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Essential Windows Tricks

Essential Windows Tricks

Whether you run Windows 7, Vista, or XP, these 25 tricks will make your PC faster, safer, and even more fun to work with.

Expert Tip: Eliminate the Aero Peek Delay

Works in: 7 Aero Peek, one of Windows 7's most celebrated enhancements, temporarily turns all your windows transparent when you mouse over the Show Desktop button. However, if you accept the default settings, the effect takes nearly a full second to kick in. Why wait? A simple Registry hack will enable instantaneous transparency.

Press the Windows key to open the Start menu, type regedit in the search box, and press Enter. In the Registry, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ Explorer\Advanced. Right-click an empty area in the right pane, and choose New, DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name it DesktopLivePreviewHoverTime. By default, Windows will assign a value of 0, which is exactly what you want. Now just restart your computer (or log off and back on). The next time you mouse over Show Desktop, you'll be Peeking at light speed.

Expert Tip: Run Performance Monitor

Works in: 7 If you like charts, numbers, and data sets, Windows 7 has just the tool for you. Performance Monitor tracks your PC's hardware and applications in real time, generating all kinds of data that you can review and compare. It's aimed more at system administrators than at everyday users, but if you're trying to confirm a sneaking suspicion that, say, iTunes is single-handedly tanking your system's performance, it can help.

To access Performance Monitor, press the Windows key, type perfmon, and press Enter. You can start assessing your system by expanding the Monitoring Tools folder and clicking Performance Monitor. From there you'll probably need to delve into the built-in help files, as the tool isn't exactly user-friendly. For more, check out the Microsoft Developer Network blog post on using Performance Monitor.

Make It Safer

Still looking for a good reason to trade Windows XP in for Windows 7? One word: security. The new OS is inherently better at fighting infections, blocking hackers, and thwarting phishing attempts. And with the extra tools described here, you can lock it down like a digital Fort Knox.

Install Microsoft Security Essentials

Works in: XP, Vista, 7 Windows 7 comes equipped with some solid security tools, including a robust firewall and the spyware-blocking Windows Defender. On top of that, you need a good antivirus program, one that works quietly in the background and won't bog down your system. Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection against viruses and other kinds of malware, and its performance impact is negligible; PCWorld security guru Erik Larkin says it "holds its own" against other free antivirus utilities. Sounds like a fine alternative to paying an annual fee for virus protection.

Install Web of Trust

Works in: XP, Vista, 7 The seemingly innocent act of clicking a link--even one that's at the top of a Google search-results page--can result in "drive-by downloads" infecting your PC. Scary, right? But how do you know whether a link is safe to click? Try Web of Trust, a browser add-on that will warn you of unsafe sites.

Specifically, the plug-in adds color-coded icons to each link that your search engine produces: green for safe, yellow for risky, and red for dangerous. You can also right-click any link, such as one that appears in an online forum, and choose View WOT scorecard to perform a manual safety check.

WOT is free, and available for both Firefox and Internet Explorer. Although its rating icons add a little clutter to some Web pages, we recommend it very highly for anyone concerned about security.

Create a System-Repair Disc

Works in: 7 Stop--before you do one more thing with your PC, dig out the box it came in. Do you see a Windows 7 disc or a system-recovery disc? They're less common these days, so chances are it falls to you to create your own. And it's vital that you do, because if your system ever becomes unbootable, a recovery CD or DVD might be your only recourse.

Thankfully, Windows 7 makes the task exceedingly easy. Just pop in a blank, recordable CD or DVD (you'll need a burner, natch), click Start, type repair, and choose Create a System Repair Disc. Follow the instructions from there, remembering to label the disc when you're done.

If you ever run into trouble, boot your system with the repair disc. It includes a variety of recovery and diagnostic tools, and also lets you choose a System Restore point to help get your PC back to a previous, working state.

Make this disc now. If you wait until after you encounter a problem, it's too late.

Expert Tip: Tweak the UAC

Works in: 7 You remember User Account Control, right? Incessant annoyance? Poster child for everything that was wrong with Vista? Yep, that UAC. It's back in Windows 7, and its heart remains in the right place: It's still meant to protect you from running dangerous software or making unauthorized changes to your system--you know, of the malware, identity-stealing variety.

Of course, it can still be annoying, too. Fortunately Microsoft now gives you control over when and why UAC issues warnings. To tweak the settings, click Start, type account, and select Change User Account Control settings. You'll see a slider with four notification levels. By default, UAC is now a little less intrusive than it was in Vista, notifying you only when programs try to make changes and not when you make changes to Windows. Want UAC to take a hike altogether? Drop the slider down to Never notify.

Make It Easier

When is an operating system easy to use? When it works the way you want it to work. Here's how to make your Windows life simpler and more productive.

Close All Your Apps in a Flash

Works in: XP, Vista, 7 Done working for the day? Don't try to close all your open programs individually. Instead, close them all in one fell swoop with a click of the Close All Windows icon. Unlike the Show Desktop function, which merely minimizes all open windows, Close All Windows terminates each running program. Don't worry about losing your work: If an open document needs saving, the program will prompt you--the same as if you had clicked the red Close button up in the corner.

To make the best use of Close All Windows, pin it to your taskbar. (Windows XP and Vista users can add it to the Quick Launch toolbar.)


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