Despite Lifehacker's advice to the contrary, I keep my 6-year-old Dell Dimenion 4600 going by re-installing Windows XP about once per year, usually at the start of the UK academic year. I have no problems quickly re-installing all the other software I use too but there are a few other tweaks that aren't so obvious. Note that these are explicitly for XP. I have no experience using Windows 7 or Vista.

Removing the language bar

If XP is installed with more than one language (in my case UK and US Englishes because I have to install US English), then a switch to quickly change them will be placed on the taskbar. There's no real reason for me to change to a US layout, so it's pointless. Better still, if you switch it off, it tends to come back. The best long-lasting way I've found to get rid of it is to run msconfig, go to the "Startup" tab and disable ctfmon.exe. On your first restart, Windows will whinge about running with a modified startup but you can tell it not to whine in future.

Preserving Windows Classic style

Speaking of resilient behaviour that keeps returning, you may find that your Windows Classic style occasionally reverts to Windows XP style. To disable this behaviour, run services.msc and disable the "Themes" service. I haven't found this foolproof but it keeps it fixed on Classic style most of the time.

Mouseover focus

One of the behaviours I like in Linux, though it isn't to everyone's taste, is mouseover focus. That is, if I point at a window, then my actions will occur in that window (without bringing it forward). I find it useful for being able to manipulate more applications without a big screen. I previously edited the registry to accomplish this but I've switched over to one of the XP PowerToys: Tweak UI. It makes a great many hidden options available and I prefer it over the old way. I also used it to increase the context menu speed.

Other PowerToys

If you followed the link, you may have noticed there's a whole range of PowerToys for XP. Most seem to be directed at bringing more modern UI features (e.g. multiple desktops, Alt-Tab previews) to Windows XP. By and large, I don't find them very effective and there seem to be better alternatives out there. I tried the Alt-Tab previewer and the Virtual Desktop Manager. Without putting it too finely, both suck. Tweak UI is the only one I've found useful.

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