Get More Out Of Windows 7 (Part 2)

9/15/2012 3:04:23 PM

Difficulty: 2 Stars

If you find the thumbnail previews that pop out of the taskbar too small to be of much use, you can increase their size with a quick registry tweak. Launch Regedit, browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\ Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband, then right-click in the right-hand pane and create a new DWORD called 'MinThumbSizePx'. Double-click it, select the 'Decimal' base, then set the value to the size in pixels that you want the thumbnail to be. The default is 200. You'll have to reboot to see the changes, though!

  1. Create shortcuts to enable/disable transparency effects

Difficulty: 2 Stars

If you like the transparency effects in Windows, but occasionally want to disable them to increase clarity or claw back a little performance, you can use this tweak to put the option a single click away and avoid having to trawl through the control panel every time. First, right-click on the desktop and select 'New', then 'Shortcut'. To create a link that turns transparency off, use the command line 'rundll32.exe dwmApi #104'. To create one that turns transparency back on, use 'rundll32.exe dwmApi #102'.

  1. Enable Hidden Backgrounds

Difficulty: 2 Stars

If there's one thing about Windows 7 that no one can dispute, it's that it has some utterly stunning desktops bundled with it. You should have one pack which has been automatically installed based on your location settings, but Windows keeps every country's pack on your hard drive.

To unlock the others, browse to 'C:\ Windows\Globalization\MCT', press F3 to enter the search box and type '*.theme'. Select all of the theme files Windows finds, then copy them to the clipboard. Now browse to 'c:\Windows\Resources\Themes' and click paste to copy the files into the folder. The new themes will now be available from the personalization options, and that includes a wealth of additional backgrounds!

Description: 12. Enable Hidden Backgrounds

Troubleshooting And Security

If you have a problem and no one else can help, you'll have to sort it out yourself. Luckily Windows can help.

  1. Use the Problem Steps Recorder

Difficulty: 2 Stars

The Problem Steps Recorder is a little-known Windows 7 feature that can make diagnosing problems with someone else's computer far easier than ever before. As a reader of this magazine, it's safe to say you're used to people phoning you up and asking for help but having no clue what they're actually doing on their PC.

Well, all that can change. Using the PSR, you can get a step-by-step look at exactly what they're doing on their PC, and help figure out where they might be going wrong. The applet takes screenshots every time there's a significant user input and automatically writes descriptions, then when the recording has ended, it creates a zip file with all the necessary information. All you have to do is get them to email you the file and you'll have a much better idea what's going on.

To run the Problem Steps recorder, simply type 'psr' into the Start menu search box and press Enter. Click 'Start recording' to begin capture, and 'Stop' when things are done, and the recorded data will be automatically saved to the location of your choice.

Description: 13. Use the Problem Steps Recorder

  1. Fix common problems

Difficulty: 1 Star

The 'Troubleshooting' section in Control Panel is a frequently overlooked tool for fixing common ailments. By accessing it (either by browsing the Control Panel, or typing 'troubleshooting' into the search box) you can find a wealth of step-by-step fixes to help even the most novice user repair their PC. Everything from improving power usage to resetting application settings to figuring out why your audio recording isn't working.

Description: 15. Fix common problems

  1. Get a detailed report before using System Restore

Difficulty: 1 Star

Windows 7 gives far more information about system restore points than older incarnations, which allows you to see what software will be affected before you roll things back. Right-click on 'Computer', select 'Properties' > 'System Protection' > 'System Restore' >        'Next'. Click on the restore point you're interested in and press the button that says 'Scan for Affected Programs'. Windows will tell you exactly what updates and installations will be undone if you use this restore point.

  1. Restrict access to certain applications

Difficulty: 3 Stars

If you're a parent and want to make sure that your children aren't trying to circumvent your existing controls or installing applications without permission, Windows 7's AppLocker feature (available in Enterprise and Ultimate editions only, sadly) can restrict software to a whitelist to ensure that there's no chance of them going off-reservation.

To restrict software, you need to open the Group Policy Editor (type 'gpedit.msc' into the search box) then select 'Computer Configuration' > 'Windows Settings' > 'Security Settings' > 'Application Control Policy' > 'AppLocker'. Create a rule that restricts the account to running certain applications - for example, those signed by Microsoft only - and your PC will be locked up tight.

Description: 16. Restrict access to certain applications

  1. Enable BitLocker to secure flash drives

Difficulty: 1 Star

The BitLocker technology in Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate allows users to encrypt documents when using flash drives, restricting access to those with the correct password. All you need to do is plug in your flash drive, right-click the icon in Explorer and select 'Turn on BitLocker', at which point a wizard dialogue will give you the necessary instructions to continue.

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