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by Mark Trescowthick and Ross Mack - GUI Computing
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Every now and then, we just have to run an article like this... as time runs along, one GUI staffer or another discovers a cool new addon, or a neat new trick.

Here's a few of the more recent additions to our productivity pool.

ToggleMinimize

Get this! Jim Karabatsos discovered it only recently, and his comment is that it should have been part of Windows. I agree. ToggleMinimize simply puts apps you minimise into the System Tray, rather than leaving them in the Task Bar. If you're like me and tend to have a dozen things open at once during development, then this can really cut down Task bar clutter.

I must admit, it took a little time to get used to it - I found that I'd got lazy and really stopped using the minimise button, because it really doesn't make much difference in most cases anyway. Getting used to it again didn't take long, and boy was it worth it!

About the only think I don't like about this app is that it won't stick apps that are started minimised in the tray for you automatically. Still, it's free, so I guess that's a minor quibble.

This 227Kb download is available from http://www.toggle.com.

Setting the Default to Explorer

So many people hate My Computer that it's a surprise no-one had mentioned this little trick before.

Obviously, lots of people don't dislike it as much as Ross J. Mack, Esquire or we would have seen something before. To set the default to Explore turns out to be so easy I'm almost hesitant to document it here...

In Explorer's Options, the File Types Tab has an entry for "Folder". Edit that and you will see that "Open" is the Default option (in bold). "Explore" is present in the list too, though. Just click on that, then click the Set Default button. Hey presto, double-clicking that pesky My Computer now brings up Explorer!

I sometimes wonder what other goodies are hidden away in Windows! This works under 95, 98 and NT4.

Properties Plus

I've been using this so long I'd almost forgotten that it wasn't standard until I recently reinstalled.

It adds an extra item to the context menu which enables you to change extensions without that annoying message and, more importantly for me, enables you to modify the Last Accessed date on any file. I find this a great way to line up versions of things which don't necessarily support versioning - ASPs and HTML documents spring to mind. It handles multiple files easily, so once I've finished something it's just a matter of highlighting the entire project (or whatever) and setting the date to what I want. You can operate on entire directory tress and subtrees as well.

Freeware, works in NT, 95 and 98, highly recommended and available for download.

RegSaver

Another neat little freeware utility, RegSaver automatically backs up your Registry on every nth startup. I have it set to backup every 5 times I start Windows, and it has saved me at least once. Which more than justifies the unhefty price tag! Available for download.

TinyExplorer

I actually don't like tools which inhabit my system tray too much. Most of those "neat addins" which do so, it seems to me, I'll run about once in a blue moon. And those which are written in VB I really dislike - for obvious reasons I think.

TinyExplorer is different. It's truly tiny (40K) and its sole task in life is to add an Explorer icon to my system tray at startup. With windows maximised all over the shop, this saves me a few click of the mouse every day without fail.

Again, freeware, works with NT 4 and Win95/98 and available for download.

Mangled MIME Mail

One of the problems with Internet email is that there are so many different mail servers and mail clients that sometimes I think it's miraculous that it works as consistently as it does. I guess that's what happens when people actually adhere to standards. However, there are always occasions when something doesn't work. Most commonly problems arise with attachments.

I guess this makes sense,plain text messages are obviously going to be easiest to manage. Binary data is always more complicated to manage than pure text data.

To overcome this most mail clients support one or more standards for encoding binary data within mail messages so that it can be transmitted in the same way as normal text. Most people will have heard of UU-encoding and MIME encoding. UU-encoding is a way of expressing binary data as a stream of printable characters. This allows mail programs to send it easily. MIME encoding is used to identify the type of data being sent, even to the level of what character set it is in. In general the combination of these encoding methods means that we can safely receive embedded documents, zip files and perhaps the occasional image file and they will show up nicely at the receiving end as a proper attachment. Double click on the attachment and you are away.

Sometimes this does not work. For some reason or another your mail client (perhaps Outlook, Eudora or Exchange) may not recognise the encoded information in the message. So what you end up with is an ugly glut of text that is indecipherable to mere mortals. The problem is, what do you do then ? Maybe you can ask the person who sent it to resend and hope for the best. Maybe you need to find another way to get the data from them (via FTP or a web page). You may even need to walk over to their desk with a floppy disk (SneakerNet technology tm).

Well, it may be helpful to know that there is another, less painful, alternative.

The wonderful folks at Nico Mak computing, the creators of WinZip (www.WinZip.com) have included a facility in the last couple of versions to handle MIME and UU-encoded files. In many cases this will even allow you to correctly extract encoded files from email that your email client didn't recognise.

All you need to do is open the message in question and tell your mail client to save the message as a text file. Most email programs will have some facility to do this, but you may need to hunt around the menus or help file for a while to find it in your specific case.

Once this is done, rename the file so that it has a .UU or .UUE extension. If you have WinZip properly installed you should then notice it obtains (as if by magic) a WinZip icon. If you double click on the file you should find that WinZip will identify the contents as different subfiles. In most cases there will be a textual portion (this is actually the text of the email message) and some other section or even sections. These represent the (now correctly interpreted) binary attachments that your email client was not able to decode. From here you can treat your email message (as strange as this might seem) like a WinZip archive. You can extract the files, View them or do whatever.

There are definitely other utilities available that will allow you to decode MIME and UU-encoded files, if you don't use WinZip you might want to have a hunt on www.download.com or www.tucows.com.au. A quick search on either of these sites will reveal many suitable utilities. If you use WinZip, however, it's worth knowing that the functionality is already available on your desktop.



Written by: Mark Trescowthick and Ross Mack
August '98

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