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12 Windows 7 tips, tricks and secrets

Make The System Tray Clock Show

Set the time zone

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 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.

4. 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.

5. Activate XP mode

If you’ve 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. But there’s a big potential problem, as XP Mode only works with systems that have hardware virtualisation (AMD-V or Intel VT) built-in and turned on. If you’ve a compatible CPU then this may just be a matter of enabling the option in your BIOS set-up program, however some high profile brands, including Sony Vaio, disable the setting for “security reasons”. And that blocks XP Mode from working, too.

One solution has emerged, but it’s a little risky, as essentially you’ll have to alter a byte in your laptop firmware and hope this doesn’t have any unexpected side-effects. Gulp. If you’re feeling brave then take a look at the Feature Enable Blog for the details, but don’t blame us if it goes wrong.

A safer approach might be to use VirtualBox, a virtualisation tool that doesn’t insist on hardware support, but then you will need to find a licensed copy of XP (or whatever other Windows version your software requires) for its virtual machine.

6. 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.

router

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.

7. 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.

waitchain

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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:

key

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.

godmode

11. 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.

12. 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 minimize, maximize, or move options that used to be available. Fortunately there’s an easy way to get the old context menu back – just hold down Ctrl and Shift as you right-click the taskbar button.

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