Hacking Windows XP: Hacking Windows Explorer (from extreme tech)

Hacking the Context Menu

What is the context menu? This is the menu that pops up when you right-click on a file. Over the years, these menus have become more and more useful. However, with the extra entries in the context menu, they often become cluttered with options and features that you just don't need. These next few sections will shown you how you can get your menus back under control as well as how you can take advantage of the new features to make your own context menu entries.

We will start off by removing items from the context menus and will then move on to adding and customizing the components of the menus.

Removing items from the context menu
Over time, your context menus can become cluttered with program entries from old programs that you don't use anymore. Sometimes you may experience programs that take over all of your context menus. Compression apps such as Winzip or Picozip always end up adding program entries to all of the context menus. I have Picozip installed on My Computer and every time I right-click on any file or folder, I see five entries from Picozip giving me different compression options. This can be a convenient feature, but if you don't compress and extract zip files very often, then you might not need the added convenience. Instead you could remove these entries from your context menu, which will give your system a cleaner interface as well as a small performance boost if you have a lot of extra entries in your context menu.

Caution: Before editing your registry, it would be wise to create a system restore point by using system restore. Doing so will provide an easy method to revert back to your original configuration before you make any changes—just in case you accidentally delete or modify something that hurts your computer.

Actually removing these programs from your context menus can be a little tricky since they can spread to different places in the registry. Also, the easy-to-use context menu editor used earlier to change the icon and default launch app for certain file types is not robust enough to allow the removal of entries from programs that take over all context menus such as Picozip. The only way to remove these types of entries is to edit the registry directly. If you want to remove an entry on a context menu that does not appear on every context menu and just appears on one or a few other file types, you can still use the easy-to-use editor. Because of that, I have provided you two different sets of steps depending on what you want to do. When you are ready, follow the steps below for the corresponding type of entry to remove it for good.

Removing Entries that appear in all Context Menus

This set of steps will show you how you can remove entries in the context menu that appear in all menus for all file types that were put there by programs such as Picozip.
  1. Start up the Registry Editor by clicking on the Start button and selecting Run. Then type regedit in the box and click OK.
  2. When the Registry Editor appears, expand the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT folder. You will now see a list of every file type that is set up on your computer.
  3. If the entry that you want to remove from the context menu appears in all context menus such as the Picozip example above, you will have to expand the * folder.
  4. Now that you have the correct folder expanded, expand the Shellex and ContextMenuHandlers folders. Your registry path should look like HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers.
  5. Look through the list until you find the entry that you want to remove. Right-click on the folder of the entry and select delete. You will find that identifying some of the programs is easy. For example, Picozip is labeled Picozip. However, you may run into some items that are listed using their application ID number or a vague name. If that is the case, copy (Control + C) the application ID, which is formatted like this—{XXXXXXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXXXXXXXXXX}—to the clipboard. You may have to expand the folder to see the ID. Then, once you have the ID copied to the clipboard, press Control + F to bring up the Search box in regedit and paste the ID in the box. Next, just click Find and you should be able to find some other references to that same ID in your registry that also might give you some clues to what it is. If that does not work, try doing a search on Google to see if that turns up anything.
  6. Once you are finished removing all of the entries from your context menus, just close Registry Editor and you are finished. Your changes will be in effect immediately.

Removing entries that appear only under certain file types
If you want to remove an entry on a Context menu that appears on just one type of file or a few different types of files, this section will show you how to easily remove it using the context editor in Folder Options.

  1. Open up My Computer.
  2. Click on the Tools menu, select Folder Options, and click on the File Types tab.
  3. Scroll though the list of file types and select the extension that you would like to modify.
  4. Click the Advanced button to bring up the Edit File Type window. This is where you will see a list of all of the different entries that will show up in the context menu, shown here:
  5. Figure 5-3

    Edit File Type window that displays a list of all of the entries in a text document's Context menu.

  6. Select the item that you want to remove and click Remove.
  7. Click OK and you are finished.
If you ever want to revert back to your original context menus, you can just restore your computer to an earlier checkpoint. Or, if you didn't create a system restore checkpoint, you can just reinstall the app to take care of it.

Adding Your own Items to the Context Menu

Now that you have removed all of the extra clutter from your context menus, why not add some useful entries to your menus? You can add a lot of cool things to your context menus that can enhance your experience with your computer. My favorite item to add to my context menus is a "Send Attached to Message" entry. This entry in my context menu grew out of a need to find a better way to email files. I send a lot of messages every day, often just for the purpose of sending a file. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be cool if I could just right-click on a file and select some option that would automatically open up Microsoft Outlook, create a new message, and attach the file? That would streamline the whole process by knocking out a few steps.

Adding an entry to a context menu is very simple. The most difficult part of solving my little puzzle was figuring out how to launch Outlook so it would automatically create a message and attach the desired file to it. After a few minutes on Google researching, I came across Outlook-Tips.net which is a great resource for just the information that I was looking for. According to outlooktips.net, I just had to launch Outlook with the /a switch and the name of the file. Once I had this information, I had all of the pieces of the puzzle and was ready to start putting it together. Perform the following steps to learn how to add your own item to any File Types context menu:

  1. First, open up My Computer.
  2. Click on the Tools menu bar item and select Folder Options.
  3. Click on the File Types tab to expose all of the different file types on your computer.
  4. Because I usually send Word documents, I scrolled down the list of file types and selected the .doc file extension. Pick any other file extension for which you would like to add an entry.
  5. Once you have the entry selected, click the Advanced button to bring up the Edit File type window.
  6. Click the New button to add an entry.
  7. In the Action box, type in the name that you want to appear on the menu. I typed in Send Attached to Message.
  8. In the Application Used to Perform Action box, you will want to specify the application and any switches that you will want to use for this new entry. Click on the Browse button to easily browse to an executable file. I navigated until I found OUTLOOK.EXE inside the OFFICE11 folder.
  9. When you click OK, the path to the executable file will fill the box. Now you will want to add any application flags at the end of the line. To tell Outlook to create a new message and attach a file to it, I had to add /a after the path followed by %L. The %L is a system variable that holds the name of the file that you are right-clicking on. When I was finished, my box looked like the following (including the quotes): "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE11\OUTLOOK.EXE" /a "%L".
  10. When you are finished editing your new entry, click OK to save it.
You are now finished adding an entry to a specific File Types context menu. If you followed all of the previous steps to add the "Send Attached to message" entry, every time you right-click on a Word document, you will now see the new entry, as shown in Figure 5-4. If you want to add the same entry on other file types, just repeat the previous directions by selecting a different file type in step 4.

You can do even more things with the context menus. If I wanted to, I could use the different switches that I found on the Outlook Tips Web site to make my entry send the file to a specific person instead of leaving the To field blank in Outlook. Once you know the %L variable, you can send the name of the file to any program, given that you know the correct switches with which to launch the program.

What the context menu will look like after the Send Attached to Message is attached.

Modifying the Send To Menu

The Send To menu is one of features of my context menus that I use the most. The ability to right-click on any file and have a shortcut for it sent to the desktop is invaluable. All of the other features are very useful as well. How would you like to make it even more useful? It is very easy to add your own items to the Send To menu, such as folders that you can send files to. Do you have a folder that you store all of your music in? How about a folder that you store all of your digital photos in? Just follow the quick steps below to add anything that you want to your Send To context menu entry.

  1. Open up My Computer and browse to the C drive, or whatever drive you have Windows installed to.
  2. Browse through the Documents and Settings, your user name, and the Send To folders.

    Tip: If you do not see any of the folders that are required in this section, you may have hidden files turned on. Because these folders are hidden by default, you will have to tell Windows to show all files. To this, refer to the section on working with hidden files towards the end of this chapter.

  3. When you are looking at C:\Documents and Settings\Username\SendTo, you will see all of the files that appear in the Send To menu. If you want to add an entry to the menu, just copy a shortcut to this folder.
  4. Let's say that you want to add your Digital Photos folder to your Send To menu. Just navigate to your Digital Photos folder and right-click on it and select Send To desktop. Then just cut and paste the shortcut that was created from your desktop into the SendTo folder.
  5. If you ever want to remove some items from the Send To menu, just delete them from the Send To folder.
It's that simple. You are now finished customizing your Send To menu. Now you will be able to fine-tune all of the different features of your context menus so that you can get the most out of your Windows XP experience.

Customizing Your Folders

The folders of Windows XP can be customized in ways that never were possible before. You can easily change the icon of the folder as well as the way the folder behaves once you open it up. These next few sections will show you how you can take advantage of the great new folder features of XP.

Changing a folder icon and picture
Changing the icon that is displayed for a folder is one of the easiest ways to customize how it looks and to make it stand out from the rest of your folders. Windows XP also includes a new way to apply pictures to the front of your folders when you are using thumbnail view. This next section will show you how to can change the way your files and folders look as you browse through them by taking advantage of the new high-resolution icons.

Changing the folder icon and the folder picture are done within a folder properties menu. For the sake of demonstrating what you can do with these new features, create a new folder on one of your hard drives and call it Downloads. This can be a folder to which you can save all of your downloads so that they do not clutter up your desktop. Follow these steps to change the way this folder looks:

  1. Right-click on the new folder that you just created, or on any folder that you want to customize, and select Properties.
  2. Click on the Customize tab to reveal all of your customizing options.
  3. Depending on what view you are currently using, whether it be the Icons, Tiles or Thumbnails view, will determine what you can customize. First, customize the icon, since that is the most popular way to customize the look of the folder. To do that, click on the Change Icon button on the bottom of the window.
  4. Now you will be able to browse through the list of available system icons or you will be able to specify your own by clicking the Browse button. Personally, the system icons are good enough for this folder, so I would select one of the globe icons for the Downloads folder.
  5. Once you have selected the icon that you want to use, just click the OK button to return to the Customize screen. Then click Apply to see your changes.
  6. If you are using thumbnail view to view your icons, you can customize the folder by making an image appear on the front of the folder so that it can be used as a reminder of what is in the folder. To do that, just click the Choose Picture button on the Customize screen and specify a bitmap to be displayed on the file.
  7. Once you are finished selecting the image, click OK to save your changes. Then click Apply on the Customize screen to see your changes. Remember that you will only see your changes if you are using the Thumbnails view. The view can be changed to Thumbnails view by clicking on the View menu bar item.
When you are finished changing the way your folder looks, just click the OK button to save your changes and exit the folder properties window.

Changing the Template of a Folder

Windows XP has several different ways to display the contents of a folder. Specifically, XP has many new ways to view different types of data inside a folder. For example, if you have a folder filled with MP3 files, Windows can display new information such as the title of the song, artist, year, track #, bitrate, duration, and other data from the ID3 tags (special data that keeps track of the title of the songs, artist, album, etc.) that are stored within a MP3 file when displaying the file in Details view with the music template selected. Another example is the new Filmstrip and Thumbnails view that can be selected to easily browse through your photos on your computer.

To get started customizing the folders on your computer so that they can take advantage of the new features, you have to set the template of the folder so that Windows Explorer knows how to display the contents of the folder. This can be done by using the Customize tab in Folder Properties. Follow these steps to specify the template that should be used for a specific folder:

  1. Navigate to the folder that you want to modify, right-click it, and select Properties.
  2. Click the Customize tab.
  3. Select the template that you want to use by expanding the drop-down box, as shown in Figure 5-5. The default template that is used is the Documents template. Other template options include Pictures, Photo Album, Music, and Videos. There are actually a few different subsets of music as well, but it really does not matter which one you select since you will most likely be customizing the look further in the next section. The main purpose of changing the template is so that you will have a different set of features with which you can work and customize.
  4. Figure 5-5

    Changing the template of a folder.

  5. Also, if you have a lot of folders within this folder with the same type of content, click the Also Apply This to All Subfolders checkbox so that your changes will be propagated to all subfolders as well.
You have now customized the template of the folder and are ready to customize the view.

Customizing the view folder

Now that you have the a specific template selected for your folder, you will have a more advanced feature list to work with so that you can display a lot of useful information about the file in your folder. First, you need to be aware of the new views that you can use in Windows XP:

  • The default view of Windows XP is the Tiles view, as shown in Figure 5-6. This view is basically exactly the same as the Icons view, but the icons that are displayed are just a little bigger.
  • Figure 5-6

    New tiles view.

  • The Thumbnails view is one of the most useful new views of Windows XP, as shown in Figure 5-7:
  • Figure 5-7

    New thumbnail view.

  • The Filmstrip view is another very useful view that makes it easy to browse through photos on your computer. It gives you the ability to see a large sample of the image as shown in Figure 5-8, so that you can see a more detailed preview without having to open up the file.
  • Figure 5-8

    New filmstrip view.

  • The Details view is not exactly a new view, but it has been expanded to include many new fields that display useful file information such as ID3 tags and image data, such as dimensions and camera info.
The Details view can be customized like no other view can be. All of the columns that are displayed can be resized, removed, rearranged, and more can be added. This can all be accomplished by using some of the lesser-known tricks of the interface. To start off, customize a folder that contains a bunch of MP3 files. By now, you should have already changed the template for this folder to one of the music templates so that you can use the advanced music specific features. If you have not already done that, go back to the last section to find out how. When you are ready, follow these steps to customize all of the different parts of the detailed view:

  1. Start off by resizing the columns. To do so, just place the mouse on the vertical line that is displayed between the columns and click and hold the left mouse button while you drag the mouse back and fourth.
  2. Now, add some of the new columns that display information from the ID3 tags from the MP3 files. Just right-click on the column heading and select one of the many new options such as bit rate. You can even select more items to add from the bottom of the pop-up menu to see a list of even more items that you can add as shown in Figure 5-9. Repeat this step until you have added all of the new columns that you want.
  3. Most likely there will be some columns that you just don't need. To remove these columns from the Details view, just right-click on the column heading and select the item once again to uncheck it. This will instantly remove the column from the view.
  4. The last part of customizing the view is to set the order of the columns in a way that you like the best. To change the order of a column, just grab the column header and drag it around by holding down the left mouse button and moving the mouse.

Figure 5-9

Adding new columns to the detailed view.

If you want to customize the detailed view of a folder that contains other multimedia files such as videos or photos, just repeat the previous steps and you will see additional column features with which you will be able to customize your detailed view.

Applying your Folder Settings to all Folders

When you first use Windows XP, all of the folders are configured to use the tiles view. Personally, I don't always like to use the tiles view for all of my folders. It takes up so much screen space and I usually end up scrolling though the long lists while trying to find the file that I want. Instead, I like to use the detailed view on all of the windows by default.

To do this, you could change the settings of every folder, but there is a much easier way. Instead, just customize one folder on our computer using the sections above so that you can get it looking great, then follow the steps below to apply the same configuration to all of the other folders on your computer.

1. While the folder that you customize is still open, click on the Tools menu bar item and select Folder Options. 2. Next, click the View tab. 3. Click the Apply to All Folders button and click Yes on the confirmation screen. Also, keep in mind that when you do that, you will overwrite your configuration on all of the other folders on your computer. 4. Then just click OK to close the Folder Options window and you are finished. If for some reason you don't like what you did and want to restore all of the folders on your computer to the original look, just click the Reset All Folders button that was next to the Apply to All Folders button on the View tab in Folder Options.

Working with Hidden Files

Just like every other Windows version, Windows XP likes to hide files. When you are interested in tweaking and customizing your computer, this hiding of files can become probematic, as many of the system files with which you want to work are often hidden. These next two sections will show you how to make Windows XP display all hidden and system files as well as the super hidden files.

Unhiding hidden files
When you are tweaking your computer, you often need to edit different configuration files for different applications. This can cause a problem since those configuration files are often hidden. The only way to edit them would be if you knew the exact file name and typed it in the Browse box manually. Otherwise, you would be out of luck.

Telling Explorer to show hidden files and folders is the only solution to this problem. Making Explorer show hidden files is just a matter of getting to the right place. Follow these steps to show all hidden files:

  1. Open up a copy of Explorer in My Computer by clicking on the icon on the Desktop or Start panel.
  2. Go to the Tools menu bar item and select Folder Options.
  3. Click on the View tab to see all of the different file display options when the window appears.
  4. Scroll down the list until you see the entries for Hidden Files and Folders. Select Show Hidden Files and Folders, as shown in Figure 5-10.
  5. When you are finished, just click OK to save your changed and exit the configuration window.
  6. You should now see all of the hidden files on your computer that are hidden using the +h file attribute. However, you may notice that there still are some files that are not showing up. These are the system files. To show these files, continue on to the next section.

    Figure 5-10

    Revealing hidden files.

    Revealing the super hidden files
    Microsoft has added many features to Windows XP to protect the critical files of the operating system. The system file checker, for instance, continually monitors the system files to ensure that no application will replace your system files with a version that Windows XP was not designed to work with. The new super hidden files feature allows Windows to protect itself even further by hiding some of its most critical files from the user. If they can't get to it, they can't hurt it, right?

    Revealing the super hidden system files is not very difficult at all. You can uncheck the box on the list on the View tab of Folder Options, but where is the fun in that? Use the Registry Editor to turn this feature off:

    1. Click on the Start button and select Run.
    2. Type in regedit in the box and click OK to start up the Editor.
    3. Once regedit appears, navigate through HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced.
    4. Right-click on ShowSuperHidden and select Modify.
    5. Change the value to 1 and click OK to save your changes.

    Now you will be able to see all of the files on your computer, including the super hidden system files.

Disabling the Common Tasks Pane and Summing Up

Every time that you use Explorer, you are forced to view the new Common Tasks pane. The Common Tasks pane is the new panel that is displayed on the left side of the screen that provides you with links to various parts of the operating system as well as useful utilities. This new feature looks visually pleasing and seems to be a very nice and useful feature. However, that is not always the case. I do not think that I have ever used any link on my tasks pane or any of the other information that is shown on it. If you are like me and do not use your Common Tasks pane, why not remove it to recover some space that could be used to display more icons on your screen at once?

Removing the Common Tasks pane is very easy using the folder options that can be accessed in any Explorer window. Follow these steps to remove the Common Tasks pane from your windows:

  1. Click on the Tools menu bar item from any open Explorer window and select Folder Options. If you do not have an open Explorer window, just open My Computer.
  2. On the General tab, just select Use Classic Folders under the Tasks settings on the top.
  3. Click OK to save your changes.

You have now removed the Common Tasks pane from all of your Explorer windows.

(if you like this post please visit extreme tech, the original article of this post. This post is just for my own reference as note.thanks)


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