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Windows XP Tips & Tricks Part IV

Albion | Freeware | Freeware From A-Z | Security | Virus Information | Updated 04/07/05
| Windows XP Tips I | Windows XP Tips II | Windows XP Tips IIIWindows XP Tips VWindows XP VI |

Windows links                                   
     Bo's Got Windows?
     Windows Tips Index I
     Windows Tps Index II
     Windows Me Tips Index I
     Win Me Tps Index II
     Windows XP Info
     Windows FAQ
     Windows Error Messages and Meaning

  • Disk Cleanup the Bo Way - MP
  • A Shortcut for jumping right into Properties
  • "The Sims" and Windows XP
    "The Sims" computer game was designed for Windows 98, therefore creating increased load times when using a Windows XP computer. Some people have noticed their load time has doubled, while others only a couple of minutes. Of course, adding a couple minutes to an already 10 minute load time is hardly desirable. Fortunately, there are a few different things you can try to fix increased load times with Windows XP. Resist the urge to try them all. One or two should do the trick. Not all of the solutions have worked for everyone. If one suggestion doesn't work, try another. It may be just the thing Windows XP needed.
  • Make Notepad the Default Program
    Here's a tip for you admins - you can set Notepad to be the default program for unknown file types with this simple Registry hack
  • Rename Start Menu Items
  • Create a SP2 slipstream CD:

Don't feel like rebooting Windows XP?
Then restart it with this tip

Isn't it very annoying when you change a setting and then you need to reboot for the changes to take effect? It takes around 1 minute to reboot, but as Brandon Watts mentioned in his recent article "The Speed of Things" (Windows Fanatics, February 24th, 2004 ), we've become so impatient; a single minute is a very long time to wait. Here's a tip that could save you several minutes.

WARNING: This works only with Windows XP.

So you've done a registry hack or tweaked a Windows setting and you're so eager that you can't wait to check out the results. Hit Ctrl+Alt+Del (which should fire up the Task Manager) and go to the "Processes" Tab. Find "explorer.exe," right-click it, and choose "End Process." Don't be afraid of the warning message. Trust me and click "Yes." The taskbar and desktop icons should vanish, so don't freak out. Now choose File / New Task (Run?) and type "explorer.exe" without the quotes in the new window's text box. Click OK (or press Enter) and you're done.

I don't recommend doing this after installing new software; if the installer tells you to reboot, it must be the wise decision to make.

Windows File Protection -- A Boverview

In versions of Windows prior to Windows 2000, installing software in addition to the operating system might overwrite shared system files such as dynamic-link libraries (.DLL files) and executable files (.EXE files). Many overzealous third party programmers had problems making these types of files compatible with the program they were attempting to build. Their answer? Screw the Operating System, we'll make our own DLL or EXE files to replace the ones Redmond created for the OS. Good for them, bad for the common user as these files most often messed up a perfectly happy operating system. Getting the old Windows files back wasn't difficult...okay it was difficult, but not impossible. In Windows 98 and Windows me, for example, you could use the System File Checker (Start | Run | and type: SFC then hit the enter key or click okay {See...RUNNING SYSTEM FILE CHECKER for Windows 9.x kernel only) or use the Win 9.x Extract command
(See ...How to use the Windows Extract.exe Command ). On a side note, the System File Checker is still alive in Windows XP all-be-it a little less usable. (See...Is System File Checker Available in Win XP? Well, Yes and No, let me explain).The biggest problem was knowing which file had been replaced. When system files are overwritten, system performance becomes unpredictable, programs behave erratically, and the operating system fails. Geek speak for, the program runs but not much else will.

In Windows Me, Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Windows File Protection prevents the replacement of protected system files such as .sys, .dll, .ocx, .ttf, .fon, and .exe files. Windows File Protection runs in the background and protects all files installed by the Windows Setup program. This means that files with the same name or extension produced by a third party programmer can not replace the Windows Protected files but rather places the third party files in a special folder of their own so that the program will run on it's own version and not on the Windows version.

Windows File Protection detects attempts by other programs to replace or move a protected system file. Windows File Protection checks the file's digital signature to determine if the new file is the correct Microsoft version. If the file is not the correct version, Windows File Protection either replaces the file from the backup stored in the Dllcache folder or from the Windows CD. If Windows File Protection cannot locate the appropriate file, it prompts you for the location. Windows File Protection also writes an event to the event log, noting the file replacement attempt. In this, at least, you know what file is attempting to overwrite the Windows version of the file.

Yeah, but Bo, what happens if I need to replace a protected file? Your kidding right? This system is put into place for a reason so why would you want to prevent this protection? By default this feature can not be disabled. But Bo, my second cousin's x-hairdresser was able to disable it. Don't think for a minute I don't get those types of questions, oh boy, do I get those types of questions. Well, of course anything that can be enabled, can be disabled. In this case though, trust me, it is  not something you want to even attempt to do.

While I think allot of the stuff that Microsoft does in their operating systems is, well....overkill. I do understand their reasoning. Some folks can't wait to get their hands on an OS just so they can take it apart and tinker with it. Yeah, okay, guilty on that count, but this is one time I am in full agreement with Microsoft. If you do discover the secret to disabling WFP....DON'T!!!!

Disk Cleanup the Bo Way

Windows XP has a ton of new features, okay, so some aren't so new and others are downright devoid of any process known to man or woman. You no doubt have read, ad-nausea, how you are supposed to do disk cleanups and disk defragmentations right? Okay, got it, I am not going to sprout that babble. I have some babble of my own to impart.

You know how to start the disk cleanup, click Start, pointing to All Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools, and then clicking Disk Cleanup. Personally I like to use keyboard shortcuts. Heck, Microsoft went to all that trouble to make em part of the Operating System, so why not use em. Assign a shortcut to Disk Cleanup by right clicking on it, then choose properties, then in the section marked "Shortcut Key" then pressing Ctrl key and typing in your desired key combination. I chose Ctrl+Alt+C. "C" for cleanup. It's simple and easy to remember, I like simple!

Running through the usual dialogs can get old real fast. Like I said, I like simple, so why not automate the task? Here is how to run the task while you are grabbing that tenth cup of coffee:

Disk Cleanup dialog box

Okay, here is where it gets interesting and simple. Did I mention, I like simple?
You can schedule Disk Cleanup to run when you want it to.

1. Click Control Panel, then click System and Maintenance, and then click Scheduled Tasks.
2. Double–click Add Scheduled Task to start the Scheduled Task Wizard. In the list of applications you want Windows to run, click Disk Cleanup, and then click Next.
3. Select a frequency for the task—weekly is good—and click Next.
4. Select a day of the week and time for the task to run.
5. Enter the name and password of a user. The program will be run as if that user started it. Check the box to open Advanced Settings when you’re done.
6. In the Run box, add the following to the end of the path:

/sagerun: 1

and then click OK.

Now Task Scheduler will run at the time you selected. You set it and forget it...okay, Ron Popeal I ain't. Remember, your computer has to be on for the task to complete, we call this the...Duh Factor!

I do like simple but it seems programmers want to make life a little complicated, okay, allot complicated. You can customize Disk Cleanup to delete different files at different intervals by specifying more than one sageset. Simply change the number to sageset: 2 or sageset: 3 (or, any number from 0 to 65535). Each sageset can have different files selected. Then you can set up a separate scheduled task to execute each set by specifying sagerun: 2 and sagerun: 3 and so forth.

The Disk Defragmentor:

Now we can move on to that other boring, but very necessary, task the Disk Defragmentor.

While you have Task Scheduler open, add the Disk Defragmentor to it as well as the Disk Cleanup. You won't need to defragment your drives as often as Disk Cleanup. Open Scheduled Tasks, and double–click Add Scheduled Tasks to start the Scheduled Task Wizard. When you get to the list of applications, click Browse, and navigate to C:\windows\system32\defrag.exe, and click Open.

Again, select the frequency for the program to run—monthly is usually more than enough. To defragment a disk, you’ll need to supply the name and password for an account with administrative privileges. The definition of administrator varies slightly from Windows XP Professional to Windows XP Home Edition, but essentially it means a user who has control over the computer, can install software, and can change user passwords. Check the box to open Advanced Settings when you’re done.

In the Run box, add the letter of the drive to defragment so it looks like C:\windows\system32\defrag.exe c:

If you have more than one partition or drive, add multiple selections to defrag each drive at different intervals. How come Disk Defragmentor doesn't have the option to defrag all drives? That's a great question. Why don't you ask uncle Bill about that!

Bo Note A minimum of 15 percent free space on your hard disk is needed for Disk Defragmentor to run. This is yet another argument in favor of frequent and aggressive use of the Disk Cleanup tool. For more information on Disk Defragmentor, click here

A Shortcut for jumping right into Properties

Almost everything in Windows XP (and in many earlier versions) is considered an "object" that has properties that can be viewed or changed. These objects can be a files, folders, a computer, network, disk drive, modem, etc. In most cases, you can view the properties of an object by right-clicking the object and then clicking Properties from the menu that appears.

A shortcut to getting to the properties even faster is to press Alt-Enter on the keyboard instead. If the currently selected object has a properties page, usually Alt-Enter will bring it right up.

Rename Start Menu Items
There are many system-generated folders such as My Documents, My Music, etc., but you don't have to live with the cutsie names. Here is the trick to changing the name of these folders.

In earlier versions of Windows, you were mostly stuck with names like My Documents on your computer. I think Microsoft may have realized that some people think this is dumb, or at least getting out of hand (My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, etc.), so they made it much easier to change. For instance, to rename My Documents in the Start Menu, simply click Start, then right-click My Documents and choose rename. Type in the new name, then press Enter. Viola! That's all there is to renaming these folders.

System File Checker

Q. When I was using my old Windows 98 SE Operating System I had a device which was called SFC (System File Checker) which I could use to update files or revert to an older version of that file and use it also to extract system files from my Windows 98 installation CD. With Windows XP that file checker seems to be gone.

If I select Start -->Run --> and type SFC, a Dos window opens and then immediately closes. What is this all about and does Win XP have anything like SFC?

A. Yes and No. Wasn't that as clear as mud?

Here is what happened when you typed SFC and the little DOS window opened and immediately closed back up again.
By simply typing SFC you told Windows to view the switch options. Windows did that and then closed the window on you. In order to view the switch options for System File Checker you need to open a DOS emulation. Type CMD or Command at the Start | Run dialog and click okay or hit the enter key. At the command prompt type SFC then hit the enter key. System File Checker will present you with a list of switches you can use to run SFC options. Once you know what those switches are and what they do, simply type the command (SFC) followed by a space and the switch "/" followed by the command, for example SCANNOW. If you type SFC /SCANNOW your system will be scanned for corrupted or out of date or range system files. The progress will be shown in a dialog. You will need your Windows XP installation CD in order to update corrupted files. More on this further on in this article.

Windows XP had largely done away with DOS but still manages DOS - Like activity through DOS emulation.

Here is how to invoke System File Checker (SFC). Keep in mind that Win XP is not being activated using the old Extract command which is what your old SFC used to do when you retrieved System Files from the Win 98 installation CD.

Windows XP also protects it's system files from tampering.

Microsoft(R) Windows DOS
(C)Copyright Microsoft Corp 1990-2001.


Microsoft(R) Windows XP Windows File Checker Version 5.1
(C) 1999-2000 Microsoft Corp. All rights reserved

Scans all protected system files and replaces incorrect versions with correct Microsoft versions.


/SCANNOW Scans all protected system files immediately.
/SCANONCE Scans all protected system files once at the next boot.
/SCANBOOT Scans all protected system files at every boot.
/REVERT Return scan to default setting.
/PURGECACHE Purges the file cache.
/CACHESIZE=x Sets the file cache size.

By using any of the above switch commands you can perform operations which may relate to any given problem concerning System Files. When would you want to purge the protected file cache? Most likely in the event that one of the files in the cache are corrupt. Note: To do any of the above scans you should have your Windows XP installation Disk handy as the scan searches for the correct compatible DLL file.

For example, I had a problem with Win XP not opening programs fast enough or at least as fast as a power machine should. Running SFC seems to have solved the problem. If you start noticing problems occurring, try running the scan before moving on to more serious fixes.

Be sure to close out DOS Emulation by typing EXIT at the command prompt and hitting the enter key on your keyboard.

See also:

Here is another tool to check for digitally signed files:

To check the digital signatures for system or non-system files

  1. Open File Signature Verification.
  2. Click Advanced.
  3. On the Search tab, click one of the following:
  4. Click OK, and then click Start.


Identifying problems in Win.ini & System.ini:

You must be logged on as a computer administrator in order to complete this procedure. To start the Microsoft Configuration Utility, click Start | Run and type, MSCONFIG and then hit the enter key on your keyboard or click okay.

The System.ini and Win.ini tabs intelligently identify settings and minimize the risks inherent in editing configuration files. Unavailable check boxes indicate lines temporarily removed by System Configuration Utility.


To verify that system files have a digital signature

  1. Open File Signature Verification.
  2. Click Start.

    File Signature Verification checks to see which system files and device driver files are digitally signed and displays its findings. If you have enabled logging, the search results are also written to a log file. For more information, click Related Topics.


While we are in DOS Emulation, consider the old problem with configuring your connetion

One of the problems I usually face when setting up an XP system is that there are a number of utilities that I like to use that are available free from Microsoft, but are not included on the Win XP CD. The first one is WNTIPCFG, the NT/2K/XP version of the Win9x tool WINIPCFG. This GUI tool displays your TCP/IP settings and lets you release and renew DHCP leases. It's not as powerful as the command line IPCONFIG, but it's easier to use in many cases. It's a free download, so why doesn't Microsoft just include it on the CD (and call it WINIPCFG so that Win9x users don't get confused)?  Oh well, such are the mysteries of Microsoft in Redmond Land.

You can also activate them in Windows XP DOS Emulation. Just click Start | Run | and type: Command and click okay or hit the enter key on your keyboard.

If you want to know about how to use IPCONFIG, simply type IPCONFIG /? and hit the enter key. Here are the command switches you can use:


ipconfig [/? | /all | /renew [adapter] | /release [adapter] |
/flushdns | /displaydns | /registerdns |
/showclassid adapter |
/setclassid adapter [classid] ]

where adapter Connection name (wildcard characters * and ? allowed, see examples)

/? Display this help message
/all Display full configuration information.
/release Release the IP address for the specified adapter.
/renew Renew the IP address for the specified adapter.
/flushdns Purges the DNS Resolver cache.
/registerdns Refreshes all DHCP leases and re-registers DNS names
/displaydns Display the contents of the DNS Resolver Cache.
/showclassid Displays all the dhcp class IDs allowed for adapter.
/setclassid Modifies the dhcp class id.

The default is to display only the IP address, subnet mask and default gateway for each adapter bound to TCP/IP.

For Release and Renew, if no adapter name is specified, then the IP address leases for all adapters bound to TCP/IP will be released or renewed.

For Setclassid, if no ClassId is specified, then the ClassId is removed.

C:\> ipconfig ... Show information.
C:\> ipconfig /all ... Show detailed information
C:\> ipconfig /renew ... renew all adapters
C:\> ipconfig /renew EL* ... renew any connection that has its name starting with EL
C:\> ipconfig /release *Con* ... release all matching connections, eg. "Local Area Connection 1" or "Local Area Connection 2"

Make Notepad the Default Program
Here's a tip for you admins - you can set Notepad to be the default program for unknown file types with this simple Registry hack

Windows keeps track of which programs are supposed to open which files, based on the "extension" or the last three characters to the right of the last period in the filename. For instance, it knows that any file ending in ".DOC" should be opened in MS Word (assuming the computer has Word installed). By default, if you try to open (double-click) a file that doesn't have an associated application, you will be prompted for which program to use to open it. With today's tip, you can set the default to be Notepad, if you find that most of the time that's the application you want to try first, when a file extension type is unknown. Simply make the following Registry entry:

Key: Unknown\Shell\open\command
Name: (default)
Data Type: REG_SZ
Value: notepad.exe %1

Note that you will have to create the "open" and "command" keys by choosing New | Key from the Edit menu. Use caution and frequent backups when editing the Registry.

"The Sims" and Windows XP
The solutions referenced here are part of an email question I received. However, there is no reason these methods wouldn't work on other Win 98 designed Sims. Give em a try, what have you got to loose but an endless load time.

"The Sims" computer game was designed for Windows 98, therefore creating increased load times when using a Windows XP computer. Some people have noticed their load time has doubled, while others only a couple of minutes. Of course, adding a couple minutes to an already 10 minute load time is hardly desirable. Fortunately, there are a few different things you can try to fix increased load times with Windows XP. Resist the urge to try them all. One or two should do the trick. Not all of the solutions have worked for everyone. If one suggestion doesn't work, try another. It may be just the thing Windows XP needed.

The big question among Windows XP users that are thinking about buying "Hot Date" is whether or not the expansion pack will run properly. If you look on the "Hot Date" cover you'll notice that Windows XP is not listed as a supported operating system. "Hot Date" was released only a few weeks after Windows XP was. This is probably the reason it wasn't listed as supported.

Will "Hot Date" Work on Windows XP?

So does "Hot Date" run on Windows XP? I have personally tested it myself, and I can say for certain yes, at least on the majority of Windows XP computers. The common problem with using Windows XP and "Hot Date" is the amount of RAM. Many users just don't have enough. The system requirements may say 128 MB of RAM, but I suggest having 256 MB for optimal performance.

The Problem - Increased Load Time

"The Sims" was designed for Windows 98, therefore creating increased load times when using a Windows XP computer. Some people have noticed their load time has doubled, while others only a couple of minutes. Of course, adding a couple minutes to an already 10 minute load time is hardly desirable.


Fortunately, there are a few different things you can try to fix increased load times with Windows XP. Resist the urge to try them all. One or two should do the trick. Not all of the solutions have worked for everyone. If one suggestion doesn't work, try another. It may be just the thing Windows XP needed.

Creating a Zip Folder in Windows XP,
It also is true for Windows Me, but you have to add it from the CD

In previous versions of Windows (Accept for Win Me, see Bo's CREATE, VIEW, AND EXTRACT ARCHIVE FILES ), if you wanted to create a compressed or zipped version of a file (for instance, to email it), you would need third-party software. Windows NT/2000 did have compression features, but that was only good for storing files on NTFS drives, not for sending or uploading files.

With Windows XP, creating zipped files is a built-in feature. To create a new zipped file in Explorer, simply click the File menu -> New -> Compressed (zipped) Folder. A new folder will appear, and you can enter a filename (remember to use a .zip at the end) and press enter to save it. You can also right-click an open area in Explorer or on your desktop and follow the same steps (New -> Compressed (zipped) Folder, etc.). Simply double-click the folder to open it, and then you can drag and drop files or folders into it to zip a copy of them.

Bo's Tip-within-a-tip:
As I mentioned above, when you drag and drop a file into a zipped folder, only a copy of it will be placed in there. If you want to actually move the file into the zipped folder, hold the Shift key down while you drop it. You can tell the the file will be moved rather than copied, because the small + sign next to the mouse cursor will disappear.

Outlook Express 6.0 Can't Spell

Q. I just upgraded my machine from Windows 98 to Windows XP. Now when ever I attempt to check spelling in MSIE Outlook Express I get the following error message:

An error occurred while the spelling was being checked.

I have tried to do a system restore, re-installed MSIE from the Windows XP setup CD and even tried to re-install Windows XP with the same results. How do I resolve this issue?

A. This is a common occurrence, not only for Windows XP class MSIIE installs but also for Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows Me.

You may receive one of the two error messages:

This behavior can occur if any one of the following conditions is true:

This fix requires you to do a registry edit. If you use Registry Editor incorrectly, you may cause serious problems that may require you to reinstall your operating system. BLCOW cannot guarantee that you can solve problems that result from using Registry Editor incorrectly. Use Registry Editor at your own risk. This article contains information about modifying the registry. Before you modify the registry, make sure to back it up and make sure that you understand how to restore the registry if a problem occurs. For information about how to back up, restore, and edit the registry, Click here for more information about the proper use, backup and restore of the system registry. Remember, you , the end user assumes any and all risks!

Note: MSIE Outlook Express uses the spelling definitions of either your Word, or Works productivity suites. I have found that in most cases, Works, 2000 to present, works best. It seems to be picked up in the system registry much better than Word's definitions...don't ask me why, I haven't a clue.

Okay, now that you know how to backup your system registry and restore it if anything disastrous happens, lets start picking this sucker apart:

To resolve this issue, use Registry Editor (Click Start | Run | Type: RegEdit and hit the enter key or click okay) to verify that the value data in the SharedFilesDir registry value contains a trailing backslash:

  1. Click Start, click Run, type Regedit(Regedt32 in W2K), and then click OK.
  2. Double-click to expand the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE folder, expand the Software folder, and then expand the Microsoft folder.
  3. Double-click to expand the Shared Tools folder, and then click the SharedFilesDir value.
  4. On the Edit menu, click Modify.
  5. Type C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\ in the Value Data box, and then click OK.
  6. Quit Registry Editor.


Windows XP has some strange groupings, multiple groupings and buries system files all over the place. In that light, your Csapi3t1.dll file may not be in the above described folder. Click Start | Search | Files and Folders and type Csapi3t1.dll for your search criteria. Make a note of the location, or copy the location from the address bar in Windows Explorer and type or paste it into the above described modify box.

The value data for the SharedFilesDir registry value should point to the folder that contains the Proof folder, which contains the Csapi3t1.dll file. Don't forget the "\" behind Shared!

Fine-Tuning ClearType
Microsoft has an interesting tool that makes it easy for you to test various ClearType settings under Windows XP. 
Well, maybe not so easy. Let me explain.

ClearType employs a technique developed long ago that uses the three color components of a pixel to make text appear sharper on the screen. (Ten-second tutorial: each pixel or “dot” on your screen is actually composed of three sub-pixels, one each of red, green and blue. The sub-pixels get blurred together by your brain to make a single “dot” appear. If you look at your screen real close - maybe with a magnifying glass - you can see the sub-pixels.)

If you’ve heard of anti-aliasing, where various shades of gray are used to make text appear clearer, this isn’t the same thing. ClearType separates out individual red, green and blue sub-pixels and manipulates them to make text look sharper. It works much better than anti-aliasing. Steve Gibson has an excellent explanation of the technology.

Prior to Microsoft posting this ClearType fine-tuning tool on the Web, Windows XP users basically had two choices for ClearType: on or off. You either got it or you didn’t. You can turn ClearType on by right-clicking a blank spot on the Desktop and choosing Properties | Appearance | Effects, clicking the box marked Use the Following Method to Smooth Edges of Screen Fonts, then choosing ClearType.

Some portable computer owners may like ClearType, but most desktop word processing users will wake up with a headache.

The ClearType tuner gives you tools to adjust how much Windows XP changes text at the sub-pixel level. If you’ve ever thought about using ClearType, it’s worth a gander.

But like most Microsoft tools there's important things they don't tell you:

I have a bunch of complaints about the way the tuner’s set up – clicking “Apply”, for example, shoots you to the next Web page, and you have to back up to intensify or reduce the ClearType effect – but it does give you much more control than the old “on or off” ClearType options that ship with bone-stock Windows XP.

And the aforementioned Apply button is hard to find -- if you can't find it, look on the bottom right of the browser window, it may have scrolled off the edge of the browser.    When designing the pages, Microsoft didn't allow for those of us with normal resolution screens.Oh.

Lest you thought otherwise, I still don’t like ClearType. Your opinion may vary, of course – your display isn’t the same as mine, and your eyes probably aren’t as bad! – but don’t feel like a Luddite if, once you’ve tried ClearType, you decide to shut it off. 

Windows XP computability?
Teach a new dog some old tricks

Running DOS Programs
Windows Programs Not Designed for XP
The Application Compatibility Toolkit
Browsing Predefined Fixes

Most people who are running Windows 98 are reluctant to switch for some very rudimentary reasons. Compatibility seems to rank real high on the why I hate Windows XP list. Another thing is that the cost in hardware upgrades can be prohibitive.

As you no doubt know by now, if you have been reading any of this site, I have a love, hate, love to hate, Microsoft philosophy. Microsoft, in this case, has made some really nice concessions with the new OS. You will be upgrading eventually and the fact that Microsoft has stopped support for Office 97, and Windows 95 should give you cause for some concern. Rumor has it that Microsoft is going to end support for Windows NT very soon. I hazard a guess that Windows 98 can not be far behind. Like it or not, sooner or later, you are going to either have to upgrade or go to one of the open source OS's like Linux or even, dare I say it? Apple! By the way, Apple is making strides to win you over. They have finally gotten it, people aren't buying Windows because they hate Apple. There buying Windows because Apple has never supported open sourse for application advancement...thats right Apple, your software sucks, not your OS.

Here is some tips for you to help you make Windows XP accept some of your older Windows 9.x and even DOS programs and games. The hardware has caught up, to the point that even today's low-end systems are sufficient for Windows XP. But what about application compatibility? Although on the surface, Win XP is the Windows version least compatible with its predecessors, it has special tools that give Win XP users more options for compatibility than ever before. These tools, some obvious and some hidden, let you tweak the environment so that many older applications will run.

Running DOS Programs

DOS programs are the oldest, and since Microsoft dropped the DOS Compatibility Mode from Windows XP, you might think it dropped support for DOS programs altogether. In fact, new options in Windows XP may make running DOS programs easier. Bill Gates is trying to escape the Microsoft, support for older applications and code at all cost nightmare, for a more efficient, buy new OS, buy new apps too regimen. Yup, you will see Microsoft stop supporting older codec soon. Windows XP is the fist inroad into that realm.

Right-click on a DOS program, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. Most of the tabs in the Properties dialog are familiar, but the Compatibility tab is new. This tab lets you set the program to run in 256-color mode and at a resolution of 640-by-480. You can also disable the default visual themes that Windows XP imposes on programs.

There's also a less obvious and more powerful tool. With DOS, you could fine-tune the environment for your programs by modifying the Config.sys and Autoexec.bat files. In some cases, you'd reboot the system with a special configuration just for one program and then go back to the normal setup to run other programs. Windows XP lets you define a customized Config.sys and Autoexec.bat for each of your DOS programs.

Here's how it's done. First, copy the C:\Windows\System32\Config.nt and C:\Windows\ System32\Autoexec.nt files to the directory of your DOS program, then edit them to reflect the configuration you want. Save them with a new name. Bring up the Properties dialog for the DOS program, move to the Program tab, and click on the Advanced button.

Enter the Config and Autoexec filenames you created for the program and Windows XP will run the program in its own customized environment. This dialog also lets you try to slow down DOS programs that performed actions based on the clock speed of your processor. Programs that ran well on a 50-MHz system can be unusable on an 850-MHz system without this emulation.

Windows Programs Not Designed for XP

The three main reasons older Windows programs fail under Windows XP are that they query for a specific Windows version number, they expect results that older versions of a Windows API call return, and they expect user folders to be in a different location or format. These problems can be fixed by setting the Windows program to run in compatibility mode.

Right-click on a Windows program, and select Properties. If you click on the Compatibility tab, you will see a drop-down list that lets you set the OS best suited for this program. Click in the Compatibility mode box, and select the operating system. Using this mode will activate a set of patches (called shims) that make Windows XP treat the program as an earlier version of Windows would.

What if you aren't sure which environment to use, or the program has other compatibility problems? There is a powerful package hidden on the Windows XP CD that will help you fine-tune your application environment.

The Application Compatibility Toolkit
Figure 2

Figure 2In the \Support\Tools directory of the Windows XP CD, Microsoft included an Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT). An update (Version 2.5) came out in April, and you can download it from


. The ACT contains four tools for improving application compatibility.

Two of the tools, Application Verifier and PageHeap, are designed for software developers, who use them with a debugger to test areas that might pose problems under Windows XP. But the other two, QFixApp and Compatibility Administrator, can help end users tweak the environment so that older apps run successfully.

QFixApp lets you test a number of low-level tweaks on a specific application. We don't have enough space to discuss each of the 199 applicable fixes, so we'll cheat and show you a couple of shortcuts to finding the particular shims that will restore your program.

Open QFixApp, and select the application you need to work on. Click on the Layers tab, and select a layer. The layers in QFixApp correspond to the compatibility modes we saw earlier in the application's Properties dialog. Select a layer, such as Win95, and then select the Fixes tab. You can see that the Win95 compatibility mode is a predefined set of 54 shims . This number can fluctuate, however, depending on whether you've installed the latest patches and updates.

From there, you can tailor the list to add or remove shims. For example, if your application changes the screen mode and your system is stuck there when the program ends, scroll down and try the ForceTemporaryModeChange fix. As you select a fix, a description of its function appears in the lower pane. Click on the Run button to test the effect of the changes on your application. When you close QFixApp, the environment changes you've made will be stored with the executable. Until then, you can select and deselect shims as you wish.

Browsing Predefined Fixes

You don't have to search for fixes by trial and error. Microsoft includes a number of predefined fixes, and you can browse those for tips.

Open the Compatibility Administrator tool (Figure 2), and expand System Database | Applications. A good start in tweaking your application is to find a similar program in the database. For example, if you are working with a program in the 102 Dalmatians series, select one of the programs in that series for which Microsoft has already defined fixes. Cross-referencing with QFixApp, you see that the EmulateHeap and EmulateMissingEXE fixes are already included in the Win95 compatibility mode, but the IgnoreAltTab fix isn't. Try setting this shim in QFixApp and running your application.

Note that Windows XP provides predefined fixes for the application's setup program as well as the app itself. You can group the fixes associated with an application into one package.

Compatibility Administrator becomes even more important in corporate IT departments that need to support legacy applications. Once you have determined which set of fixes is required, click on New and a new database is created under Custom Databases. With the new database selected, click on Fix to open a wizard that will guide you through creating an application fix set for this database. Follow the prompts to choose a compatibility mode, and set the additional shims you identified during your QFixApp testing. Finally, group related files with this application. Windows XP will try to find these for you when you click on Auto-Generate. Use File | Save to save the custom database to an SDB file that you can send to other computers.

If you have a number of legacy applications that all require similar sets of fixes, you can create a new compatibility mode in your custom database. With the database highlighted, click on Mode. You can name the mode Legacy and select the set of fixes to be applied when this mode is selected. Once the database has been saved and installed, you can apply the whole set of fixes to a new app simply by selecting the Legacy compatibility mode. To add this mode to another system, copy the SDB file to the other computer and run Sdbinst.exe to install it.

The Windows NT platform earned its reputation for being reluctant to run older applications. But with the new tools in Windows XP, you have a better chance than ever of keeping your legacy programs going until they can be updated.

The case of the completely incompatible
You upgraded to XP, and now your software and hardware are flakier than Anne Heche. Here's how to solve your incompatibilities without a divorce.

Q. I upgraded to Windows XP because everyone said it was more stable, but they forgot to tell me that a lot of my software and hardware wouldn't work with the new OS. Ninety percent of my software isn't compatible with XP, and I still can't get my scanner to work right, despite installing all kinds of patches.

A. Most of our readers have screamed about hardware not functioning and software not working (See the above article for more on compatability). Although the complaint crops up every time a new OS hits the street, it seems more pronounced this time. And there's a reason: Windows XP, like Windows 2000, runs on the Windows NT kernel and is a true 32-bit operating system. Older versions, including Windows 95, 98, and Millennium, relied on DOS. The difference is dramatic, with much bigger compatibility implications.

But there are things you can do to put this nightmare behind you or, at least, mitigate its impact.

If you haven't yet upgraded to XP but are thinking about doing so, start with Microsoft's Upgrade Centers. There are two, one for XP Home, the other for XP Professional. Each lets you search the Microsoft Catalog, a listing of some XP-compatible hardware and software, as well as a link to the mammoth, 50MB download Upgrade Advisor, an app that sniffs through your PC and flags any potential hardware or software conflicts. Downloading the Advisor isn't practical if you have only a dial-up connection to the Net, but some computer resellers carry free Upgrade Advisor CDs.

If you've already installed XP, you need a different plan of attack--it's too late for the proactive approach. Start first with Windows Update, the Microsoft service that examines your PC for any out-of-date components, then recommends OS updates and patches.

Although Windows Update may suggest driver updates for your hardware, you should take these recommendations with a grain of salt. We've seen Windows recommend out-of-date drivers, and worse, unnecessary changes to drivers that worked just fine. Instead of downloading updates willy-nilly, visit the manufacturer Web sites for your PC and its internal components, particularly the video card, to see if any XP updates are available. Do the same for external hardware, such as printers, scanners, digital cameras, mice, and the like. To save yourself some time, use one of the Web's many collections of up-to-date drivers, such as Download.com's Drivers section, Drivers Planet, and WinDrivers.

Some hardware, however, may never work properly under XP. We've heard tales of woe from several readers who had to give up their old printers or couldn't get their scanners to work. But don't throw in the towel quite yet. As a last-ditch effort, hunt for drivers that are specific to Windows 2000, which, being an older OS, is more likely to have revised drivers. Windows 2000 is a close cousin to XP, so a 2000 driver may do the trick.

Incompatible software presents an even bigger bugaboo. Some apps, particularly antivirus and system maintenance suites made for earlier Windows editions, such as Norton SystemWorks, simply won't work with XP. You must upgrade. Naturally, you'll want to check with the program's maker for available updates--free or otherwise--to make that old hoss hum in XP. But if you can't find an update, try the following tricks.

If you're having trouble with a specific app, fire up XP's Program Compatibility Wizard, part of XP's Help and Support Center. After the wizard scans your system, pick the balky program from the list, then choose an OS compatibility mode, basically, a setting that emulates a prior version of Windows. If you don't know which version of Windows the software requires, we suggest you try Windows 98/Me first, and if that doesn't solve the problem, try the Windows 95 mode. To skip the wizard for a particular piece of incompatible software, right-click the program's executable file from within Windows Explorer, then choose Properties. Click the Compatibility tab, check the "Run this program in compatibility mode for:" box, and choose the OS from the drop-down menu. You can also monkey with the Display Settings options; some old programs want to work in 256-color mode, for instance. To finish, click OK.

You may even be able to trick older DOS programs, which will most likely be ancient games that you still enjoy, by exploiting XP's Memory setting. Many older DOS games use the Expanded Memory Specification (EMS), which XP does not support by default. Right-click the executable file, choose Properties, then click the Memory tab. Under Expanded Memory, choose Auto from the drop-down list. If that doesn't work, you may need to try other EMS settings or dig out the DOS program's documentation to see if it says anything about memory settings.

For more help with XP's compatibility settings and to hear from real users' experiences in getting their prehistoric programs to work under XP, check out the Web's best resource: Windows XP Software Compatibility Site (not affiliated with Microsoft). Others may have already solved your problem.

The mystery of the impossible start-up
Your machine is locked up tighter than Dick Cheney's location. What to do? We'll walk you through the start-up swamp.

Q. I can't start my system! For all I know, my Windows XP machine may be toast, but since I can't boot the computer, I'm in the dark. As a longtime Windows vet, I'm used to grabbing the boot disk I made, sticking it in the drive of a balky box, and rebooting the PC that way. But as far as I can tell, Windows XP won't boot from a floppy. Am I dreaming or what?

A. It's true that Windows XP can't boot from a DOS disk (a start-up floppy for Windows 95, 98, and Me) because, unlike those older operating systems, it doesn't run on top of the ancient DOS foundation. Instead, like Windows 2000, XP runs on the Windows NT kernel and is completely independent of DOS.

Fortunately, XP offers alternatives to the traditional DOS start-up disk. We'll outline two; one involves a CD, and the other a good ol' 3.5-inch floppy.

If you can't boot your PC, your first move should be to reach for your Windows XP Setup CD. That's the one that came with your computer or OS upgrade. Put that CD in the drive and turn on the computer.

Most newer PCs boot from the CD-ROM drive, but you should check now to make sure yours does in case of a future crash. So, as a test, insert your Windows XP Setup CD and reboot the computer. If Setup starts, you're good to go. If not, you need to modify the computer's BIOS to make the PC boot from the CD-ROM drive. Fortunately, you can do this even if you can't launch Windows XP. Here's how.

Turn on the computer and hold down the F2 key, which typically runs the BIOS setup. Look for the Boot menu option. If it doesn't show up, check the other screens; the boot order is often tucked away on an advanced settings page. Once you're at the Boot menu, follow the instructions, which vary, depending on the BIOS, to set the CD-ROM drive as the first device your PC uses to boot. Press F10 to save the changes and exit BIOS Setup. For a screenshot-filled, if grammatically challenged, description of this process, click here.

With the BIOS setup behind you, insert the Windows XP Setup CD, turn on the PC, and when you see the Welcome To Setup message, press R to launch the Recovery Console. The Recovery Console (RC) looks and acts like DOS, but it's all XP. (Read this Microsoft Support article for more info on RC, including a full list of its commands.) You can also launch RC without wading into Setup; just insert the CD and type D:\i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons, where D: is the drive letter of the CD drive.

Only advanced and power users should try RC's features; get a Windows-savvy friend to help if you're clueless. If you're comfortable monkeying around, the Recovery Console lets you copy or replace crucial operating system files, disable or enable devices, and repair the file system boot sector or the Master Boot Record, either of which, if corrupted, will prevent XP from starting.

Sure, RC can repair and resuscitate Windows XP, but what if you don't have the know-how to handle the Recovery Console and just want a down-and-dirty way to boot from a floppy? Microsoft does help you construct a 3.5-inch disk that will boot Windows XP, but you have to know where to look, and you'll need to have the floppy available in your time of need. (There is a way to create such a floppy on another machine, but it's involved. More on that later.)

To get started, format a blank 3.5-inch disk using Windows XP, then copy the following files to it: ntldr and ntdetect.com. You'll find them in the I386 folder on your hard drive:

Also find and copy the boot.ini file from the root drive, usually C: drive. The boot.ini file may be tough to find, since it's a system file and is hidden from normal view. Even a search of the hard drive using Start/Find may not locate it. Here's how to make it visible so that you can copy it to the floppy. Use Control Panel > Folder Options > View, then select the "Show hidden files and folders" box. Next, clear the check mark in the "Hide protected operating system files" box. Click OK.

Using Windows Explorer or My Computer, navigate to the root drive, usually C: drive, typically labeled Local Disk in Explorer. Right-click the file named boot, which is the boot.ini file, and choose Send To and 3 Floppy to copy the file to the floppy disk you've been building.

Label this disk--XP Start-up works nicely--and set it aside. When you need it, start your computer using the floppy, then log on to Windows XP as you normally would.

For more information about creating an XP start-up floppy using a Windows 95, 98, or Me machine or using a different XP PC than the one you want to boot, head to this page at Microsoft Support's Web site.

If you support a Windows XP system that occasionally has problems booting up, you may want to install the Recovery Console on that system. Once you install the Recovery Console, it will always be available when you need to troubleshoot the boot process. This will save you from having to search for a Windows XP installation CD every time you want to run the Recovery Console.

Here's how to add the Recovery Console to an XP machine:

1. Insert the Windows XP installation CD into the drive and hold down the [Shift] key in order to prevent the Setup screen from appearing.
2. Access the Run command by pressing [Windows]-R.
3. Type x:\i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons in the Open text box (where x is the CD-ROM drive letter) and click OK.
4. When you see the confirmation prompt, click Yes and follow the onscreen steps.
5. Restart Windows XP and make sure that the Recovery Console option appears on the Operating System Selection menu.

Note: If you've upgraded Windows XP with SP2, you cannot use the original Windows XP installation CD to install the Recovery Console. Instead, you'll have to use a SP2 slipstream CD.

Create a SP2 slipstream CD:

After installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), you may wonder what you should do if you later decide to rebuild the system from scratch using a reformat-reinstall operation. It would be a waste of time to have to reinstall XP SP2 again.

In order to avoid having to reinstall SP2, you can create a quick Windows XP SP2 slipstream CD using your original XP CD, the network installation version of SP2, and a special command. Here's how:

1.       Create two folders in the root directory on your hard disk: one called WXP-SP2 and the other called D-SP2.

2.       Use drag-and-drop to copy the entire contents of the original XP CD to the WXP-SP2 folder

3.       Download the network installation package of SP2 and copy it to the D-SP2 folder.

4.       Rename the WindowsXP-KB835935-SP2-ENU.exe file to Wxpsp2.exe.

5.       Open a Windows command prompt and at the prompt type CD \D-SP2 and press [Enter].

6.       At the prompt, type Wxpsp2.exe /integrate:C:\WXP-SP2 and press [Enter].

When the extraction and integration operation is complete, you can use drag-and-drop to copy the entire contents of the C:\WXP-SP2 to your CD-RW drive and burn the files to a CD.

The return of the revolting reboot
How can you keep XP from rebooting on its own without warning? Here's how to tame the reboot beast.

Q. From time to time, when I open an Excel spreadsheet, my XP machine reboots. There's no warning. The system just hangs for a couple of seconds, then the PC starts up as if I had just switched it on or hit the reset button. Do ghosts live in this machine, or is Microsoft trying to lower the country's productivity?

A. Of all the I-hate-XP complaints we received, the unexpected reboot won by a landslide. We heard from users who suffered das Reboot during a bewildering range of computer activities, from dialing an ISP and launching Microsoft Office apps to printing after upgrading drivers to simply copying files. Seemingly, XP blips on and off with no rhyme, reason, or common cause.

But XP does reboot for a reason. Whenever the OS encounters a Stop Error--the kind that, in earlier editions of Windows, resulted in the dreaded blue screen of death--the system automatically reboots. According to Microsoft, such errors could place data at risk, so the OS generates an error message that reboots the system rather than continuing on and possibly corrupting data. Microsoft also refers to these sudden deaths as fatal system errors.

The actual cause of the critical error, of course, could be almost anything, including incompatible software, an out-of-date BIOS, or outdated drivers for computer components such as video cards, CD-RW drives, printers, or scanners.


The immediate, straightforward solution is to turn off the automatic-reboot function in Windows XP. The long-term fix, however, is more difficult. We'll walk you through both.

Windows XP lets you specify how the OS handles critical errors. To change this setting, select Start > Control Panel > Settings > System (in the Classic-style Start menu, Control Panel is under Settings). Click Advanced > System And Recovery > Settings. In the System Failure section, clear the Automatically Restart check box, then click OK. While you're here, it's a good idea to shut off XP's irritating habit of asking whether you want to report every petty error to Microsoft. Click the Error Reporting button near the bottom right and check Disable Error Reporting. However, check the box next to "But notify me when critical errors occur." Click OK here and in the next dialog.

Now when Windows XP encounters a Stop Error, it will simply display a message on the screen and won't automatically reboot. Ta-da!

That's the easy part. The tough part is troubleshooting your PC to find the root cause of the errors. We could probably fill a book or two with troubleshooting tips, but, in the meantime, consider these basic fixes for some of the obvious culprits.

Device drivers These small programs, which control internal and external components of the PC, such as the video card and printer, may be to blame. You can run into all kinds of trouble if drivers are missing or incompatible. Go to your device manufacturer's Web site and look for XP-compatible drivers. Download and install them.

Incompatible third-party software These apps can cause critical OS errors, so search your software makers' sites for any available XP updates or patches. If no update exists, XP's Program Compatibility Wizard, part of XP's "Help and support center," may help you make an end run around old software. Step through the wizard, select the program that you think is the culprit from the list, and choose one of the offered OS compatibility modes. (If you upgraded to Windows XP and didn't have problems with the program before, pick the version from which you upgraded.)

Out-of-date BIOS chip

This chip in your PC's motherboard can also cause critical errors. Once again, check your PC manufacturer's Web site and look for BIOS updates that you can download and install or instructions on manually updating the BIOS. For another worthwhile resource, check Intel's Download center for BIOS updates of Intel microprocessors.

Turning Off CD AutoPlay in XP

Q. I've been using CD-R discs for backups, and when I insert one into the CD-RW drive, my mouse icon temporarily changes to a picture of a CD with an arrow beside it. Next, I get the Autoplay window, with the familiar flashlight, aka torch, waving back and forth, then I see a dialog asking me what player to use, because the CD already contains a mixture of file types.

If I click Cancel, the dialog goes away. If I select "Take No Action" and click OK, it goes away. However, next time I insert a CD, it's back. There is no option to tell Windows to remember my choice for subsequent insertions. Or is there? This is where you come in. Do you know a way to turn off the annoying Autoplay option?

A. In fact, it's easy to turn off AutoPlay in Windows XP, but only in a piecemeal fashion: click Start | My Computer, right-click on your CD drive, pick Properties | AutoPlay. At that point you can choose which action WinXP performs when it detects Music files, Pictures, Video files, Mixed content, or a Music CD. But, as the writer notes, sometimes you don't want WinXP to AutoPlay anything, nada, full stop.

As far as I can tell, the full solution for this problem has never been published before. At least, I've never seen it anywhere - I've only seen partial solutions, and they don't match up with the default Windows XP settings. This is the method I've used on my machines, and it seems to work on all of them.

In Windows XP/Home or XP/Pro, if you have the ability to edit your Registry (that is, if you have Administrator privileges - and you probably do if you're using XP/Home),   here's how to turn off AutoPlay, once and for all:

If you change your mind at some point in the future and want to bring AutoPlay back to life, follow the above instructions to get to the NoDriveTypeAutoRun value, right-click on it and choose Delete. Log off your computer, and WinXP will go back to doing its AutoPlay thang.

Those of you who feel more comfortable using a Group Policy to accomplish the same thing should take a look at this site for more details. 

Windows XP -

A 64 bit upgrade to a 32-bit patch for a 16-bit GUI shell running on top of an 8-bit operating system written for a 4-bit processor by a 2-bit company who cannot stand 1 bit of competition (but it's better than a Mac)!

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Version Dec 7 Copyright 2001 Larry Blaisdell