|The Restart Remap
We start with one sure to throw off even the most advanced Windows user. Setup is simple and you need only a few seconds alone on someone's computer. When you get a chance, sneak over and right-click your pal's icon to Internet Explorer or some other commonly used program. Edit the properties and change the target to: “%windir%\system32\shutdown.exe -r -t 00″ Now, every time your buddy tries to run IE, his machine will mysteriously restart — and your laughter will instantly result.
Startup Folder Fun
While we're on the topic of system startups, the Windows Startup folder is a fantastic place for fun. Create a text file with an amusing message and throw it in there so your cubicle mate will get a daily greeting — or, if you really want to get evil, add in the restart shortcut from above (not recommended unless you just want to get your ass kicked).
There are few things funnier than forcing a friend to insult himself — and Microsoft has made it easy to do just that. Take a moment to edit the Autocorrect feature in your colleague's Word or Outlook (it's in the Tools menu in both programs). Add a new entry to replace their name with “douche,” and watch how much more interesting all their emails and documents will suddenly become. A little creativity can take this one in plenty of different and equally entertaining directions.
While you're in the Word or Outlook settings, another good place to tamper is the dictionary. Replace a few correct words with common misspellings just for giggles. Just be sure to let this one play out and get resolved before your co-worker sends any official memos to the entire corporation.
A small investment will have a big payoff with the ThinkGeek Annoy-a-Tron. This little $10 gadget can brighten even the dreariest of offices. It looks like a computer part, but when you flip the switch, this fella sends out annoying beeps and buzzes at random intervals. You can toggle between different grating sounds, too. The thing is magnetic, so you just slap it on the back of someone's computer and watch them try to figure out where that awful noise is coming from (hint: they never will).
Phantom of the Office
Taking the Annoy-a-Tron up a notch, the Phantom Keystroker actually plugs into a USB port and then makes random key presses or mouse movements every few minutes. You can control the frequency and the kind of emissions. For $25, this may be worth every penny — especially if you can write it off as a business expense.
If your budget doesn't have a tab for “pranking gadgets,” you can always go the manual route and utilize the USB port to attach a second mouse to a neighboring tower. This works especially well with a person across from you, if you can get under your desk and access the back of their computer. Plug in, wiggle away, and watch them squirm. Added points if you have a wireless mouse.
The Speaker Swap
Since you're already under the desk, try out another switcheroo: the speaker swap. Just plug their speakers into your computer. Now start playing something like a low-frequency heartbeat sound on loop and see how long they try to stop the nuisance on their computer. For a more powerful variation, don't switch the actual wires, but instead just swap out one of your speakers — preferably the one without the volume control — with theirs. Now they'll still hear their own system sounds from the remaining speaker, and as an added bonus, they'll have no way to control the volume of your annoying antics.
The Wrath of Rotation
A simple but quick and always amusing prank is putting the screen rotation hotkeys to uses Microsoft never intended. Just run by a co-worker's desk, reach over and hit Ctrl-Alt-up or down to rotate their monitor orientation. If you have some alone time, you can one-up it by also going into the Control Panel and setting their mouse to left-handed. They'll spend 10 minutes with their head tilted sideways trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
The laser mouse may have ended the era of mouse-ball stealing, but it opened up another option. Stick a few layered pieces of transparent tape on the bottom side of your friend's mouse to really mess with its functionability. Or, for bonus points, tape a small Post-It note that says “Why won't my mouse work?” over the laser.
A Pointer Pointer
Another great mouse prank awaits you in the Control Panel. Under the “Mouse” settings' “Pointer” tab, change the default mouse pointer to the hourglass. Suddenly, the system is always busy working! What's going on?!
A classic computer prank never goes out of style. The desktop image trick has been around for a bit, but rest assured: There are plenty of unsuspecting victims still to be found. Just head over to an unattended computer, minimize all the windows, and hit the Print Screen key. Paste the captured image into any graphic editing program — even Microsoft Paint will do — then save the file and set it as the desktop background. Then, all you have to do is hide the actual icons on the desktop — put them in a folder somewhere — and your victim will try endlessly to click the nonexistent icons, which are actually just part of the background image. For another variation, leave one program open when you capture the screen and watch as the person tries to click on it, type in it, and close it to no avail.
Spend some more time in the “Mouse” settings and you'll find more fun to be had. Try switching out a pal's primary and secondary button functions for full confusion, or move the pointer speed to either extreme fast or extreme slow to give them some extreme frustration.
Two other sites bring a different twist to telephone troubles. TeleSpoof.com and SpoofCard.com let you call anyone and have whatever number you want show up in CallerID. See how confused your girlfriend gets when you call her cell phone…from her cell phone. Each service only lets you make three calls per phone number before they make you pay, but that's enough to give you ample amusement. Oh, and it's still legal, though that might change — so get on this while you can.
“The Office” popularized our next prank, and man, is it ever a winner. Grab your co-worker's cell phone when they leave it sitting around and pair your Bluetooth headset up to it. Now you can take and make all their calls. Jim Halpert, you are one wise dude.
Know anyone with the kind of cell phone that displays a customizable message on the main screen? This next one's for them. When you can, go into their phone's settings and change the message to “NO SERVICE.” Guaranteed reaction upon their return.
Back to the computer for some more advanced antics. This one may be more suited for a close friend or significant other, as you'll have to install something, and you could probably get fired for doing it at work. Set up a VNC (virtual network computing) server on their system. You can find free ones like TightVNC for Windows or OSXvnc for Macs. Once you get through the configuration, you can click, type, and do anything on their system from your own computer. Do some subtle things like occasional keypresses or program launches and see how perplexed they become. We don't recommend keeping this up for long, though, or you may suffer serious consequences with their anger (and you may also witness some disturbing pornographic habits as an unintended side effect).
The Modern-Day Poltergeist
The less invasive alternative to that idea is a program called Office Poltergeist, and it's now available as a simple Firefox extension. Once you get this baby installed, you can play annoying sounds, load new web pages, shake windows around, and send popup messages on someone else's computer. It even has a feature to replace every instance of a word on a web page with another word of your choosing. We suggest swapping “internet” for “intercourse.”
If you're network-savvy, jot this next one down. Do a little investigative work and figure out where your office's network printer folder is located. Once you have that nugget of info, you're golden. Navigate over to that path, select any printer, and click connect. You now have the power to print and send random paper messages to other areas of your office with no explanation.
Our next prank comes courtesy of Microsoft, surprisingly enough. The programmers there released an office “Blue Screen of Death” simulator. Install the screensaver on an unsuspecting IT guy's PC and see the feared symbol of system error pop up after a few minutes of inactivity.
On the subject of screens, the Windows Control Panel provides our next opportunity for mischief. Go into the advanced settings and try shifting the brightness all the way down and the contrast all the way up if you really want to mess with a visionary's vision.
Want to drive your friend crazy with his own keyboard? Visit the Regional and Language Settings under the Windows Control Panel for some fun. An arguably insane guy named August Dvorak created an alternate keyboard layout that — big surprise — never took off. But you can still access it and make normal typing impossible. Just go under the Languages tab, click Details, then Add, and you'll find the option to completely remap the keyboard.
Rules of Pranking
Outlook Rules, as a general rule, can make for great pranks. Try setting up one on your co-worker's computer so that any email from you causes a festive sound to be played, a hard copy to be printed, and a copy to be instantly forwarded back to them for extra emphasis. There are plenty more variations you can try once that combo gets old.