Windows has hidden functions you may not be aware of

There's a surprising number of hidden functions in Windows that are worth digging for. The key is knowing where to look.

There's a surprising number of functions available in Windows that are hidden. They're definitely worth digging for, but the key is knowing where to look.

Sometimes Windows reminds me of this tiny shop on the Bowery in downtown Manhattan. The store looks like someone emptied a dumpster into it. Broken musical instruments, fliers for local nightclubs, beat-up books and other clutter are all piled in waist-high heaps. The proprietors sit on the sidewalk in lawn chairs and gossip with passers-by. All deals are strictly cash.

Sometimes I feel like Windows has a similar jumble-sale atmosphere to it. Here are a few of the discoveries I've recently unearthed.

Printer forms. I got a crash course in the use of this feature when using the PrimoPDF printer driver, a freeware application that lets you print to a PDF file from any program that supports printing. Open the Printers and Faxes window, and click on File|Server Properties. From there you can create custom form sizes that can be re-used on any printer. This application is particularly useful if you want to ensure that output from a virtual driver is consistently formatted. I needed to use it most when printing PDFs to be formatted for a device that handled odd paper sizes. Aside from the PDF printer driver, I was also having trouble with a virtual driver that printed to TIFF until I created a custom form size to print to.

The hidden font editor. Windows XP has a program called the Private Character Editor that's not advertised on any of its application menus. This little tool lets you do quick-and-dirty (very dirty) font and icon design.

By typing eudcedit from the Start|Run box or from a command line, you'll be able to use this tool to design custom characters, which will show up in the Character Map under "All Fonts (Private Characters)." The resulting characters can be associated with any font, and are saved in the EUDC.EUF and EUDC.TTE files in the %SystemRoot%Fonts folder, so they can be copied and moved from system to system if needed.

The font installer tool. Here's another one from the Fonts folder which is actually a holdover from as far back as Windows 3.x. In the File menu, a command called Install New Fonts brings up a very old-style folder-explorer dialog. Use it to open a given folder with fonts in it, and you'll see the fonts by font name (rather than filename). To add a font just click on it, and be sure to keep the "Copy fonts to Fonts folder" box checked if you want to have them copied over; otherwise, they'll be installed right where they are. (I have not tested this with fonts that have names in Unicode, but I believe they will work.)

The instant-log-file function in Notepad. Notepad has some hidden quirks of its own, which have been documented by Microsoft and are still valid as of Windows XP. Open a new instance of Notepad and type .LOG on the first line. Whenever you re-open the file to add new text, the current date and time will be appended to the end of the file. However, this only happens if you open the file through Notepad.

The hidden user panel. In July I wrote about the hidden user control panel (in fact it was the basis for this expanded story), but it deserves mention again. Type control userpasswords2 from a command line or the Start|Run dialog and you'll be presented with a more detailed User Accounts dialog box than the one available in Control Panel. In this box you can do things such as reset the Administrator password (be real careful with this one!), managed stored passwords for multiple domains, toggle the Ctrl-Alt-Del-to-logon option, and more.

The %date% and %time% system variables. Windows 2000 and XP have two environment variables that don't show up in the standard list for same (Control Panel|System|Advanced |Environment Variables): %date% and %time%. When used in the context of a batch file or a command-line parameter, they will pass the current date or time in the format [Day] MM/DD/YYYY and HH:MM:SS.TT, where [Day] is a three-letter day (Mon, Tue, etc.). (If your localization standards use a different date/time format, it will conform to whatever is local.)

I'll keep looking for more of these treasures hidden in Windows.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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