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Windows XP hints and tips

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Controlled shutdown

Everyone knows how to shut down the computer of course, but clicking Start, Turn off computer isn't the only way to do it and it may not be the best way to do it. You can shut down the computer or shutdown and restart Windows from the command prompt too. When you do it this way, there are some additional options available to you that you might find useful on occasions.

Click Start, Run and enter cmd to open a command prompt window (it looks like the old Dos prompt from 25 years ago). Type shutdown -? and press Enter to see a list of the command line options that can be used with this command. If you enter shutdown -s then the computer will be shut down in the normal way.

An interesting option is shutdown -s -f and the -f tells Windows to force any running programs to end immediately. There won't be any waiting around for hung programs. It's not usually a good idea to force programs to end immediately, but if you are having problems shutting down in the usual way you should try it. Another command line switch that can be useful is -t xx, which shuts down the computer after xx seconds. Suppose your computer is busy doing something, like downloading a file and you need to rush off. Just enter shutdown -s -f -t 300 and Windows will shut down the computer after five minutes (300 seconds).

Create your own font characters

Private Character Editor is an undocumented and hidden utility in Windows XP that you can use to create your own font characters. It enables you to create up to 6,400 unique characters like letters, symbols, logos and anthing else you can imagine.

Click Start, Run and enter eudcedit to load the Private Character Editor. You get a 64 x 64 pixel grid and some simple drawing tools with which to create your character. It's not difficult working out how to use it, but if you aren't sure what to do, open the help file on the Help menu. It explains how the utility works.

QoS reserved internet bandwidth

When Windows XP was first released there was a lot of rumours going around that the operating system reserved 20% of the internet bandwidth for itself and that only 80% was left for you to use. Hidden away in Windows in a hard-to-find location was a QoS (Quality of Service) setting that seemed to reserve 20% of bandwidth.

QoS is actually nothing to be concerned about and it is something that is only used by QoS-aware applications. If you are not running any QoS-aware applications then you have 100% of the internet bandwidth at your disposal. An example of a QoS-aware application could be a video chat program. If you are trying to chat to someone over the internet and other programs are also accessing the internet then your audio or video could stutter and you would find it difficult to hold a conversation. Using QoS the video chat program could request that a certain percentage of bandwidth be reserved for it in order to keep the audio and video smooth and stutter-free.

This doesn't actually stop a rogue program from grabbing all the available bandwidth and it only works when QoS-aware applications are running because they work together nicely to prevent problems.

You can determine how much bandwidth QoS-aware applications can reserve and this is where the 20% comes from. Click Start, Run and enter gpedit.msc (XP pro and XP Media Center Edition only), to open the Group Policy Editor. On the left, expand the Computer Configuration section, then Administrative Templates, then Network and select QoS Packet Scheduler. On the right you will see Limit reservable bandwidth. Double click it. The Not Confugured option sets QoS to the default 20%, but if you select Enabled you can enter whatever percentage you want. Try running Windows with double the default or half and see how it affects programs that access the internet. You may find that one setting better than another. Selecting the Disabled option turns off QoS and programs cannot reserve bandwidth. This is probably the worst option because QoS is generally a good thing, but again it's worth trying.

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