Friday, May 25, 2007

Hack the Start Menu and Taskbar

XP Professional's Group Policy Editor gives you instant access to changing more than three dozen interface settings. Here's how to use it to create your own personalized Start menu and taskbar.

XP Professional's Group Policy Editor does more than just customize the Control Panel ; it gives you control over many aspects of XP's interface as wellin particular, the Start menu and taskbar. In fact, it gives you quick access to more than three dozen separate settings for them.

Run the Group Policy Editor by typing gpedit.msc at the Run prompt or command line. Go to User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar. As you can see in Figure 2-5, the right pane displays all the settings you can change. If you click the Extended tab at the bottom of the screen, you'll be shown a description of the setting that you've highlighted, along with an explanation of each option. Settings you can customize include showing the My Pictures icon, the Run menu, and the My Music icon on the Start menu; locking the taskbar so that it can't be customized; and many others. To change a setting [Hack #9], double-click it and choose the options from the menu it displays.

Figure 2-5. Customizing the Start menu and taskbar in the Group Policy Editor

There's not room in this hack to go into detail about each setting you can change, so I'll tell you about some of my favorites. I've never been a big fan of My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music. In fact, I never use those folders, so there's no point having them on the Start menu. The settings in the Group Policy Editor let you get rid of them.

If you share your PC with other people, the Group Policy Editor is a great way to make sure no one can change the Start menu and taskbar except you. So, when you have the Start menu and taskbar working the way you want, they'll stay that way until you want to change them. Enable "Prevent changes to Taskbar and Start Menu settings," and no one will be able to change their settings except you. Select "Remove drag-and-drop context menus on the Start Menu," and no one except you will be able to remove or reorder items on the Start menu. You can even stop anyone else from shutting down Windows by selecting "Remove and prevent access to the Shut Down command." (Of course, they can still shut down your PC the old-fashioned way: using the power switch.)

Among the many entries here are a lot of pointless ones, by the way. You can remove the Log Off entry on the Start menu, for example, which certainly isn't high on my list of must-haves. But who knows, you might want to do that, or make any of the many other changes the Group Policy Editor allows. Go in there yourself and muck around; you'll find plenty to change.

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