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Yes, Windows is Dumb: Explorer windows

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Excerpted from
Yes, Windows Is Dumb
Easy Ways to Master Your PC
Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt


Making W95 Explorer windows behave

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt

Want to make a Windows 95 power user really upset? Talk about the way file and folder windows behave.

Misbehave is a better word. With all the design effort Microsoft went into to develop Windows 95, you'd think the company would have found a way to get these windows to save their own settings. No matter what you may think about the way your stock Windows 95 PC operates, and no matter how much you may think your file-and-folder windows behave, the fact is that they don't. They will not reliably reopen in the same positions, showing the same views, with the same window sizes, every time you open them.

File and folder windows are under the control of Explorer, the Windows program that is given the task of taking charge of basic operations. A program that does this is called the shell. The problems of Explorer's file and folder windows has nothing to do with its role as the shell, so we won't return to that part of the topic. You just need to know that Explorer is the shell, and this gives it an unusual ability: If you kill off Explorer by pressing Control-Alt-Delete, clicking on "Explorer" and telling Windows to "End Task," Explorer will close and immediately start up again. The shell must be running always, so the supervisory part of Windows that is hidden away restarts Explorer to make sure someone is visibly in charge.

(Microsoft likes that word, "Explorer," and uses it for another program, its Internet Explorer browser. I'm not referring to the browser here.)

Let's start with the misconception I alluded to above. I'll bet most Windows 95 users believe they are able to save the positions and settings of their file-and-folder windows without a problem. And I'll also bet they think they're doing something wrong when these windows don't seem to return to the same positions and don't seem to have the same settings they had before.

But a stock Windows 95 PC cannot permanently save these settings. (I use the word "stock" because there is a way to surmount this problem with a little tweak, which I'll explain shortly.) Window settings are, indeed, stored, but not permanently. What happens is this: The operating system remembers the settings of the last two and a half dozen windows you had open. When you open a window past that limit (which, believe it or not, is based on the letters of the alphabet plus some other characters), Windows looks for the oldest settings and throws them away. Then it saves the size and other settings of the latest window you had open

So you would be able to save your settings—if you never opened more than about 30 windows.

This is absurd. Microsoft should have given Explorer the ability to track two kinds of window settings—the continually updated defaults (which is what it does now) and a second set of user-defined settings. (Alas, there is no sign that Microsoft is planning to add this kind of function in a later version of Windows.)

As I mentioned, you can tweak Windows to gain some control over window settings. You do this with a free utility program from Microsoft, appropriately called Tweak UI. (Download Tweak UI in the Power Toys collection from <A HREF="">the Power Toys page</A>. Tweak UI and the rest of the Power Toys are unofficial enhancements to Windows even though they were created by Microsoft and are distributed by the company, so don't expect Microsoft's support personnel to help you with any of the Power Toys if you get into trouble.

Tweak UI was designed to fix many of the user-interface (thus UI) problems of Windows. Yes, Microsoft should have fixed these problems within the Windows code (or redesigned Windows so they would not have occurred in the first place!). But wishes don't count in this case. Tweak UI works well, and you should add it to your system if you are serious about how you use your computer. (Please be sure you read the instructions on the page where the Power Toys are featured, so that you'll know how to install Tweak UI and the other applets. There is no installation program. There is no EXE file that you click on to install these little programs. You simply right click on an "install" file and choose "Install" from the menu that pops up. Please read what I just wrote a couple of times before you write to me or call me to tell me you can't get Tweak UI installed. Thank you.)

Be warned, however, that Tweak UI doesn't actually fix the way Windows stores the settings for individual windows. What it does is freeze those settings so they can't get messed up. It's up to you to get them just the way you want them first. Then, when you open the Tweak UI applet, you switch off the "save-settings" checkbox to tell Windows to ignore any changes you or anyone else makes to your Explorer windows.

This is not a fun exercise, but it's well worth the trouble. Run Tweak UI and make sure Explorer settings are being saved, then adjust your windows the way you want them, one by one. Do this for all the windows you normally use. (The settings that are saved include, of course, not only the window size and position, but also whether the toolbar is displayed, whether auto-arrange is turned on for the icon display, and so on.) Then rerun Tweak UI and turn off Explorer's ability to save the settings.

At that point, your windows will stick to the settings you made. Keep in mind that any improvements you make to any of the windows will not take effect the next time Windows runs. You'll need to turn the settings toggle back on before you make those changes, then turn it off afterward.

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