Windows XP Tips 'n' Tricks

Make Windows XP work the way you want it to! These tips work with the final release of Windows XP. Unless otherwise ...

Paul Thurrott

October 6, 2010

11 Min Read
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Make Windows XP work the way you want it to!

These tips work with the final release of Windows XP. Unless otherwise noted, all tips should work with both Home and Professional Editions.Please note that some of these tips may require you to use a Registry Editor (regedit.exe), which could render your system unusable. Thus, none of these tips are supported in any way: Use them at your own risk. Also note that most of these tips will require you to be logged on with Administrative rights.

NEW! Microsoft recently sent along a set of Windows Tips and Office XP Tips that might also be of interest.

Delete files when the Recycle Bin is hidden
I actually discovered this tip accidentally recently and thought it was appropriate for the Tips page, even though it's probably been a feature of Windows for years. (UPDATE: Sure enough, it's been around for a while. It's still a cool tip and proof that one learns something every day).

By default, the Windows XP Recycle Bin sits at the bottom right of the desktop, just above the tray notification area and system clock. If you've got a bunch of floating windows open, however, it's possible to obscure the Recycle Bin and make it impossible to drag files and folders there for deletion. However, Microsoft must have thought of this event, because you can automatically hide all of those open windows during a drag operation. The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. But it's not. Instead, it's a cool hidden feature of XP.

Here's how it works: Make sure a bunch of windows are open on the screen, with at least one of them hiding the Recycle Bin. Then, find a file or group of files you'd like to drag to the Recycle Bin. Pick up the files with the mouse and move them to the lower right of the screen. As you reach the bottom area of the screen, pass the mouse cursor over a blank area of the task bar, hover there for an instant, and--voila!--the open windows all minimize, leaving the Recycle Bin available to accept the dragged files. Good stuff. This tip also works when windows are maximized, assuming the file(s) you want to delete are visible in one of the available windows.

Add album art to any music folder
Contributed by Richard Davidson and Brian Donovan
This is easily my favorite tip! One of the coolest new features in Windows XP is its album thumbnail generator, which automatically places the appropriate album cover art on the folder to which you are copying music (generally in WMA format). But what about those people that have already copied their CDs to the hard drive using MP3 format? You can download album cover art from sites such as or, and then use the new Windows XP folder customize feature to display the proper image for each folder. But this takes time--you have to manually edit the folder properties for every single folder--and you will lose customizations if you have to reinstall the OS. There's an excellent fix, however.

When you download the album cover art from the Web, just save the images as folder.jpg each time and place them in the appropriate folder. Then, Windows XP will automatically use that image as the thumbnail for that folder and, best of all, will use that image in Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP) if you choose to display album cover art instead of a visualization. And the folder customization is automatic, so it survives an OS reinstallation as well. Your music folders never looked so good!

Album cover art makes music folder thumbnails look better than ever!

UPDATE: In addition to the folder.jpg file mentioned above, you can also optionally create a smaller version of the image called albumartsmall.jpg, if desired. This is the image used to display album art in MPXP when its sized so that the display area is smaller than 200 x 200 pixels, and in the folder thumbnails for folders that contain album folders. If you don't create albumartsmall.jpg, however, Windows XP will automatically scale folder.jpg in these cases.

Automatically defrag drives with a new context menu item!
Contributed by Doug Knox
Create a new Registry import file named context_defrag.inf in Notepad (be sure to save with it with the Save as type set to All Files and not Text Documents) and place the following text inside:

; context_defrag.INF

; Adds Defrag to the right click context menu in Windows XP




HKCR,"DriveShellDefragcommand",,,"DEFRAG.EXE %1"

Then, right-click and choose Install. This will add a context menu to XP that allows you to automatically defrag drives, using the command line version of the built-in defragmentation utility. To use it, navigate to a drive in My Computer, right-click, and choose Defrag. A command line window will appear, and that drive will be defragged. When it's complete, the window just disappears.

UPDATE: To remove this functionality, Open regedit.exe and navigate to the following location:


Then delete the Defrag folder and close Regedit.

Add/Remove optional features of Windows XP
Contributed by Ong Choon Keong and Hans Breemer
I first mentioned this technique in an old Technology Showcase for Windows 2000, but it still works in Windows XP, and can be quite useful: For some reason, Microsoft has removed the ability to specify which Windows components you want to install during interactive Setup, and when you go into Add/Remove Windows Components in the Control Panel, you still don't have the full list of applications and applets you can add and remove. Thankfully, this is easy to fix.

To dramatically expand the list of applications you can remove from Windows XP after installation, navigate to C:WINDOWSinf (substituting the correct drive letter for your version of Windows) and open the sysoc.inf file. Under Windows XP Professional Edition, this file will resemble the following by default:

[Version] Signature = "$Windows NT$"

IndexSrv_System = setupqry.dll,IndexSrv,setupqry.inf,,7
TerminalServer=TsOc.dll, HydraOc, TsOc.inf,hide,2


The entries that include the text hide or HIDE will not show up in Add/Remove Windows Components by default. To fix this, do a global search and replace for ,hide and change each instance of this to , (a comma). Then, save the file, relaunch Add/Remove Windows Components, and tweak the installed applications to your heart's content.

Cool, eh? There are even more new options now under "Accessories and Utilities" too.

Remove the Shared Documents folders from My Computer
Contributed by Bryan Somerville
One of the most annoying things about the new Windows XP user interface is that Microsoft sawfit to provide links to all of the Shared Documents folders on your system, right at the topof the My Computer window. I can't imagine why this would be the default, even in a shared PCenvironment at home, but what's even more annoying is that you cannot change this behavior throughthe shell: Those icons are stuck there and you have to live with it.

Until now, that is.

Simply fire up the Registry Editor and navigate to the following key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SOFTWARE Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Explorer My Computer NameSpace DelegateFolders

You'll see a sub-key named {59031a47-3f72-44a7-89c5-5595fe6b30ee}. If you deletethis, all of the Shared Documents folders (which are normally under the group called "OtherFiles Stored on This Computer") will be gone.

You do not need to reboot your system to see the change.

Before: A cluttered mess with icons no one will ever use (especially that orpaned one).

After: Simplicity itself, and the way it should be by default.

Display the Sharing Tab in Folder Properties
Contributed by Paul Knight
In Windows 2000, getting to the Sharing options for a folder was simple: Just right-click, choose Properties, and you'd see a Sharing tab. In Windows XP, this feature is missing by default, but you can make the system display the Sharing tab if desired. Simply open up Folder Options (My Computer, then Tools, Folder Options) and navigate to the View tab. In the Advanced Settings section, scroll down to the bottom and uncheck Use simple file sharing (Recommended), a Mickey Mouse feature if there ever was one. Now share your folders on the LAN as you would in Windows 2000.

Use the ultimate configuration tool (Professional Edition only)
Contributed by several readers
One of the most full featured Windows XP configuration tools available is hidden right there in your system, but most people don't even know it exists. It's called the Local Group Policy Editor, or gpedit for short. To invoke this editor, select Start and then Run, then type the following:


After you hit ENTER, you'll be greeted by gpedit, which lets you modify virtually every feature in Windows XP without having to resort to regedit. Dig around and enjoy!

GPEDIT: It's your best friend for XP configuration.

Use the Windows Sound Scheme
Contributed by Keith Furman
Windows XP ships with a really nice new sound scheme, but it's not loaded by default for some reason. So once you've installed Windows XP, one of the first things you should do is get that new sound scheme loaded.

To do so, open up Control Panel and navigate to Sounds, Speech, and Audio Devices. Then, choose the task titled Change the sound scheme. In the dialog that appears, choose Windows Default for the sound scheme. Windows will ask you whether you want to save the previous scheme, which is usually a brain-dead questions, since no scheme was previously loaded. So choose No, and then click OK to exit the dialog.

Rip high-quality MP3s in Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP)
Contributed by Mark Elder, updated by Paul Thurrott
The relationship between Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP) and the MP3 audio format is widely misunderstood. Basically, MPXP is able to playback MP3 files out of the box, but encoding (or "ripping") CD audio into MP3 format will require anMP3 plug-in. During the Windows XP beta, Microsoft supplied a sample MP3 plug-in for testingpurposes, but it was limited to 56 Kbps rips, which is pretty useless, leading some to report that Microsoft was purposefully hobbling MP3 to make its Windows Media Audio (WMA) format look better. This is not the case.

To enable MP3 encoding in Windows XP, you'll need to to purchase one of three MP3 Creation Add-on packs for Windows XP. For more information, please visit theMicrosoft Web site.

Speed up the Start Menu
Contributed by Paris Paraskevas and Jarrett Miller
The default speed of the Start Menu is pretty slow, but you can fix that by editinga Registry Key. Fire up the Registry Editor and navigate to the following key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER Control Panel Desktop MenuShowDelay

By default, the value is 400. Change this to a smaller value, such as 0, to speed it up.

If this doesn't work for some reason, then you might try the following: Navigate to Display Properties then Appearance then Effects and turn off the option titled Show menu shadow. You will getmuch better overall performance.

Enable ClearType on the Welcome Screen!
Contributed by Erdim Tanyeri
As laptop users and other LCD owners are quickly realizing, Microsoft's ClearType technology in Windows XP really makes a big difference for readability. But the this feature is enabled on a per-user basis in Windows XP, so you can't see the effect on the Welcome screen; it only appears after you logon.

But you can fix that. Fire up the Registry Editor and look for the following keys:

(default user) HKEY_USERS .Default Control Panel Desktop FontSmoothing (String Value)
HKEY_USERS .Default Control Panel Desktop FontSmoothingType (Hexadecimal DWORD Value)

Make sure both of these values are set to 2 and you'll have ClearType enabled on the Welcome screen and on each new user by default.

Stop Windows Messenger from Auto-Starting
Contributed by Kevin Mazzone
If you're not a big fan of Windows Messenger, you can use the tip "Add/Remove optional features of Windows XP" above to remove it, or simply delete the following Registry Key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRunMSMSGS Display Hibernate Option on the Shut Down dialog
Contributed by Graham Vosloo
For some reason, Hibernate isn't available from the default Shut Down dialog. But you can enable it simply enough, by holding down the SHIFT key while the dialog is visible. Now you see it, now you don't!

Why this isn't just there by default is unknown.

Mo' tips!
I'm looking for more good tips! So if you've got something interesting, please send them along.

About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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