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Windows Power-User Series

How To Safely Hack the
Windows "Start" Button
( And Get more Taskbar space too! )

This tutorial/hack requires the use of a Hex Editor. If you do not have one of your own (such as UltraEdit), you can read my review of a FREE Hex Editor right here at The Starman's Realm: Frhed - Free Hex Editor. If you prefer it instead, there's another new Hex editor (which is also a DISK Editor under Windows2000/XP!) called HxD which you can get here: http://www.mh-nexus.de/. See our brief review here: Hex Editors.
Or get Frhed right now from its author at:

http://www.tu-darmstadt.de/~rkibria/ (opens in new window)

If you use Windows NT4, then click here first.

If you use Windows 2000 / XP, then click here first.

First, you must make the following copies of your Windows EXPLORER.EXE file: You could, for example, open the C:\>Windows folder in an Explorer window or even "My Comptuer," find the Explorer program file (Explorer.exe) and right-click on it, choose "Copy" from the menu and then "Paste" it into the same folder. Since the file already exists, the Windows OS will rename your copy to "Copy of Explorer.exe" instead. Then you simply rename that file to: EXPLORER.SAV -- this will be your original file copy if anything should go wrong; in which case, you can go into real-DOS (not just a DOS-Window) under Win9x/ME and use the COPY command
( C:\WINDOWS>copy explorer.sav explorer.exe ) to restore your Explorer.exe file to its original state. [ Under Win2000, it's more complicated: unless you've installed a second copy of the OS to boot into for emergencies. ]
Now make another copy of Explorer.exe and rename this file to: EXPLORER.BAK (this is the copy we'll actually edit to change the name and/or size of the "Start" button).

Open the file Explorer.bak in your Hex Editor and hunt for the Unicode string ( in hex ): 05 00 53 00 74 00 61 00 72 00 74 00   If you're using Frhed, you can enter the following string into the " Edit --> Find " box like this:

( to save new users a little time... Just copy the following text right from your browser screen with your mouse:
Or, swipe your cursor across any string of zero bytes while inside of Frhed, and you'll get a bunch of <bh:00> tags in the Find box when you open it! )

On my Win 95"B" machine ( or OSR2, or   Windows 95.[Version 4.00.1111] ), this string (starting with the 05 00) begins at hex location 2df0a as seen in the following pic (see the TABLE below for the 'Start-string' location for other Windows systems):

Unless otherwise noted, these should all be US English OS versions.
Operating System Explorer.exe Date/Time File Size (Bytes) HEX Location
Windows 95 B (OSR2) 8-24-96 11:11a 204,288 2df0a
Windows NT 4 (SP1) 10-14-96 1:38a 234,256 3599e
Windows NT 4 (SP3) 5-01-97 12:00a 234,256 359a6
Windows NT 4 (SP6)1 9-23-99  1:10p 237,328 3672e
Windows 98* 5-11-98  8:01p 180,224 28d6c
Windows 98   (SE) 4-23-99 10:22p 180,224 28d6c
Caution: I've been told by some readers that 'Updates' from Microsoft to your OS (primarily Win 98 SE, but this could happen with others as well) may alter the Explorer code, making the locations listed here invalid. So, this table should not be considered the final word on where to find the 'Start'-string(s) in Explorer.exe!
Windows ME
(Millennium Edition) 2
6-08-00  5:00p 225,280 33ddc
Windows 2000
[ 5.00.2920.0 - file version]
Build: 5.00.2195 (in System Properties).
12-07-99 4:00a 238,352 374c4
Windows 2000 3
[ 5.00.3103.1000 ?? ]
7-27-00 12:00a 242,960 3860c
Windows XP
[ 6.0.2600.0 - file vers]
Build: 6.00.2600.000
8-17-01 10:36p 1,000,960 412b4*
Windows 2000  ( SP3 )
[ 5.0.3502.5321 - file vers]
Build: 5.00.2195
    Service Pack 3
7-22-02 11:05a 242,960 3860c
Windows XP  ( SP1a )
[ 6.0.2800.1106 - file vers]
Build: 6.00.2800.1106
    Service Pack 1a
8-29-02  3:41a 1,004,032 41f00*
Windows 2000  ( SP4 )
[ 5.0.3700.6690 - file vers]
Build: 5.00.2195
    Service Pack 4
6-20-03  4:00a 243,472 3880c
Windows OS   (?) ? ? ?

*Starting with WindowsXP, EXPLORER.EXE now has two different "START strings"! The WinXP mode as
I'm calling it, is like skins-themes, etc. and begins with a lower-case "s" (their locations are shown in BLUE* in
the Table above); having the string: "05 00 73 00 74 00 61 00 72 00 74 00" (05 00 start).
*The WinXP classic mode "Start string" begins with an upper-case "S" [e.g., in some of the more recent
editons (2003) of the WinXP CD, you'll find "05 00 53 00 74 00 61 00 72 00 74 00" (05 00 Start) string
beginning at location 41f00 hex; before the WinXP mode, whereas in earlier editions the order was the
other way around].
3 Windows 2000 location provided by Crispin from New Zealand.
2 Windows ME location provided by Kevin from the USA.
1 Win NT 4 (SP-6) location provided by Pabs (FRHED programmer; Australia).
* Windows 98 location provided by Carey Bloodworth (of π fame; USA).

If no data is listed above for your version of Windows (or you find it in error!), I'd appreciate your
help in adding its Explorer.exe 'Start-string' location to this table!
You can send me an email using this
online reply form (opens in a new window).

Long ago, I had used a Win tweaking program to change the name of the START button to "MyWay" because it claimed that it had to be five characters long. But here's what you can do to change it to something less than five letters: The hex byte 05 at the beginning of our string actually tells Windows how many of the following Unicode characters are to be shown on the button! So, here's an example of how you could shorten the "Start" name to only "Go" by changing the 05 to a 02 (and the 'S t' to 'G o' of course):

Since only the two characters "G o " will be shown on the button, it doesn't really matter what you do with the other three; in the pic above, they were filled-in with spaces (hex=20), but you could just as well leave them as "a r t " since they will not be shown.

Get More Space on your Taskbar

I'm sure someone has wanted to try this ever since reading the first part of this page: YES, you really can eliminate all of the characters from the Start button! And it's even easier than changing the characters on it:
    Simply turn the 05 byte at the beginning of the string into a ZERO ( 00 hex ); that's it! This leaves only the Windows Flag Logo on the button; which in my opinion is plenty big enough all by itself:

Save the file ( Explorer.bak ) and close your Hex Editor.

Changing the Explorer Program

Make sure to copy the following instructions since we'll need to go into real DOS (shutting-down Windows) to finish the process. If you don't have a Menu System that allows you to exit right into DOS every time you shut down Windows, you'll have to shut it down this way:

Once you're at a real DOS prompt, you'll need to get into the WINDOWS folder. Simply enter the command:  cd\windows at any DOS prompt to get to the C:\Windows folder. ( Note: On some computers, Explorer.exe, along with all the other Windows programs, is found in a different folder.) Once there, enter the following command to copy the changes you made from Explorer.bak to EXPLORER.EXE:
C:\WINDOWS>copy explorer.bak explorer.exe
DOS should respond with: 1 file(s) copied.     The reason we have to shut down Windows to make this change is because the Explorer program is always in use while Windows is running. None of the usual methods can be used to replace any program file on your hard drive if that program is still running under Windows.

You can now reboot your computer, or restart Windows and view the hack you made to your Start button.

Hiding the Start Button!
( When you feel like wasting some time ...
on a Windows 95 or possibly Win 98 box)

This is only for fun rather than function since it doesn't save any space on the Taskbar, and even if it did, you'd have to perform these steps every time you boot-up...

  1. Press the CTRL and ESC keys at the same time ( brings up the START menu), then press the ESC key by itself. This places the 'focus' on the START button (you should see 'dots' or 'dashes' all around the edge of the button).

  2. Press the ALT and MINUS keys at the same time ( this produces a pop-up window with 'Move' and 'CLOSE' available; do NOT click on 'Close' before reading step 3 below! If you do so, you MAY need to reboot your system to restore all Tray items!).

  3. Note: Moving the Start button (select 'move' with either the mouse or using keyboard, but then you MUST use the arrow keys on the keyboard to actually move the Start button!) is a pointless waste of time: Windows still reserves the space it originally occupied, placing it anywhere in the System Tray will block access to any of the buttons there and placing it over any Taskbar button will make it seem to disappear. None of these movements really matter though, because simply hiding the Taskbar off-screen (pull it down with your mouse cursor) and then bringing it back up again (or using the 'Autohide' feature) automatically moves the START button back to its original location!

  4. Clicking on the CLOSE choice makes the START button disappear permanently! Nothing you do with the Taskbar will make it come back, and neither will the CRTL+ESC key combination!

  5. NOTE: The only way to make the START button reappear is to restart Explorer as if Windows was booting up again. To simulate an Explorer reboot ( it doesn't really have quite the same effect ):

    1) Press CRTL + ALT + DEL   (once!),
    2) Click on Explorer in the 'running processes' list and then on the 'End Task' button,
    3) When the shut-down window pops up, click on 'No'...
    4) Eventually ( just wait!!) another window will open asking if you want to end the task; click on 'Yes'.   Since Windows needs Explorer to function, it will restart the program by itself. The reason it's not like rebooting Windows is because ONLY the clock will appear in the System Tray; you have to restart any programs that would normally be there -- such as the Volume Control (the little yellow speaker).

    Resource Editor

    Well, if you read this far, you're probably someone who likes playing around with things... so I'll give you another way you can change (or even copy) icons in various programs... But BEWARE, this MAY cause unforseen difficulties at times! EVEN IF YOU DO NOT want to make any changes, you might still like to look at (and copy -- heed Copyright notices though!) various RESOURCES from the Windows System programs (or others for that matter), so take a look at this free version of a program-type that many call a "Resource Editor" :
    Resource Hacker v. 3.2.8. Make sure to read the limitations on Angus's web page, and, of course, all that it can do! But please don't complain to me about any problems that using this tool may have caused you (and remember to always make a backup copy of vital files!). Have fun!
Revised: 28 November 2002.
Updated: 12 December 2005.


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Although I do try to help those in need when time permits, I am not responsible for any damage which may be caused by any software or information that you view or download from this web site, nor for any information obtained from or regarding the personal descriptions or opinions of others on pages that may be accessible from this page.

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