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PC Annoyances

Still Annoyed with Your PC? Fight Back

by Steve Bass, author of PC Annoyances

Editor's note: In the fall of 2003, O'Reilly released Steve Bass's book, PC Annoyances, a collection of hundreds of PC gripes and gremlins, with fixes for all. However, not all of the Windows, Office, Internet, email, and hardware irritations he came across while writing the book made it into the final edition. So he collected some to publish in a first article called Five More Annoying PC Annoyances. This week Steve is back with four more tips and tricks to share. And if you've got a PC grievance to grumble about, let Steve know via the Talkback at the end of this article. He may just have the fix you're looking for.

You know the drill -- readers send me the PC behaviors that annoy, irritate, and aggravate; I spend countless hours finding fixes.

Here are another four glaring examples of Windows annoyances -- and their fixes. I'll also provide a few time-wasting, deadline-avoiding (and often weird) web sites I've discovered along the way.

(The big collection of annoyances -- over 100 of them -- are in PC Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer. Caution: another shameless plug to follow. If these annoyances are annoying -- and you like the fixes -- well, maybe you'll buy the book.)

On to the annoyances .

1. Boot Boring IE Icons

The Annoyance: Internet Explorer's Favorites' icon is nothing more special than Microsoft's dull, blue "e" emblem. A reader writes, "I'd much prefer anything other than these tiny logos reminding me how much I've spent on Microsoft products."

The Fix: This one's easy. Start by right clicking on any icon, then on Properties. Choose Shortcut, select Change Icon, then Browse, and click on any file ending in EXE. You'll likely see an icon (though possibly not since not all EXE's have icons). Find an icon you like and click OK and then OK again. (Shameless plug coming again: If you like this fix, you really, really need to buy my book -- there are dozens of fixes just like this one.)

Related Reading

PC Annoyances
How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer
By Steve Bass

If you have the time and the inclination, poke around in other folders in \Windows and \Windows\System for more EXEs that have icons for you to choose from.

Kill Some Time: You'll find the images from the Hubble more than just incredible -- they're just stunning. Check them out at

2. Search Animations Be Gone

The Annoyance: A reader wrote of being annoyed with Office Clippy and how my book showed him how to dump it. He followed with a question on how to dump the irritating animation in XP's Search feature.

The Fix: Start a search from the desktop by clicking F3 and then take one last look at the dumb animation that pops up. Click Change Preferences at the bottom of the Search pane, press "Without an animated screen character," and say adios to the creature.

3. Zap Microsoft's Passport

The Annoyance: A reader just bought a new PC and doesn't plan to leave the country. So how in the world does she stop that annoying icon from asking if she wants to sign up for a Passport.

The Fix: By now it's probably stopped -- Microsoft's perky Passport Messenger appears the first few times you try to connect to the Web on your new PC. If it doesn't stop -- or you're impatient -- click on the Passport message and when the window appears, select Cancel.

Kill Some Time: Almost everyone jokes that the number one way to fix any PC annoyance is to switch to a Mac. Before you do, check out the new iToilet, a little something that may change your mind.

4. Disable the Caps Lock Key

The Annoyance: A reader writes of how he keeps accidentally hitting the "durn" Caps Lock key on his notebook, and how he's "...getting mighty sick of typing things that look like a dumb ransom note. When I'm in Word, AutoCorrect fixes the problem (usually), but in other apps, it's a pain in the butt. Can the Caps Lock key be disabled?"

The Fix: Whenever I get a chance to circumvent something Microsoft should have built into Windows, I get a warm, content feeling. The fix will cost you 10 minutes, including time to download the "Disable the Caps Lock key," an aptly named free utility. The utility works in Win 95, 98, SE, and XP. (I haven't tested it using NT or Windows 2000, but it's benign and won't do any harm if it doesn't work.) Get the zipped files at Unzip it to any folder using Windows Explorer. (My example shows it in C:\Windows. See Figure 1.)

Figure 1
Figure 1. Unzipping the free utility that disables the Caps Lock key.

Now you'll need to create a shortcut on the desktop that points to the utility. Right-mouse-click on any empty spot on your desktop, select New, and choose Shortcut. In the "Command Line" (98 and ME) or the "location" (2000 and XP) field, type in "C:\Windows\CapsLockOff.exe" /off, making sure to include the quotes. (Substitute the location of the utility if it's not in c:\Windows.) Click on Next and you'll see a new shortcut with the name "CapsLockOff" on your desktop.

Now it's an easy task to drag the desktop shortcut over to the Start menu and hover until you see All Programs (Programs in Windows 98 and ME). Continue hovering until the Startup icon appears and drop the icon onto that folder. "Disable the Caps Lock key" will now automatically run when you boot your system.

If you're an advanced PC user, pick up three REG files (small pseudo-programs that modify the Registry) that either change the Caps Lock key to shift, or completely disables it, or changes it back to normal. The files are available at

Kill Some Time: Need something to do that doesn't take creating a shortcut on your desktop? I have just the thing -- it's the "Specs of the Century" site. They present you with specs and you try to figure out who they belong to. Try it here.

I'll be back again in a few months with more reader PC annoyances for you to consider.

Steve Bass is a longtime popular staff writer at PC World magazine and founded the Pasadena IBM Users Group.

O'Reilly & Associates recently released (October 2003) PC Annoyances.

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