Thursday, June 28, 2007


By the way, if you put your cursor on the Start Button and do nothing -- no right clicking, no left clicking, in fact take you hand off the mouse just to be sure -- something will happen. A little yellow box will pop up with the words: "Click here to begin."

It's a ToolTip. Frequently in Windows letting your cursor hover over a button will call forth a ToolTip that tells you, or at least hints at, what clicking on the button would do.

Sometimes a TootTip is very specific, like "Open new side note" (for the OneNote icon in the System Tray). Sometimes it's a little more general, like "Mozilla Firefox" (for an icon on the QuickStart Menu). Sometimes it's downright vague (begin what?). In any case, ToolTips are there to help and they assume you need help when your put your cursor on something and hesitate before clicking.

You may have noticed that I said ToolTips pop up frequently. Why not always? Or never?

Well if it were never, this would be a silly post. OK, sillier post. But why not always? Two reasons. Outside of the operating system itself, I think it depends on the program. If the programmer included ToolTips, they happen. If she didn't, they don't.

That explains why they either exist or don't for a particular button. But you may notice that, on the Start Button for example, the ToolTip will pop up sometimes and not others. I've never figured out a pattern. Of course there's a limit to how much of my life I'm willing to spend hovering a cursor over a button in Windows.

It could be that once you click on the Start Button a few times Windows assumes you've figured it out and don't need a ToolTip any more. If that's the case, I'd like the ToolTip guy to talk to the Clippy guy.

Start Hacking

If you use WindowsXP the way most people do, you use the Start Menu a lot. If you've got the itch to take some control over Windows, the Start Menu is a good place to, well, start. Why? Cause you can't hurt anything and you might make a busy button a little more convenient.

Start by right clicking on the Start Button and then left clicking on Properties. The first box gives you two options: Start menu and Classic Start menu. Classic Start just goes back to the squarish look of previous Windows versions. Try it if you want, it can't hurt anything and it's just a couple of clicks to restore the New, More Rounded, Modern Start menu.

Once you're past that thrill, you can try something useful. Click on Customize. (I'm going to talk about Start, not Classic Start, but you can customize either -- the options are just a little different).

Large icons or Small icons just saves a little space -- or eyestrain -- depending on what you choose.

Number of programs on Start menu is a little more interesting. You've probably noticed that the Start menu keeps a list of programs on the left side of the menu. It's actually two lists.

The top list doesn't change -- it's programs that you -- or some program -- have decided to keep handy. You can easily add a program to the list: just right click on the program's icon (or its shortcut icon), then left click on Pin to Start menu. It will stay there until you get rid of it. How do you do that? Click on the Start menu, move the cursor up the program you want to delete, right click it and then left click on Unpin from Start menu.

The list of programs on the bottom left side of the Start menu does change. It tries to keep handy the programs you use most. The more you use a program, and the more recently, the more likely it is to be on the list.

Number of programs on the Start menu lets you decide how many programs to keep handy. Just click on the up or down arrow to set the number. You can go up to 30 or down to zero. You can also type the number in the box if you find the little arrows irritating.

Just to the right and a little below the Number of programs box is a button that says Clear list. If you click it, it clears the list -- but you guessed that. Why would you want to clear the list of programs you use most often? How would I know? One possibility is that you had a flurry of activity involving programs that you generally don't use very much. They took over the list and now you don't need them anymore. They'd go away eventually, cut clearing the list can speed up the process.

Last two options: Internet and E-mail. The words have little check boxes to the left of them. If you check the boxes, you get to use the drop-down boxes on the right to choose a web browser and e-mail program to pin to the upper left list on the Start menu.

Of course you could do almost the same thing by right clicking on the browser or e-mail program icon and choosing Pin to Start menu. What's the difference? Brace yourself.

If you pin the program the regular way, it will show up on the list with its name. "Mozilla Firefox," or "Outlook Express," for example. If you select the program using the check box and drop-down menu, the program shows up on the list as "Internet" or "E-mail." The name of the actual program you chose is written underneath in a smaller, lighter font.

If the difference isn't obvious, I'll try to explain it. By having it labeled "Internet" or "E-mail" you're making that particular program the official browser or e-mail client. Any other browsers or e-mail clients you pin to the start menu are just programs you could use to do the same thing, not the programs you chose to be the official doers of browsing or email.