Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.


Articles covering the Windows registry, registry settings, Windows settings and Windows customizations as well as errors and tips relating to the various ways that Windows can be tweaked, customized and configured.

Can I adjust some master NTFS table size to handle large number of files better?

The Master File Table is used by the NTFS file system to track how files are laid out on disk. The layout of the MFT itself can impact performance.

Can I install programs on an external drive?

An external drive is just another drive to Windows. Setting up programs on a drive that can be removed, however, warrants some care.

Can I prevent a file from being deleted?

It's possible to make it very difficult to delete a file, but someone with motivation and physical access to your machine might still cause trouble.

Can I remove all these updates listed in add/remove programs?

Removing updates from "Add-Remove Programs" would be a bad idea. You would be removing updates that your system needs to run smoothly and safely.

Can I transfer software from one machine to another using an external drive?

Transferring software to an external drive usually doesn't work unless that software is portable and does not need to be installed into the registry to run.

Does configuring the number of CPU cores used during boot help anything?

Don't touch that setting! This is a common myth about Window's boot configuration and changing it could only make things worse.

Does having a password on my Windows login keep me secure?

Your Windows login password gets you surprisingly little real security. I'll look at why that is, why you might still want one, and what I do instead.

Does installing lots of programs destabilize my computer?

Don't worry about it. Install the software that you're going to use and use your computer the way you want to use it!

How can I connect multiple users to my machine at the same time?

Multiple computers stations that seem to be running off of one computer are possible with Windows Server Software. This isn't your usual XP machine.

How can I delay programs that start automatically?

Lots of software starts when you login to Windows, but you have very little control over timing and order. There are free solutions available.

How can I disable my "Windows" key? Or for that matter, remap my entire keyboard?

Outside of a few standard layouts, truly customizing the layout of your keyboard is typically harder than you might expect.

How can I disable the games that come with Windows?

Disabling games that come with Windows is an easy task that doesn't involve any adjustments to Windows' registry.

How can I force a computer to sign out automatically?

If you leave something sensitive on your display and then walk away, anyone can see it. There are steps you should take if that's a potential problem.

How can I install hardware if I no longer have my Windows XP CD?

There are some steps to try if you need to install hardware and do not have your Windows XP CD.

How can I tell what program is crashing my machine at night?

A program crashing overnight can be difficult to diagnose. We'll start by looking at what programs are running, and starting, when you're not around.

How can I tell when an application was installed?

Windows has a feature that might give you a clue as to when an application was installed on your computer.

How can I uninstall Directx 9?

A re-install of the operating system may be needed if you need to uninstall Directx 9.

How do I *really* disable auto-play in Windows XP?

Auto-play can be a convenient feature but if it's not what you want, it can be difficult to turn off and keep off. The TweakUI utility can fix that.

How do I access the Policy Editor in Windows 7 Home editions?

Windows 7 Home editions do not include the policy editor. We'll look at what your options are in general, and then walk through one specific example.

How do I add a program to my Start Menu?

Most programs will add themselves to the Start Menu on installation. For those that do not, it's a simple task to add to the Start Menu manually.

How do I avoid needing a password after standby or hibernation?

Logging in to Windows is not the same as providing that password again after sleep or hibernation. Removing the later is a different setting.

How do I backup my Scheduled Tasks?

As long as your backup program is backing your Scheduled Tasks to the proper folder, you should be fine.

How do I change my computer's name in Windows 7?

It's important that each computer on your network have a different name. Since you might as well make it meaningful, I'll show you how to change it.

How do I change my name on my computer?

Changing your computer name or your login name is easy, but there are certain limits. I'll show you how, and then discuss what cannot be changed.

How do I change the font that Windows uses?

Windows is highly customizable. The fonts that it uses are one of the items that you're actually given a fair amount of control over.

How do I change the location of Windows temporary files?

Windows maintains a location where programs can put temporary files. Sometimes you might want to change that location, and it's fairly easy to do so.

How do I change the location of the My Documents folder?

The My Documents folder is typically in a very specific place for each user in Windows XP. The good news is you can move it, and it's easy to do.

How do I change the location of the Windows temporary files folder - and should I?

Windows places temporary files created by itself and by running programs in a temporary folder. On occasion it can be helpful to change that location.

How do I delete screen savers from my PC?

Screen savers are typically benign, but if you want to delete screen savers from your PC, there are a couple of places to look.

How do I delete the My Documents option from my Start menu?

You can delete options from the Start menu through the dialog box that is activated by a right-click.

How do I delete the default screensavers in Windows XP?

Screen savers are easy to locate and delete, unless they're one of the default set included in Windows. Then extra steps are needed.

How do I find out what's installed on my machine?

Programs can be installed in many ways and many places. There's no single authoritative list of what's installed, but we can get close.

How do I fix "Windows Installer not working" after I ran a registry cleaner?

An error after running a registry cleaner is, unfortunately, all too common. I'll point you at an article with some steps to try.

How do I get Windows Explorer to show folder names in its taskbar buttons?

If you have multiple Explorer windows open it can be difficult to see which is which from the taskbar buttons. There's a setting for that.

How do I get a .reg file to install?

Normally double clicking on a .reg file will add its contents to the registry. If not, there are other ways, including re-enabling that functionality.

How do I get a Windows application to start automatically on login, and start minimized?

Windows has a convenient mechanism to set programs to start automatically when you login. We'll look at that, as well as customizations like minimize.

How do I get my browser window larger after something made it small?

Browsers will remember the size and location that they were in when they were last closed. They can easily be changed to the size you prefer.

How do I get rid of a "Windows cannot find |sass.exe" error message on login?

Windows runs software when you log in, but if it can't be found, Windows reports an error. This can happen after an incomplete virus removal.

How do I get rid of the Quicktime Icon in the Windows System Tray?

Every time you update Quicktime, it reinstalls the Quicktime Icon in the System Tray. Annoying. And apparently unavoidable.

How do I get rid of this loading error on startup?

Errors about failing to load some file on startup or login are not uncommon. Typically they're the result of malware or a failed or improper uninstall.

How do I get something to open automatically when I log in to Windows?

It's often convenient to have something start automatically when you login. There are two places you can specify this that are pretty easy to use.

How do I get the correct program to open my PDF files?

By accident or design the wrong program can sometimes be the default for some file types. I'll show you how to pick the right program and make it stick.

How do I keep my PC running all the time?

A screen going black after a time is either a power setting or a screensaver. It's an easy setting to change.

How do I know which program is used to open a particular type of file?

It's not always obvious what program should be used to open certain types of files. There are clues if you know where to look and what to look for.

How do I login to Windows automatically?

You can bypass the Windows login screen easily with a very simple utility. But you should be aware that doing so opens up a security risk.

How do I make something other than "Picture and FAX Viewer" the default for viewing pictures?

Windows Picture and FAX Viewer is the default application for viewing images under Windows. But there are many other programs out there as well.

How do I make something run automatically when I log in to Windows 7?

Windows has several mechanisms for having something start automatically when you log in. I'll walk through one of the simplest.

How do I make sure that Windows is up-to-date?

You can make sure that Windows is up-to-date by either enabling Automatic Updates or by visiting the Windows Update web site.

How do I make sure that my deleted data is really gone?

There are approaches to data recovery that can sometimes retrieve deleted data. To ensure that your data is really gone requires a few extra steps.

How do I make system tray icons go away permanently?

Many applications like to add an icon to the system tray or notification area. Unfortunately, controlling what goes there isn't as easy as we'd like it to be.

How do I merge applications and settings from my old hard drive into my new?

Trying to merge desktop and application settings is more prone to failure than anything else. A clean set-up will get you what you want.

How do I start using my second hard drive?

A second hard drive can help alleviate a lot of problems when it comes to space. I'll cover a few simple changes to put that second hard drive to use.

How do I turn off Data Execution Prevention errors?

Data Execution Prevention, or DEP, can prevent certain types of malware exploits. Unfortunately not all programs are compatible with DEP.

How do I turn off User Access Control (UAC) in Windows Vista?

User Access Control, or UAC, is new in Windows Vista and prompts you each time an application requires administrative access. Annoyance, or feature?

How do I turn off User Account Control (UAC) in Windows 7?

User Account Control is a security feature of Windows 7 that's intended to protect you from malware making unauthorized changes. I'll look at configuring it.

How do I turn off the Sidebar in Windows Vista?

The Windows Vista Sidebar contains small applications that many find handy any, and others just annoying. Turning Windows Vista's Sidebar off is easy.

How do I uninstall software that doesn't provide a way to uninstall?

Most software installed on your machine should provide a mechanism for uninstalling. If not, there are ways but they require caution and a good backup.

How does windows maintain the sort order in my menus?

Menu sort order is a bit of a Windows mystery. It's easy to set the sort order, but as it changes it's kept in an obscure registry location.

How secure is standby mode?

When your computer is put into standby mode, it's turned off ... mostly. And it might wake up again on its own. Is that an added risk? Not really.

How should I maintain my Documents and Settings folder?

Documents and Settings contains a lot of information placed there by Windows and many applications. There's no simple maintenance strategy.

How strong does my Windows password need to be?

Your Windows password actually gives you less security than you might think, but there are scenarios where a strong Windows password is important.

I got burned by Windows Update, should I just avoid it?

After a bad experience with Windows Update it's tempting to bail on the idea completely. That could leave your machine vulnerable to malware.

I have an emachines restore XP disk. How can I put XP on my old computer which runs 98se?

An emachine's or any manufacturer's restore disk isn't enough to install Windows from scratch, especially on another manufacturer's machine.

I have an old, old program I need to run in Vista, but it won't. Is there a way?

Windows Vista includes some settings that may help older programs designed for older versions of Windows to run with compatible settings.

Is C: sacred?

C: is the most common designation for the hard drive from which you boot and which contains Windows. It doesn't have to be C: but it's safer if it is.

Is a 1 gigahertz 256 megabyte Windows XP Home machine good enough for on-line use?

As machines get older and older the latest software upgrades demand more and more. There are ways to maximize an older computers abilities.

Is autorun really that evil, and if so, how do I turn autorun off?

Autorun is an increasingly used attack vector for malware. Common techniques to turn it off are incomplete. I'll show you how to turn it off, and recommend you do so.

Is it safe to run as administrator now that Windows 7 has UAC?

There are situations where running a limited user account is the right thing to do, but running as an administrator is often more practical.

Is it safe to uninstall updates?

Some updates might be safe to uninstall, but doing so makes some risky assumptions. Most programs keep only the patches they need.

Is remote printing secure?

Several computers often share a printer that's connected to one. Printing activity can be logged, an in rare cases even documents exposed.

Is there a fee for all of these updates that are ready for your computer pop-ups?

The important thing is to develop a sense so you can recognize what the Windows Update message looks like.

Is there a reference of what services I need running on my machine?

Microsoft isn't trying to run a bunch of software on your machine that you don't need. If anything, it's the applications that come along later that do so.

Is there a way of enlarging print size of email?

Learn to use your Zoom keys and browser settings and you'll find it quite simple to make text larger and easier to read.

Is there a way to make the cursor disappear while I type?

The mouse pointer can typically be hidden via a setting in the mouse settings in control panel. The actual text cursor or 'caret' cannot be hidden.

Is there an easy way to temporarily turn off online activity during startup?

When you start your computer, many programs may automatically begin checking for updates and more online. If you're travelling, this can be inconvenient. Unfortunately, I don't have an easy solution.

My machine sometimes hangs on boot during the Windows Logo, what do I do?

A machine that fails on boot is hard to diagnose long distance. There are two typical problem areas to look at first.

My screen is scrambled on return from standby. What can I do?

Standby can scramble the screen on your computer if drivers or BIOS are out of date. Ultimately this is one of the reasons I have trained myself not to use Standby.

Should I install optional Windows driver updates?

Microsoft Windows Update will often suggest optional Windows driver updates. They're optional, so you don't need to take them, but should you?

Should I uninstall my old driver before installing an upgrade version?

Rebooting may be necessary, but deleting the old driver typically is not.

Should I update drivers regularly?

You should update drivers only when you are having a problem with your computer. Driver update utilities, that update regularly, are not necessary.

The images on my screen seem to shimmer or flicker and give me a headache - is there anything I can do?

The default settings for many computer monitors can cause headaches, but there's often a simple change that might resolve the problem.

What are these entries in my system hosts file? is used in the hosts file by malware, anti-malware and ad blockers to block access to certain sites. The domains blocked will tell you which.

What are these partitions on my hard drive?

Many manufacturers create separate recovery partitions on hard drives. I'll discuss what they often are, and why I ignore or even eliminate them.

What do I do when Microsoft Bulletin MS03-043 pops up?

Windows Messenger Service can cause popup messages, and can be abused to display popup ads. The easiest solution is to turn it off.

What does "the path is not of a legal form" mean?

I can't really answer where it's coming from or even what to do about it, but I can talk about what it means for a path to be of a legal form.

What is thumbs.db, and can I delete it?

Thumbs.db is a thumbnail cache used by Windows Explorer to speed up some types of folder displays. You can delete it and prevent more from appearing.

What programs should be running on my machine in the background?

When you run Windows a large number of processes run. Some are optional, some not. Unfortunately there's no clear way to tell which should be which.

What should I do about low 'memory' on my recovery drive?

Many manufacturers create a recovery drive or partition on your hard disk. Windows may warn you about low disk space on it. I'll look at wWhat to do?

What should I do about saving my hardware drivers as so many instructions seem to recommend?

Device drivers should be saved if they are not in the original Windows setup. That way, you can replace them easily if you need to.

What's Open GL, and what do I do if it's not supported, but needed?

"Open GL not supported" means that it is not available in your video driver software. Getting it may be a problem.

What's a Volume Name?

A volume name is a descriptive name that you assign to disk. Some utilities require that you enter it before they'll do something risky or destructive.

What's all this stuff running after I boot Windows?

When you start Windows many programs start automatically as well. It can be difficult to identify everything and whether or not they're all necessary.

Why are there so many user accounts on my machine?

User accounts can be created on Windows for many reasons - only one of them actually being users. I'll look at other reasons user accounts might exist.

Why can't I enable the Run command?

The option to display the Run command on your Start menu is controlled by options that themselves can be hidden. We'll look at restoring those options.

Why can't I resize this window?

Resizing a window may not be possible. It really depends on the state of the window and the requirements of its designer.

Why can't my machine hibernate? And how's that different than Stand-by?

Hibernate and standby are ways to save power when you're not using your computer. Each has pros and cons. Hibernation, at least, must be enabled.

Why do Thunderbird and Firefox hang on return from standby?

Standby can often be unstable, especially on older machines. There could be a fix or you might want to change your power management methods!

Why do different registry cleaners give different results?

Registry cleaning is a bit of a black art. There's no real consensus on cleanliness, and different programs will often return different results.

Why do some programs show up on the Add/Remove Programs list and not others?

Add/Remove programs is a database entry that should be completed when a program is installed on your computer. If not, you need another way to uninstall.

Why does Task Manager suddenly have no menu or tabs?

If Windows Task Manager doesn't have a menu or tabs, then it is probably running in what's called "Tiny Footprint" mode.

Why does Windows have a registry?

There are many potential ways to store program and system settings. Windows uses the registry. It's very complex, but its intentions were good.

Why does my computer turn itself back on from standby?

Normally, a computer in standby should remain there until you turn it back on. I'll look at a few of the possible reasons why it might wake up early.

Why does nothing happen when I insert a disc?

Nothing happens when you insert a disc if autoplay is turned off. That's good for security but bad for convenience. I'll look at alternatives.

Why don't you partition your hard disk so that programs are on C and data is on D?

Ultimately, the reason why I don't talk about partitioning drives for software management is because it's not something that I believe in.

Why is my PC's clock wrong?

Your PC's clock is probably good, but not great. Left uncorrected it can drift and lose accuracy. There's an internet service for that.

Why is my computer slow for a while after I start it up?

Why is my screen saver asking for a password, and how do I fix that?

On returning from a screen saver Windows can ask for a password. That's a security measure that can be turned off, but you want to be sure first.

Why is there a long delay after I login to Windows?

Sometimes logging into Windows can take a while. There are many reasons why this might happen, and often there are steps you can take to speed it up.

Windows Firewall is restricting access to something I want ... what do I do?

If Windows Firewall is restricting access to a program you want, there are a few steps to take to allow them access to the internet once more.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) - Should I Install it?