XP Professional's Group Policy Editor gives you instant access to changing more than three dozen interface settings. Here's how to use it to create your own personalized Start Menu and Taskbar.
XP Professional's Group Policy Editor does more than just customize the Control Panel [Hack #9]; it gives you control over many aspects of XP's interface as well?in particular, the Start Menu and Taskbar. In fact, it gives you quick access to over three dozen separate settings for them.
Run the Group Policy Editor by typing gpedit.msc at the Run prompt or command line. Go to User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar. As you can see in Figure 2-5, the right pane displays all the settings you can change. If you click on the Extended tab at the bottom of the screen, you'll be shown a description of the setting that you've highlighted, along with an explanation of each of the options. Settings you can customize include showing the My Pictures icon, the Run menu, and the My Music icon on the Start Menu; locking the Taskbar so that it can't be customized; and many others. To change a setting, double-click on it and choose the options from the menu it displays, as outlined in [Hack #9].
There's not room in this hack to go into detail about each of the settings you can change, so I'll tell you about some of my favorites. I've never been a big fan of My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music. In fact, I never use those folders, so there's no point having them on the Start Menu. The settings in the Group Policy Editor let you get rid of them.
If you share your PC with other people, the Group Policy Editor is a great way to make sure that no one can change the Start Menu and Taskbar except you. So when you have the Start Menu and Taskbar working the way you like, they'll stay that way until you want to change them. Enable "Prevent changes to Taskbar and Start Menu Settings," and no one will be able to change their settings except you. Select "Remove Drag-and-drop context menus on the Start Menu," and no one except you will be able to remove or reorder items on the Start Menu. You can even stop anyone else from shutting down Windows by selecting "Remove and prevent access to the Shut Down command." (Of course, they can still shut down your PC the old-fashioned way: using the power switch.)
Among the many entries here are a lot of pointless ones, by the way. You can remove the Log Off entry on the Start Menu, for example, which certainly isn't high on my list of must-haves. But who knows, you may want to do that or any of the many other changes the Group Policy Editor allows. Go in there yourself and muck around; you'll find plenty to change.
TweakUI [Hack #8] can be used to hack the Taskbar to a limited degree. Go to its Taskbar section, and you can disable or enable balloon tips, and enable or disable warnings when you're low on disk space. Underneath the Taskbar section, you'll find a Grouping subsection that controls how Taskbar "grouping" works. When you run too many programs with too many files open, all can't fit individually on the Taskbar. So, XP groups files from the same application with each other. For example, if you have four Word files open, it shows only a single icon for Word on the Taskbar, with the number 4 inside it. Click on the icon, and a list of all four files pops up. You can then choose which to open. TweakUI lets you control how that grouping works; you can decide whether to first group applications with the most windows, or instead first group applications that you use the least. You can also choose to group all applications with two or more windows open, three or more windows open, and so on.