25 cool Windows 7 interface tweaks
13th Nov 2010 | 12:00
Make Windows 7 look better with a few clicks
Your fresh installation of Windows 7 gives a 'one size fits all' configuration, but there are countless ways in which you can tweak the standard operating system to make it better suit your particular needs.
Built-in customisation options include the usual controls over the interface theme and the way in which Windows alerts you to important events.
There are also a bevy of free add-ons, which provide an even wider choice of customisation options – from ways to change parts of the OS that Microsoft doesn't cater for, to adding clever new features that make Windows 7 even more capable.
Here are 25 of our favourite tweaks.
1. Change the colour of the Aero UI
Windows 7's sleek Aero theme is a definite improvement on Windows XP's ugly Luna, but you may not like its default colours.
Right-click the desktop, choose 'Personalize', then 'Window Color', and you'll be able to tweak the colours to your heart's content.
Shades of red work particularly well for distinguishing between active and inactive windows – unlike the default blue tones. You can turn off transparency here too, should you wish to.
2. Change the Windows theme
Customising the colour scheme of Windows 7 is one thing, but how about more drastic changes? Right-click the desktop, then choose 'Personalize', and you can change the entire interface theme – the desktop wallpaper, colour scheme, system sounds and mouse pointers.
A handful of themes are installed by default, but click the 'Get more themes online' link and you can download others for free.
3. Change your user account picture
Customising your user account image is a great way to differentiate quickly between multiple accounts on a single PC. Windows 7 comes with a selection of images to choose from – just go to 'Start | Control Panel | User accounts and family safety | Change your account picture'.
The 'Browse for more pictures' link at the bottom of this window also enables you to choose one of your own images and Windows will automatically resize it to suit.
4. Switch system sounds
Windows has long been able to make noises to reflect just about anything it does, but not everyone wants to hear a ding, beep, buzz or click for every system event.
Go to 'Start | Control Panel | Appearance and Personalization | Change sound effects', and you can selectively change or disable the sounds that Windows 7 assigns to each system event.
You can also select from a range of other novel sound schemes, or opt for 'No Sounds' if you prefer to work uninterrupted.
5. Add a taskbar toolbar
Windows 7's ability to pin programs to the taskbar has eliminated the need for the Quick launch Toolbar, but you can still add other types of toolbar for quick access to certain tasks.
Right-click on an empty part of the taskbar, then select 'Toolbars' and you can an address box for quick-launching URLs, or a desktop button for ready access to desktop shortcuts when your screen is full of windows.
Touch-screen PC users can also add a tablet PC input panel for quick onetap access to the on-screen handwriting input.
6. Customise the Start menu
Microsoft has removed the 'Classic Start menu' option from Windows 7, but you can still alter its look and feel to make it better suited to the way you work.
Right-click the 'Start' button, choose 'Properties' and a dialog box will open with some basic privacy settings. Click the 'Customise' button and you can then make more drastic changes to the Start menu's appearance.
7. Change what the Start menu 'power' button does
Thankfully, the excessively complex shutdown option on Windows Vista's Start menu has been streamlined in Windows 7, but Microsoft has also changed the default power button behaviour from 'Sleep' to a full shutdown.
If you want to change it back, right-click the Start button, choose 'Properties' and select your preferred option from the 'Power button action' dropdown list.
8. Calm down UAC
Microsoft wisely opted to reduce the constant pestering of Windows Vista's User Access Control with the release of Service Pack 2, but Windows 7 brings more granular control over when you're asked to confirm certain system-level actions.
Go to 'Start | Control Panel | User Accounts and Family Safety | User Accounts | Change User Account Control Settings' and you'll see a slider. The bottom position disables UAC completely, but the next notch up is the best (and least annoying) option for safe computing.
9. Turn off Notification Area alerts
Windows 7 likes to keep you informed about the state of your security settings, but you might not want to know about every single thing that crops up.
Go to the Action Center, accessed via 'Start | Control Panel | System and Security' and you can alter what Windows badgers you about – including the fact that UAC is disabled.
Just don't think that turning off warnings about inadequate antivirus protection is a good idea…
10. Move the taskbar
Don't like the Windows 7 taskbar at the bottom of the screen? Then why not drag and drop it to one of the desktop's three other sides?
You might need to unlock it first, though – just right-click on an empty area of the taskbar and deselect the appropriate option. You can also click and drag the edge to the taskbar to make it wider, which is ideal if you've pinned lots of applications to it.
11. Go Gadget crazy
Windows Gadgets enable you to add at-a-glance information to the Sidebar at the right of the screen to save you looking it up in the web browser.
Right-click the desktop, choose 'Gadgets' and you'll see a list of available tools, with a link to download more at the bottom of the window. To enable a Gadget, right-click it and select 'Add'.
Most Gadgets have individual settings – hover the mouse pointer over an active one to show its 'spanner' icon.
12. Stop the screensaver interrupting video playback
Disabling the Windows screensaver and setting your monitor to turn off after several minutes' inactivity is a great energy saver, but it's a pain if it kicks in when you're watching an online video.
The solution is Mouse Jiggler – a free download from http://mousejiggler.codeplex.com.
Run the tiny program and it will make Windows 7 think the mouse is moving imperceptibly, even when you're nowhere near it, thereby preventing power-saving options from activating when you don't want them to.
13. Change the login screen
There are various clumsy hacks that enable you to change the Windows 7 user login screen, but the free Logon Changer utility from www.tweaks.com/software/tweakslogon does all the hard work for you without fuss.
Just point the program at the picture you want to use and it will resize it accordingly, back up the original and then make the change. Simple!
14. Do more with dual monitors
If you use two or more monitors with Windows, but want a taskbar on more than just the main display, Ultramon is the software for you.
As well as making windows on each monitor easier to manage, Ultramon enables you to assign different wallpapers to each desktop, and enables you move to windows around each display with a mouse click.
You can download a 30-day demo from www.realtimesoft.com/ultramon – the full program is available for £25.
15. Makes Windows easier to see
Ultra high-resolution monitors can make certain parts of the Windows interface tricky to see, particularly if your eyesight is far from perfect. Switching a TFT display to a lower, non-native resolution will only make things worse, but Windows 7 offers a better option.
Go to 'Start | Control Panel | Appearance and Personalization | Display | Make text and other items larger and smaller', and you'll see two options for making everything in Windows, from on-screen text to the taskbar, look bigger.
16. Customise the Start button
If you don't like the look of the round Windows 7 Start button, you can change it with Start Orb Changer. You can download the program for free from here and switch to one of 10 ready made Start button images, or use one of your own.
17. Get Rainmeter
Rainmeter takes the Windows 7 Sidebar Gadgets idea and extends it to the whole desktop.
A free download from www.rainmeter.net, it enables you to integrate all kinds of useful system information, along with RSS feeds and Twitter updates.
18. Add backgrounds to windows
If you like your desktop to be busy, Windows 7 Folder Background Changer will probably appeal. It's free from here.
After downloading, there's no installation – just run it, select a folder, pick an image and re-open the Explorer window.
19. Make Explorer windows more XP friendly
To make Windows 7 more familiar, enable the menu bar from 'Organize | Layout | Menu bar', then turn off the bottom 'Details' pane.
Go to 'Tools | Folder Options', then enable 'Show all folders' and 'Automatically expand to current folder'.
20. Control window sizes with the keyboard
If Windows 7's Aero Snap doesn't offer enough control, try Window Manager. This free download from here enables you to set window sizes and positions for applications, then activate them with keyboard shortcuts.
21. Turn off combined taskbar buttons
You can disable Windows 7's combined buttons. Right-click an empty part of the taskbar and choose 'Properties'. Use the 'Taskbar buttons' dropdown to disable button-combining, or use it only when the taskbar is full.
22. Customise the Notification Area
Windows 7 tries to manage the contents of the Notification area at the right of the taskbar, but you may need to lend a hand. Right-click the taskbar, choose 'Properties' and then click the 'Customize' button on the General tab to see options for each Notification area icon.
23. Turbo-charge file transfers
TeraCopy, a free download from www.codesector.com/teracopy.php, supplants the Explorer copy function with its own buffered copy.
This can be far quicker and enables you to preview file operations before committing to them, and to pause transfers.
24. Change desktop icons
Right-click the desktop and choose 'Personalize', then click 'Change desktop icons' and select the icon you want to change. Click 'Change Icon' to see a list of other icons you can use, or hit 'Browse' to use your own – www.iconfactory.com has a good, free selection.
25. Make Windows look like Mac OS
A simple way to make your PC ape Mac OS X is with the free Snow Transformation Pack from www.winxsoft.com/stp/download.html.
The changes are dramatic, reversible and extremely convincing, with only a handful of compromises.
First published in PC Plus Issue 300
Liked this? Then check out 85 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets
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