Hack 12 Rename and Change 'Unchangeable' Desktop Icons and System Objects


To create the perfect XP interface, you want to be able to give every desktop icon and system object the name and icon of your choice. Here's how to do it?even to objects that appear to be unchangeable.

Interface hackers (myself included) are a details-oriented bunch. We want to be able to control every part of the interface so that it reflects our personality. That means being able to choose our own icons for desktop items and system objects, give new names to system objects, and create our own balloon tips?for example, adding a balloon tip to the Recycle Bin saying "Take Out the Trash!"

But it's not as simple as you might think. Microsoft has a way of protecting its own. For example, it won't let you change the text and balloon tips associated with a variety of system objects, such as the Recycle Bin, Outlook, Internet Explorer, My Computer, and My Network Places.

You can normally change both the name and the balloon text (text that appears when you hover your mouse over the icon) of all the icons on your desktop, but you can't change these. Normally, to change the name and balloon text of an icon, you first right-click on the icon and choose Properties. To change the name of the icon, you choose the General tab and, in the box at the top, type in the name that you want to appear beneath the icon.

Then, to change the balloon text, you click on the Shortcut tab and in the Comment box type in the text that you want to appear. When you're ready to make the change, click OK. The icon name and balloon text should now be changed.

But when you try to do this for system objects such as Outlook, Internet Explorer, My Computer, and Network Neighborhood, it won't work. The proper options don't appear when you right-click on them and choose Properties.

There are ways, however, to change them in any way that you want, so that you can create your own personalized XP interface.

2.6.1 The Registry to the Rescue

The Registry is your best tool for personalizing XP. It will let you change both the text and balloon tip associated with system objects. First, you need to know the object's class ID (CLSID), which uniquely identifies each system object. Table 2-3 lists the CLSIDs for common desktop objects.

Table 2-3. CLSIDs for desktop objects

Desktop object


My Computer


Recycle Bin


Microsoft Outlook


Internet Explorer


The Internet


My Network Places




Dial-Up Networking


Armed with the proper CLSID, it's easy to change the name and balloon text of system objects. First, use Table 2-3 to find the CLSID for the object whose name or balloon text you want to change. Then run the Registry Editor [Hack #68] and go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID, a key that lets you change characteristics of system objects, and highlight the CLSID whose name or balloon text you want to change. For example, for My Computer, highlight the subkey HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}. Keep in mind that HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID has many CLSIDs listed under it, so it might take you a while to find the proper subkey.

Once you find the right subkey, if you want to edit the name of the object, open the Default value and type in the text that you want to appear underneath the object. If you want to edit the balloon text for the object, open the InfoTip value and type in the text that you want to appear as balloon text. Once you're done, exit the Registry and reboot.

You may also be able to force the changes to take effect without rebooting. After you exit the Registry, go to your Desktop and press F5 to refresh the screen. The new names and balloon tips might now appear.

2.6.2 Change the Desktop Icons of System Objects

You can hack objects besides names and balloon with this method. You can also change the desktop icons of system objects that appear to have unchangeable icons.

First, using Table 2-3, find the CLSID for the object whose icon you want to change. Then run the Registry Editor, go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID, and look for the CLSID subkey from Table 2-3 for the object whose icon you want to change. Open the subkey and then the DefaultIcon subkey under that. For example, to change the icon for My Computer, open the subkey HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}\DefaultIcon. Change the Default value to the path of the icon that you want displayed. Exit the Registry. You may have to reboot in order for the new settings to take effect.

Some people aren't able to change their icons using this method. Instead of editing HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID, they have to edit HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\CLSID\, and that does the trick.