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My favorite Windows 7 tips and tricks

January 23, 2009

I have been using Windows 7 for some days now, and I must say that it is growing on me – like on a lot of other people, for instance Mac lovers Pogue of New York Times, Mossberg and CNET’s Reisinger. There are less reliability problems (iTunes is btw behaving better) and in use I all the time find small improvements and changes that I really appreciate. I have been searching the internet for useful tips and tricks for Windows 7, and so far Tim Sneath from Microsoft has the most complete and best list there is.

His bumper list of so-called Windows 7 secrets contain many tips – here are my favorites (the list is edited and shortened by me, for Tims original posting, with some additional tips/secrets see here):

  • Windows Management. 
    With Windows 7 you can dock a window to the left or right half of the screen by simply dragging it to the edge. You can also drag the window to the top of the screen to maximize it, and double-click the window top / bottom border to maximize it vertically with the same horizontal width. Here are the accompanying keyboard shortcuts:
        • Win+Left Arrow and Win+Right Arrow dock;
        • Win+Up Arrow and Win+Down Arrow maximizes and restores / minimizes;
        • Win+Shift+Up Arrow and Win+Shift+Down Arrow maximizes and restores the vertical size.
        • This side-by-side docking feature is particularly invaluable on widescreen monitors – it makes the old Windows way of shift-clicking on two items in the taskbar and then using the context menu to arrange them feel really painful.
  • Display Projection.
    For an easy access to the different options for displaying the desktop on different displays and projectors hit Win+P, and you’ll be rewarded by the following pop-up window:
    The Win+P Projector Settings window allows you to quickly switch display settings.
    Use the arrow keys (or keep hitting Win+P) to switch to “clone”, “extend” or “external only” display settings. You can also access the application as displayswitch.exe.

    Win+X opens the Windows Mobility Center, which allows you to turn on a presentation mode that switches IM clients to do not disturb, disables screensavers and sets a neutral wallpaper.

  • Cut Out The Clutter.
    Working on a document in a window and want to get rid of all the extraneous background noise? Simply hit Win+Home to minimize all the non-active background windows, keeping the window you’re using in its current position. When you’re ready, simply press Win+Home again to restore the background windows to their original locations.
  • Multi-Monitor Windows Management.
    The earlier tip on window management showed how you can dock windows within a monitor. One refinement of those shortcuts is that you can use Win+Shift+Left Arrow and Win+Shift+Right Arrow to move windows from one monitor to another – keeping them in the same relative location to the monitor’s top-left origin.
  • Find more themes/styles on your computer.
    If you’ve tried to change your desktop wallpaper, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a set of wallpapers there that match the locale you selected when you installed Windows. (If you picked US, you’ll see beautiful views of Crater Lake in Oregon, the Arches National Park, a beach in Hawai’i, etc.) In fact, there are several sets of themed wallpapers installed based on the language you choose, but the others are in a hidden directory. If you’re feeling in an international mood, simply browse to C:\Windows\Globalization\MCT and you’ll see a series of pictures under the Wallpaper directory for each country. Just double-click on the theme file in the Theme directory to display a rotation through all the pictures for that country. (Note that some countries contain a generic set of placeholder art for now.)
  • Problem Steps Recorder. 
    Tthe Problem Steps Recorder provides a simple screen capture tool that enables you to record a series of actions. Once you hit “record”, it tracks your mouse and keyboard and captures screenshots with any comments you choose to associate alongside them. Once you stop recording, it saves the whole thing to a ZIP file, containing an HTML-based “slide show” of the steps. It’s a really neat little tool and I can’t wait for it to become ubiquitous on every desktop! The program is called psr.exe; you can also search for it from Control Panel under “Record steps to reproduce a problem”.

    The Problem Steps Recorder provides an easy way for users to record a problem repro for later diagnosis.

  • Which add-on in IE8 is slowing it down?
    If you feel like Internet Explorer is taking a long time to load your page, it’s worth taking a look at the add-ons you have installed. One of the more helpful little additions in Internet Explorer 8 is instrumentation for add-on initialization, allowing you to quickly see whether you’re sitting around waiting for plug-ins to load. Just click Tools / Manage Add-ons, and then scroll right in the list view to see the load time. On my machine, I noticed that the Research add-on that Office 2007 installs was a particular culprit, and since I never use it, it was simple to disable it from the same dialog box.
  • Rearranging the the Taskbar icons. 
    Tthe icons in the new taskbar aren’t fixed in-place and can be reordered to suit your needs, whether they’re pinned shortcuts or running applications. What’s particularly nice is that once they’re reordered, you can start a new instance of any of the first five icons by pressing Win+1, Win+2, Win+3 etc.

    You can also drag the system tray icons around to rearrange their order, or move them in and out of the hidden icon list.

  • Installing from a USB Memory Stick.
    If you want to install Windows 7 Beta on a computer that does not have an optical drive you can use a USB memory stick instead. Reformat the memory stick as a FAT32 drive, and copy the contents of the Windows 7 Beta ISO image to the memory stick using xcopy e:\ f:\ /e /f (where e: is the DVD drive and f: is the removable drive location).
  • Windows Vista-Style Taskbar.
    If you for some reason want the new taskbar to resemble the way the taskbar in Vista operates you right-click on the taskbar and choose the properties dialog.The Windows 7 Taskbar can be configured for a Windows Vista compatibility view.
    Once there you select the “small icons” checkbox and under the “taskbar buttons” setting, choose “combine when taskbar is full”.
  • Keyboard Shortcut for Aero Peak.
    Instead of using the mouse and  the Aero Peak button in the lower right corner you can simply press Win+Space.
  • Running with Elevated Rights.
    Want to quickly launch a taskbar-docked application as an administrator? It’s easy – hold down Ctrl+Shift while you click on the icon, and you’ll immediately launch it with full administrative rights (assuming your account has the necessary permissions, of course!)
  • How to open more instances of one application. 
    If you’ve already got an application open on your desktop (for example, a command prompt window), and you want to open a second instance of the same application, you don’t have to go back to the start menu. You can simply hold down the Shift key while clicking on the taskbar icon, and it will open a new instance of the application rather than switching to the existing application. For a keyboard-free shortcut, you can middle-click with the third mouse button to do the same thing. (This trick assumes that your application supports multiple running instances, naturally.)
  • Switching between several windows of the same application. 
    If you’ve got five Outlook message windows open along with ten other windows, you can quickly tab through just the Outlook windows by holding down the Ctrl key while you repeatedly click on the single Outlook icon. This will toggle through each of the five Outlook windows in order, and is way faster than opening Alt+Tab and trying to figure out which of the tiny thumbnail images relates to the specific message you’re trying to find.
  • Walking Through the Taskbar.
    Press Win+T to move the focus to the taskbar. Once you’re there, you can use the arrow keys to select a particular window or group and then hit Enter to launch or activate it. As ever, you can cancel out of this mode by hitting the Esc key.
  • The Widescreen Tip.image
    Almost every display sold these days is widescreen, whether you’re buying a notebook computer or a monitor. While it might be great for watching DVDs, when you’re trying to get work done it can sometimes feel like you’re a little squeezed for vertical space.

    The solution: Dock the  taskbar to the left hand side of the screen. The Windows 7 taskbar feels almost as if it was designed with vertical mode as the default – the icons work well on the side of the screen, shortcuts like the Win+T trick mentioned previously automatically switch from left/right arrows to up/down arrows, and so on. The net effect is that you wind up with a much better proportioned working space. 

  • Pin Your Favorite Folders.
    If you’re always working in the same four or five folders, you can quickly pin them with the Explorer icon on the taskbar. Hold the right-click button down and drag the folder to the taskbar, and it will be automatically pinned in the Explorer Jump List.
  • Starting Explorer from “My Computer”.
    If you spend more time manipulating files outside of the documents folders than inside, you might want to change the default starting directory for Windows Explorer so that it opens at the Computer node:
    The Computer node in Windows 7.
    To do this, navigate to Windows Explorer in the Start Menu (it’s in the Accessories folder). Then edit the properties and change the target to read:
    %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /root,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

    If you want the change to affect the icon on the taskbar, you’ll need to unpin and repin it to the taskbar so that the new shortcut takes affect. It’s worth noting that Win+E will continue to display the documents library as the default view.
  • ISO Burning.
    Ever wanted to burn ISO images? Without the need for third party utilities you can do it directly in Windows 7: Double-click on any DVD or CD .ISO image and you’ll see a helpful little applet that will enable you to burn the image to a blank disc.

    You can burn an ISO image to disk with this built-in utility in Windows 7.

  • Hiding the Windows Live Messenger Icon.
    In Windows 7 the Windows Live Messenger icon is now very visible in the taskbar (see image below). If you prefer it the way it was before; hidden in the system tray there is a solution for this as well;Windows Live Messenger appears by default on the taskbar.
    Close Windows Live Messenger, edit the shortcut properties and set the application to run in Windows Vista compatibility mode.
  • System Repair Utility
    Windows 7 now includes the ability to create a system repair disc, which is essentially a CD-bootable version of Windows that just includes the command prompt and a suite of system tools. Just type “system repair disc” in the Start Menu search box, and you’ll be led to the utility.


Tim Sneath;

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