Windows Vista


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 in Vista

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…



Enable Vista Outgoing Firewall

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 surfing activities.


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 it’s hot…



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 unusual characters

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 SP2)

‘rasphone’ – remote access phonebook, used to manage dial-up networking

‘telnet’ -- ancient PC to PC remote command and communications system

winchat’ – communications tool for exchanging messages over a network



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. 



Additional Clocks

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.

Vista Upgrade Voucher Sign-Up

If you 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.


You 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.



Using XPS to Share and Archive Documents

XPS or 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 feature.


In fact 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 lot easier.


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 exit.



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 and grow.



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.



Rate Vista PCs Before you Buy

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 window appears.


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Other Top Tips

Windows 7

Windows Vista

Windows XP

Internet, Email & Network

Word Processing & Office

Folders, Files & Backup

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy Security & Environment

Imaging, Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities


Display & screen

Fun & Games



Windows Vista

Tweak UI For Vista At Last?

Desktop Thumbnail Resizer

Vista Appetite Suppressor

Custom Logon Message Vista and XP

Enable SATA Support in Vista

Block Foreign Junk email

Enable Vista Outgoing Firewall

The God of all Tweaks

Keeping Vista Healthy

Mixed Networking

Hidden XP Utilities

Vista Upgrade Backdoor  Saves £££s

Additional Clocks

XPS for Share and Archiving

Pen Drive for Swifter Vista

Enable Check Boxes

Change the Size of Desktop Icons

Disable User Access Protection

Enable Run on Start Menu

Rate Vista PCs Before you Buy

Where's the Menu Bar?

Flipping Vista in 3D





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