`Properties' offers way you can arrange list of programs into columns


Plugged In

November 23, 2006|By JIM COATES

Something nasty has happened since I installed a couple of new programs on my Windows XP computer. When I call up the All Programs list by clicking on Start, the list of programs runs off the bottom of the screen, which means that I no longer can see what I've got at a glance, and I don't like it. My husband says that's just the way it has to be. Is he correct?

- Sharon Aiken

I learned a long time ago not to take sides when husbands and wives are at odds. So let me just say that I can show you a way to make that list of programs expand across the screen in a series of tidy columns, rather than dropping into the basement as soon as the first column is filled.

And let me say also that a lot of folks prefer to have this list of all the programs installed on their computers scroll off the bottom to avoid blocking out a big chunk of the desktop screen when the All Programs display gets spread out to the right in columns. Both preferences can be found by right-clicking on Start and then selecting Properties. This brings up a box that lets users customize the Taskbar at the bottom of the screen and to make a few changes to the Start display as well.

Look for the Customize button in the tabbed menu that appears. In the display that this generates, click on the Advanced tab. This presents settings that users can change. Go down the list until you see the item Scroll Programs. Remove the check mark, and the program list will branch out in a second column when you click on Start and then select All Programs.

I have a Gateway II laptop and run Microsoft Windows XP, Version 2002 with 248 megabytes of RAM. I use AT&T as my network provider and have a dial-up Internet connection.

The problem I am having is a very slow-starting computer. Also, any programs I bring up, such as Outlook Express or the Help menu, are very slow to respond. I have performed a defrag and have followed your advice and deleted the temporary Internet files. Is there anything else I can do to get a faster response?

- Ginger Esposito

You have two issues to solve in order to perk up that laptop. First, you need more memory. Second, you have too much stuff loading when your computer starts.

With just 248 megabytes of RAM available, it's all your computer can do to run the memory-hungry Windows operating system and a single program (pretty much). Installing new memory chips is relatively easy for ordinary users, or you could take it to a shop, but you should have a bare-bones minimum of 512 megabytes.

When Windows computers are asked to do more than they can perform in their lightning-fast random access memory chips, they write the required data onto the hard drive, which is orders of magnitude slower than using RAM, and forces those long waits for programs to come up.

The boot-up problem requires sterner stuff. Since you have covered hard-drive defragmenting and cleared out temporary Internet files, you should consider disabling most or even all of the programs that get loaded into memory automatically when the computer boots up. A tool in Windows XP called the Microsoft configuration utility can be activated by clicking on Start and then choosing Run, and typing in "msconfig" (without the quote marks) and then clicking OK. Look for the tab called Startup in the msconfig display and open it. That summons a list of most of the programs that are triggered as the computer starts up. Check the box next to each item to turn it on or off. There's even a Disable All button at the bottom, which you could use without problems. (I'll say why this is so in a tad.)

Most folks like to remove checks selectively, however, choosing to shut down things such as modules that put start-up icons in the System Tray in the lower right-hand corner of the monitor display. A dismaying number of outfits install these start-up modules to make their products easier to access, and you don't need that.

The reason I said that you can kill all of these items without worry is that you can always restart the computer in so-called Safe Mode, which doesn't use these items anyway. Safe Mode is summoned by holding down the F8 key soon after you turn on your computer. If need be, you can backtrack in Safe Mode to summon msconfig and restore check marks.

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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