Hiding the Windows Live Messenger icon
If you use Windows Live Messenger a lot, you’ll have noticed that the icon now resides on the taskbar, where you can easily change status and quickly send an IM to someone. If you prefer to keep Windows Live Messenger in the system tray, where it’s been for previous releases, just close Windows Live Messenger, edit the shortcut properties and set the application to run in Windows Vista compatibility mode.
Windows Vista’s User Account Control was a good idea in practice, but poor implementation put many people off – it raised far too many alerts. Fortunately Windows 7 displays less warnings by default, and lets you further fine-tune UAC to suit your preferred balance between security and a pop-up free life (Start > Control Panel > Change User Account Control Settings).
Use Sticky Notes
The Sticky Notes app is both simpler and more useful in Windows 7. Launch StikyNot.exe and you can type notes at the keyboard; right-click a note to change its colour; click the + sign on the note title bar to add another note; and click a note and press Alt + 4 to close the note windows (your notes are automatically saved).
Open folder in new process
By default Windows 7 opens folders in the same process. This saves system resources, but means one folder crash can bring down the entire shell. If your system seems unstable, or you’re doing something in Explorer that regularly seems to causes crashes, then open Computer, hold down Shift, right-click on your drive and select Open in New Process. The folder will now be launched in a separate process, and so a crash is less likely to affect anything else.
Watch more videos
Windows Media Player 12 is a powerful program, but it still won’t play all the audio and video files you’ll find online. Fortunately the first freeware Windows 7 codecs package [shark007.net/win7codecs.html] has been released, and installing it could get your troublesome multimedia files playing again.
Open the Fonts window in Windows XP and Vista and you’ll see the font names, probably with icons to tell you whether they’re TrueType or OpenType, but that’s about it. Windows 7 sees some useful font-related improvements.
Open the new fonts window and you’ll find a little preview for every font, giving you a quick idea of how they’re going to look.
The tedium of scrolling through multiple entries for each family, like Times New Roman, Times New Roman Bold, Times New Roman Bold Italic and so on, has finally ended. There’s now just a single entry for each font (though you can still see all other members of the family).
And there’s a new OpenType font, Gabriola, added to the mix. It’s an attractive script font, well worth a try the next time you need a stylish document that stands out from the crowd.
Restore your gadgets
Windows 7 has tightened up its security by refusing to run gadgets if UAC has been turned off, so limiting the damage malicious unsigned gadgets can do to your system. If you’ve disabled UAC, miss your gadgets and are happy to accept the security risk, though, there’s an easy Registry way to get everything back to normal. Run REGEDIT, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Sidebar\Settings, create a new DWORD value called AllowElevatedProcess and set it to 1. Your gadgets should start working again right away.
New WordPad formats
By default WordPad will save documents in Rich Text Format, just as before. But browse the Save As Format list and you’ll see you can also save (or open, actually) files in the Office 2007 .docx or OpenDocument .odt formats.
Protect your data
USB flash drives are convenient, portable, and very easy to lose. Which is a problem, especially if they’re carrying sensitive data. Fortunately Windows 7 has the solution: encrypt your documents with an extension of Microsoft’s BitLocker technology, and only someone with the password will be able to access it. Right-click your USB flash drive, select Turn on BitLocker and follow the instructions to protect your private files.
PROTECT YOUR DATA:Your USB flash drives can easily be encrypted with BitLocker
Minimise quickly with shake
If you have multiple windows open on your desktop and things are getting too cluttered, it used to be a time-consuming process to close them all down. In Windows 7 you can use the Aero Shake feature to minimise everything in seconds, using a cool mouse gesture. Grab the title bar of the window you wish to keep open and give it a shake, and rejoice in a clear desktop area.
Configure your favourite music
The Windows 7 Media Centre now comes with an option to play your favourite music, which by default creates a changing list of songs based on your ratings, how often you play them, and when they were added (it’s assumed you’ll prefer songs you’ve added in the last 30 days). If this doesn’t work then you can tweak how Media Centre decides what a “favourite” tune is- click Tasks > Settings > Music > Favourite Music and configure the program to suit your needs.
Customise System Restore
There was very little you could do to configure System Restore in Vista, but Windows 7 improves the situation with a couple of useful setup options.
Click the Start orb, right-click Computer and select Properties > System Protection > Configure, and set the Max Usage value to a size that suits your needs (larger to hold more restore points, smaller to save disk space).
And if you don’t need System Restore to save Windows settings then choose the “Only restore previous versions of files” option. Windows 7 won’t back up your Registry, which means you’ll squeeze more restore points and file backups into the available disk space. System Restore is much less likely to get an unbootable PC working again, though, so use this trick at your own risk.
Hold down Shift, right-click any program shortcut, and you’ll see an option to run the program as a different user, handy if you’re logged in to the kids’ limited account and need to run something with higher privileges. This isn’t really a new feature – Windows XP had a Run As option that did the same thing – but Microsoft stripped it out of Vista, so it’s good to see it’s had a change of heart.
By default Windows 7 will remember your PC search queries, and display the most recent examples when searching in Windows Explorer. If you’re sharing a PC and don’t want everyone to see your searches, then launch GPEDIT.MSC, go to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Explorer, double-click “Turn off display of recent search entries…” and click Enabled > OK.
Tweak PC volume
By default Windows 7 will now automatically reduce the volume of your PC’s sounds whenever it detects you’re making or receiving PC-based phone calls. If this proves annoying (or maybe you’d like it to turn off other sounds altogether) then you can easily change the settings accordingly. Just right-click the speaker icon in your taskbar, select Sounds > Communications, and tell Windows what you’d like it to do.
Rearrange the system tray
With Windows 7 we finally see system tray icons behave in a similar way to everything else on the taskbar. So if you want to rearrange them, then go right ahead, just drag and drop them into the order you like. You can even move important icons outside of the tray, drop them onto the desktop, then put them back when you no longer need to keep an eye on them.
Extend your battery life
Windows 7 includes new power options that will help to improve your notebook’s battery life. To see them, click Start, type Power Options and click the Power Options link, then click Change Plan Settings for your current plan and select Change Advanced Settings. Expand Multimedia Settings, for instance, and you’ll see a new “playing video” setting that can be set to optimise power savings rather than performance. Browse through the other settings and ensure they’re set up to suit your needs.
Write crash dump files
Windows 7 won’t create memory.dmp crash files if you’ve less than 25GB of free hard drive space, annoying if you’ve installed the Windows debugging tools and want to diagnose your crashes. You can turn this feature off, though: browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CrashControl, create a new DWORD value called AlwaysKeepMemoryDump, set it to 1, and the crash dump file will now always be saved.
Protect your data
If you have confidential files in a particular folder or two, and would like to keep them away from other network users, then right-click the folder, select Share With > Nobody, and they’ll be made private, for your eyes only (or your user account, anyway).
Reorganise the taskbar
Windows 7 taskbar buttons are now movable – feel free to drag, drop and otherwise reorganise them to suit your needs. And then remember that each button can be launched by holding with the Windows key and pressing 1 to activate the first, 2 the second and so on, up to 0 for the tenth.
Repair your PC
If Windows 7 won’t start, you may not need an installation or repair disc any more, as the repair environment is now usually installed on your hard drive. Press [F8] as your PC starts, and if you see a “Repair Your Computer” option, choose that to see the full range of Windows 7 recovery tools.
If you were unimpressed by ReadyBoost in Vista, it may be worth trying the technology again under Windows 7. The operating system now allows you to combine multiple USB drives, each with larger caches, to deliver an extra speed boost.
Fixing Windows 7 N
If you have Windows 7 N then this means you’ll be missing key multimedia applications, like Media Player, Media Centre, DVD Maker and more. But that’s not all. You also won’t have some of the subsystems required by third-party apps like Nero MultiMedia Suite, which means that even if they install, you could have problems getting them to work correctly.
Fortunately there’s an easy fix, though, as the missing components are available in the form of Microsoft’s Windows Media Pack. If you’re currently having media-related issues on a Windows 7 N installation, grab your copy from support.microsoft.com/kb/968211.