80 handy Windows XP tips, tricks and hints

25th Jun 2013 | 10:00

80 handy Windows XP tips, tricks and hints

Breathe new life into your Windows XP PC

Windows XP Customisation

Whether you still use Windows XP every day or have an old PC you want to give new life to, one thing's for sure - Windows XP has been around for a long time.

From 2001 until the launch of Windows Vista in 2006 it was Microsoft's de facto operating system - and is still used by millions of consumers and businesses today.

So whether you're wanting to speed up your trusty work PC or dust off a classic machine from your cupboard, here are our top Windows XP tips to breathe new life into your PC.

Windows XP Customisation

1. Remove the Recycle Bin

If you prefer to work with a completely clear desktop, you can hide the Recycle Bin with a little Registry hack. You can still use the [Shift] + [Delete] shortcut to access the Bin when you need it.

Choose 'Start > Run' and type 'Regedit' in the 'Open' bar. Click 'OK'. Now browse to: HKEY_ LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\Current Version\Explorer\HideDesktop Icons\NewStartPanel. Create a new DWORD value and name it: '{645FF040-5081-101B-9F08-00AA002F954E}'

Double-click this and change its value to '1'. Quit Registry Editor, then right-click an empty space somewhere on your desktop and choose 'Refresh'. The Recycle Bin icon will magically disappear from the desktop. You can get it back again at any time by changing the value back to '0'.

2. Make folders stand out

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

When you're navigating your hard drive you can spend a lot of time looking at folders, so it's a good idea to customise them to suit your taste. Open the Folder Options control panel.

Here you can choose whether to show common task links to the left of folder windows, as well as the type of files you'd like displayed. You can change the icon or picture used to represent a folder (see tip 5), but you can also add a background image or colour to folders.

You could do this the hard way - by manually editing configuration files - but a better and easier way is to use a third-party program that can do the hard work for you. Windowpaper XP is that tool. Once installed, just select your chosen image, click 'Change Image' and select the image you want to use.

Note that you can't stretch or centre your chosen image - if it's smaller than the window in question it will tile, so bear that in mind when choosing your image. If the image is too vibrant, consider creating a copy in your image editor, then increasing the brightness and lowering the contrast to produce a washed-out look that won't distract you when browsing the folder.

3. Organise your applications

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

On any new Windows XP installation, it's a good idea to stack the Quick Launch toolbar on top of a double-decked taskbar so that everything you use is close at hand. You can then add shortcuts for all of your regularly used applications to the Quick Launch toolbar, as well as shortcuts to My Computer and your My Documents folder.

4. Create your own theme for Windows XP

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Given that it's so important, and so easy to change, you'd have thought that Microsoft might have included more than two themes with Windows XP. Fortunately, it's easy to change the existing ones.

To change themes or colours, you'll need to get into the Display Properties. To do this, go to the Start menu and select 'Settings > Control Panel', then in the Control Panel select 'Display'.

Click the Appearance tab at the top of the dialog. You'll see that you can manually go in and change the colour of every menu, piece of text, dialog box and so on. If you don't like the default colours in the colour palette, click 'Advanced', then click the colour square, select 'Other' and you can create your own colours using RGB or HSV values.

For easier re-selection of colours that you create manually, click the 'Add to Custom Colours' button once you've created a new colour you're happy with, and it will now be added to the User Palette.

Finally, click the 'Desktop' tab. Here you can select an image to use as a background picture for your desktop. You can either use a small repeating pattern that can be tiled to fill the desktop, or you can use a single larger picture that fills the entire screen. If the picture is too small for the screen, you can select the stretch option to ensure that it fits.

Click the 'Browse' button to select a picture file from your hard drive. Windows XP recognises BMP, GIF, JPG, JPEG, DIB and PNG picture formats, as well as HTM and HTML web page formats. If your image is in another format, such as TIFF, you'll need to convert it using your favourite image editing program.

Having customised your display, click the left-hand tab in the Display Properties dialog, and you'll see the Themes window appear. From here, you can select one of the defaults from the drop-down list. More importantly, you can save the current theme for future use.

5. Change your icons

If you're not happy with the icons used for some of your shortcuts, you can change them to something else that may be more obvious (or make your own, see tip 6 below) for that particular type of application. Right-click the shortcut, select 'Properties', and click 'Change Icon'. Now, use the 'Browse' button to choose a file to search for icons, make your selection, and click 'OK'.

6. Make custom icons

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you decide to make your own custom icons, there are a few things to be aware of. First, they come in different sizes according to where they are displayed, such as the desktop, the Start menu, Folders, Drives, and so on.

Icons are measured in pixels, and the three sizes used on Windows XP are 16 x 16, 32 x 32 and 48 x 48. Second, icons use a 32-bit palette, enabling you to use any colour that the eye can detect.

In the past, icons were either opaque (solid), or completely transparent, making them appear as sharp-edged cutouts on the screen. Now, they can gently fade into the background, and you can create subtle shadow effects.

Finally, the default Windows icons are packaged and encoded into the shell32.dll, and many program icons are similarly hard-coded. If you choose to replace these icons, you can either select any of the default icons, or you can add icons you've downloaded from the internet or created yourself in an image editor or icon creator. Individual icons have the ICO file extension, while icon groups have the ICL extension.

7. Remove text from icons

You can improve the general look of your PC's desktop by removing the names of shortcuts, leaving the icons to speak for themselves. If you try renaming a desktop shortcut to a single space, Windows XP won't let you.

However, you can force it to accept a space as the name by holding down [Alt] and typing 255 on the number pad. If you want multiple shortcuts to have blank names, you'll need to give each one a different number of spaces to avoid them having identical names.

8. Remove programs from the 'Open With' list

Stop programs appearing on the 'Open with' list when you're trying to open an unrecognised file.

Open Regedit and browse to HKEY_ CLASSES_ROOT\Applications, and you'll see a list of programs that are installed on your PC as subkeys in the left-hand pane. To remove an unwanted program from this list, select it and right-click in the right hand pane.

Choose 'New > String value'. Name it 'NoOpenWith'. Repeat for each application that you want to remove from this list.

9. Choose a new screensaver

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Windows XP comes complete with a selection of screensavers, and it's easy to switch between them. Right-click the desktop and choose 'Properties > Screensaver'. There are plenty more screensavers available online too, although be careful when looking for them. There's plenty of research that indicates that 'free screensaver' is a search term most likely to lead you to malicious software.

10. Personalise your folders with images

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Right-click inside a folder and select 'Customize This Folder...'. If you decide you'd like to use a picture to represent your chosen folder, when you use thumbnail view, the folder icon will display the picture you've chosen. For example, if the folder is a collection of family snaps, you might want to use a photo of your family. Alternatively, you can use the Change Icon option to give individual folders a unique, identifiable icon.

11. Edit your drive names

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you've split your hard drive into two or more partitions, renaming drives can make them easier to identify. Partitions enable you to store groups of data separately from each other on your computer - effectively like having multiple hard drives. Simply right-click a hard drive partition in My Computer, select Properties, and enter a new label.

12. Disable autorun for discs

Put a disc in your CD/DVD drive and you'll notice an appreciable lag as it spins up, even if you're not just about to use it. If you don't always need your CDs and DVDs to launch automatically when you insert them, the needless spinning up of the discs can slow your machine down.

You can disable CD autorun by modifying this registry key:

'HKEY_LOCAL_ MACHINE\SYSTEM\Current ControlSet\Services\Cdrom'. Double-click the 'AutoRun Dword' value and set it to '0'. Change it to '1' to restore it.

13. Add your own sound effects

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

You can configure your system so that it plays sounds to accompany various events, such as when dialogs appear, or when you make menu selections. Visit the Sounds section of the 'Sounds & Audio Devices' control panel to choose from a number of pre-configured schemes, or choose any selection of WAV files from your hard drive and create your own schemes. You can even have your favourite song play when your PC starts up.

14. Create a mute shortcut

You can make a custom shortcut that mutes and unmutes your PC's sound by downloading a small utility called Nircmd.

Download and extract the file contents to 'My Documents'. Next, right-click the desktop and choose 'New > Shortcut'. Enter the following for the shortcut location:

"C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\My Documents\nircmd\nircmd.exe" mutesysvolume 2.

Ensure that the path points to the location where you extracted the 'Nircmd.exe' file. Name the shortcut 'mute_ unmute'. Double-click it to mute your speakers and do so again to turn them back on.

15. Correct file sorting

By default, a file named '2.jpg' will be sorted after one called '20.jpg'. Many people work around this by starting single-digit numbers in file names with a leading zero, but you can change this behaviour by making a Registry edit.

Browse to the Registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explore. Create a new DWORD value and name it 'NoStrCmpLogical'. Right click and modify its value to '1'.

16. Display shortcut keys

When you open a menu or My Computer window in XP, you can see what shortcut keys are available by pressing [Alt] once - underlined letters will appear, and pressing that letter will trigger the appropriate shortcut, whether it's ticking a box or selecting a button.

You can make these underlined letters appear automatically from the 'Appearance' tab under the 'Desktop' control panel. Click the 'Effects' button and remove the tick next to the box marked 'Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key'. Click 'OK' twice.

17. Perform a complete redesign with these tools

If you want to go beyond the options in Windows XP itself you can try an overhaul using these customisation tools:

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

TweakUI: No discussion about personalising your PC would be complete without mentioning TweakUI - the indispensable Microsoft tool from the team behind Windows XP. There are so many small but important changes you can make to your system with this program, but by far the best way to find out about them is to download it and experiment.

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Talisman Desktop: If you're interested in more extreme forms of computer personalisation, Talisman Desktop can completely transform the appearance of your desktop - even the default theme is something to behold, but there are plenty more available for you to choose from.

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

WindowBlinds: Next you should head over to Stardock, where you'll find even more desktop enhancements. One such example is WindowBlinds, which enables you to not only change the appearance of your windows, but also the way they act. It's one of the most powerful customisation tools, and you'll find plenty of other tools on offer too - the full set is available for £32/$50 as part of the Object Desktop suite.

18. Make Windows XP fun for your kids, Part 1

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

The first thing you should do before installing anything on your system is create a separate account for your kids. Open the User Accounts Control Panel, create a new account and select 'Limited' for the account type.

There are several ways of making your desktop child-friendly without installing extra software. First, get yourself a good wallpaper. Younger children can find a range of excellent wallpapers at the Cbeebies website. You could also take a look at the wallpapers from the National Geographic for older kids.

What about the icons? There are a couple of options here - older children will enjoy the Plou icons available in Stardock's IconPackager. Alternatively, another set of child-friendly icons can be found at WinCustomize.

19. Make Windows XP fun for your kids, Part 2

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Since we're forgetting all concepts of taste in pursuit of an appealing children's desktop, why not swap the standard cursors too? You'll need CursorFX to use the really bright and colourful ones.

Once you've downloaded and installed the program, open the configuration window and click the CursorFX tab. You can select the different cursor sets from the Theme drop-down menu. To install a new theme select 'Browse' from the Theme drop-down menu. After a short pause while CursorFX renders the icons, you'll see your new set. Configure each cursor by clicking the Configure button and double-clicking an item in the main window. Save your modified set by clicking 'Save As'.

20. Make Windows XP fun for your kids, Part 3

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

You can really go to town on your desktop if you use a shell program. DesktopX is a great way of combining an enjoyable environment with access control. In Edit mode you can set up the desktop, and in User mode, you lock everything down.

You can import large pictures and use them as shortcuts to specific programs, and you can include sounds and animations too. The program comes with a couple of basic examples, such as a theme called Kids, which includes an embedded web browser and links to five sites. Your children can only access those sites, and they're unlikely to encounter anything dubious no matter how many external links they manage to follow.

Load DesktopX Builder by selecting 'Start > Programs > StarDock > Desktop Object > DesktopX Builder'. Load the 'Desktop Playground' theme if it isn't already. This mode enables you to customise the desktop in many ways - we'll add a web shortcut.

If you want to do some editing then right-click one of the frames and select 'Properties > States'. The 'Appearance' tab below should be selected. Click the 'Browse' button and select the PNG files, now click the 'Mouse Over' state and select the PNG file.

Click the General tab, then clear the location menu and add the URL - in this example it's http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies. Finally, click the OK button and you'll see you now have a special shortcut to the Cbeebies home page that can be double-clicked.

User control tips for Windows XP

You can control what other accounts can do on your computer in a few different ways. In this section we'll show you some tweaks in the Group Policy Editor and also show you how to restrict access to the Control Panel, which will stop other people from fiddling about with such important things as your System Settings.

21. Use Group Policy Editor

Windows XP Professional Edition includes the Group Policy Editor, which is a very powerful tool that enables you to configure what permissions and access each account has. This isn't available in the Home Edition.

To launch it, Choose 'Start > Run' and enter gpedit. msc in the 'Open' bar. Click 'OK'. Expand 'User Configuration' in the left-hand pane. You'll see subfolders for 'Software settings', 'Windows settings' and 'Administrative templates'.

By expanding these, you can find a range of options to configure. Expand 'Administrative templates', followed by 'Control panel'. Here you can alter what appears in the user's control panel.

One particularly useful setting is the one that prohibits access so you can stop other users changing your settings. Double-click 'Prohibit access to the control panel' in the right-hand pane. This opens a dialog. Select 'Enabled' and click 'OK'. Choose the 'Explain' tab to find out more about this setting.

Each setting listed here has three options for configuration. 'Not configured' means you'll make no change to the current setup. 'Enabled' turns the setting on, and 'Disabled' turns it off again. It's worth exploring the various configurations you can make, but make sure you're fully backed up before you do so.

22. Restrict folder access in Group Policy Editor

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

In Group Policy Editor you can restrict folder access by disabling Simple File Sharing and then right-clicking the folder you would like to protect and selecting 'Properties'. Move to the 'Security' tab and you're ready to restrict folder access.

Now 'Add' and then select the user you would like to restrict. Tick the top box in the 'Deny' column to prevent the selected user from accessing, viewing or modifying the files in the folder you selected.

23. Restrict hard drive access in Group Policy Editor

You can restrict access to certain hard drives by clicking 'Start > Run', typing 'gpedit. Msc' and pressing [Enter]. In the User Configuration section, you'll need to navigate to 'Administrative Templates\Windows Explorer' to choose the hard drives you want to restrict.

24. Lockdown the Start menu

To restrict access to the Start menu, navigate to the Start menu and taskbar section and you can add restrictions. Disabling the Run command and search function can help prevent other users from locating system files.

Note: You may find that the changes you make in the Group Policy Editor do not seem to be carried out immediately. You can force a refresh of the settings by opening a command prompt ('Start > Run' and type 'cmd') and typing 'gpupdate' before clicking [Enter].

If you find you can't access the Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc), make sure that you're logged on as an administrator, since limited accounts can't access this tool. Remember, Group Policy Editor is only included with Windows XP Professional.

25. Limit control panel access

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Before you disable any Control Panel items, we advise creating a shortcut for easy access. Open the Control Panel, highlight all the applets and drag them to your desktop to create shortcuts. If you're using Windows XP Home Edition, you'll need to edit the Registry to disable access to certain Control Panel applets. Click 'Start > Run', type 'Regedit', then click 'OK'.

Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. Click 'Edit > New > DWord Value' and name it 'DisallowCpl'. Give it a value of 1.

To disable applets in the control panel go to 'Edit > New > Key' and name it 'DisallowCpl'. Click 'Edit > New > String' and name it '1'. Double-click to set the value to the name of the applet to disable using the list in the box above.

Beneath the Control Panel tree entry you'll see four more folders that you can use in order to customise which Control Panel tabs are made available.

26. Encrypt an entire folder

Instead of restricting other users you could always just encrypt important folders in Windows XP. You need to select the folder to encrypt by right-clicking 'Start > Explore'. Navigate to the directory then right-click it and select 'Properties'.

Click 'Advanced' and check 'Encrypt Contents' to secure data. Click 'OK > OK'. This will encrypt the currently selected folder. Windows XP can apply this setting to just the files contained or to all the files and folders.

You'll be prompted to confirm whether you wish to apply encryption to just the selected folder, or to also encrypt its subfolders. Choose the option that suits you and then click 'OK'. In Windows XP it's easy to tell which files have been encrypted - all encrypted files are coloured green, and compressed files are blue.

Note: Encrypting File System (EFS) is part of Windows XP Professional, but not the Home Edition.

Windows XP performance tweaks

There a number of ways to squeeze out extra system performance in Windows XP, especially for older systems. In this section we'll cover a cluster of handy Registry and hardware control tweaks.

27. Unload application DLL files on closure

It's possible to configure Windows XP systems with large amounts of memory such that the core operating system files are never paged to virtual memory, thus improving responsiveness and performance.

Similarly, it's also possible to force Windows XP to automatically unload DLL files from memory when an application is closed. To do so, open Registry Editor, browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer and create a sub-key named AlwaysUnloadDLL. Double-click the (Default) value and change it to '1'.

28. Keep the Windows XP OS in RAM

This tweak is relatively easy to apply. Open the Registry Editor and browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SessionManager\Memory Management. Change the value of the DisablePagingExecutive DWORD value from a '0' to a '1', and you're off to the races.

This will limit the kernel files to physical RAM, which means you should only consider applying this tweak on systems with more than 256MB of RAM.

29. Disable unnecessary services

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Reclaim memory and other resources by streamlining which services run on your PC. Open Task Manager (Use shortcut [Ctrl]+[Shift]+[Escape]) on the 'Processes' tab.

Click the 'Image Name column' header once to sort processes by name, then find all the svchost.exe entries. Make a note of their size in KB. Next, you'll need to open the Services console. Click 'Start > Run', and type 'services.mmc'. A list of all currently installed services is displayed in alphabetical order, along with their statuses, telling you if they are running or not.

Double-click a service and identify its file from the 'Path to executable' box. Search for this file name in your favoured search engine to find out more about it.

Various services rely on other services to function, so you need to verify your service isn't required by another one you want to use. Switch to the 'Dependencies' tab to check for dependants.

Once you've verified that you don't need a service, change it to Manual by double-clicking its entry and changing its Startup type. Don't disable it unless the service could be a security risk.

After disabling the unnecessary services, restart Windows XP. Check the memory consumption of svchost.exe in Task Manager again - use the Commit Charge figure to help determine how much memory you've saved.

30. Reduce hanging time

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

By default, Windows waits for five seconds to allow time for any hung applications to be closed properly as you shut down your computer. You can change this hanging time with a registry edit.

Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop and select the string entry called 'HungApp Timeout'. If you're using Vista, you'll need to create this entry. Right-click this and choose 'Modify'.

The number is in milliseconds, so the default of 5,000 is a wait of five seconds. Simply choose a lower number to shorten the wait time.

31. Improve performance by configuring custom hardware profiles

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Windows XP has a default hardware profile that loads drivers for all your installed hardware. If you have an older PC there will be times where you won't want all hardware to be functioning, for instance when watching a DVD. To avoid choppy playback as a result of resources being consumed by loaded drivers, applications and services, here's how to set up a custom hardware profile.

Open the System applet through the Control Panel. The Hardware tab gives access to the Device Manager, as well as driver signing options and hardware profiles.

Click the 'Hardware Profiles' button to open the Hardware Profiles window. You can view available profiles and configure how hardware profiles will be displayed during the boot process.

With 'Profile 1 (Current)' selected, click 'Properties' to configure basic settings, such as specifying whether the system is a portable computer. Then click 'OK'.

Click 'Copy'. In the Copy Profile window, give the new profile a descriptive name, such as 'Basic', and click 'OK' to create a second, identical profile you can configure with different settings.

Click OK to close the applet. Reboot Windows XP. From Hardware Profiles, select the new profile, then log on. Open the System applet, return to the 'Hardware' tab, click 'Device Manager'.

Expand a device type such as 'Network Adapters', then right-click the device and choose Disable or Enable - if disabling, click 'Yes'. Disabling devices frees up resources for this profile's specific job.

Remote access features in Windows XP

You don't always have to be in front of your PC to access it. Here are a few handy ways to remotely tap into your PC's workspace, whether you're away and need to check in with your work or home PC or just need someone else to come to your rescue.

32. Set up a virtual private network

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Virtual private networks (or VPNs) are a way to link computers together in a secure, transparent manner using the Internet. Windows XP has made the process simple.

Open the Network Connections window ('Start > Settings > Network Connections' or 'My Computer > Control Panel'). If a web connection hasn't been created yet, you must define one.

From the Network Connections File menu, select 'New Connection' or choose 'Create a new connection' from the Network Tasks panel.

The New Connection Wizard launches and shows what you can configure. Although it's not called a virtual private network, the second option is what we're trying to set up. Click 'Next'.

You'll be presented with a window asking you to choose the type of connection you want to create. Click the radio button next to 'Connect to the network at my workplace', then click 'Next'.

You now have two choices: Dial-Up and VPN connection. Select 'VPN' and click 'Next' to continue. Even though you can configure a VPN over a dial-up line, that option is for non-tunnelling. (A VPN tunnel is a connection between two computers over a LAN, WAN or internet network that's maintained as a consistent, more permanent connection rather than temporary connections you'd use to get to something like a website or FTP server).

Each VPN connection is identified by a name, usually representing the gateway you're connecting to. You must identify the gateway at the other end of the tunnel. Enter either the IP address of the VPN gateway you want to connect to, or its fully qualified domain name.

A summary screen appears, specifying the VPN connection name and the users allowed access to the connection. If you want a shortcut placed on your desktop, check the Shortcut option. Click 'Finish' and a window asks for your user name and password. This login is transmitted and encrypted when you access the VPN gateway.

Click 'Connect' to start. If your connection doesn't establish itself right away you may need to tweak some parameters. Right-click the connection icon and select 'Properties'. Select the 'Security' tab.

Under Security Options select 'Typical'. The box under 'Validate my identity as follows' should show 'Require secured password'. The 'Require data' encryption box should also be checked. To use your login and domain settings for the VPN validation, check 'Automatically use my Windows login name and password'. This is useful for connecting to corporate networks.

Note: Make sure the Windows Firewall is configured and working correctly with your VPN or your connection will be blocked.

If you just want to check on your home computer every now and then, you may want to consider using Remote Desktop instead (see tip 33).

33. Access your PC from work with Remote desktop

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Windows XP Professional includes the facility to enable your computer's desktop to be accessed remotely from other PCs via the Remote Desktop Connection tool.

Right-click the My Computer icon on your desktop or start menu and click 'Properties'. From the Remote tab, tick 'Allow users to remotely connect to this computer'. Click 'OK' and add a password to your account from the User Accounts Control Panel. Remember, a password is mandatory.

To control your PC from another PC, click 'Start > All Programs > Accessories > Communications' or download the Remote Desktop Client.

A screen will appear for you to select your target PC from the drop-down menu or type in its name/IP address and click 'Connect'. If your firewall throws up a prompt, allow the connection.

You'll need to log on using your password. Once done, you can use the PC as if you were sitting at it. To relinquish control close the dialog. To change settings, open Remote Desktop Connection and click 'Settings'.

34. Speed up the remote desktop

You can improve the performance of Remote Desktop sessions, particularly on slow connections, by disabling a number of superfluous graphical features. To choose the settings you would like to use, launch the tool by clicking 'Start > All Programs > Accessories > Communications > Remote Desktop Session'.

Click the 'Options' button to expand the dialog and move to the 'Display' tab. Here you can choose the resolution and colour depth that remote sessions should run at - choose lower settings if things are running slowly for you.

Moving to the 'Experience' tab, you can use the drop-down menu to choose what type of connection you're using, and Windows XP selects the best settings for you. Alternatively, simply clear the tick box next to any of the graphical features you feel you can live without to create your own custom remote desktop profile.

35. Request assistance from a friend

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

The 'Remote' tab also enables you to allow Remote Assistance invitations. This is a useful feature that means another user can effectively take control of your PC from their own Windows XP machine for troubleshooting a problem you might be having.

Click 'Start > Help and Support'. Under 'Ask for assistance', click 'Invite a friend to connect to your computer with Remote Assistance'. Choose 'Invite someone to help you' to start the invitation process. Enter the person's email address and click 'Invite this person'. Type an explanatory message and click 'Continue'.

For security reasons, set an expiry time or date for the invitation, plus a password that your friend will need to enter. You'll need to communicate this separately by phone or another email. Click 'Send Invitation'.

Once your friend receives the email, they'll initiate the process of connecting to your PC. You'll see a pop-up window asking you to accept the connection - click 'Yes' to give your friend access and start troubleshooting.

Windows XP back up and recovery tools

Keep your precious data safe by getting to grips with Windows XP's built-in backup and recovery features and other useful third-party apps.

36. Save your data with System Restore

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

System Restore keeps a note of everything you change on your Windows XP computer, enabling you to reverse them with a couple of clicks if necessary.

System Restore is switched on by default when you install Windows XP, although it's always worth double-checking by selecting 'Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore'. Windows XP creates restore points automatically, once a week or just before you install new software, but you're not bound to this schedule - you can create your own restore points whenever you like.

Note that the Recommended Restore Point is simply the last one, but you don't need to remember what it did, since all the important changes are listed for you.

To see more restore points, simply click 'Choose a different Restore Point' followed by 'Next'. This lists the ones that Windows has saved, and by clicking 'Scan for affected programs' you get additional detail without having to actually run the process.

37. Keep your files safe using MS Backup

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Microsoft has included MS Backup with both the Professional and Home versions of Windows XP. However, Home users will need to install it from the original Windows XP CD - you'll find the NTBACKUP.MSI file in the \VALUEADD\MSFT\NTBACKUP folder on the CD.

Once installed, run it from the 'Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools' menu. MS Backup is a basic old-school backup tool, which provides you with a tree list of all the files on your PC for you to select which ones you want backed up.

It starts in Wizard mode - using this you can pretty much take care of all your backup needs. You can choose to save your files to a network drive, but in most cases you'll be burning to a DVD.

The default is to enable Windows to choose which files to back up - which includes the desktop, libraries and standard Windows folders, such as Documents. This will cover 99% of the files you want, but you can add more or be more selective if you need to be.

38. Recover system passwords

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you use online resources that require you to log in, you probably told Internet Explorer to remember your password so that in future you won't need to enter one. But what's under those asterisks? To see, download the Password Spectator Lite software. Launch the program, and ensure you press 'Stay On Top', because this will make things easier.

Fire up your web browser and pay a visit to the website that requires you to log on. Enter your user name and hit [Tab] to force Internet Explorer to automatically enter your password for you. Highlight the text masked with asterisks and hold down [Ctrl]. Move the mouse away from the password and click with the left mouse button. Your password will now be revealed.

Password Spectator can also recover passwords from other applications. This works in the same way as well, just find your hidden password and press the [Ctrl] key.

Turn off Internet Explorer's password-remembering option by clicking 'Tools > Internet Options > Content'. Click 'AutoComplete' and clear the two boxes relating to passwords.

39. Create remote backups of your data

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Back up your data to DVD with Windows XP Backup and Restore or even send it to a compressed file that you can copy to a network or share on another computer.

If you use Windows XP Professional Edition then the Backup Utility will already be installed on your system. However, for Home Edition users, it may not be. You can find out by placing the installation disc in your drive and browsing to VALUEADD\MSFT\NTBACKUP. Once you've located that directory, double-click ntbackup.msi and begin the installation.

Click 'Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools and Backup'. Leave the check box, 'Always start in wizard mode', as this will guide you through the process. Click 'Advanced Mode'.

Select the 'Advanced Mode Wizards for backup or restore'. Here we'll run the backup manually to step through the process. Click 'Backup'. Go through the file system, checking the files and folders you intend to back up. Change the backup media or file name to the appropriate target device. Click 'Start Backup'.

Leave the 'Append' radio button selected and alter the backup description to your choice. The text string shows what to write on the media if you intend to label it. Click 'Advanced'.

Check 'Verify Data After Backup'. This will take longer to finish but it ensures data integrity. Leave the other check boxes clear. Backup Type is where you pick the backup method. Click 'Start Backup'. You'll see the Backup Progress box, showing the job label, the job status, and an estimated completion time. When finished, click 'Report' and scan it for errors.

40. Securely erase data from your hard drive

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

To speed file deletion up, Windows XP merely marks the beginning of a file when you delete it, which enables other files to reside in the space taken by that old file. Until the file is overwritten, however, it's retrievable. You can bypass this problem with a free third-party app called Eraser.

Once installed, you can securely delete any file by right-clicking the file in question and choosing 'Erase'. Click 'OK' to use the default options or 'Options' to choose a different method.

If the files have already been deleted, launch Eraser and click 'On Demand', select 'File > New Task' to set up the task to wipe a drive's free space. Select the drive you wish to scrub from the drop-down menu, tick 'Keep task on the list' and click 'OK'. Right-click the task and choose 'Run'. Read the warning, click 'Yes' and prepare to wait.

Windows XP time-saving tips and tweaks

The standard Windows XP installation is designed for ease of use rather than outright speed, and once you've got used to the basics there are plenty of adjustments that you can make so that both you and your PC can work faster. Here's a selection of the best time-saving changes you can make.

41. Prioritise your Start menu shortcuts

Windows XP can intelligently sort the Start menu so that your most frequently used programs are always accessible in the lower portion of the menu.

You can ensure that certain programs always stay at the very top of the menu if you like, enabling you to launch programs in a couple of clicks. Navigate through the Start menu and locate the shortcut for one of your more frequently used programs.

Right-click this shortcut and select the 'Pin To Start' option from the menu that appears. The shortcuts now appear in the top portion of the Start menu beneath the shortcut for Internet Explorer.

42. Organise your Start menu alphabetically

As you install more and more programs on your hard drive, your Start menu can become harder to navigate because shortcuts are displayed in order of creation.

To make programs easier to locate, it may be useful to alphabetise your menu. Click 'Start > All Programs', right-click a shortcut and select the 'Sort By Name' option. If this becomes frustrating, check out tip 44 to force the Start menu to stay in order.

43. Access control panels from the Start menu

If you like to change system settings from time to time, you'll appreciate how long it takes to visit the Control Panel. If you're making a large number of changes to your PC, it can take a while to navigate the Start menu, open the Control Panel and launch the relevant applet.

A useful way to speed up access to individual Control Panel components is to add a menu to the Start menu that appears when you click the Control Panel option, giving you instant access to any applet.

To do this, right-click the Start button and select 'Properties'. If you're using the Windows XP-style menu, click the upper 'Customize' button and move to the 'Advanced' tab.

At the top of the list that appears, select the 'Display as menu' option beneath the Control Panel heading. If you're using the Classic Start menu, click the lower 'Customize' button and tick the box labelled 'Expand Control Panel'.

44. Put the Start menu in order

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

To force the Start menu to stay in order, click 'Start > Run', type 'Regedit' and press [Enter]. Select the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MenuOrder.

Choose 'Edit > Permissions', click 'Advanced' and untick the 'Inherit from parent the permission entries…' box. A pop-up dialog will appear. Click 'Copy' followed by 'OK' to return to the first screen.

Finally, select your user name from the list and clear the 'Allow' tick box next to Full Control (but leave the 'Read' tick box alone) and click 'Apply'. Repeat for the Administrators group. Finally, click 'OK'.

45. Cut the Start menu delay

There's a slight delay built into the Start menu to give you thinking time. If you know your way around, you can shorten it with a Registry edit.

Open the Registry Editor by choosing 'Start > Run' and entering 'Regedit' in the 'Open' bar, then clicking 'OK'.

Now go to 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop'. Double-click the 'MenuShowDelay' value and change it from the default 400 to a lower number of your choice.

46. Create your own toolbar

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

You can turn a folder into a toolbar for quick and easy access to its contents. Right-click the taskbar and choose 'Toolbars > New toolbar' from the menu. This launches the 'New toolbar' dialog.

Select the item that you want to use as a toolbar. If necessary, browse through 'My Documents' or 'My Computer' to find the folder you want. Alternatively, click 'Make new folder' to create a custom one. Click 'OK'. Your new toolbar will appear as a button on the taskbar.

Click this to see an expanding menu of its contents. Subfolders become their own expanding menus. Select a file to open it in its associated application.

47. Use the Quick Launch toolbar

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Fed up of having to hide all open windows to access your desktop shortcuts? Move them to the Quick Launch toolbar instead, which appears at the bottom of the screen and is accessible whatever windows are open.

Start by right-clicking a blank area of the taskbar and choosing the 'Lock the taskbar' option to remove the tick and unlock it. You'll see the top edge of the taskbar change, indicating it can now be moved or altered. Click and hold the top edge and you'll see the cursor change to a double arrow. Drag this up so the taskbar takes up two lines instead of one. Right-click the taskbar again and choose 'Toolbars > Quick Launch'.

As things stand the two toolbars sit side by side - we want the Quick Launch to sit on top of the other. To do this, click and hold on the spotted border to the right of the icons and drag it into place as shown above.

48. Get quicker file searching

If you search for files on a regular basis, you can save a great deal of time by enabling the Indexing feature. Open up My Computer, right-click your hard drive and select 'Properties'. Tick the box labelled 'Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching', and click 'Apply'.

Make sure that the option labelled 'Apply changes to [drive letter]:\, subfolders and files' is selected and click 'OK'. More in-depth searches, such as looking for files containing certain words or phrases, are now performed much quicker.

49. Find Messenger contacts more easily

If you use Windows Messenger to conduct conversations with friends and family, there's a good chance that you've built up a large list of contacts. While it's great to have a lot of people to talk to, an overly long list can make it difficult to find individual contacts when you want to start a new conversation.

By default, your contacts are split up into a number of pre-defined categories, but you can create your own to help keep yourself organised. Right-click one of the existing group headings and select 'New Group'. Enter a name, and then drag and drop contacts on to the heading. You can expand and collapse a group by clicking the double-headed arrow to the left of the heading.

50. Save time with keyboard shortcuts

You can access many Windows XP functions using keyboard shortcuts, which can be much quicker than using a mouse to navigate through menu options.

To quickly access Explorer, press [Windows] + [E]; to access the Run dialog press [Windows] + [R]; and to search for files press [Windows] and [F]. You can log out of your user account by pressing [Windows] + [L].

51. Attach files to emails in two clicks

Rather than starting a new email and navigating through folders to attach a file, you can simplify the process. Right-click the file you want to send and click Send To > Email Recipient. Your email client opens with a new blank message, with the selected file attached.

52. Disable menu animation

You can turn off animated menus in Windows XP for faster navigation. In Regedit, open the key 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop' and create the string value 'MinAnimate'. Give it a '0' value. To restore menu animations, delete this string value.

53. Return to your Desktop in an instant

When you're working with a number of programs at once and want to return to your desktop, it can take some time to minimise all the open windows individually.

It's quicker to use the Show Desktop shortcut on the Quick Launch bar, or press the [Windows] key on your keyboard and [M] simultaneously. To restore your windows to their previous states, press [Windows] + [Shift] + [M].

54. Send files faster

If you're attaching files to an email, you can compress them to radically reduce the amount of time it takes for the mail to be sent and received using the Windows XP support for compressed files and folders. Select the files you want to attach to an email, right-click them and select 'Send To > Compressed (zipped) Folder'.

55. Say 'No to all' requests

When you're copying or moving a group of files, you'll sometimes be prompted to provide a 'Yes' or a 'Yes to all' response - if you need to give permission for a process to to overwrite existing files, for example.

Choose the latter option and similar files that prompt the same question will be ignored in future. But what if you want 'No to all' instead? There's no visible option, but you can select 'No to all' by simply holding the [Shift] key as you click 'No'.

56. Manage the Send To folder

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

You can extend the Send To option by adding custom entries. It's basically a folder on your hard drive that you copy shortcuts to, so to access it click 'Start > Run', type 'sendto' and press [Enter].

Create shortcuts to favourite drives, folders and even programs in here to give you speedy shortcuts from any Explorer window, simply by right-clicking the file or folder in question and choosing 'Send To'.

If you select a program you've added to the menu, your selected file is opened with that program; choose a folder you've added, and the file is copied to it.

57. Switch users quickly

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you share your computer with others, giving everyone their own user accounts is a time saver in itself, because that way each person can set up the computer exactly the way they want it, without impacting on anyone else's experience.

The only problem with having multiple user accounts set up is if someone else suddenly wants to nip onto the PC for a few minutes - perhaps to check their email or copy a file to a CD.

Saving your work and logging off is time consuming, so switch on Fast User Switching, which enables you to switch user accounts without logging off first.

When the other person has finished, either switch straight back or log them off before returning to the point you were at. To do this, open the User Accounts Control Panel, click 'Change the way users log on or off' and tick the box next to 'Use Fast User Switching'.

58. Copy and move files with the Context menu

If you frequently copy or move files, you'll have found yourself juggling windows or copying and pasting files left, right and centre. You can save time by adding two options - Copy To Folder and Move To Folder - to the menu that appears when you right-click a folder or file - ordinarily this would involve editing the Registry (see tip 59 below for how to do this yourself), but we've found a time-saving workaround.

Go to this Kelly's Korner page and click the 'Copy to/Move to' link (it's number 45) on the page. Right-click this and save the reg file to your desktop. Double-click it and click 'Yes' when prompted - the options will now appear when you right-click a file. Alternatively, try the method in the next tip.

59. Add new 'Copy to' key

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Add a 'Copy to folder' option to the right-click context menu so that you can quickly copy a file by right-clicking it.

In the Registry Editor, browse to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\AllFilesystemObjects\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers and create a new key called 'Copy to'. Change its default value to '{C2FBB630-2971-11d1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}' and check it works in Windows.

You can also add a 'Move to folder' option in this way. From the same 'ContextMenuHandlers' key, simply create a new key called 'Move to' and then change its default value to '{C2FBB631-2971-11d1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}' to do this.

60. Halve folder and file access times

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

To open a folder or launch a program you have to double-click its icon. You can cut the launch time in half by opening the Folder Options Control Panel and selecting the option labelled 'Single-click to open an item (point to select)' and press 'OK'.

61. Start your computer faster

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Every time you turn on your PC, besides Windows XP itself there are usually a number of programs that load in the background. Over time, this list of programs can grow and grow, resulting in a slow, sluggish computer.

Many of these programs aren't actually needed when you start your PC, so disabling them will save at least several seconds off your boot time. It will also free up memory in Windows XP, resulting in zippier performance all round.

To do this easily you'll need a free start-up manager called Autoruns. Once installed, click 'Run', then 'Run' again. Switch to the 'Logon' tab. Select an entry to see more about it - if you need help identifying it, right-click it and choose 'Search Online'.

Never delete an entry until you're sure you won't need it - instead, untick an entry to disable it. Reboot your PC and verify that disabling the entry doesn't cause problems. Once you're confident you no longer need it, delete it.

If you're suspicious that there might be some obsolete entries in the list, right-click them and choose 'Verify'. If they are still working, you'll see [Verified] appear next to the publisher's name; if not, [Not Verified] will be shown.

62. Skip welcome screen

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

You can choose to log into Windows automatically and bypass the welcome screen by making a simple tweak. To do this, choose 'Start > Run' and enter 'control userpasswords2' into the 'Open' bar. Click 'OK' to see a dialog showing each user installed on the PC.

Clear the box marked 'Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer'. Click 'OK'. Now restart your PC and you should go directly to your desktop.

63. Shut down your computer quickly

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Rather than using the Start menu to instigate a system shutdown, you can create a shortcut on your desktop to enable you to switch off with a simple double-click.

Right-click an empty section of the desktop and select 'New > Shortcut'. In the box that appears, type 'shutdown -s' to create a shutdown shortcut, 'shutdown -r' to create a restart shortcut, or 'shutdown -l' to create a shortcut that logs out of the current user account.

By default, when you double-click one of your new icons, your selected action will not take place for 30 seconds. To make things happen instantly, you need to add an extra parameter to your shortcut. To create a shortcut that shuts down your PC after five seconds, for instance, you would need to use the code, 'shutdown -s -t 05', as your command string. While you can technically change this to zero, we don't recommend this.

Once you've created the shortcut, you can leave it where it is or drag it to your Quick Launch bar so you can turn off your PC with a single mouse click. You can also change the icon to make it more easily identifiable. Simply click the Change icon button in the shortcut properties and select a new one.

64. Speed up your desktop

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

Every icon on your desktop takes up memory. You can reduce the number of icons on display by deleting some manually, or by using the Desktop Cleanup wizard to automate the process.

To access this tool, right-click an empty section of your desktop and select 'Properties', then move to the 'Desktop' tab and click the 'Customize Desktop' button.

While you're here, it's a good idea to tick 'Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days', because this wipes out unnecessary and unused icons every couple of months.

To run the tool straight away, click 'Clean Desktop Now' followed by 'Next'. The wizard then tells you which of your icons haven't been used for a while and are prime candidates for removal. If you'd prefer to keep any of the icons, clear the tick box next to them. Click 'Next' and then 'Finish' to complete the process.

65. Speed up your desktop, Part 2

When you configure the settings for your desktop, it's natural to opt for the highest possible settings. Although you use your monitor's native resolution you can dramatically speed up your system by reducing the number of colours that are used. Rather than opting for 32-bit colour depth, drop this setting down to 16-bit.

Right-click the desktop, select 'Properties', move to the 'Settings' tab and use the Color Quality drop-down menu. In general use, you'll notice no difference between the colour depths, but using the lower setting frees up far more memory for applications to use.

66. Keep your hard drive defragged

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

One of the biggest bottlenecks of a poorly performing computer is the hard drive. Due to the way files are organised on your hard drive, they can fragment over time, which makes accessing them slow and also reduces the lifespan of your hard drive as it has to do more work to access the files, leading to its components wearing out that little bit sooner.

The solution is to defragment your drive. Windows XP has its own built-in tool for the job, but a better bet is to use a free tool called Smart Defrag from iOBit.

Once installed, tick each hard drive and click the Analyze button. Once complete, follow its advice (typically 'Fast optimize and defrag'). The first defrag will take a while to complete, but once done, Smart Defrag can be left to its own devices, working unobtrusively in the background to keep your drives optimised.

67. Read text quicker with Cleartype

This little tip should help you enhance the display on an LCD monitor. To achieve better, crisper fonts, you should enable the Cleartype font smoothing for your screen.

This can be done in the following way. First of all, right-click an empty space on your desktop and select 'Properties'. Now move to the 'Appearance' tab and click 'Effects'.

Tick 'Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts' and then select 'Cleartype' from the dropdown menu next to it. Finally, click 'OK' to apply the new settings. You will experience a richer, less fudgy display on your LCD screen after this change.

68. Get rid of error reporting

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you're tired of those annoying error messages that pop up when an application or system error occurs, the System applet in the Control Panel gives you some control over the situation.

Right-click the My Computer on your desktop or Start menu then click 'Properties'. From the 'Remote' tab, click 'Error Reporting' on the 'Advanced' tab. Error Reporting is enabled by default for Windows XP and all installed programs. To choose what's monitored, click 'Choose Programs'.

If you only want to exclude a handful of programs, click 'Add' at the bottom of the box, then click 'Browse' to locate and select the program executable (such as acrobat.exe). Click 'OK'.

To disable error reporting for all except specified programs, select 'All programs in this list'. Click 'Add' to select programs - all Microsoft programs and Windows components are selected.

Speed up web browsing in Windows XP

As we're all aware, there are many times when internet browsing just slows to a crawl for no apparent reason. It's not always possible to upgrade your internet connection, but there are plenty of ways that you can make Internet Explorer more efficient.

Sometimes it's a matter of trading off image quality for speed. In other cases you may be able to surf more efficiently by adopting keyboard shortcuts or using suitable add-ons.

69. Turn of your images

Web pages that lack pictures will load much faster and you're still able to view text, of course. Click the 'Tools' button and choose 'Internet Options'.

Switch to the 'Advanced' tab, scroll down to the Multimedia section and untick 'Show Pictures'. Click 'OK' and you'll see frames in place of individual images - right-click one and choose 'Show Picture' if you need to see what it is.

70. Restrict multimedia

Turn off animations and sounds for faster loading times - again, the option is in the Multimedia section on the 'Advanced' tab of 'Internet Options'.

Untick 'Play animations in webpages' and 'Play sounds in webpages' before clicking OK. You'll need to restart IE for the changes to take effect.

71. Go back home quickly

Return to the previously viewed page by pressing the [Backspace] key, or hold down [Alt] and press the right arrow key on the Number Pad to go one page forwards again.

72. Organise bookmarks

Putting your bookmarks in order makes it easier to find the one you're looking for. Press [Ctrl] + [B] to open the 'Organize Favorites' dialog, and then organise them into folders for quick and easy access.

73. Speed up web page requests

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

When you type a website's name into your browser, that in itself isn't enough to access the site. The web address needs to be translated into a four digit IP address ( in the case of the BBC), which is done by a Domain Name System (DNS) server. Your ISP uses its own DNS servers, which aren't always the quickest or safest.

OpenDNS provides free DNS servers that anyone can use. They're fast enough to make a difference to your browsing speed, and you don't need to install any software to set them up.

To apply OpenDNS to your entire network, log on to your router and look in the setup section for an option to set static DNS servers. To use it with a single PC, click 'Start > Control Panel > Network and Internet Connections'.

Click 'Network Connections', right-click your main network connection and choose 'Properties'. Scroll down to select 'Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)' and click 'Properties' again. Choose 'Use the following DNS server addresses'. The two DNS server addresses you need to enter are and respectively. Once set you'll need to reboot either your router or your PC for the changes to take effect.

74. Navigate quickly

To quickly return to your browser's home page regardless of where you are on the web, hold down the [Alt] key and press [Home].

75. Increase connections

Force pages to load faster by increasing the number of connections available to Internet Explorer.

Click 'Start > Run', type 'Regedit' and press [Enter]. Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings.

Find and right-click 'MaxConnectionsPerServer', choose 'Modify' and select 'Decimal'. Enter '6' as the value. Do the same for 'MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server'. If neither exist, create them yourself: choose 'Edit > New > DWORD value' to do so.

76. Accelerate surfing in Internet Explorer

Select some text by dragging the mouse over it and click the arrow icon that appears next to it - from here you can access any accelerators you or IE8 has (automatically) installed. For example, the Wikipedia Accelerator that enables you to do a quick search based on the highlighted text.

77. Re-register a DLL

If Internet Explorer (8 and above) is behaving sluggishly, try the following: click 'Start > Run', type 'cmd' and press [Enter]. Next, type 'regsvr32 actxprxy.dll' and press [Enter], making sure there's a space after 'regsvr32'. Close the window, restart your PC and you may notice a significant speed boost.

78. Optimise the cache

If you're still on a slow dial-up internet connection, then a large internet cache for your temporary files can speed things up; conversely, if you have a fast broadband connection, shrinking the size of the cache will speed things up, because IE won't spend so long searching the cache before downloading from the web.

79. Change cache size

Click 'Tools' and select 'Internet Options > General'. Click 'Settings' under 'Browsing History' to change the cache size - experiment with different figures to see which works best.

80. Quick site access

Handy Windows XP tips and tricks

If you want to access a .com site quickly, just type the middle part of the URL between www. and .com (for example, microsoft instead of www.microsoft.com) and press [Ctrl] + [Enter].

That's all well and good for .com addresses, but you can instruct Internet Explorer to do the same for a different domain name, such as co.uk if you prefer.

To do this, click 'Start > Run', type 'Regedit' and press [Enter]. Now browse to the following Registry key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Toolbar\QuickComplete.

If QuickComplete doesn't exist, right-click 'Toolbar' and choose 'New > Key', calling it QuickComplete. Now select QuickComplete and choose 'Edit > New > String Value'.

Call this QuickComplete, double-click it and give it a value of http://www.%s.co.uk to make the change - obviously, you can put what you like after %s - .org.uk, .net or whatever you prefer.

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