Modifying XP’s PATHEXT Variables to Include Saved MMC Files

Windows XP’s Run command provides a quick and easy way for experienced users to open files without the need to navigate through the Start menu or browse folders looking for a file. For example, if you type cmd.exe at the Run command and press Enter, a Command Prompt windows will open. Type msconfig.exe and the System Configuration Utility does the same.

You may also be aware of the fact that its not always necessary to enter certain file extensions when using the Run command. For example, entering just the filename portion of the command – say, cmd rather than cmd.exe – if OK because the EXE file extension is one of those tried by XP when an extension isn’t supplied. XP will attempt to use a number of file extensions when you don’t provide one, as dictated by it’s declared PATHEXT variables.

By default, the following PATHEXT system variables are declared by XP: .COM;.EXE;.BAT;.CMD;.VBS;.VBE;.JS;.JSE;.WSF;.WSH. One notable one that isn’t present is the .MSC extension used by saved MMC consoles. If you want pre-built consoles like the Services MMC to open without needing to type its full filename – services.msc – at the Run command, then you’ll need to add .MSC to the XP’s PATHEXT variable.

To add a new file extension to XP’s PATHEXT system variable, follow these steps:

1. Open the System applet in Control Panel.

2. Click the Advanced tab, and then click the Environment Variables button.

3. Double-click the PATHEXT variable in the System variables section and then click Edit.

4. After the .WSH entry, type a semi-colon and then type .MSC (no spaces required) and then click OK.

5. Reboot your system and then attempt to open the Services MMC from the Run command by simply typing services and then click OK.

Disabling System Restore to Reclaim Disk Space

System Restore is a great Windows XP feature that allows you to restore your system to a previous configuration set in the event that a software installation, driver update, or system change renders it crippled or damaged. By default, the System restore feature will create what are known as restore points automatically when you make system changes (like installing a program) or manually as per your instructions. A portion of a given drive’s disk space is allocated to storing these restore points, and as it fills up, older restore points are discarded to make way for new ones.

As a general rule, disabling System Restore is not a good idea, especially for less experienced users who may need to rely on the extra “help” that System restore can provide should they run into a jam. However, on a systems with multiple drive partitions, System Restore can usually be safely disabled as a means to reclaim disk space. Disabling the feature on the main system drive (usually C:) is not recommended, though its size settings can be tweaked to better meet your needs.

To disable System restore on one or more drive partitions, follow these steps:

1. Click Start > Control Panel > System and click the System Restore tab.

2. In the list of available drives, click the drive for which you want to disable System Restore and click Settings.

3. Check the Turn off System Restore on this drive checkbox to disable System Restore for that drive and click OK.

Note that disabling System Restore for a drive will result in the loss of all that drive’s stored Restore Points.

Adding Multiple Desktop Support to Windows XP

If there never seems to be enough room on your Windows desktop, all is not lost. While Windows XP doesn’t include virtual desktop support natively (like Linux), it can be added by way of the Virtual Desktop Manager PowerToy available as a free add-on from Microsoft.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of virtual desktops, here’s the skinny. Right now you have one desktop, but with this tool installed, you gain access to a total of 4, which you can switch between as need be. This is especially helpful in cases where you want to have different programs open simultaneously, but don’t want to deal with minimizing and maximizing windows all the time. Instead, you could dedicate one virtual desktop to web browsing, another to your email program, and another to say, Microsoft Word.

While its no substitute for having multiple monitors, virtual desktops do increase your desktop “real estate” dramatically. Ask any Linux user – once you start using virtual desktops, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them!

Hiding Local and Network Drives on Windows XP

Its not unusual for network administrators to want (or need) a way to stop users from accessing certain local and network drives. While features like NTFS security permissions can be used to do the trick, sometimes it’s the simplest solutions that work the best – in this case, simply hiding the drives from the Windows Explorer interface.

One good example – users have a drive (say Z:) mapped to a directory on a server, but this drive is only used to access a client/server program’s data files. The client portion of the program needs access to the network drive, but the user’s themselves shouldn’t be browsing through its contents. In this case, it would be best if drive Z: were completely hidden from view.

The easist way to accomplish this, without the need for Registry edits, is to use the free TweakUI PowerToy from Microsoft. Once it’s installed, open the program from its Start menu shortcut, expand My Computer, and then click Drives. Simply uncheck any local or network drives that you want to hide from users, and then click OK to activate your new settings.

Disable Display of Last Logged on Username in Windows XP

If you share your Windows XP Professional system with many other users, you have no doubt experienced how pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del results in the name of the last user logged on to be displayed automatically in the username portion of the logon box. While this is great if you were the last one to log on, it can be frustrating if you weren’t. More often than not, users won’t even bother looking at the username portion of the box and just type their password, resulting in a failed logon.

To address this issue, you may want to consider disabling the automatic display of the last user’s name in the logon dialog box. This is accomplished via a Registry edit. To ensure that the user portion of the logon box remains unpopulated, follow these steps:

1. Click Start > Run. Type Regedit.exe in the Open text box and click OK.

2. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System

3. Right click in the right-hand side of the screen and select New > DWORD value. Name the value DontDisplayLastUserName.

4. Double-click DontDisplayLastUserName and set its value to 1. You can subsequently re-enable the setting by changing its value to 0 if need be. Close the Registry Editor and reboot to check your new logon settings.

Disabling Security Center Taskbar Alerts on Windows XP

Technically those red, yellow, and green Security Center “shield” icons that appear on the XP taskbar from time to time are there for a good reason – to keep you informed as to the security status of your firewall, anti-virus program, and automatic updates. However, there may be cases when you don’t want these icons to appear, such as on corporate networks where personal firewall programs are often disabled, or on systems that are updated manually rather than via automatic updates.

If you want to stop Security Center from displaying these status icons on XP’s taskbar, follow these steps:

1. Head to Control Panel and open Security Center.

2. On the left-hand menu, click Change the way Security Center alerts me.

3. In the Alert Settings window, uncheck any of the items for which you don’t want alert messages to appear and click OK.

Disable the Desktop Cleanup Wizard in Windows XP

One of the more annoying “features” in Windows XP is the operating system’s insistence on periodically “helping” you by launching the Desktop Cleanup Wizard. While the idea isn’t bad in and of itself, most users will prefer cleaning up unused icons from their desktop manually, rather than having Windows decide what should stay and what should go.

For those who would rather not be troubled by the Desktop Cleanup Wizard, the tool can be disabled via a simple Registry edit. Follow these steps to stop the wizard from bothering you in the future:

1. Click Start > Run. Type Regedit.exe and click OK.

2. Browse to the following location: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Desktop\CleanupWiz.

3. Right-click in the right-hand pane and select New > DWORD Value. Name the value NoRun.

4. Double-click on the new NoRun entry and set the Value data to 1.

Close Regedit. The Desktop Cleanup Wizard will be disabled the next time you restart XP.

Customizing the Start Menu on Windows XP Home Systems

If you’re running XP Professional, it’s easy to control which Start menu customizations a user can carry out via Group Policy settings. On XP Home systems, however, you’ll need to edit the Registry directly. Use the list below to selectively enable or disable these features for individual users. Adding and setting a value to 1 enables the feature, while 0 disables it. All changes should be made to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer key (unless otherwise noted).

Policy: Disable the new simple Start Menu
Registry Value: NoSimpleStartMenu

Policy: Remove pinned programs list from the Start menu
Registry Value: NoStartMenuPinnedList

Policy:Remove frequent programs list from the Start Menu
Registry Value: NoStartMenuMFUprogramsList

Policy:Disable and remove links to Windows Update
Registry Value: NoWindowsUpdate

Policy:Remove user folders from the Start Menu (My Documents, My Music, etc)
Registry Values:NoStartMenuMyMusic , NoSMMyPictures , NoFavoritesMenu , NoRecentDocsMenu

Policy:Prohibit user from changing user folder paths
Registry Value: DisableMyPicturesDirChange , DisableMyMusicDirChange , DisableFavoritesDirChange.

Policy:Remove My Documents folder from the Start Menu
Registry Value: NoSMMyDocs

Policy:Remove Recent Documents item from Start Menu
Registry Value: NoRecentDocsMenu

Policy:Clear history of recent documents on exit
Registry Value: ClearRecentDocsOnExit

Policy:Remove Favorites item from Start Menu
Registry Value: NoFavoritesMenu

Policy:Remove My Computer from the Start Menu
Registry Value: {20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}
Location: HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\NonEnum.

Policy:Remove Network Connections from the Start Menu
Registry Value: NoNetworkConnections

Policy:Remove Network Places from the Start Menu
Registry Value: NoStartMenuNetworkPlaces

Policy:Do not add shares of recently used documents to Network Places
Registry Value: NoRecentDocsNetHood

Policy:Remove Help item from Start Menu
Registry Value: NoSMHelp

Policy:Remove Search item from Start Menu
Registry Value: NoFind

Policy:Remove Run item from Start Menu
Registry Value: NoRun

Policy:Disable drag-and-drop menus on the Start Menu
Registry Value: NoChangeStartMenu

Customizing the XP Start Menu Using Group Policy

Regardless of whether you’re responsible for a single XP system or an office full of them, one feature that you may find useful is the ability to control which customizations a regular user can carry out. For example, as an administrator you may want to control whether other users can remove important shortcuts like My Network Places from the Start menu. If a user were to remove this shortcut icon, they might have difficulty finding the program in the future. To account for this, XP allows you to control what users can do to the Start menu via both Group Policy settings (on XP Professional) and edits to the Registry (XP Home and Professional).

If you’re running XP Professional, open the Group Policy MMC from the Run command by typing gpedit.msc and clicking OK. Once the tool has opened, browse to User Configuration > Start Menu and Taskbar, as shown below. Selectively enabling or disabling items on this list can force the removal of certain icons, or disallow them from being removed, as per your preferences. For example, if you were to open the Remove My Network Places icon from Start menu policy item and set it to Disabled, users would not be able to remove this icon. If set to enabled, the icon would not be available on the Start menu at all. Users running XP Home will need to use the Registry Editor to make these changes, with paths and settings outlined in the boxout below.

Advanced Start Menu Customizations on Windows XP

The Advanced tab of the Customize Start Menu window provides access to a large number of customizations that you’ll definitely want to take a closer look at. Examples of settings found on this tab include the ability to control the behaviour or the menu itself, for example having newly installed programs highlighted, and submenus opened automatically when you pause your mouse or pointer over them momentarily – both options can be turned on or off, as per your preferences. The lower part of the Advanced tab allows you to control the display of certain Start menu icons for the currently logged on user. Two types of configurable settings are available in the Start menu items section, namely those with a checkbox and those with different radio button options. When a checkbox is checked, the item will appear on the Start menu; the Favorites menu item is an example of this – when selected, it will appear on the Start menu, but when cleared will not. Items with multiple radio buttons provide much more flexibility.

For example, the My Computer option consists of three main radio buttons (other options exist for different items) – Display as a link, Display as a menu, and Don’t display this item. The last option is self explanatory; the first will open a dedicated window for that item when clicked, while the second will open the item as a set of expanded menu items. By selecting your preferred options in this section you can easily customize your Start menu according to exact preferences, controlling exactly which shortcut icons appear, and how they behave.