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16 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

windows 7 interface tweaks

slideshow

DESKTOP SLIDESHOW: Select multiple background images and Windows will cycle through them

1. RSS-powered wallpaper

And if a slideshow based on your standard wallpaper isn’t enough, then you can always create a theme that extracts images from an RSS feed. For example, 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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’.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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 “Use Aero Peek to preview the desktop” box.

15. 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.

DriveC

16. 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.

Preview

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