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Window Manager
Brian Livingston
Readers reveal the latest tricks they use to get a handle on Windows problems

THIS WEEK MY READERS have once again sent in several excellent tips to make Microsoft Windows easier to use -- or to make it usable at all for some of their programs.

Auto-size columns in Windows

It's common knowledge that you can drag or double-click the edge of a column heading in Excel to resize that column. Excel also has a Format, Column, AutoFit command to make selected columns resize automatically.

Reader Doug Hilderbrand points out that Windows 95/98/Me and Windows NT have a similar feature that works to auto-size columns in Windows Explorer and in many dialog boxes.

In Explorer's Details view, click a blank space in the files pane. Then hold down Ctrl and press the plus sign (+) on the numeric keypad. All the columns autofit themselves.

Microsoft defines a registry key to change if this does not work. See

OK, the button works in Windows Me

In my Sept. 25 column, I quoted from the help file for the new System Restore feature in Windows Me. That help file says, "If you do not click Apply, the changes will not be saved when you click OK and close the dialog box."

When I first saw this statement it seemed like a terribly inconsistent change to me. To investigate, I personally visited Microsoft's Windows Me Tour at its first stop in Concord, Calif. And sure enough, a Microsoft engineer explained to me that the OK button worked one way in System Restore and another way in other applications. This was supposedly due to an argument among Redmond developers about how OK and Apply should work.

Reader Brian Wells questioned whether this help file is accurate. Now Microsoft's user-interface program manager, Piero Sierra, has confirmed that the company has no plans to change the meanings of these buttons. In fact, the buttons didn't change in Windows Me at all.

"System Restore is actually incorrect in its information about OK/Apply," Sierra says. "Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I will personally follow up with the System Restore team and try to get this corrected for our next OS product release (Whistler). In the meantime, it would be great if you could inform your readers that there is no change planned in this regard."

This issue may have arisen because the Windows team did debate what should happen when a user closes a property sheet after making changes but not clicking OK. Most applications ask if the user wants to save any changes that were made to documents. But property sheets don't ask to save properties.

"We've considered putting up a warning dialog when users click the X on a property sheet," says Sierra. "This has been a long-standing source of confusion for novice and intermediate users. However, we shied away from this change because 1) it's hard to implement consistently and 2) it would annoy advanced users."

I'm glad we've settled that. OK?

How to get Me more files

Speaking of errors in Windows Me, I've started to receive reports of applications that work under Windows 9x but don't work under Windows Me.

Reader Myles Swift gives an example. He uses a DOS program that works fine under Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT, and even Windows CE (with an emulator). But it wouldn't run under Windows Me.

Fortunately, Swift was able to identify and fix the problem. It turns out that Windows Me defaults to a maximum of 30 file handles, and Swift's program needs more. But the Msconfig.exe program in Windows Me can't increase the number of file handles by changing the environment as in previous Windows versions.

The way to fix this, believe it or not, is to insert the following line into the [386Enh] section of System.ini:



where number is between 1 and 225. This value is added to the default number of 30 file handles. By adding 30 more, Swift's program runs under Windows Me as well as under 95/98/2000 and Windows NT.

Microsoft has just published an article about this at

Readers Hilderbrand, Wells, and Swift will receive free copies of Windows Me Secrets for being the first to send me tips I printed.

Get Livingston by e-mail

Now you can receive this column free every Monday by e-mail. Check Window Manager at


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