Windows XP Setup Tweaks & Tips
Saturday, May 22, 2004
By: Matthew Doucette

Last Updated on:  December 3rd, 2006.

I have recently reinstalled Windows XP Home Edition. Previously, over the past two or three years, I had modified my Windows XP install with so many tweaks that it is now hard to remember all of them.  Therefore, during the recent reinstall, I made a huge list.  Please contact us if you have any useful tips to add to this list.

Warning:  Modify your computer at your own risk.  I do not hold any responsibility for damaged systems caused by tweaking.  Backup your data often.  Your computer data should be able to withstand your computer being completely destroyed.  If your data is important, back it up and back it up outside of your computer's current residence, in case of fire or theft.


Windows XP Setup:

Install Windows XP:

  • Use NTFS not FAT32 file system.
  • Use default values.

Clean up Desktop:

  • "Desktop"
  • Delete "Internet Explorer" icon
  • Delete "My Documents" icon

Organize Desktop:  

  • "Desktop", "Arrange Icons By"
  • Enable "Auto Arrange"
  • Enable "Align to Grid"

Increase Size of Window Borders / Make Windows Easier to Grab:

  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Appearance", "Advanced"
  • Select "Active Window Border" or "Inactive Window Border" (changing one changes the other)
  • Set "Size" to 3, 4 or 5
  • The default size is 1.  Please note that this size is a not a pixel width size.  With the default size of 1, the border of your windows is 4 pixels wide, except in the corners if you are using the default Windows XP style, as the corners are curved and cutoff so they are only 2 pixels wide; half as wide as they should be.  No wonder you've been having difficulties grabbing the corners of your Windows XP windows in order to resize them!
  • Here is how it works...
  • Active Window Border Size 1 = 4 pixel width borders & 2 pixel width corner borders (too small)
  • Active Window Border Size 2 = 5 pixel width borders & 3 pixel width corner borders
  • Active Window Border Size 3 = 6 pixel width borders & 4 pixel width corner borders (recommended; my choice)
  • Active Window Border Size 4 = 7 pixel width borders & 5 pixel width corner borders (recommended)
  • Active Window Border Size 5 = 8 pixel width borders & 6 pixel width corner borders (recommended)
  • ...and so on.
  • Annoyingly, the Window Border Size does not affect the top border of Windows XP windows.  Very annoying when 4 pixels is just not enough.
  • Click "Ok"
  • Click "Apply"
  • Test out the new border thickness of your windows.  You should notice they are much easier to click and grab.  The problem with Windows XP is that the mouse speed is usually set to a speed where it skips pixels.  So sometimes the mouse jumps by increments of 2 pixels instead of 1, no matter how slow you move the mouse.  This sometimes makes the default border width of 4 pixels only 3 pixels wide to the user.  This is a huge decrease in border width as we are talking about pixels.  Also, as mentioned above, the default Windows XP style cutoffs the corners!  So, this mouse movement bug can can sometimes shrink the 2 pixel width default for corner borders to only 1 pixel wide.  The corners of the windows are designed to be curved to enhance visual effect at the cost of usability.  Is having curved windows worth increasing the difficulty in grabbing its corners?  Of course not.

Remove background (speeds up computer):

  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Desktop", "Background"
  • Set to "None"

Save energy:

  • "Desktop", "Properties" , "Screen Saver"  tab, "Monitor Power", "Power...", "Power Schemes" tab, "Power Schemes"
  • Set to "Home/Office Desk"
  • Set "Turn off monitor" to "After 5 mins"
  • Set "Turn off hard disks" to "Never".  Although I cannot speak for all hard drives, my current hard drive operates better when left on.  I started turning off my computer overnight and my hard drive started making louder noises as a result.  I believe, although am not certain, that it is due to my hard drive's fluid dynamic bearings or FDB.  FDB are supposedly quieter than the human ear can hear, however they work poorly at low speeds or when stopped.  I also recall earlier hard drives I have had that produced more noise when shut down and restarted constantly as opposed to continuous operation.  Therefore, my recommendation is to not only leave your hard drives running while your computer is on, but also leave your computer on forever. 
  • Slightly adjust those times up if they shut off too quickly for your liking.  Continually do this and eventually they will be set perfect for you

Disable accidentally power off and sleep buttons on keyboard:

  • "Desktop", "Properties" , "Screen Saver"  tab, "Monitor Power", "Power...", "Advanced" tab, "Power buttons"
  • Set "When I press the power button on my computer" to "Ask me what to do" or "Do nothing".
  • Set "When I press the sleep button on my computer" to "Ask me what to do" or "Do nothing".

Protect untouched system (auto-log off):

  • "Desktop", "Properties" , "Screen Saver"  tab, "Monitor Power", "Power...", "Advanced" tab, "Options"
  • Enable "Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby"
  • Note:  Screen Saver must be set to something other than "(None)" in order for this to work.

Switch to Classic style Windows (may have noticeable performance increase on slow systems):

  • I do not perform this tip, as I feel that the Windows XP style is better.  This is a personal preference, so you made do as you please.  The instructions are below:
  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Appearances" tab
  • Set "Windows and buttons" to "Windows Classic style"
  • Choose your favorite color scheme, mine is "Rainy Day".
  • NOTE:  If the "Windows XP style" or "Windows Classic sytle" options are gone, it is because you have the "Themes" service disabled.  To re-enable it:  "Start", "Control Panel", "Administrator Tools", "Services", "Themes", "Properties", "General Tab", change "Startup type:" to "Automatic", "Apply", "OK", click "Start the service".
  • NOTE:  Please note that the Start menu configuration and the Windows theme are independant of each other.  This means you can have Windows XP style theme with the Classic style Start menu, or the Classic style Windows theme with the Windows XP Start menu.'s (speeds up computer):

Switch to Classic style Start menu:

  • "Taskbar", "Properties", "Start Menu"
  • Choose "Classic Start menu"

Remove unnecessary special effects (speeds up computer):

  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Appearances" tab, "Effects"
  • Disable "Use the following transition effect for menus and tooltips"
  • Enable "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts" and set to "ClearType". (This is the slowest mode, but well worth it.)
  • Enable "Use large icons"
  • Disable "Show shadows under menus"
  • Enable "Show window contents while dragging" (This is the slowest mode, but well worth it.)
  • Disable "Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key"  (Raymond Chen explains why Microsoft hides the underlined letters.)  If you are an experienced Windows user, you may wish to enable this option, to make your menu options less cluttered and give your O/S a cleaner feel.

Set Smooth Font (ClearType) settings:

  • For more information on anti-aliased fonts, read our Anti-Aliased Text Does Look Better article.
  • Visit
  • If prompted, install Microsoft's ActiveX program
  • Enable "Turn on ClearType"
  • Click "Next >"
  • Continue through the steps picking the clearest font possible.  You do not want to strain your eyes.  If you choose a font that is unclear, your eyes will strain from trying to make a blurry picture clear (which is impossible), and you would actually be better off not using ClearType at all.  If you think your font is too blurry, come back and visit this Microsoft ClearType page and adjust your settings.
  • Click "Finish" on the last step
  • After using this and re-adjusting my settings over and over again, I believe that the darkest font is the easiest to read.  Find out which one causes you the least amount of eye strain.  It is important.

Set screen resolution: 

  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Settings" tab
  • Choose your screen resolution.  (I choose "1152 x 864 pixels" on my 21" monitor, which is approximately the same size, with more screen real estate, as "1024 x 768" on a 19" monitor.)
  • Set "Color quality" to "Highest (32 bit)"

Maximize your refresh rate (Trust me, it matters):

  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Settings" tab, "Advanced", "Monitor" tab
  • Set "Screen refresh rate" to highest available value.  (Note that the highest available value will change in different screen resolutions.  I can achieve 100 Hertz in 1152 x 864.)
  • Additional settings for ATI cards (although these settings do not work in all cases.  However, Refresh Lock, explained in next section, does.):
  • "Desktop", "Properties", "Settings" tab, "Advanced", "ATI Displays" tab, "Monitor", "Attributes" tab
  • Set "Refresh Rate Override" to "Same as desktop"  (It should have a "Maximum refresh rate" setting for apps that use lower resolutions and thus higher potential refresh rates than your desktop settings.)

Lock your refresh rate (as when you change into different resolutions, the maximum refresh rate is lost.  This is especially useful for gamers and web developers who change resolutions often):

  • Lock your refresh rate with Refresh Lock
  • Find "RefreshLock.exe"  (In the archive or download from the site.)
  • Right-click "RefreshLock.exe", "Create Shortcut"
  • Drag and Drop "RefreshLock.exe" shortcut to "Start Menu"  (This shortcut, or the "RefreshLock.exe" executable file itself, are the only ways to access the program after you remove the system tray icon, as explained below.)
  • Double-click system tray icon
  • Main screen, "Refresh Overriding"
  • Enable "On"
  • Enable "Always use the fastest safe frequency mode"
  • Press "Switch Mode"
  • "Tools", "Advanced Settings", "Startup", "Startup Settings"
  • Disable "Show icon in system tray (recommended)"  (Unless you are unsure if Refresh Lock works, in which case leave the system tray icon until you are sure.  Then remove it afterwards.  Warning:  Refresh Lock does not install.  It is what is called a "stand alone" application.  When you disable the system tray icon, there is no method of accessing the program other than double-clicking the "RefreshLock.exe" executable file.  You may what to create a shortcut to this file in your start menu, as explained above.)
  • Enable "Run this program on boot (not recommended if you regularly change monitors!)"  (If you do not do this, you have to manually start the program each time you boot, or you have to place the shortcut to "RefreshLock.exe" in the "Start", "Programs", "Startup" menu.)
  • "Close"
  • "Save"

Improve Start menu:

  • Copy all often used programs ("Internet Explorer", "Outlook Express", etc.) to Start menu above where "Windows Update" naturally appears.
  • This location is quickly accessible without the mouse:  "Windows Key", "Arrow Down" (or "Arrow Up"), "Enter".  "ESC" quits

DO NOT turn off "System Restore":

  • System Restore is a great way to uninstall nasty pieces of spyware, adware, stealware, malware that invade your system and do not offer the option of the traditional uninstall.  It is highly recommended that you leave "System Restore" on and make restore point before each and every installation of any software.

Disable remote assistance (Thanks to Black Viper's Windows XP Super Tweaks for this tweak.)

  • Note:  Only disable services that you fully understand.  If you do not understand what this service does, then do not disable it or change its default settings.  Please contact us if you have more questions.
  • "My Computer"
  • "Properties"
  • "Remote"
  • "Remote Assistance"
  • Disable "Allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent from this computer"

Remove all unnecessary programs under "Add or Remove Programs"

  • Unhide all programs from the Add/Remove programs menus (Thanks to Black Viper's Windows XP Super Tweaks for this tweak.)
  • Edit "C:\WINDOWS\inf\sysoc.inf"
  • Remove all instances of "hide".  Example, to unhide "Windows Messenger", this line: "msmsgs=msgrocm.dll,OcEntry,msmsgs.inf,hide,7" should become: "msmsgs=msgrocm.dll,OcEntry,msmsgs.inf,,7"
  • "Start"
  • "Settings"
  • "Control Panel"
  • "Add or Remove Programs"
  • "Add/Remove Windows Components"
  • Disable "MSN Explorer"
  • Disable "Windows Messenger" (you may have to manual uninstall this later on, as it keeps getting enabled/re-installed)
  • "Accessories and Utilities"
  • "Details"
  • Disable "Games" (It is psychologically beneficial to remove all non-work related software off your machine. It helps achieve maximum productivity.)
  • Remove empty "Games" folder
  • "Start"
  • "Programs"
  • Delete "Games" (It should be empty now.)

Set up keyboard settings:

  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Keyboard", "Speed" tab, "Character repeat"
  • Set "Repeat delay"  to "Short"  (All the way over.)
  • Set "Repeat rate" to "Fast"  (All the way over.)
  • Set "Cursor blink rate" to "Fast" (All the way over.)
  • ??? How can I set higher repeat rates?  If you know, please contact us.

Setup mouse settings:

  • Install new mouse drivers
  • Here are mine:  IntelliPoint 5.0 Mouse Software for Windows XP and 2000
  • Google to find yours.
  • Warning:  Your new mouse drivers may reset your mouse buttons.  For example, my middle mouse button was changed from "Auto-scroll" to "Next Window".  I set it to "disabled".
  • Reboot if necessary.
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Mouse", "Pointers" tab, "Scheme"
  • Set to "Windows Inverted (extra large) (system scheme)"  (My personal preference.)
  • Disable "Enable pointer shadow"
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Mouse", "Pointer Options" tab, "Motion", "Select a pointer speed"
  • Enable "Enhance pointer precision"
  • Set bar to slowest speed that is fast enough for you as faster speeds skip pixels (move your mouse very slowly to see this.)
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Mouse", "Activities" tab
  • Set "Double-Click Speed" fast as possible in accordance to your natural double-click speed.  (Sometimes two single clicks will be misinterpreted as a double-click because your double-click speed is set too slow.  For example, highlight a file by clicking on it, and then start to rename it by clicking on it again.  If this setting is too slow, it will open the accidentally.) 

Setup homepage:

Switch to classic Windows folders:

  • "Windows Explorer", "Folder Options", "General", "Tasks"
  • Set "use windows classic folders"

Adjust system for best performance, within reason:

  • "My Computer", "Properties", "System Properties", "Advanced", "Performance", "Settings"
  • Set to "Adjust for best performance"
  • Re-enable "show window contents while dragging"   (This is the slowest mode, but well worth it.)
  • Re-enable "smooth edges of screen fonts"   (This is the slowest mode, but well worth it.)

Uninstall Windows Messenger

  • Even though we have already uninstalled Windows Messenger (in "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Add or Remove Programs", "Add/Remove Windows Components") it sometimes comes back.  If it ever comes back, come back and perform this permanent uninstall:
  • To uninstall Windows Messenger, please read our Uninstall Windows Messenger article.  

Install firewall:

Run "Windows Update":

  • "Start", "Windows Update"
  • Install the updates (Sorry for no detailed explanation here.)  
  • Reboot if necessary.  
  • Repeat until finished.
  • If you have not already, reboot again.

Run Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer V1.2:

  • You thought you were done with "Windows Update"?  You're not.
  • I have had some problems with updates that I have already installed that Baseline Security Analyzer indicates I have not.  I hope I am not mistaken in the assumption that this is a bug and that I do have all my updates installed.

Setup and test your security:

  • Visit
  • Note that the following programs are developed and published by GRC (Gibson Research Corporation), not
  • Download and run DCOMbobulator
  • Download and run Shoot The Messenger
  • Download and run UnPlug n' Pray
  • Download and run XPdite
  • Download and run LeakTest
  • Visit and run ShieldsUP!
  • GRC is a huge site filled with articles and software dealing with securing your computer.  It is written in an easy-to-understand format.  It is suggested that you spend a few hours browsing through this website.
  • GRC also develops and publishes SpinRite, the world's best data recovery and hard drive maintenance software.

Download latest DirectX

Download latest graphics drivers

Adjust graphics card settings

  • Turn up AGP, if not already.  (Mine can go to 8X and was defaulted to only 2X.)

Change folder settings

  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Folder Options", "View", "Advanced Settings"
  • Enable "Display the full path in the address bar"
  • Enable "Display the full path in the title bar"
  • Enable "Do not cache thumbnails"  (Enable this if you never use the "Thumbnail" folder view.  Caching thumbnails creates a hidden "Thumbs.db" file in each directory that you view as "Thumbnails".)
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Folder Options", "View", "Advanced Settings", "Hidden files and folders"
  • Enable "Show hidden files and folders"  (Only if you are comfortable with this.)
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Folder Options", "View", "Advanced Settings"
  • Disable "Hide extensions for known file types"  (Hiding extensions of known file types makes files named "test.txt", "test.exe", and "test.doc" show up as only "test".  However, "" will show up as "" as long as the ".abc" extension is unknown.  There is a security problem with this:  A file named "test.txt.exe" will show as "test.txt", implying it is a text file when it is an executable file.  If it were a virus, double-clicking "test.txt" to view the contents of the 'text file' executes the virus.)
  • Disable "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)"  (only i fyo uare comfortable with this.)
  • Enable "Launch folder windows in a separate process"  (As Windows help explains, "Specifies that each folder is opened in a separate part of memory. When you open each folder in a separate part of memory, the stability of Windows can be increased. However, your computer's performance might decrease slightly."  This help is found by clicking on the question mark in the top right corner of the "Folder Options" window, and then clicking on "Launch folder windows in a separate process" or any other option.)
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Folder Options", "View", "Advanced Settings", "Managing pairs of web pages and folders"
  • Enable "show both parts and manage them individually" (This setting may only show after installing Office XP.)
  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "Folder Options", "View", "Advanced Settings"
  • Enable "Remember each folder's view settings"  (Be aware that only 400 folder's view settings are stored.  If your folders start to run out, visit the "Powertoys" / "Tweak UI" section of this page to modify the value higher.)  

Use Google Toolbar to simplify your searches and block your pop-ups:

  • Download Google Toolbar
  • "Google Toolbar", "Google", "Options..."
  • Enable "Page Info menu"
  • Disable "news button"
  • Disable "options button"
  • "Google Toolbar", "Google", "Options...", "More" tab, "Web Buttons"
  • Enable "Up"
  • Enable "Category"
  • "Google Toolbar", "Google", "Options...", "More" tab, "Extra search buttons"
  • Enable "search site"

I believe, but am not certain, that the Google Toolbar sets the default search in Internet Explorer (IE) to Google.  (Contact us if I am wrong .)  For example, if you go to IE and type in "nba" and press enter, on my computer, it brings up  Back in the day, when you typed in "nba" and pressed enter, the browser would automatically try to connect to and/or  Slightly off topic, but an interesting tip from Joel Spolsky is, during the typing of a URL, pressing CTRL-Enter adds "http://www." and ".com" and then presses Enter for you.

Modify Internet Explorer toolbars (remove unwanted buttons)

  • Open "Internet Explorer", right-click toolbar, "Customize"
  • Add/remove as you please.  (I remove everything except "Back", "Forward", "Stop", "Refresh", "Home", and "Edit" [which I only use for CityDesk.])
  • Disable "Lock the Toolbars"
  • Move toolbars as you please.
  • Enable "Lock the Toolbars"

Modify Internet Explorer:

  • "Tools"
  • "Internet Options..."
  • "Advanced" tab
  • "Accessibility"
  • Enable "Always expand ALT text for images" if you ever surf without images (as modem / dialup users do to speed up their surfing).  What this option does is show the full "ALT text" whenever the "ALT text" is smaller than the size of the would-be image.  This is often the case for menu buttons at the top of websites.  (What is "ALT text"?  It stands for "alternative text", which is short for "the alternative text to display whenever you are not going to display the corresponding image.")
  • "Browsing"
  • Disable "Reuse windows for launching shortcuts" if you want to use new windows, not currently opened ones, when clicking on a shortcut.
  • Disable "Show friendly HTTP error messages" to see the actual error messages when the occur.
  • "Multimedia"
  • Disable "Enable Automatic Image Resizing" if you do not want IE to resize images that are larger than the broswer.  Keep in mind that if you leave this enabled, there is a menu system that will appear on resized images that will allow you to view the image in its original (larger) size.
  • Disable "Show Pictures" if you are on a slow modem dialup connection to make surfing much faster.  This is a pain to switch back and forth, so dowload UIGizmo from Jason Doucette which takes care of switching images on and off much easier.  (Oops.  No link to UIGizmo yet.  Coming soon.)
  • "Search from the Address bar"
  • Enable "Do not search from the Address bar", which, at the same time, automatically disables "Just go to the most likely site."
  • By the way, going "to the most likely site" is how you get forwarded to "" whenever a .com website does not work.  For example, if did not work (it does, so don't visit it) and you tried to visit it, Internet Explorer will realize it fails and then tries to help you out by trying variations of what you may have meant.  It adds ".com" and ".org" to the end of what you typed, so if you typed "google" it would try ""  If "" failed, it would then try ""  It makes sense when you forgot to type in the TLD (".com", ".org", ".net", etc.) but it makes no sense when you already have.  Very dumb.  So, back to, assuming it fails, IE will try "" and then ""  The owners of "" have set it so that anything under "" goes to their " – Only the best links ..." site.  This is not spyware, just IE trying an unlikely site to your broken URL and a company making use of this flaw.
  • "Printing"
  • Disable "Print background colors and images" if you do not want to print the colorful backgrounds some webpages have.  This should already be disabled by default.  It is good to know in case, for some reason, you wish to print a webpage in its full detail.
  • Look around some more for other options you may wish to enable or disable.  Be careful to research options that you do not understand before modifying.

Copy backups to your new system.

  • Remember that this is an article for reinstalling Windows XP, so you should have some backups to copy onto your fresh hard drive.
  • Warning:  Folders containing the hidden "desktop.ini" file, such as "C:\Documents and Settings\_user_name_here_\Favorites" will merge with your old copy if they both contain the "desktop.ini" file.  If merged, and you delete the original backup, the new copy gets deleted too.

Increase max connections of Internet Explorer (registry hack).

  • Please note, this should only be done for high speed Internet users, not dial-up Internet users.  (Why?  Dial-up is so slow that there is nothing to gained by increasing the number of connections to a website.  For high speed Internet users, the reason increasing the number of connections to a website is helpful is due to "capping".  Websites are "capped".  This means that a website, actually its server, will only give you information so fast, no matter how fast your connection is.  If you can download 600k/s, like I could when I was on cable Internet, but a website's server is capped at 20k/s, then you can only receive websites found on that server at 20k/s if you only have one connection to it.  Theoretically speaking, if you have eight connections to it, you could then receive the websites at 160k/s.  This is theoretical, of course.  There's more detail, but I will not get into at this time.)
  • "Start", "Run..."
  • Type "regedit"
  • Navigate to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\InternetSettings"
  • If these values already exist, skip the next steps
  • "Edit", "New", "DWORD Value"
  • Rename "New Value #1" to "MaxConnectionsPerServer"
  • Select "MaxConnectionsPerServer"
  • "Edit", "Modify"
  • Set to 8
  • "Edit", "New", "DWORD Value"
  • Rename "New Value #1" to "MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server" (not MaxConnectionsPerI_OServer; 1_0 are numbers, not  letters)  
  • Select "MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server"
  • "Edit", "Modify"
  • Set to 8
  • Reboot  
  • This does not take effect immediately.  The effect is most notible when you are trying to download more than 2 items at once with Internet Explorer.  This maximum amount proves that the default setting is 2.  I am not sure whether it is the "...PerServer" or "...Per1_0Server" that effects this maximum download amount, but after you have set these values to 8, you can download 8 items at a time.  You can increaes this value further, but I would suggest more research on what values are helpful or not before pushing it past 8.  A download accelerated will take care of your efforts to download more than 2 or 8 or however many items at a time.  If anyone has a deeper understanding of this, or has performed conclusive benchmarks, please contact us .

Outlook Express settings:

  • Hide Preview Pane in Outlook Express (link takes you to our article which explains it in more depth.)
  • "Tools", "Options...", "General" tab
  • Leave "check for new messages every" to 30 minutes (New email generally decreases productivity.  Read more about email decreasing productivity here:  The Tyranny of Email.)
  • Disable "Play sound when new messages arrive" (Again, this reduces productivity.  Email should only be read when you have specifically set aside time for it, not during the middle of your work on which you must concentrate on. 
  • Disable "automatically log on to windows messenger"
  • "Tools", "Options...", "Receipts" tab
  • Set "Never send a read receipt"
  • "Tools", "Options...", "Send" tab
  • Disable "Automatically put people I reply to in my Address Book"
  • Disable "Reply to messages using the format in which they were sent"
  • Set "Mail Sending Format" to "Plain Text"
  • "Tools", "Options...", "Signatures" tab
  • Enable "Add signatures to all outgoing messages"
  • Disable "Don't add signatures to Replies and Forwards"
  • Click "New" and add a signature
  • "Tools", "Options...", "Security" tab
  • Disable "Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially by a virus"  (Make sure to have an anti-virus software installed before you start downloading emails or... do not change this setting until after you have anti-virus software installed.)
  • "Tools", "Options...", "Spelling" tab, Settings
  • Enable "Always check spelling before sending"  

Show all file extensions

  • "Start", "Run..."
  • Type "regedit"
  • Search and delete all data fields called "NeverShowExt".  (They have no values.)
  • "NeverShowExt" blocks the showing of file extensions, and overrides even your explorer settings.
  • Note:  One problem with this is that your start menu will now show its files (properly) with the ".lnk" extension, but this is a small price to pay to see what really exists on your computer.

Disable Outlook Express from opening all links in same window

  • Here is Microsoft's own page on how to do this:
  • (Use the Microsoft Windows 2000 Workaround for Windows XP)
  • Go to "My Computer", "Tools", "Folder Options", "File Types", "Registered file types"
  • Next, go to either "URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol"  or "URL:Internet Shortcut" , you should only have one or the other, not both.  Contact us if this is not true.
  • Next, go to "Advanced", "Edit..."
  • Disable "Use DDE"
  • Press "OK"
  • Press "OK"
  • If you had "URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol", you have to repeat the same steps for "URL:HyperText Transfer Protocol with Privacy"
  • This makes no sense, but go back and check the "Use DDE" settings, they will be enabled again.  It will always appear enabled as if you never changed it, but it works.  Make sure to re-disable it before you get out again.  If anyone can further elaborate why the setting appears to never change, and perhaps come up with a better solution, please contact us.
  • Note:  This modification will make Internet Explorer ask to be reset as the default browser, at some point, even though its "defaul browser" status has not changed.  If you allow it to reset itself as the default browser, it will remove this modification you just made and Outlook Express will begin to open all links in the same window again.  If anyone has more information on this slight annoyance, please contact us.
  • Note:  Internet Explorer windows already opened will still be re-used, so CRTL-N (create a copy of) already opened windows and close down the original to make sure they do not get re-used.

Install Windows XP Powertoys

Change Tweak UI (a Windows XP Powertoy, explained above) settings

  • "General", "Focus"
  • Enable "prevent applications from stealing focus"
  • "Mouse"
  • Set "menu speed" to fastest (farthest left)
  • "Explorer"
  • Disable "show my documents on classic start menu" unless you use it
  • Disable "show my pictures on classic start menu" unless you use it
  • "Explorer", "Customizations"
  • Set "Folders to remember" to larger than 400 if you notice your folders do not retain their settings.)
  • "Desktop"
  • Disable "Internet Explorer" (I place it at the top of my classic start menu.)
  • Disable "My Documents" (I never use it.)
  • "Desktop", "First Icon"
  • Set to "My Computer". I delete "My Documents" from the desktop anyway.
  • "My Computer", "Autoplay", "Types"
  • Disable Autoplay for all types
  • "Templates"
  • Disable everything except...
  • Enable "Text Document" (This is the only file I ever create without using its native application, usually just to create a note text file in a directory. By the way, "folder" and "shortcut" can not be turned off, so do not worry that they are not in this list.)
  • "Logon", "Unread Mail"
  • Disable "Show unread mail on Welcome screen" (Why should someone at the Welcome screen be able to see details of your email?)
  • "Settings"  (??? The following "Settings" settings did not work for me.  Did it work for you?  Please contact us and let us know .)
  • Enable "Colors"
  • Enable "Font smoothing"
  • Enable "keyboard"
  • Enable "mouse"
  • Enable "wallpaper"

Install Steve Miller's PureText

Install Office XP

Setup your network and disable Windows Messenger (again):

  • "Start", "Settings", "Network Connections", "LAN or High-Speed Network", "Local Area Connection", "Properties", Advanced" tab
  • Enable "Protect my computer and network by limiting or preventing access to this computer from the Internet"
  • "Start", "Settings", "Network Connections", "LAN or High-Speed Network", "Local Area Connection", "Properties", Advanced" tab, "Settings..."
  • "Services" tab
  • Disable all "msmsgs" (Windows Messenger)

Disable "Guest" account (Windows XP Home):

  • "Start", "Settings", "Control Panel", "User Accounts"
  • Make sure Guest account reads "Guest account is off".  (Mine is already disabled, so I do not have precise instructions on how to do it.)

Remove unwanted "Startup" programs

  • "Start", "Run..."
  • Type "msconfig"
  • "Startup"
  • Disable all known programs you do not need, one at a time, rebooting in-between each disable.  (Warning:  For unknown programs, Google the name and/or executable file for background information to be sure they can be disabled safely.)
  • "Services"
  • Again, disable all known programs you do not need, one at a time, rebooting in-between each disable.  (Warning:  Again, for unknown programs, Google the name and/or executable file for background information to be sure they can be disabled safely.)
  • Reboot and test all programs
  • Upon reboot, disable "Don't show this message or launch the System Configuration Utility when Windows start".  (Yes, it should say "starts", not "start".)

Enable 'all file' searches (Thanks to Windows Network & .NET Magazine for this tweak):

  • "Start", "Run..."
  • Type "regedit"
  • Find "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\ContentIndex"
  • Set "FilterFilesWithUnknownExtensions" to 1 (It should have been previously set to 0.)
  • Warning:  Windows Network & .NET Magazine also has a solution that uses the "Indexing Service" which we have already disabled.  I do not suggest using this solution as it will probably not work without re-enabling the "Indexing Service".
  • Also, when searching (before you click "Search"), click into "More advanced options" (you may have to click into "Use advanced search options" first) and select "Search hidden files and folders".  It's not selected by default.

Test 'all file' search (above):

  • Go to your desktop (...or wherever you want)
  • Create a directory "test"
  • Create a file called "test.txt"
  • Edit "test.txt"
  • Insert "0123456789" (...or whatever you want)
  • Save "test.txt"
  • Copy and paste "test.txt" file multiple times
  • Rename some the copies to known extensions like "test.doc", "test.rtf", etc.
  • Rename some the copies to unknown extensions like "", "", etc.
  • Right click on the "test" directory, select "Search..."
  • Set "A word or phrase in the file:" to "0123456789"
  • Press "Search"
  • If 'all file' search is enabled, all the files will result.  If 'all file search is not enabled, then only the known extension files will result.
  • Warning:  When doing this test, do not test using contents identical to the filenames.  In other words, do not name the files "test...." and then use "test" as the contents of the files.  Why?  For example, if you entered the string "test" into all the files and then searched for "test" as a word or phrase in the file, then all the files will result regardless if 'all file' search is enabled or not.  Why?  Windows Search, when searching file content, also searches the name of the files themselves as content in the files.
  • Warning:  Do not depend on Windows Search Assistant (what it is called) as it is extremely flaky and often seems to not work when searching the contents of files.  It will often miss files.  I have no idea why it does this.  Do not depend on it.

Clean up "Start menu"

  • If you have not already, move all commonly used programs in "Start menu" to the main "Start menu" (where "Windows Updates" exists.)
  • "Start", "Programs"
  • Delete all programs that exist elsewhere, such as "Internet Explore", "Outlook Express", etc.

Clear up the Taskbar:

  • Note:  According to Black Viper, "Quick Launch" icons "do not take up memory or resources constantly running in the background".  However, system tray icons do.  Why?  System tray icons are running programs, whereas quick launch icons are shortcuts.  Delete any system tray icons you can.  I delete both (as explained in the next two steps below) and place any shortcuts in the start menu above where "Windows Update" defaults to in the classic start menu.
  • "Taskbar", "Properties", "Start Menu", "Customize", "Advanced Start menu options"
  • Enable "Show Small Icons in Start Menu"
  • Disable "Use Personalized Menus" (Enabling makes non-used menu items hide.)
  • "Taskbar", "Properties", "Taskbar"
  • Disable "Lock the Taskbar"
  • Disable "Group similar Taskbar buttons"
  • Disable "Show Quick Launch"
  • Disable "Hide inactive buttons" (When all is said and done, there should be no buttons in the taskbar that you do not need or want to see.)

Clear and Delete "Quick Launch":

  • Delete all Icons out of "Quick Launch" by right-clicking on them and selecting "Delete", then press "Yes" to move the shortcut to the recycle bin.
  • "Taskbar", (right-click) "Toolbars"
  • uncheck "Quick Launch"  

Clean up "System tray"

  • Remove all unnecessary system tray and quick launch icons.
  • Do this in the settings of each individual program.
  • I have ICQ (sometimes), Winamp, RefreshLock, and Windows Task Manager icons, and nothing more.
  • If you have not already, remove quick launch toolbar altogether (instructions earlier.)

Security Center

  • "Start", "settings", "Control Panel", "Security Center"
  • Here you can see if your firewall, automatic (Windows) updates, and virus protection are set properly.  This is very cool.  Windows can even check out the status of popular anti-virus products, and let you know if they are out-of-date.  Please spend some time in this screen and read up.

Speed up your reboots:

  • Disable auto startup of programs like ICQ. Increases reboot times.

Stop unwanted "Favorites" folders in Internet Explorer (IE):

  • "C:\Documents and Settings\UsernameHere\Favorites\"
  • Delete the unwanted folders ("From ICQ", "Media", and "Links" for me.)
  • "File", "New", "Text Document"
  • Copy and paste a "New Text Document.txt" for each unwanted folder.
  • Rename the files to the same name as the unwanted folders (Again, "From ICQ", "Media", and "Links" for me.)
  • Those automatic folders will never come back, as a file and folder can not exist in the same directory with the same name.

Remove right click menu items from these commonly used programs:  (Perhaps a registry hack exists for extra fine-tuning programs of the context menu items.  Does anyone reading this know if this is true?  If so, please contact us .)

Remove right click menu items from WinRAR:

  • "Options", "Settings", "Integration", "Context menu items"
  • Disable all unused functions
  • Repeat these general directions for other programs.
  • (If you are a WinRAR user, check out our WinRAR tips.)

Remove right click menu items from Winamp:

  • "Winamp", "Options", "Preferences", "General Preferences", "Show Winamp in:"
  • Disable "Taskbar"
  • Enable "System tray"
  • "Winamp", "Options", "Preferences", "General Preferences", "File Types", "Explorer Settings"
  • Disable "Show Winamp in folder context menus in Windows Explorer"
  • "Winamp", "Options", "Preferences", "General Preferences", "File Types", "Winamp Agent"
  • Disable "Enable Winamp agent"

Modify and Setup Microsoft Word:

  • Add "Word Count" toolbar:
  • right-click any toolbar's blank space
  • Enable "Word Count"  (It is unfortunately not automatic.)
  • Modify "Formatting" toolbar:
  • "Formatting toolbar", "drop-down menu" (should be right after the 'font color' button that looks like a capital "A"), "Add or Remove buttons", "Formatting"
  • Enable "Superscript"
  • Enable "Subscript"

Run certain tasks in low priority automatically:

Install UltraMon if you have dual monitors:

  • Download and install from:
  • Now you have a taskbar on each monitor, that shows the tasks separately on each monitor.
  • Right-click UltraMon system tray icon, "Options", "Window Title Bar"
  • Disable "add Maximize to Desktop button"  (This allows you to maximize a window accross both monitors.)
  • Right-click UltraMon system tray icon, "Options", "Window Menu"
  • Disable "add Maximize to Desktop command"  (This allows you to maximize a window accross both monitors.)
  • Right-click UltraMon system tray icon, "Options", "HotKeys"
  • Set "Move window to next monitor" hotkey.  I set it to CTRL + F12.  This is very helpful when one of your monitors does not work, or gets screwed up, and you open some programs only to have the programs' windows open in the broken monitor.  I quick press of CTRL-F12 (if that's what you set the hotkey to) will move the window in question over the monitor that works!

Additional Windows Updates to Consider:

  • Update for Internet Explorer 6 for XP Service Pack 2 (KB888240):
  • "When you open the Manage Add-ons dialog box on the Tools menu in Microsoft Internet Explorer, some installed add-ons may not be listed. Therefore, for example, you may not be able to select an add-on that you want to disable."
  • Warning: Must have Windows XP Service Pack 2  

Receive Email Notifications of Microsoft Windows Security Updates (or Instant Message Notifications or RSS feeds)

  • I only recommend this to those of you who are seriously into security.  I personally unsubscribed to this as it was too overwhelming to keep up with all the little details.
  • Visit, and subscribe to, Microsoft Security Notification Service to receive automatic e-mail notifications whenever Microsoft security bulletins are issued.  (Clicking the previous link above takes me to Microsoft Technical Security Notifications, where you can subscribe ot the service.  I posted this link, even though the previous link takes you here anyway,  just in case the previous link ever fails.)
  • You will need a Microsoft Passport Network account (which you already have if you have a hotmail account.)  It will ask to you log in or to register for one as you go through the process of subscribing to the service.  Microsoft does not make signing up to a Passport Network account the easiest, but it is easy enough that should do it if you want this notifications.  If you do not already have a Passport Network account, after you are done signing up for one, you may wish to come back here and click Microsoft Security Notification Service link again, to make sure you are in the proper location again.  I had to do this, as I could not seem to get back to the place I was before signing up to Passport after I was done signing up to it!  It is easy to get lost on Microsoft's vast website.
  • If you wish to subscribe to more than one of the available options off the Microsoft Security Notification Service page, then I suggest re-visiting the original page from the link I give here.  As, again, it is very easy to get lost on Microsoft's site.
  • When you do eventually subscribe, be warned that it is very hard to tell if you have actually subscribed to the notification service or not.  I did not receive any confirmation emails letting me know that I actually subscribed.  (I subscribed to both the Microsoft Security Notification Service and the Microsoft Security Notification Service: Comprehensive Version.)
  • In order to verify your subscription, you have to visit Manage Your Profile (available from any of the Microsoft websites you are visiting while signed into the Passport Network) and then, from within your profile, click Subscription Center.  This lists your subscription information.  Here, I can easily see that I have, indeed, subscribed to both the notification services I described that I had attempted to subscribed to earlier
  • Hope this helps!  Please contact us for more information or if you have some tips you would like to share.

Double check all your settings after installing all your software. Some software may change back some of your changed settings.



Windows XP Maintenance:

Remove spyware from your computer.  The following information is described in more detail in our Anti-Spyware Software Suggestions article:

Check condition of your Windows files:

Verify your system files are digitially signed:

Manage your wanted (and unwanted) web browser add-ons (addons):

  • "Internet Explorer", "Tools", "Manage Add-ons"
  • Select an add-on
  • Select "Enable" or "Disable" to enable or disable it.
  • Many add-ons do not need to be integrated into the browser to work.  (This is true for even browser enhancing programs like Download Accelerator Plus.)  Try disabling them and see if the program in question continues to work.  If it does, then leave it disabled.  If it does not continue to work, then enable it.
  • If your Add-ons are not all listed, then the Update for Internet Explorer 6 for XP Service Pack 2 (KB888240) will fix this bug.  This bug occurs because, "during the installation of certain add-ons, a flag is set in the registry that prevents the add-on from being managed through the Manage Add-ons dialog box."

XP "Rebuild" Command:

"The Rebuild command--technically a software "switch" used with XP's Bootcfg tool--automatically searches a hard drive for valid startup information and files, letting you choose the correct ones. This has the effect of removing and repairing any references to whatever invalid, missing, or corrupt startup information was preventing normal booting." - Fred Langa


Microsoft Genuine Advantage – Diagnostic Site

Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool



Discuss Windows XP tweaks and tips in our forums.



About the Author: I am Matthew Doucette of Xona Games, an award-winning indie game studio that I founded with my twin brother. We make intensified arcade-style retro games. Our business, our games, our technology, and we as competitive gamers have won prestigious awards and received worldwide press. Our business has won $180,000 in contests. Our games have ranked from #1 in Canada to #1 in Japan, have become #1 best sellers in multiple countries, have won game contests, and have held 3 of the top 5 rated spots in Japan of all Xbox LIVE indie games. Our game engines have been awarded for technical excellence. And we, the developers, have placed #1 in competitive gaming competitions -- relating to the games we make. Read about our story, our awards, our games, and view our blog.

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