If you're like me and you prefer the "classic" Windows start menu and task bar--flat gray, minimal distraction, not so Teletubbies-looking--you may have already noticed that there's no easy way to tell the Classic version not to track and show your recently opened documents.
Here's how I did it today, with my new best friend, the Group Policy editor:
In your Windows taskbar--usually on the lower left corner of your screen--click Start, then Run, then enter
gpedit.msc in the resulting Run: window, and then click OK. If all goes well, the Group Policy editor will pop up. If this does not happen, you may be running the Home Edition of WinXP.
In the left pane, navigate your way to User Configuration : Administrative Templates : Start Menu and Taskbar. Lurking in a long list of ways to screw up your user experience--seriously, be careful with this--are three important options concerning document history privacy:
This seems like it may be what you're looking for, but read the fine print, by double-clicking it and then checking the Explain tab. Contrary to what's been said elsewhere, Remove Documents From Start Menu does not prevent Windows from displaying shortcuts to recently-opened documents, so if this option is re-enabled, your recently opened files will be back.
Also seen elsewhere: removing Documents from the Start menu has been known to hose programs like Adobe Premiere, which depends on it.
Maximum paranoia, but if you gotta, you gotta. This is almost certainly going to mess up your work flow if you commonly edit the same documents. While you're in there under Administrative Templates, don't forget:
That last should hide recently opened files from the drop-down list of all Win2K-and-above programs, including Windows Media Player.
This is the one I went with. As long as I'm in, I see my recent document history; as soon as I log out, it's gone. This also includes the name of the last few programs I ran using the Run... window.
Sadly, there is no matching Clear History of Recently-Opened Documents over in the Common Open File Dialog section mentioned above; that would be really, really nice.
Contrary to what the program says, you won't need to reboot to see these changes. Go back to Start : Run : and enter
GPupdate /force. Say "No" when it asks you if you want to reboot, wait a moment, and your changes should be up.