Now that Windows 95 has been out for a while, you've probably built up a list of things that really bother you about its user interface. The people who developed the Win95 shell had the same experience, but they were in a position to do something about it. Taking advantage of Windows 95's immense customizability, the shell developers built a collection of extensions and modifiers dubbed the PowerToys.
There are ten PowerToys in all. Each toy changes one aspect of Win95's behavior; you can install any or all of the them depending on your own preferences. I find several of the toys (especially "QuickRes") to be utterly indispensable.
The only downside to the PowerToys is that they are almost completely undocumented. TweakUI comes with a Help file, but the others are supplied "naked." These toys are aimed squarely at the power user who wants to alter the way Win95 works; I would recommend that beginning Windows 95 users wait a while before trying them.
Table 1 lists the PowerToys. There are two basic types of PowerToys, extenders and utilities. Extenders add functionality to Windows 95 (usually to the Explorer); they "hook" internal facilities and have no visible standalone components. Utilities are regular Win95 programs that you can run as needed or add to your Startup group if you want their functionality always available.
Most of the PowerToys have their own INF files. To install a toy, select its INF file in the Explorer and click once with the right mouse button. This will open the context menu. From the context menu, select the "Install" command. Table 1 lists the INF file associated with each PowerToy.
There are often no overt signs that a toy is installing; the cursor changes to an hourglass briefly and you may see a progress box flash on the screen for a moment. Several of the toys will ask you to restart the system after installation, but I suggest you install all the tools you plan to use, then restart.
This trick is especially handy after you alter the device configuration or reinstall a driver; a soft restart is usually far quicker than rebooting your system.
|CABView||Extender||cabview||Windows 95 introduced the CAB file type (Cabinet?). CAB files are compressed archives similar to, but not compatible with, those built by PkZip. With CABView installed, you can manipulate CAB files with the Explorer as if they were ordinary folders.|
|CD AutoPlay Extender||Extender||aplayext||Simulates "AutoPlay" for CD-ROMs that don't already comply with the AutoPlay standard. If a non-AutoPlay CD-ROM is inserted into the drive, the Extender opens a dialog box that allows you to do things like Explore the CD, run any setup program found there, and so on.|
|Contents Menu||Extender||content||Alters the Explorer context menu. With "Contents Menu" installed, when you right-click a folder in the Explorer, the context menu will include a sub-menu labeled "Contents" that lists the contents of the folder.|
|Explore from Here||Extender||explore||Adds an item to the Explorer context menu. If you choose "Explore from Here," a new Explorer window will open with the clicked item as the root of its directory tree.|
|FlexiCD||Utility||flexicd||Enhances the Win95 "AutoPlay" mode for audio CDs. With FlexiCD installed, inserting an audio CD will automatically start playback through your system's speakers as usual. FlexiCD adds a context menu that permits track selection, shows disc properties, and so on. Clicking the FlexiCD icon on the Task Bar pauses and restarts play.|
|QuickRes||Utility||quickres||My favorite PowerToy. Running QuickRes adds an icon to the Task Bar. Clicking this icon shows a list of the resolutions and color depths available given your monitor / video card combination and places a check mark next to the current mode. If you choose a new resolution and/or color depth, the change is instantaneous! No restarting! Also gives quick access to the Display Properties control panel.|
|Round Clock||Utility||install||A clever replacement for the traditional Windows clock utility; if you select Analog mode and "No Titles," you will get a round clock face floating around by itself.|
|Shortcut Target Menu||Extender||target||In the Explorer, if you right-click a shortcut with this extender installed, you will see a sub-menu labeled Target. This new menu allows you to access the shortcut's target's properties.|
|TweakUI||Extender||tweakui||Adds a Control Panel icon called "Tweak UI." This icon allows you to alter lots of minor aspects of Windows 95's operation: mouse sensitivity, menu speed, automatic start of GUI on boot, and so on. The nicest feature of TweakUI: it can remove those "permanent" icons on the desktop (Inbox, Network Neighborhood, etc.).|
|Xmouse||Utility||install||Very odd utility for people who wish they were really running X-Windows. Causes the "active window" to follow the mouse cursor, that is, as the mouse passes over a window, that window becomes active.|
In a previous Tips article, I explained the importance of backing up your Windows 95 registry and described some ways to do this. Email conversations with readers have convinced me that I need to go into more detail on one point.
One of the methods I described used the XCOPY command to back up and restore the Registry files. This method may or may not work easily depending on your setup and needs.
I should begin by explaining that the "copy magic bits" options (/K /H) of the XCOPY command were only added to the version of that command supplied with Windows 95. Versions of XCOPY from earlier revisions of DOS do not have these options.
Depending on how Win95 was installed on your system, an old version of XCOPY could come back to haunt you. If you installed Windows 95 over an existing Windows setup, and your DOS utilities weren't in the C:\DOS directory, they may not have been upgraded. In this case, you will get "Incorrect DOS version" errors when you try to run XCOPY.
If you restart your Win95 system in MS-DOS mode from the Start / Shutdown menu, you may find that the /K and /H aren't available, which could make restoring your previously saved backup kind of problematic. You also won't be able to use the XCOPY trick if you have your system set up to multi-boot an older version of DOS or Windows.
My favorite Registry backup method continues to be compression with PkZip, but in an effort to cover all the bases, I have created a batch file which should allow you to copy your Registry information to or from a backup directory under any version of DOS. It can also be used after restarting Win95 in MS-DOS mode.
The Registry copy batch file, which I called RCPY.BAT, is shown in Listing 1. To use it, simply type:
rcpy [source directory] [destination directory] <Enter>
For example, if your Windows 95 directory is C:\WIN95, and you want to back up your Registry to C:\REGBACK, you would type:
rcpy c:\win95 c:\regback <Enter>
The first time you run RCPY, you will see a "file not found" error; this is normal. Don't worry, it's just the ATTRIB command being obnoxious. Once you've backed up your Registry, the error won't reappear. To restore your Registry from the backup, you would type:
rcpy c:\regback c:\win95 <Enter>
I hope this clears up some of the confusion.
REM RCPY --- Copy Win95 Registry Info
IF "%1"=="" GOTO URK
IF "%2"=="" GOTO URK
ECHO * Usage: RCPY [from-dir] [to-dir]
ATTRIB -R -S -H %1\SYSTEM.DAT
ATTRIB -R -S -H %1\USER.DAT
ATTRIB -R -S -H %2\SYSTEM.DAT
ATTRIB -R -S -H %2\USER.DAT
COPY %1\SYSTEM.DAT %2
COPY %1\USER.DAT %2
ATTRIB +R +S +H %1\SYSTEM.DAT
ATTRIB +R +S +H %1\USER.DAT
ATTRIB +R +S +H %2\SYSTEM.DAT
ATTRIB +R +S +H %2\USER.DAT
ECHO * RCPY Complete
Maintenance, you ask? That's right. CPU coolers are not only efficient heat removal devices, they're also efficient dust removal devices. As your system runs, the CPU cooler filters the air, depositing dust in the aluminum channels of the heat sink.
This dust can dramatically decrease the efficiency of the heat sink. Left unchecked, it can build up to the point where it stalls the cooling fan, turning the CPU cooler into a cute little Pentium blanket.
Needless to say, this isn't a good thing. If your CPU overheats, it will begin to behave erratically, then die altogether if the temperature gets too high. The CPU is the most vital (and possibly most expensive) single component in your system. It can also be one of the hardest to replace on short notice, since few places sell "loose" CPUs.
Prevention is actually very simple. At least every six months or so, you should go on dust patrol inside your computer's case. Anywhere air circulates through the interior, dust will accumulate. The worst places are usually the power supply and the area right in front of the case vents.
With a little care and common sense, you can clean out this dust in a few minutes. The ideal tool for this is a small vacuum of the type used for cleaning electronic equipment, but you can use a household vacuum cleaner with caution.
The worst danger when vacuuming inside your computer is static. Pulling dust and dry air through a plastic tube is a very good way to generate static electricity; one way to dissipate this charge is to leave your computer plugged in (but turned off) and run a jumper lead between the metal on the hose and the frame of the case. Try to avoid actually touching the motherboard and the adapter cards with the vacuum wand. Also try to leave one hand touching a metal portion of the computer's case: this will ground you.
Heat shortens the life of all semiconductor devices, so this periodic cleaning ritual can have major benefits for your computer's health: a layer of dust can insulate as well as a blanket. Cleaning the power supply is especially important: it not only generates a lot of heat, it also creates all the air circulation inside the computer case. The fan you see at the back of your computer is part of the power supply.
Because of the danger from static, I don't recommend cleaning the CPU cooler with a household vacuum. The safest way may be to blow the dust out of the cooler with "canned air" and then vacuum.
If you're daring, and if the CPU cooler isn't permanently affixed to the CPU (as many now are), you can actually remove the cooler and clean it. There's usually a flexible plastic clip holding the heat sink to the CPU; this can be loosened with a small, thin-bladed screwdriver. As always, ground yourself before touching anything inside your machine.
The CPU's cooling fan should turn freely (give it a nudge with a fingertip) and it should start spinning as soon as you turn the computer's power on. It should never need lubrication or other maintenance. If the fan doesn't start, turn the computer off, disconnect and reconnect the fan's power connector, then turn the system back on. If it still doesn't start, you may need to buy a new CPU cooler, which may cost you $40 or so for a good-quality unit.
The small fans used for CPU coolers generally have built-in overload and locked-rotor protection, so even if your fan has become badly clogged, it should start up fine once you've cleaned it.
A heat-induced failure is something nobody needs, so make the extra effort and vacuum your system once in a while!