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No Reason For The Cat To Die

What you are about to read is of no practical use. It sure is fun, but there is no reason to effect the changes to your system described in this article other than pure curiosity. Of course, we all know that intelligent and virile alpha men and women maintain a healthy curiosity about all things as they go through life. Curious people are measurably more handsome, have nice cars and well proportioned ears too. Government studies show that non-curious people have smelly feet and excessive nose hair. So if you are the curious type, read on. If you aren't, then go wash your feet. Please.

There are more ways to modify your Windows GUI than there are bald guys at a singles party. And like bald guys, they range from simple, readily available color choices to wholesale modifications of how the user interacts with Windows. I'll touch on both ends of that spectrum in this article, but mostly I'll share straightforward methods for making cosmetic changes to Windows that go beyond what you can do by just right clicking the desktop and selecting Properties. I'll turn you on to an entire array of small freeware and a few shareware utilities that you probably didn't even know existed, which will allow you to make remarkable modifications to your GUI with relative safety. More advanced users know that anything that can be done with these utilities can be done manually, but most of you aren't Registry-Gods, and neither am I, so we'll work through this stuff at a non-geekazoid level of comprehension if you don't mind. All you need is a fundamental understanding of the structure of Windows. In other words, this is an article for normal people. All two of you out there should get a real kick out of this stuff. I certainly do.

Prudence Is The Better Part Of Tweakery

Before you start hacking away at your pride and joy there, please take the time to read these articles about backing up and restoring your Registry and system files. Save yourself grief and spare me the e-mails full of woe that your system is properly boogered now that you did this or that. There is nothing, not one line of instructions in this article that cannot be easily undone by restoring your Registry and other system files if you backed everything up before you started. Just do it. Kindly refrain from snivelry if you don't.

Pre-Tweak Preparations

Aside from a complete back-up, you should prepare your system for these modifications as you would for any program installation. Clear out your Recycle Bin and temp files, and then run Scandisk and Defrag your partitions. Next I would suggest some basic set up to help you keep things organized. As icons are a big part of the appearance of Windows, much of what is covered here deals with creating and manipulating them. Therefore it would be wise to create one central location for all the icons you plan to use. As a habit, whenever I've just finished a clean install of Windows, either Windows 9x or Windows 2000/NT, I create a new folder called icons in my System folder. The System folder is a standard in all 32-bit Windows directory structures, so it's a good base point. Assuming your first partition, the C:\ drive, contains your Windows installation, the complete path would be C:\%WINDIR%\System\icons, where %WINDIR% is your Windows folder. In Windows 9x it would be C:\Windows\System\icons, and in Windows 2000 and NT4 it would be C:\Winnt\System\icons.

Next I suggest creating a new folder called Utils or something similar, in your root directory in which you can install each of the little programs I'll be discussing here. Use an individual sub-folder for each utility of course. The idea is to keep them in one central location in order to keep track of and use them easily and quickly.

Themes Suck

Well, they don't actually suck, but I prefer not to use "canned" themes. Themes aren't customizations, they're just another factory supplied set of sticky-graphics, usually quite hideous. When I've customized the appearance of my GUI, I feel a much greater sense of satisfaction than when I click one button to load something that Microsoft thought most of us would like. Nice of the gang in Seattle to supply the stick-ons, but I'd rather paint my own pinstripes, that's all.

Go Forth And Download The Tools Of Tweakery

This is by no means a comprehensive list of utilities available for tweaking your GUI. These are however, my favorites. Most, but not all are freeware. Those that aren't free are definitely worth the investment. Each utility comes with instructions for installation and use and all are relatively simple programs, so I leave it to you to become familiar with their usage. I'll be referencing these programs later on.

The first group are all directly related to icons. There are editors, extractors, manipulators, mutilators, grinders and binders and other implements of destruction and woe.

  • ActiveIcons is a powerful program, primarily designed for Windows 9x. It can be used in Windows 2000 without harm, but it can't undo changes. ActiveIcons is presently freeware.
  • E-icons, formerly E-icons98, used to be freeware, but no longer. Still, for $19 you get an amazing utility that allows you to change almost anything even remotely related to icons on your Windows 9x, Windows ME or Windows 2000 system. That's no small feat and it works beautifully.
  • Icon Editor is a simple but effective editor you can use to create your own icons. Microangelo, listed below, is a better alternative, but this has the advantage of being free. Very good of Hodder, the author, to make it available.
  • PC Magazine's IconEdit32 is an excellent freeware editor, more sophisticated than Icon Editor, listed immediately above. Neil J. Rubenking, the author, is an accomplished programmer who never fails to create very useful and well thought out utilities.
  • IconDigger 2000 is a tool I use almost every time I sit down to do some tweaking. I rarely use an icon without making some modification to it, to personalize it. The way I do that is to first extract, or copy the icon from the executable or DLL that contains it. IconDigger 2000 is the tool I use to do this. It's simple, very easy to use and effective. PokPok likes it. It works in Windows 9x and Windows 2000.
  • Icon Extractor performs exactly the same function as IconDigger 2000 listed above, but it works better for extracting high-color icons. It isn't quite as easy to use, but it's a worthwhile addition to your utility arsenal. Icon Extractor is freeware.
  • Icon Phile is another icon customizer like Active Icons and E-icons. While all these utilities will perform many of the same functions, each is able to handle some small specialized task that the others cannot. That's why I use so many different utilities for what seems like the same thing.
  • Microangelo is the mother of all icon tweaking softwares. This is a full-blown tweaking suite. It is by far the most accomplished item of software listed here, and the most expensive. Version 5.0 is now available and costs about $60. Pricey, but considering what it does, very reasonable. If you prefer to use just one tool for all your icon tweaking needs, this is it.
  • Avalon Icon Library Viewer is a freeware Windows Explorer property sheet extension. It adds additional property sheet page to file types that may contain multiple icons. You can then copy the icon to the clipboard for editing.

This next group is a list of tweaking utilities. These generally will do more than just modify your GUI, however as they fall within the scope of this article at least in part, they've been included here. The trick to safely using tweakers is to be conservative. Make only one change at a time and run things for a while. Be ready with that back up just in case.

  • More Properties 2.0 has been around since they invented dirt. You can use it to modify system folder icons and much more. I've used this since the old Windows 95 days and it still works like a charm. More Properties is still freeware, and if anyone out there meets the author in person, please feel free to give him/her a big ol' wet kiss on the lips for me.
  • OEM Logo (scroll down to the bottom half of the page) is a simple tool for modifying or replacing the manufacturer's logo and support information displayed in the system control panel. OEM Logo is freeware.
  • Windows Administrator is a skinnable utility which allows you to change hidden Windows settings like the Start button. Windows Administrator is freeware.
  • XrX Addbar is a freeware utility that adds an animation bar in the style of the default Windows Startup Screen to any bitmap that is 320 x 400, and 256 colors. You can use this to create your own customized Windows 9x start up screens with a wavy bar at the bottom, in any color combination you choose, just like the OEM Windows one. Use this puppy to impress the snot outta friends and family.
  • Xteq almost merits an entire article of its own. This is probably the most comprehensive freeware customizing utility in the galaxy. It does a whole lot more than just customize the appearance of Windows; in fact, that's really only a small part of what it can do, but it does have an entire section devoted to "Appearance" so it certainly qualifies for this article.
  • Tweak Revisited 2.0 allows you to put a picture on folder menu bars and change the text of the Internet Explorer title bar. It's designed for Windows 98 and is freeware.

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