94 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

31st Jul 2013 | 16:51

94 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

Help and advice for your Windows 7 PC

New applets and features in Windows 7

Whether you've just bought a second-hand PC running Windows 7 or you've been using it for a while, there are bound to be things you didn't know you could do.

Whether it's tweaks to get the desktop the way you want it, tips for troubleshooting or ways to squeeze more performance from Windows 7, we've got it covered.

We've updated our popular Windows 7 tips article with a load of new ones, including how to recover and reset your system, how to tweak your screen resolution and the legibility of text, play music on a network of PCs, and more.

Read on for over 90 tips to help you get the best from Windows 7.

1. Problem Steps Recorder

As the local PC guru you're probably very used to friends and family asking for help with their computer problems, yet having no idea how to clearly describe what's going on. It's frustrating, but Microsoft feels your pain, and Windows 7 will include an excellent new solution in the Problem Steps Recorder.

When any app starts misbehaving under Windows 7 then all your friends need do is click Start, type PSR and press Enter, then click Start Record. If they then work through whatever they're doing then the Problem Steps Recorder will record every click and keypress, take screen grabs, and package everything up into a single zipped MHTML file when they're finished, ready for emailing to you. It's quick, easy and effective, and will save you hours of troubleshooting time.

2. Burn images

Windows 7 finally introduces a feature that other operating systems have had for years - the ability to burn ISO images to CDs or DVDs. And it couldn't be much easier to use. Just double-click the ISO image, choose the drive with the blank disc, click Burn and watch as your disc is created.

3. Create and mount VHD files

Microsoft's Virtual PC creates its virtual machine hard drives in VHD files, and Windows 7 can now mount these directly so you can access them in the host system. Click Start, type diskmgmt.msc and press Enter, then click Action > Attach VHD and choose the file you'd like to mount. It will then appear as a virtual drive in Explorer and can be accessed, copied or written just like any other drive.

Click Action > Create VHD and you can now create a new virtual drive of your own (right-click it, select Initialise Disk, and after it's set up right-click the unallocated space and select New Simple Volume to set this up). Again, you'll be left with a virtual drive that behaves just like any other, where you can drag and drop files, install programs, test partitioning software or do whatever you like. But it's actually just this VHD file on your real hard drive which you can easily back up or share with others. Right-click the disk (that's the left-hand label that says "Disk 2" or whatever) and select Detach VHD to remove it.

The command line DISKPART utility has also been upgraded with tools to detach a VHD file, and an EXPAND command to increase a virtual disk's maximum size. Don't play around with this unless you know what you're doing, though - it's all too easy to trash your system.

4. Troubleshoot problems

If some part of Windows 7 is behaving strangely, and you don't know why, then click Control Panel > Find and fix problems (or 'Troubleshooting') to access the new troubleshooting packs. These are simple wizards that will resolve common problems, check your settings, clean up your system and more.

5. Startup repair

If you've downloaded Windows 7 (and even if you haven't) it's a good idea to create a system repair disc straight away in case you run into problems booting the OS later on. Click Start > Maintenance > Create a System Repair Disc, and let Windows 7 build a bootable emergency disc. If the worst does happen then it could be the only way to get your PC running again.

6. Take control

Tired of the kids installing dubious software or running applications you'd rather they left alone? AppLocker is a new Windows 7 feature that ensures users can only run the programs you specify. Don't worry, that's easier to set up than it sounds: you can create a rule to allow everything signed by a particular publisher, so choose Microsoft, say, and that one rule will let you run all signed Microsoft applications. Launch GPEDIT.MSC and go to Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Application Control Policies > AppLocker to get a feel for how this works.

7. Calculate more

At first glance the Windows 7 calculator looks just like Vista's version, but explore the Mode menu and you'll see powerful new Statistics and Programmer views. And if you're clueless about bitwise manipulation, then try the Options menu instead. This offers many different unit conversions (length, weight, volume and more), date calculations (how many days between two dates?), and spreadsheet-type templates to help you calculate vehicle mileage, mortgage rates and more.

Don't take any Windows 7 applet at face value, then - there are some very powerful new features hidden in the background. Be sure to explore every option in all Windows applets to ensure you don't miss anything important.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

8. Switch to a projector

Windows 7 now provides a standard way to switch your display from one monitor to another, or a projector - just press Win+P or run DisplaySwitch.exe and choose your preferred display. (This will have no effect if you've only one display connected.)

9. Get a power efficiency report

If you have a laptop, you can use the efficiency calculator to get Windows 7 to generate loads of useful information about its power consumption. Used in the right way, this can help you make huge gains in terms of battery life and performance. To do this you must open a command prompt as an administrator by typing 'cmd' in Start Search, and when the cmd icon appears, right-click it and choose Run as administrator.

Then at the command line, just type in 'powercfg -energy' (without quotes) and hit Return, and Windows 7 will scan your system looking for ways to improve power efficiency. It will then publish the results in an HTML file, usually in the System32 folder. Just follow the path it gives you to find your report.

10. Understanding System Restore

Using System Restore in previous versions of Windows has been something of a gamble. There's no way of telling which applications or drivers it might affect - you just have to try it and see.

Windows 7 is different. Right-click Computer, select Properties > System Protection > System Restore > Next, and choose the restore point you'd like to use. Click the new button to 'Scan for affected programs' and Windows will tell you which (if any) programs and drivers will be deleted or recovered by selecting this restore point. (Read our full Windows 7 System Restore tutorial.)

11. Set the time zone

System administrators will appreciate the new command line tzutil.exe utility, which lets you set a PC's time zone from scripts. If you wanted to set a PC to Greenwich Mean Time, for instance, you'd use the command

tzutil /s "gmt standard time"

The command "tzutil /g" displays the current time zone, "tzutil /l" lists all possible time zones, and "tzutil /?" displays details on how the command works.

12. Easily set screen resolution

Choosing a new screen resolution used to involve locating and browsing through the Display Properties applet. Windows 7 made this far simpler, though - just right-click an empty part of the desktop, select Screen Resolution and you'll immediately see the appropriate options.

13. Calibrate your screen

The colours you see on your screen will vary depending on your monitor, graphics cards settings, lighting and more, yet most people use the same default Windows colour profile. And that means a digital photo you think looks perfect might appear very poor to everybody else. Fortunately Windows 7 now provides a Display Colour Calibration Wizard that helps you properly set up your brightness, contrast and colour settings, and a ClearType tuner to ensure text is crisp and sharp. Click Start, type DCCW and press Enter to give it a try.

14. Clean up Live Essentials

Installing Windows Live Essentials will get you the new versions of Mail, Movie Maker, Photo Gallery and others - great. Unfortunately it also includes other components that may be unnecessary, but if you like to keep a clean system then these can be quickly removed.

If you left the default Set Your Search Provider option selected during installation, for instance, Windows Live will install Choice Guard, a tool to set your browser home page and search engine, and prevent other programs from changing them. If this causes problems later, or you just decide you don't need it, then Choice Guard may be removed by clicking Start, typing msiexec /x {F0E12BBA-AD66-4022-A453-A1C8A0C4D570} and pressing [Enter].

Windows Live Essentials also adds an ActiveX Control to help upload your files to Windows Live SkyDrive, as well as the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant, which makes it easier to manage and switch between multiple Windows Live accounts. If you're sure you'll never need either then remove them with the Control Panel Uninstall a Program applet.

15. Add network support

By default Windows Live MovieMaker won't let you import files over a network, but a quick Registry tweak will change this. Run REGEDIT, browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows Live\Movie Maker, add a DWORD value called AllowNetworkFiles and set it to 1 to add network support.

16. Activate XP mode

If you've got old but important software that no longer runs under Windows 7, then you could try using XP Mode, a virtual copy of XP that runs in a window on your Windows 7 desktop. This only works with Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate. And your system will need to have hardware virtualisation (AMD-V or Intel VT) built in and turned on, too (check your Bios to make sure).

An alternative is to use VirtualBox, a free virtualisation tool that doesn't insist on hardware support, but you will need to find a licensed copy of XP (or whatever other Windows version your software requires) for its virtual machine.

17. Enable virtual Wi-Fi

Windows 7 includes a little-known new feature called Virtual Wi-Fi, which effectively turns your PC or laptop into a software-based router. Any other Wi-Fi-enabled devices within range - a desktop, laptop, an iPod perhaps - will see you as a new network and, once logged on, immediately be able to share your internet connection.

This will only work if your wireless adapter driver supports it, though, and not all do. Check with your adapter manufacturer and make sure you've installed the very latest drivers to give you the best chance.

Once you have driver support then the easiest approach is to get a network tool that can set up virtual Wi-Fi for you. Virtual Router (below) is free, easy to use and should have you sharing your internet connection very quickly.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

If you don't mind working with the command line, though, maybe setting up some batch files or scripts, then it's not that difficult to set this up manually. See Turn your Windows 7 laptop into a wireless hotspot for more.

18. Recover locked-up apps

If an application locks up under a previous version of Windows then there was nothing you could do about it. A new Windows 7 option, however, can not only explain the problem, but may get your program working again without any loss of data.

When the lockup occurs, click Start, type RESMON and click the RESMON.EXE link to launch the Resource Monitor.

Find your frozen process in the CPU pane (it should be highlighted in red), right-click it and select Analyze Wait Chain.

If you see at least two processes in the list, then the lowest, at the end of the tree, is the one holding up your program. If it's not a vital Windows component, or anything else critical, then save any work in other open applications, check the box next to this process, click End Process, and your locked-up program will often spring back to life.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

19. Fault-Tolerant Help

Windows 7 includes a new feature called the Fault Tolerant Help (FTH), a clever technology that looks out for unstable processes, detects those that may be crashing due to memory issues, and applies several real-time fixes to try and help. If these work, that's fine - if not, the fixes will be undone and they won't be applied to that process again.

While this is very good in theory, it can leave you confused as some applications crash, then start working (sometimes) for no apparent reason. So if you'd like to check if the FTH is running on your PC, launch REGEDIT, and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\FTH - any program currently being protected by the FTH will be listed in the State key.

Experienced users may also try tweaking the FTH settings to catch more problems, and perhaps improve system stability. A post on Microsoft's Ask The Performance Team blog (bit.ly/d1JStu) explains what the various FTH Registry keys mean.

20. Control devices and printers

Device Manager is a powerful tool for managing hardware, but it's also rather technical and intimidating, which is probably why Windows 7 has introduced a more basic alternative in the Devices and Printers applet.

The first improvement is purely visual, with lengthy and cryptic device names replaced by large icons for major hardware items only (monitor, mouse, hard drive, printer and so on).

The new applet can also save you time, though, by providing a quick and easy way to access relevant functions for each device. If you've got some printer-related issue, say, right-clicking your printer icon displays a list of useful options - See What's Printing, Printer Preferences, Printer Properties, Delete Printer Queue and more - and all you have to do is select whatever you need.

21. Automatically switch your default printer

Windows 7's location-aware printing allows the operating system to automatically switch your default printer as you move from one network to another.

To set this up, first click Start, type Devices, and click the Devices and Printers link.

Select a printer and click Manage Default Printers (this is only visible on a mobile device, like a laptop - you won't see it on a PC).

Choose the Change My Default Printer When I Change Networks option, select a network, the default printer you'd like to use, and click Add.

Repeat the process for other networks available, and pick a default printer for each one.

And now, as you connect to a new network, Windows 7 will check this list and set the default printer to the one that you've defined.

Windows 7 interface tweaks

22. Explore God Mode

Windows 7 has changed Control Panel a little, but it's still too difficult to locate all the applets and options that you might need. God Mode, however, while not being particularly godlike, does offer an easier way to access everything you could want from a single folder.

To try this out, create a new folder and rename it to:

Windows 7 god mode

The first part, "Everything" will be the folder name, and can be whatever you want: "Super Control Panel", "Advanced", "God Mode" if you prefer.

The extension, ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C, must be entered exactly as it is here, though, including the curly brackets. When you press [Enter] this part of the name will disappear, and double-clicking the new folder will display shortcuts to functions in the Action Centre, the Network and Sharing Centre, Power options, troubleshooting tools, user accounts and others - more than 260 options in total.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

23. Right-click everything

At first glance Windows 7 bears a striking resemblance to Vista, but there's an easy way to begin spotting the differences - just right-click things.

Right-click an empty part of the desktop, for instance, and you'll find a menu entry to set your screen resolution. No need to go browsing through the display settings any more.

Right-click the Explorer icon on the taskbar for speedy access to common system folders: Documents, Pictures, the Windows folder, and more.

And if you don't plan on using Internet Explorer then you probably won't want its icon permanently displayed on the taskbar. Right-click the icon, select 'Unpin this program from the taskbar', then go install Firefox, instead.

24. Display the old taskbar button context menu

Right-click a taskbar button, though, and you'll now see its jumplist menu. That's a useful new feature, but not much help if you want to access the minimise, maximise, or move options that used to be available. Fortunately there's an easy way to get the old context menu back - just hold down Shift as you right-click the taskbar button.

25. Desktop slideshow

Windows 7 comes with some very attractive new wallpapers, and it's not always easy to decide which one you like the best. So why not let choose a few, and let Windows display them all in a desktop slideshow? Right-click an empty part of the desktop, select Personalise > Desktop Background, then hold down Ctrl as you click on the images you like. Choose how often you'd like the images to be changed (anything from daily to once every 10 seconds), select Shuffle if you'd like the backgrounds to appear in a random order, then click Save Changes and enjoy the show.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

26. RSS-powered wallpaper

And if a slideshow based on your standard wallpaper isn't enough, then you can always install a theme which extracts images from an RSS feed, and so ensures a regularly updated stream of top quality backgrounds (if you choose wisely, anyway). To see what's available, right-click an empty part of your desktop, select Personalise > Get more themes online, and click RSS Dynamic Themes in the left-hand list.

Another option is to produce an RSS-based feed of your very own. Long Zheng has created a few sample themes to illustrate how it works. Jamie Thompson takes this even further, with a theme that always displays the latest BBC news and weather on your desktop. And MakeUseOf have a quick and easy tutorial showing how RSS can get you those gorgeous Bing photographs as your wallpaper. Or you can watch our custom theme video tutorial.

27. Customise the log-on screen

Changing the Windows log-on screen used to involve some complicated and potentially dangerous hacks, but not any more - Windows 7 makes it easy.

First, browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background in REGEDIT, double-click the DWORD key called OEMBackground (not there? Create it) and set its value to 1.

Now find a background image you'd like to use. Make sure it's less than 256KB in size, and matches the aspect ratio of your screen as it'll be stretched to fit.

Next, copy that image into the %windir%\system32\oobe\info\backgrounds folder (create the info\backgrounds folders if they don't exist). Rename the image to backgroundDefault.jpg, reboot, and you should now have a custom log-on image.

Alternatively, use a free tweaking tool to handle everything for you. Logon Changer displays a preview so you can see how the log-on screen will look without rebooting, while the Logon Screen Rotator accepts multiple images and will display a different one every time you log on.

28. Disable Windows Features

Windows 7 enables you to remove many more Windows features than ever before: Internet Explorer, Media Player, Windows Search, its indexing service, Windows Gadgets and more. This is something that you need to do cautiously, if at all (since removing something like Media Player will break many programs which rely on it), but can be useful if you're looking to create a very simple, slimmed-down system.

Click Start, type OptionalFeatures and press Enter to launch the Windows Features dialog. Clear the checkbox to the left of any features that are surplus to requirements, and click OK to remove them.

29. Recover screen space

The new Windows 7 taskbar acts as one big quick launch toolbar that can hold whatever program shortcuts you like (just right-click one and select Pin To Taskbar). And that's fine, except it does consume a little more screen real estate than we'd like. Shrink it to a more manageable size by right-clicking the Start orb, then Properties > Taskbar > Use small icons > OK.

30. Make text easier to read

Equipping your PC with an ultra high resolution displays sounds like a great idea, but it can mean text becomes very small, and as a result some people manually reduce their screen resolution to compensate. Unfortunately this then introduces another problem: if you run LCDs below their native resolution then text (and other objects) will inevitably become fuzzy.

The solution? Leave your LCD at its maximum resolution, but scale text and other objects up so they become easier to read, while also remaining sharp. You could do this in Vista, but Windows 7 now makes the process even easier. Click Start, type "DPIScaling" and press Enter, select the size increase you need - 125% or 150% - then click Apply and restart to see the results.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

31. Enjoy a retro taskbar

Windows 7 now combines taskbar buttons in a way that saves space, but also makes it more difficult to tell at a glance whether an icon represents a running application or a shortcut. If you prefer a more traditional approach, then right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and set Taskbar Buttons to Combine When Taskbar is Full. You'll now get a clear and separate button for each running application, making them much easier to identify.

32. Remove taskbar buttons

One problem with the previous tip is the buttons will gobble up valuable taskbar real estate, but you can reduce the impact of this by removing their text captions. Launch REGEDIT, browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics, add a string called MinWidth, set it to 54, and reboot to see the results.

33. Restore the Quick Launch Toolbar

If you're unhappy with the new taskbar, even after shrinking it, then it only takes a moment to restore the old Quick Launch Toolbar.

Right-click the taskbar, choose Toolbars > New Toolbar, type "%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch" (less the quotes) into the Folder box and click Select Folder.

Now right-click the taskbar, clear 'Lock the taskbar', and you should see the Quick Launch toolbar, probably to the right. Right-click its divider, clear Show Text and Show Title to minimise the space it takes up. Complete the job by right-clicking the bar and selecting View > Small Icons for the true retro look.

34. Custom power switch

By default, Windows 7 displays a plain text 'Shut down' button on the Start menu, but it only takes a moment to change this action to something else. If you reboot your PC a few times every day then that might make more sense as a default action: right-click the Start orb, select Properties and set the 'Power boot action' to 'Restart' to make it happen.

35. Auto arrange your desktop

If your Windows 7 desktop has icons scattered everywhere then you could right-click it and select View > Auto arrange, just as in Vista. But a simpler solution is just to press and hold down F5, and Windows will automatically arrange its icons for you.

36. Disable smart window arrangement

Windows 7 features interesting new ways to intelligently arrange your windows, so that (for example) if you drag a window to the top of the screen then it will maximise. We like the new system, but if you find it distracting then it's easily disabled. Run REGEDIT, go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop, set WindowArrangementActive to 0, reboot, and your windows will behave just as they always did.

37. Browse your tasks

If you prefer the keyboard over the mouse, you will love browsing the taskbar using this nifty shortcut. Press Windows and T, and you move the focus to the left-most icon on the taskbar. Then use your arrow keys to change the focus to other icons, and you get a live preview of every window.

38. Display your drives

Click Computer in Windows 7 and you might see a strange lack of drives, but don't panic, it's just Microsoft trying to be helpful: drives like memory card readers are no longer displayed if they're empty. We think it's an improvement, but if you disagree then it's easy to get your empty drives back. Launch Explorer, click Tools > Folder Options > View and clear 'Hide empty drives in the computer folder'.

39. See more detail

The new and improved Windows 7 magnifier offers a much easier way to zoom in on any area of the screen. Launch it and you can now define a scale factor and docking position, and once activated it can track your keyboard focus around the screen. Press Tab as you move around a dialog box, say, and it'll automatically zoom in on the currently active control.

40. Extend your jumplists

By default a jumplist will display up to 10 items, but it can often be useful to extend this and add a few more. Right-click Start, select Properties > Customize and set Number of Recent Items to Display in Jump Lists to the figure you need.

41. Disable Aero Peek

Hover your mouse cursor over the bottom right hand corner of the screen and Windows 7 will hide open windows, showing you the desktop. Seems like a good idea to us, but if the feature gets in your way then it's easy to turn off. Simply right-click the Start orb, select Properties > Taskbar and clear the box marked Use Aero Peek to Preview the Desktop.

42. Pin a drive to the taskbar

The taskbar isn't just for apps and documents. With just a few seconds work you can pin drive icons there, too.

Right-click an empty part of the desktop, select New > Text File, and rename the file to drive.exe. Drag and drop this onto your taskbar, then delete the original file.

Right-click your new "drive.exe" taskbar button, then right-click its file name and select Properties. Change the contents of both the Target and Start In boxes to point at the drive or folder of your choice, perhaps click Change Icon to choose an appropriate drive icon, and you're done - that drive or folder is now available at a click.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

43. Expand your taskbar previews

Move your mouse cursor over a Windows 7 taskbar button and you'll see a small preview of the application window. To make this larger, launch REGEDIT, browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Taskband, right-click in the right hand pane and create a new DWORD value called MinThumbSizePx. Double-click this, choose the Decimal option, set the value to 350 and reboot to see the results. Tweak the value again to fine-tune the results, or delete it to return to the default thumbnail size.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

Useful Windows 7 enhancements

44. Play To

Windows Media Player is great for accessing local music and videos, but that's just the start. You can also browse the media libraries on other PCs across your network, and the Play To feature means it's now even possible to 'push' media from one system, and have it automatically begin playing on another.

To set this up, first launch Media Player, click Stream > Turn on media streaming, then click Turn On Media Streaming in the Options dialog.

Click Stream, select Allow remote control of my player > Allow remote control on this network, then click Stream > Automatically allow devices to play my media.

Repeat this on any network PC which you'd like to include, then right-click any file within Media Player, and select the Play To menu. Choose a remote computer from the list, and the media file will be pushed across the network, automatically playing on the other system.

45. Customise UAC

Windows Vista's User Account Control was a good idea in practice, but poor implementation put many people off - it raised far too many alerts. Fortunately Windows 7 displays less warnings by default, and lets you further fine-tune UAC to suit your preferred balance between security and a pop-up free life (Start > Control Panel > Change User Account Control Settings).

46. Use Sticky Notes

The Sticky Notes app is both simpler and more useful in Windows 7. Launch StikyNot.exe and you can type notes at the keyboard; right-click a note to change its colour; click the + sign on the note title bar to add another note; and click a note and press Alt + 4 to close the note windows (your notes are automatically saved).

47. Open folder in new process

By default Windows 7 opens folders in the same process. This saves system resources, but means one folder crash can bring down the entire shell. If your system seems unstable, or you're doing something in Explorer that regularly seems to causes crashes, then open Computer, hold down Shift, right-click on your drive and select Open in New Process. The folder will now be launched in a separate process, and so a crash is less likely to affect anything else.

48. Watch more videos

Windows Media Player is a powerful program, but it still won't play all the audio and video files you'll find online. Fortunately Windows 7 codecs pack supports just about every file and compression type there is, and installing it should get your troublesome multimedia files playing again.

49. Preview fonts

Open the Fonts window in Windows XP and Vista and you'll see the font names, probably with icons to tell you whether they're TrueType or OpenType, but that's about it. Windows 7 sees some useful font-related improvements.

Open the new fonts window and you'll find a little preview for every font, giving you a quick idea of how they're going to look.

The tedium of scrolling through multiple entries for each family, like Times New Roman, Times New Roman Bold, Times New Roman Bold Italic and so on, has finally ended. There's now just a single entry for each font (though you can still see all other members of the family).

And there's a new OpenType font, Gabriola, added to the mix. It's an attractive script font, well worth a try the next time you need a stylish document that stands out from the crowd.

50. New WordPad formats

By default WordPad will save documents in Rich Text Format, just as before. But browse the Save As Format list and you'll see you can also save (or open, actually) files in the Office 2007 .docx or OpenDocument .odt formats.

51. Protect your data

USB flash drives are convenient, portable, and very easy to lose. Which is a problem, especially if they're carrying sensitive data. Fortunately Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise have the solution: encrypt your documents with an extension of Microsoft's BitLocker technology, and only someone with the password will be able to access it. Right-click your USB flash drive, select Turn on BitLocker and follow the instructions to protect your private files.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

52. Minimise quickly with shake

If you have multiple windows open on your desktop and things are getting too cluttered, it used to be a time-consuming process to close them all down. In Windows 7 you can use the Aero Shake feature to minimise everything in seconds, using a cool mouse gesture. Grab the title bar of the window you wish to keep open and give it a shake, and rejoice in a clear desktop area.

53. Configure your favourite music

The Windows 7 Media Centre now comes with an option to play your favourite music, which by default creates a changing list of songs based on your ratings, how often you play them, and when they were added (it's assumed you'll prefer songs you've added in the last 30 days). If this doesn't work then you can tweak how Media Centre decides what a favourite tune is- click Tasks > Settings > Music > Favourite Music and configure the program to suit your needs.

54. Customise System Restore

There was very little you could do to configure System Restore in Vista, but Windows 7 improves the situation with a couple of useful setup options.

Click the Start orb, right-click Computer and select Properties > System Protection > Configure, and set the Max Usage value to a size that suits your needs (larger to hold more restore points, smaller to save disk space).

And if you don't need System Restore to save Windows settings then choose the option to Only Restore Previous Versions of Files. Windows 7 won't back up your Registry, which means you'll squeeze more restore points and file backups into the available disk space. System Restore is much less likely to get an unbootable PC working again, though, so use this trick at your own risk.

55. Run As

Hold down Shift, right-click any program shortcut, and you'll see an option to run the program as a different user, handy if you're logged in to the kids' limited account and need to run something with higher privileges. This isn't really a new feature - Windows XP had a Run As option that did the same thing - but Microsoft stripped it out of Vista, so it's good to see it's had a change of heart.

56. Search privacy

By default Windows 7 will remember your PC search queries, and display the most recent examples when searching in Windows Explorer. If you're sharing a PC and don't want everyone to see your searches, then launch REGEDIT and browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer. Right-click in the right-hand pane, create a new DWORD value called DisableSearchBoxSuggestions, set it to 1, and this will take effect after you next reboot.

57. Tweak PC volume

By default Windows 7 will now automatically reduce the volume of your PC's sounds whenever it detects you're making or receiving PC-based phone calls. If this proves annoying (or maybe you'd like it to turn off other sounds altogether) then you can easily change the settings accordingly. Just right-click the speaker icon in your taskbar, select Sounds > Communications, and tell Windows what you'd like it to do.

58. Rearrange the system tray

With Windows 7 we finally see system tray icons behave in a similar way to everything else on the taskbar. So if you want to rearrange them, then go right ahead, just drag and drop them into the order you like. You can even move important icons outside of the tray, drop them onto the desktop, then put them back when you no longer need to keep an eye on them.

59. Extend your battery life

Windows 7 includes new power options that will help to improve your notebook's battery life. To see them, click Start, type Power Options and click the Power Options link, then click Change Plan Settings for your current plan and select Change Advanced Settings. Expand Multimedia Settings, for instance, and you'll see a new Playing Video setting that can be set to optimise power savings rather than performance. Browse through the other settings and ensure they're set up to suit your needs.

60. Write crash dump files

Windows 7 won't create memory.dmp crash files if you've less than 25GB of free hard drive space, annoying if you've installed the Windows debugging tools and want to diagnose your crashes. You can turn this feature off, though: browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\CrashControl, create a new DWORD value called AlwaysKeepMemoryDump, set it to 1, and the crash dump file will now always be saved.

61. Protect your data

If you have confidential files in a particular folder or two, and would like to keep them away from other network users, then right-click the folder, select Share With > Nobody, and they'll be made private, for your eyes only (or your user account, anyway).

62. Reorganise the taskbar

Windows 7 taskbar buttons are now movable - feel free to drag, drop and otherwise reorganise them to suit your needs. And then remember that each button can be launched by holding with the Windows key and pressing 1 to activate the first, 2 the second and so on, up to 0 for the tenth.

63. Repair your PC

If Windows 7 won't start, you may not need an installation or repair disc any more, as the repair environment is now usually installed on your hard drive. Press [F8] as your PC starts, and if you see a Repair Your Computer option, choose that to see the full range of Windows 7 recovery tools.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

64. Reset and repair

Troubleshooting Windows problems can be complicated, since there are so many settings and options to consider. Windows 8 has simplified this with its own Repair and Refresh tool, but if you're not in the mood to upgrade just yet, there's always Tweaking.com's Windows Repair.

This compact program is able to resolve Registry and file permission problems, fix IE and the Windows firewall, repair icons, get Windows Update working again and a whole lot more. And in theory it's quite simple, too - just select the area you want to repair and it'll be fixed in a click or two.

Windows Repair has worked well for us in the past, but needs to be treated with care. Applying fixes you don't need can cause more problems than you solve. Select only options you're sure are appropriate, and don't run the program at all unless your PC has a full system backup available.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

65. ReadyBoost revamped

If you were unimpressed by ReadyBoost in Vista, it may be worth trying the technology again under Windows 7. The operating system now allows you to combine multiple USB drives, each with larger caches, to deliver an extra speed boost.

66. Fixing Windows 7 N

If you have Windows 7 N then this means you'll be missing key multimedia applications, like Media Player, Media Centre, DVD Maker and more. But that's not all. You also won't have some of the subsystems required by third-party apps like Nero MultiMedia Suite, which means that even if they install, you could have problems getting them to work correctly.

Fortunately there's an easy fix, though, as the missing components are available in the form of Microsoft's Windows Media Pack. If you're currently having media-related issues on a Windows 7 N installation, grab your copy from support.microsoft.com/kb/968211.

Windows 7 performance and productivity tips

67. Search Control Panel

Navigating the Control Panel has never been the easiest of processes, however Windows 7 has tried to improve the situation by equipping the Control Panel window with its own search box. And, just as you might think, if you enter part of an applet name - "Display", say - then matching applets will be listed right away.

You don't have to be quite so specific about what you type, though, because Search generally does a very good job of figuring out what's relevant. Entering "hacker" displays the Firewall applet, for instance, while typing "virus" provides a link to Windows Defender. It's all very helpful, but keep in mind that you don't have to launch Control Panel to get these results: simply type your key words into the Start Menu search box and the same links will appear.

68. Repair libraries

Windows 7's new Libraries are a great way to simplify file management, when they're all working properly. Unfortunately, if their settings become damaged then they might not always display the files you expect, or you might not even be able to access them at all. If the problems survive a reboot then right-click the Libraries folder, select Restore Default Libraries, and your system should be back in full working order. (You'll lose any library customisations you made, though, so try this only as a last resort.)

69. Add network folders to libraries

Windows 7 Libraries are all about making it easy to view content that's scattered across many folders, and even hard drives, but there are limitations. And in particular, Explorer won't enable you to add network folders.

If this is a problem, though, all you have to do is grab a copy of the Win7 Library Tool, a simple free program that enables you to freely add any network location to whatever library you like.

70. Hide unused libraries

If you don't use some Windows 7 libraries then it's generally a good idea to hide them, since this recovers valuable space in the left-hand Explorer navigation pane and cuts down on scrolling. Just right-click an unwanted library and select Don't Show in Navigation Pane to hide it. To bring it back, click Libraries, right-click whatever you need and choose Show in Navigation Pane.

71. Find bottlenecks

From what we've seen so far Windows 7 is already performing better than Vista, but if your PC seems sluggish then it's now much easier to uncover the bottleneck. Click Start, type RESMON and press Enter to launch the Resource Monitor, then click the CPU, Memory, Disk or Network tabs. Windows 7 will immediately show which processes are hogging the most system resources.

The CPU view is particularly useful, and provides something like a more powerful version of Task Manager. If a program has locked up, for example, then right-click its name in the list and select Analyze Process. Windows will then try to tell you why it's hanging - the program might be waiting for another process, perhaps - which could give you the information you need to fix the problem.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

72. Keyboard shortcuts

Windows 7 supports several useful new keyboard shortcuts.

Alt+P
Display/ hide the Explorer preview pane

Windows Logo+G
Display gadgets in front of other windows

Windows Logo++ (plus key)
Zoom in, where appropriate

Windows Logo+- (minus key)
Zoom out, where appropriate

Windows Logo+Up
Maximise the current window

Windows Logo+Down
Minimise the current window

Windows Logo+Left
Snap to the left hand side of the screen

Windows Logo+Right
Snap to the right hand side of the screen

Windows Logo+Home
Minimise/ restore everything except the current window

73. Drag and drop to the command line

When working at the command line you'll often need to access files, which usually means typing lengthy paths and hoping you've got them right. But Windows 7 offers an easier way. Simply drag and drop the file onto your command window and the full path will appear, complete with quotes and ready to be used.

This feature isn't entirely new: you could do this in Windows XP, too, but drag and drop support disappeared in Vista. There does seem to be a new Windows 7 complication, though, in that it only seems to work when you open the command prompt as a regular user. Run cmd.exe as an administrator and, while it accepts dropped files, the path doesn't appear.

74. Customise your jumplists

Right-click an icon on your taskbar, perhaps Notepad, and you'll see a jumplist menu that provides easy access to the documents you've been working on recently. But maybe there's another document that you'd like to be always available? Then drag and drop it onto the taskbar icon, and it'll be pinned to the top of the jumplist for easier access. Click the pin to the right of the file name, or right-click it and select Unpin From This List when you need to remove it.

75. Faster program launches

If you've launched one instance of a program but want to start another, then don't work your way back through the Start menu. It's much quicker to just hold down Shift and click on the program's icon (or middle-click it), and Windows 7 will start a new instance for you.

76. Speedy video access

Want faster access to your Videos folder? Windows 7 now lets you add it to the Start menu. Just right-click the Start orb, click Properties > Start Menu > Customize, and set the Videos option to Display As a Link. If you've a TV tuner that works with Windows 7 then you'll appreciate the new option to display the Recorded TV folder on the Start menu, too.

77. Mount ISO images

Windows 7 introduced the ability to burn an ISO image to disc, but it doesn't provide any way to browse that image beforehand - which is why you need a copy of WinCDEmu. This simple tool mounts ISO and other image files as virtual drives, enabling you to access them in Explorer just as though they were physical discs.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

78. Run web searches

The Windows 7 search tool can now be easily extended to search online resources, just as long as someone creates an appropriate search connector. To add Flickr support, say, visit I Started Something, click Download the Connector, choose the Open option and watch as it's downloaded (the file is tiny, it'll only take a moment). A Flickr Search option will be added to your Searches folder, and you'll be able to search images from your desktop.

A multitude of other ready-made searches, such as Google and YouTube, can be downloaded from the windowsclub.com website.

79. Schedule Media Centre downloads

You can now tell Windows Media Centre to download data at a specific time, perhaps overnight, a useful way to prevent it sapping your bandwidth for the rest of the day. Launch Media Centre, go to Tasks > Settings > General > Automatic Download Options, and set the download start and stop times that you'd like it to use.

80. Multi-threaded Robocopies

Anyone who's ever used the excellent command-line robocopy tool will appreciate the new switches introduced with Windows 7. Our favourite, /MT, can improve speed by carrying out multi-threaded copies with the number of threads you specify (you can have up to 128, though that might be going a little too far). Enter robocopy /? at a command line for the full details.

81. Load IE faster

Some Internet Explorer add-ons can take a while to start, dragging down the browser's performance, but at least IE8 can now point a finger at the worst resource hogs. Click Tools > Manage Add-ons, check the Load Time in the right-hand column, and you'll immediately see which browser extensions are slowing you down.

82. An Alt+Tab alternative

You want to access one of the five Explorer windows you have open, but there are so many other programs running that Alt+Tab makes it hard to pick out what you need. The solution? Hold down the Ctrl key while you click on the Explorer icon. Windows 7 will then cycle through the Explorer windows only, a much quicker way to locate the right one. And of course this works with any application that has multiple windows open.

83. Block annoying alerts

Just like Vista, Windows 7 will display a suitably stern warning if it thinks your antivirus, firewall or other security settings are incorrect.

But unlike Vista, if you disagree then you can now turn off alerts on individual topics. If you no longer want to see warnings just because you've dared to turn off the Windows firewall, say, then click Control Panel > System and Security > Action Centre > Change Action Centre settings, clear the Network Firewall box and click OK.

84. Parallel defrags

The standard Windows 7 defragger offers a little more control than we saw in Vista, and the command line version also has some interesting new features. The /r switch will defrag multiple drives in parallel, for instance (they'll obviously need to be physically separate drives for this to be useful). The /h switch runs the defrag at a higher than normal priority, and the /u switch provides regular progress reports so you can see exactly what's going on. Enter the command

defrag /c /h /u /r

in a command window to speedily defrag a system with multiple drives, or enter defrag /? to view the new options for yourself.

85. Fix Explorer

The Windows 7 Explorer has a couple of potential annoyances. Launching Computer will no longer display system folders like Control Panel or Recycle Bin, for instance. And if you're drilling down through a complicated folder structure in the right-hand pane of Explorer, the left-hand tree won't always expand to follow what you're doing, which can make it more difficult to see exactly where you are. Fortunately there's a quick fix: click Organize > Folder and Search Options, check Show All Folders and Automatically Expand To Current Folder, and click OK.

86. Faster file handing

If you hold down Shift while right-clicking a file in Explorer, then you'll find the Send To file now includes all your main user folders: Contacts, Documents, Downloads, Music and more. Choose any of these and your file will be moved there immediately.

87. Create folder favourites

If you're regularly working on the same folder in Explorer then select it in the right-hand page, right-click Favourites on the left-hand menu, and select Add to Favourites. It'll then appear at the bottom of the favourites list for easy one-click access later.

88. Disable hibernation

By default Windows 7 will permanently consume a chunk of your hard drive with its hibernation file, but if you never use sleep, and always turn your PC off, then this will never actually be used. To disable hibernation and recover a little hard drive space, launch REGEDIT, browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Power, then set both HibernateEnabled and HiberFileSizePerfect to zero.

89. Create a new folder shortcut

When you need to create a new folder in Windows 7 Explorer, don't reach for the mouse. Just press Ctrl+Shift+N to create the folder in the active Explorer window, then type its name as usual.

90. Open a jumplist

Most people right-click a Windows taskbar icon to view its jumplist. You can also hold the left mouse button over the icon, though, then drag upwards to reveal the jumplist and choose the option you need, a more natural action that should be just a little faster.

Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

91. Search quickly

If you'd like to search for something in an Explorer window then there's no need to use the mouse. Simply press [F3] to move the focus to the search box, enter your keyword and press [Enter] to run the search.

92. Search file contents

There's no obvious way in the Windows interface to search the contents of files that haven't been indexed, but all you need to do is start your search with the "content:" search filter. So entering "content:Microsoft", for instance, will find all documents (whether they're actually indexed or not) that contain the word Microsoft.

93. Close in a click

Hover your mouse cursor over a Windows taskbar button will display a preview thumbnail of that application window. You don't need that app any more? Then middle-click the thumbnail to close it down.

94. Leave the Homegroup

Homegroups are an easy way to network Windows 7 PCs, but if you don't use the feature then turning it off can save you a few system resources.

Click Start, type Homegroup, and click Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options. Click Leave the Homegroup > Leave the Homegroup > Finish.

Now click Start, type services.msc and press [Enter] to launch the Services Control Panel applet.

Find and double-click both the HomeGroup Listener and HomeGroup Provider service, clicking Stop and setting Startup Type to Disabled in each case, and the services won't be launched when you need reboot.

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