Tweak UI For Vista At Last?
Actually no, at least not a Microsoft version of one of my
favourite Windows tweaking tools, but I like to think that Ultimate
Windows Tweaker is close to what MS would (will) come up with, if it ever
gets around to it. Like Tweak UI for XP (and Windows 9x before it), it’s a set
of tools that delve deeply into the Windows Registry, where brave men and women
fear to tread. It makes it easy to change or customise numerous small but often
annoying irritants that bedevil Windows and the way it works. Ultimate Windows
Tweaker has more than 130 tweaks, far too many to list here, but highlights
include User Account hacks, many, many Personalisation’s, there’s a selection
of Performance tweaks, lots of Security options, a fair selection of IE7 mods,
Network Optimisation and some useful Windows and system info menus. It’s al
free, and since it’s a stand-alone app, it doesn’t even have to be installed.
Desktop Thumbnail Resizer
One of Vista’s more attractive visual features is desktop thumbnails;
they’re the little images that pop up when you hover your mouse over a taskbar icon.
The only trouble is they’re not very big, and there’s no facility in Windows to
change the size, but no matter, there are other ways. The simplest one is to
use a freeware utility called Thumbnail
Sizer, and not only can you alter the size, you can also change the fade
in/out time, and set it to start automatically with Windows. It’s
dontationware, so give generously if you like it and want to keep using it.
Vista Appetite Suppressor
Vista laptop owners may have noticed that one thing the new
operating system doesn’t do is improve battery efficiency, in fact if anything
it uses more power then XP due to all of the fancy graphics. Well, let me
introduce you to a freeware program, called Vista Battery Saver that claims
to reduce power consumption by up to 70 percent. It does this by disabling
various power-hungry features, like the Aeroglass graphics and it switches back
to normal as soon as you return to external power. Such large savings are a bit
optimistic but if you’re running low on juice, with no prospect of a top-up
charge anytime soon, then every little helps.
Custom Logon Message
for Vista and XP
If your PC is likely
to be used or interfered with by others, and you want them to keep their sticky
paws off it, here’s a way to create a special message that will appear when
anyone other than you tries to logon.
In Vista go Click
Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools and Local Security Policy. XP users
should go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools and Local
Security Policy. In both cases expand Security Options and in the Details pane
double-click on Interactive Logon: Message Test for Users Attempting to Logon’.
In the box that appears compose your message; make it pithy, insightful, or
just plain threatening, click OK and after a reboot it’s ready to run.
Enable SATA Support
If your PC is less
than a year old there’s a fair chance it has SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives,
which basically means they’re a bit faster than the old PATA (Parallel ATA) or
IDE drives, that used those big clumsy ribbon cables. Anyway, Windows Vista has
built-in support for SATA drives but it’s not enabled by default so you could
be missing out on a small performance gain.
To put that right go
to Device Manager and there’s a couple of quick ways to do that, either
right-click Computer on the Start menu and select Manage and double click
Device Manager, or use the keyboard shortcut Winkey + Break and click the
Device Manager link (you could also type ‘Device’ into the Search box). Double
click ‘Disk Drives’, right click on your primary drive, select Properties then
the Policies tab. All you have to do now is check the item ‘Enable advanced
performance’, click OK and it's done.
Block Foreign Junk email with Vista
Here’s another handy little facility you might not have come
across in Windows Vista. If, like me, you get a fair number of Spam messages
each day written in Chinese, Japanese, Latvian or even German, and you know they
can’t possibly be from anyone that you know, then you can tell Vista’s email
program – Windows Mail – to get rid of them automatically. Just go to Tools
> Junk E-Mail Options and select the International tab and you can choose to
block emails from specific countries, and/or messages containing foreign
language or character sets.
The God of All Tweaks
For some reason best known
to Microsoft there’s a useful facility buried deep inside Vista for quickly
accessing dozens of system configuration settings and making changes to the
operating systems appearance. It really should have been set up by default, or
at least better publicised but no matter, it’s easy enough to do. Simply
right-click on the desktop and click New Folder then rename it with the following
text (for simplicity just copy and past the following:
Double-click to open the
folder and amaze yourself with all the power not at your fingertips…
As you know Windows
Vista, like XP before it has a built-in firewall that protects your PC against
external hack attacks. What you may not know is that like all the best
third-party firewalls the Vista firewall can also block outgoing traffic, in
other words it puts you in charge of the software on your PC trying to make use
of your Internet connection. Most of the time this is just legitimate programs
looking for updates and so on, but it can also be nasties, like Trojans and
keyloggers, sending out details of your PIN numbers or spying on your web
The new firewall sound’s
great, the only trouble is that by default it has been disabled by Microsoft.
It is worried that home users would find it difficult to configure. Well, if
you want to take back control you can, with a little freeware utility called Vista Firewall Control,
and it couldn’t be easier to use. Once installed every time a program tries to
access the net for the first time a window pops up asking you for permission. Once
you’ve allowed it you won’t hear from it again. The paid-for versions are even
more configurable but for most users this free program will do everything you
need, and provide you with the much-needed protection Microsoft has denied you.
Keeping Vista Healthy
Vista has to be the most health conscious version of Windows
to date and in amongst the many diagnostic tools there’s a very useful facility
to generate a comprehensive Health Report.
To fire it up go to System and Maintenance in Control Panel then
Performance and Information, click the Advanced Tools link then select Generate
a System Health Report and the process begins. After a minute or two it will create
a list detailing the status of all of your PC’s critical components and if it
detects a problem, it suggests some possible solutions. It’s well worth seeing
what it comes up with, even if your PC is currently behaving itself.
Mixed Networking With Windows Vista
Windows Vista has a useful networking tool, called Network
Map, which displays a graphical view of all of the computers and devices
connected to a network, and how they are interconnected, and it works just fine
when all of the PCs concerned are running Vista. The trouble is, in the early
days at least, many networks will be mixed and running mostly XP machines and
that’s the problem. XP computers won’t show up in Vista’s Network map because
they lack a component called a Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) responder.
If this careless omission has been bugging you – and why wouldn’t it -- then
you‘ll be pleased to know Microsoft
has now released a fix in the form of a download, which if installed on
your XP computers, makes them magically visible to Vista. Get it now, while
Hidden XP Utilities
Deep inside Windows XP there’s all sorts of forgotten tools
and utilities, some of which were carried over from earlier versions of
Windows, or left behind by the developers. Here’s a few for you to be getting
on with and all you have to do is type the name in Run on the Start menu
(without the quotes of course). Most of them are undocumented, though a few of
them have some Help files which might help you figure them out but as always
you use and try them at your own risk
‘charmap’ – the Windows Character Map, the place to look for
‘eudcedit’ – create or modify your own characters
‘perfmon’ – versatile system monitor, everything you wanted
to know about your PC
‘progman’ – the old Windows 3.1 Program Manager (removed by
‘rasphone’ – remote access phonebook, used to manage dial-up
‘telnet’ -- ancient PC to PC remote command and communications
‘winchat’ – communications tool for exchanging messages over
Vista Upgrade Backdoor Could Save You £££s
I first heard about this Vista ‘hack’ a few weeks ago but I
decided to try it for myself before passing it on. It should be of interest to
anyone thinking of buying a copy of Vista, and the good news is that you don’t
have to buy the full retail version. You can save yourself a few bob and ‘Clean
Install’ Vista using the cheaper Upgrade version. This was always possible with
XP and previous versions of Windows and when asked you had to briefly load a
legitimate Windows installation disc to verify that you were entitled to an
upgrade but it was thought that Microsoft had omitted this facility in Vista.
In fact they did, but they’ve left a backdoor wide open, and this is how it
works. For the full skinny visit the most excellent Windows Secrets website.
Basically all you have to do is boot a PC with a blank hard drive from the Vista
install disc, install it but do not enter the Product Key, and switch off
automatic activation. Select Custom Install from the menu and installation
proceeds. After a reboot fire up the Setup.exe program on the disc again by
ejecting and re-loading the disc, switch off automatic updates, this time,
Vista installs the Upgrade files and when asked, enter the Product Key, but
switch off automatic activation. After yet another reboot the installation
completes, Vista starts and you have 30 days to activate it.
There’s been some discussion about how this hack came to be
there but it turns out it is quite deliberate on the part of Microsoft,
possibly to help reduce pressure on Support staff, but whatever the reason, it
does work and it can save you money.
Here’s another quick tip for early
adopters. This one lets you display two more clocks, which can be set to
alternative time zones. To set it up open Control Panel and double-click Date
and Time. Select the Additional Clocks tab and set the clock or clocks to your
preferred time zones and if you like, change the default name (maximum 15
characters). Click OK to exit and its done. Now, when you hover your mouse
pointer over the Taskbar clock your extra clock displays will appear.
Please note that some of the following Tips relate to the pre-release versions of Windows Vista and may not work on the commercial release.
purchased a PC after October 26th or plan to do so in the next few months then
Santa may have another little present for you early next year. Many PC
manufacturers and vendors have signed up to Microsoft’s Free or discount Vista
‘Express’ Upgrade scheme. The only trouble is they may not have told you about
it, or they are not making it easy to sign up for the vouchers, which should be
sent out in January. Some companies are also imposing shed-loads of conditions
or imposing ‘handling’ charges and which version of Vista you ge6t depends on
the OS the new PC you’ve just bought is using but even so, with copies of Vista
selling for upwards of £100 it’s probably still a good deal, even if it’s not
exactly a freebie.
should first visit the manufacturer or vendor’s web site. PC Word’s Sign up
page is buried in its technical
support site for example. Any PC bought from Mesh after October 26th also qualifies
for a free copy or discount and to save you the trouble go
here to sign up. For more details about the scheme and to see which
manufacturers are participating head over the Microsoft
Express Vista Upgrade site.
to Share and Archive Documents
the XML Paper Specification is a new feature in Windows Vista that makes it
easier to share, print and archive illustrated documents and if that sounds a
bit like what Adobe’s PDF or Portable Document Format already does, you
wouldn’t be far wrong. Microsoft is avoiding such comparisons but the intention
is clear and given the company’s clout and the likely impact Vista is going to
have in the next few years you would be well advised to get to know this
it is very easy to use, it works in virtually any application running under
Vista, all you have to do is select the Print option and on the printer
selection menu that opens select Microsoft XPS Document Writer and Save the
file. To read the file simply double click on it and it opens with the XPS
Viewer. This is a component that works inside Internet Explorer and it is just
like Acrobat Viewer, displaying a perfect image of your document, which you can
navigate around and scale to size, just like a pdf in fact...
Pen Drive for Swifter Vista
Although Vista is designed to run only on reasonably fast PC’s,
anything that can make it go even quicker has to be welcome. A feature called
Windows ReadyBoost makes use USB 2.0 memory cards, pen drives and so on as a
secondary cache. A cache is memory used to temporarily store data and normally
Windows uses a chunk of hard disc space, but this is relatively slow, compared
with solid-state memory, hence the small but useful boost in performance when
using the memory card as a cache. To use it all you have to do is plug in the
card or drive (512Mb or more) and on the AutoPlay dialogue box that appears
select ‘Speed Up My System’ and follow the prompts
Enable Check Boxes
Here’s another in our occasional series of Top Tips for the
new Vista operating system and this one involves enabling a useful little
facility called Check Boxes. It works in Computer, the new name for Windows
Explorer and My Computer and the idea is it makes selecting multiple files a
As you know in Windows 9x and XP to select a number of files at
once, for deletion, copying etc, you have to hold down the Ctrl key and
highlight each file in turn. It’s not too bad when you’re only dealing with one
or two files but unless you are very careful, and precise you can end up
accidentally copying a load of files, or moving them to the wrong location.
Check Boxes in Vista put a little (you guessed it) check box in front of files
when you hover the mouse pointer, so all you have to do to select a number of
files is tick the box when it appears.
It’s not switched on by default (in
Release Candidate 1). To make them appear open Computer and on the Tools menu
(press the Alt key if it’s not showing) then go to Folder Options and select
the View tab. Scroll down the Advanced Settings list, almost all the way to the
bottom, and check the item’ Use check boxes to select items’, click OK and
Change the Size of Desktop Icons
Here’s a quick and simple little trick. Click the desktop, hold down the
Ctrl key and spin the Scroll Wheel on your mouse and watch those desktop icons shrink
Disable User Access Protection
Depending how you look at it Vista’s User Access Protection (UAP) is on
it its best or worst features. In short every time you want to do anything that
could possibly threaten the PC’s security or change Windows settings a message
box pops up onto the screen demanding to know if you really mean it, or it asks
you for a password or change your account status. For most users it is
unnecessarily, annoying and a touch nannyish. If you are the only one using
your PC, and you reckon you know what you are doing one of the first things you
will probably want to do is switch it off. To do that go to Run on the Start
menu (if it’s not showing see previous tip) or press Winkey + R and type
‘msconfig’ (without the quotes) and select the Tools Tab. Scroll down the list,
highlight ‘Disable UAP’ and click the Lunch button. A DOS type
command window opens, click the exit icon to get rid of it, reboot the PC and
you won’t see the pesky warnings again.
Enable Run on the Start Menu
Old Windows hands will miss not having Run appear on the Vista’s Start
menu. If you can remember the keyboard shortcut Winkey + R it’s no big deal,
but if you want it to be there then simply right-click on the taskbar, select
Properties, click the Start Menu tab and then the Customize button. Scroll down
the list and check ‘Run Command’, click OK to exit the dialogue boxes and Run
is back where it should be.
Vista has a built in Performance Rating utility that gives
the user a simple assessment of a PC’s abilities on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s
designed to help buyers choose a new PC, and owners pep up their machines or
fix problems that are slowing their machines down.
To see a PC’s Performance
Rating right-click on Computer (The old Windows Explorer/My Computer) and
select Performance. The average rating
is derived from a series of scores (1 to 10) for the PC’s critical components, including
Processor, Memory, Hard Drive and Graphics.
Where’s the Menu Bar Gone?
On most Vista dialogue boxes the familiar Menu (File Edit
View Tools Help etc.) bar is not displayed. Don’t worry, it’s still there,
simply press the Alt key to toggle it on or off.
Flipping Vista in 3D
You will be hearing a lot about Vista’s graphical interface,
originally called ‘Aeroglass’ now just plain Aero, and the rumours are mostly
true. It looks great and is a lot of fun to play with (and you Mac fans can
stop sniggering, yes, I know you’ve seen it all before…) but for Windows users
it will be a revelation.
One of the most visually impressive features -- and quite
useful too -- is 3D Flip. This works a bit like the Alt -Tab ‘Task Switcher’ in
previous versions of Windows (and that’s still works, and it looks a whole lot
prettier with thumbnail views of open programs). But back to 3D Flip, and this
works when you press Winkey + Tab. Open Applications are presented as large
‘live’ thumbnail views, in 3D. Repeatedly pressing the Tab key shuffles through
the windows, until you find the one you want then release the Winkey and the