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Friday, April 2, 2010

Windows 7 Tweaks and Tricks

Windows 7 Keyboard Shortcuts

Let's kick off with keyboard shortcuts – the first thing every power user must memorize with working with a new operating system.
Alt + P

In Windows Explorer, activate an additional file preview pane to the right side of the window with this new shortcut. This panel is great for previewing images in your photos directory.
Windows + + (plus key)
Windows + - (minus key)

Pressing the Windows and plus or minus keys activates the Magnifier, which lets you zoom in on the entire desktop or open a rectangular magnifying lens to zoom in and out of parts of your screen. You can customize the Magnifier options to follow your mouse pointer or keyboard cursor. Keep in mind that so far, the Magnifier only works when Aero desktop is enabled.
Windows + Up
Windows + Down

If a window is not maximized, pressing Windows + Up will fill it to your screen. Windows + Down will minimize that active window. Unfortunately, pressing Windows + Up again while a window is minimized won’t return it to its former state.
Windows + Shift + Up

Similar to the shortcut above, hitting these three keys while a window is active will stretch it vertically to the maximum desktop height. The width of the window will however stay the same. Pressing Windows + Down will restore it to its previous size.
Windows + Left
Windows + Right

One of the new features of Windows 7 is the ability to automatically make a window fill up half of your screen by dragging to the left or right. This pair of shortcuts performs the same function without your mouse. Once a window is fixed to one side of the screen, you can repeat the shortcut to flip it to the other side. This is useful if you’re extending a desktop across multiple monitors, which prevents you from executing this trick with a mouse.
Windows + Home

This shortcut performs a similar function to hovering over a window’s peek menu thumbnail in the Taskbar. The active window will stay on your desktop while every other open application is minimized. Pressing this shortcut again will restore all the other windows.
Windows + E

Automatically opens up a new Explorer window to show your Libraries folder.
Windows + P

Manage your multiple-monitor more efficiently with this handy shortcut. Windows + P opens up a small overlay that lets you configure a second display or projector. You can switch from a single monitor to dual-display in either mirror or extend desktop mode.
Windows + Shift + Left
Windows + Shift + Right

If you are using two or more displays (and who isn’t, these days?), memorize this shortcut to easily move a window from one screen to the other. The window retains its size and relative position on the new screen, which his useful when working with multiple documents. Utilize that real estate!
Windows + [Number]

Programs (and new instances) pinned to your Taskbar can be launched by hitting Windows and the number corresponding to its placement on the Taskbar. Windows + 1, for example, launches the first application, while Windows + 4 will launch the fourth. We realize that this is actually one key-press more than just clicking the icon with your mouse, but it saves your hand the trouble of leaving the comfort of the keyboard.
Windows + T

Like Alt + Tab (still our all time favorite Windows specific shortcut), Windows + T cycles through your open programs via the Taskbar’s peek menu.
Windows + Space

This combo performs the same function as moving your mouse to the bottom right of the Taskbar. It makes every active window transparent so you can view your desktop. The windows only remain transparent as long as you’re holding down the Windows key.
Ctrl + Shift + Click

Hold down Ctrl and Shift while launching an application from the Taskbar or start menu to launch it with full administrative rights.
Ctrl + Click

Hold down Ctrl while repeatedly clicking a program icon in the Taskbar will toggle between the instances of that application, like multiple Firefox windows (though not browser tabs).

Calibrate Text Rendering and Color

The first thing you need to do after a clean install of Windows 7 on a laptop is to tune and calibrate CleartType text and Display Color. Windows 7 includes two built-in wizards that run you through the entire process, pain free.

Launch ClearType Text Tuning by typing “cttune” in the Start Menu search field and opening the search result. You’ll go through a brief series of steps that asks you to identify the best-looking text rendering method.

For Display Color Calibration – very useful if you’re using Windows 7 with a projector or large-screen LCD – search and launch “dccw” from the Start Menu. It’ll run you through a series of pages where you can adjust the gamma, brightness, contrast, and color of the screen to make images look their best.

Better Font Management and a New Graceful Font

Font management is much improved in Windows 7. Gone is the “Add Fonts” dialog , replaced with additional functionality in the Fonts folder. First, the folder shows font previews in each font file’s icon (viewed with Large or Extra Large icons). Fonts from a single set will no longer show up as different fonts and are now combined as a single family (which can be expanded by double clicking the icon). You can also toggle fonts on and off by right clicking a font icon and selected the “hide” option. This will prevent applications from loading the font (and therefore save memory), but keep the file retained in the Font folder.

A new font called Gabriola also comes bundled with Windows 7, which takes advantage of the new OpenType and DirectWrite (Direct2D) rendering.
The Gaming Grotto is a Less Ghetto

One of our biggest pet peeves of Windows Vista is the Games Folder, which we not-so-affectionately refer to as the Gaming Grotto. Games for Windows titles and other game shortcuts would automatically install to this directory, which we could only access with a Start Menu shortcut. The concept wasn’t bad except for the fact that it prevented us from starting a game up from the Start Menu search bar. We could call up any other program by typing its name in the Start Menu field except the games installed to the Games Folder. Fortunately, this oversight is fixed in Windows 7.

Become More Worldly with Hidden Wallpapers

Windows 7 Beta comes with the Betta fish as its default desktop wallpaper, but it also includes six desktop backgrounds catered to your region (as identified when you first installed the OS). US users, for example, get six 1900x1200 images showing off famous National Parks and beaches. The available wallpapers for other regions are still included in a hidden folder.

To access these international wallpapers, bring up the Start Menu search bar and type “Globalization”. The only result should be a folder located in the main Windows directory. You should only be able to see “ELS and “Sorting” folders here so far. Next, search for “MCT” in the top right search bar. This will display five new unindexed folders, each corresponding to a different global region. Browse these folders for extra themes and wallpapers!

Take Control of UAC

Despite good intentions, User Account Control pop-ups were one of the most annoying aspects of Vista, and a feature that most of us immediately disabled after a clean install. UAC in Windows 7 displays fewer warnings, but you can also fine-tune its notification habits by launching the UAC Settings from the start menu. Just type “UAC” in the Start Menu search field and click the result. We find that setting just above “Never notify” gives a comfortable balance between mindful security and incessant nagging.

Calculate your Mortgage and Other Maths Tricks

Wordpad and Paint aren’t the only upgraded programs in Windows 7. The reliable Calculator applet has been beefed up to do more than just basic arithmetic. In Vista, the Calculator had Standard and Scientific modes. Now, you can toggle between Standard, Scientific, Programmer, and even Statistics modes.

In addition, the Options menu lets you pull out many new automated conversation tools, such has Unit Conversion (ie. Angles, Temperature, Velocity, or Volume) and Date Calculation (calculate the difference between two dates). More templates give you the ability to crunch Gas Mileage, Lease, and even Mortgage estimates based on any variables you input.

Track Your Actions with Problem Steps Recorder

The primary reason for releasing the Windows 7 Beta was for Microsoft’s developers to get feedback from users. (Notice the glaring Send Feedback link at the top of every window?) In addition, the devs have built in a diagnostic tool called Problem Steps Recorder that combines screen captures with mouse tracking to record your actions. You can launch this program from the Start Menu by typing “psr.exe” in the search field.

Hit the Record button and Problem Steps Recorder starts tracking your mouse and keyboard input while taking screenshots that correspond with each new action. Stop recording and your session is saved to an HTML slide show recreating your steps, in which you can add comments and annotations. It’s particularly useful if you need to create a tutorial for a computer-illiterate relative.

Explore from “My Computer”

Windows Explorer’s default landing folder is the Libraries directory, but some of us are more comfortable with using “My Computer” as the default node, especially if we use multiple hard drives and external storage devices.

To change the default node, find Windows Explorer in the Start Menu by typing “explorer” in the Start Menu search field and right click the first result. Select “Properties”. Under the Shortcut tab, the Target location should read: %SystemRoot% and the Target should be: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe

Paste the following in the Target field: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /root,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

New instances of Explorer will open up to “My Computer”. You’ll need to unpin and replace the existing Explorer shortcut from the Taskbar to complete the transition. Just right-click the icon, hit, “Unpin this program from the taskbar” to remove it, and then drag Explorer from the Start Menu back into place.
Burn, Baby, Burn

No more messing around with malware-infected free burning software – Windows 7 comes loaded with DVD and CD ISO burning software. Double-click your image file and Windows will start a tiny program window to help burn your disc. It’s a barebones app, but it works!

Reveal All of Your Drives

If you use built-in memory card readers in a 3.5” drive bay or on your Dell Monitor, empty memory card slots will not show up as drives in My Computer. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still there! To reveal hidden memory card slots, open up My Computer. Press Alt to show the toolbar at the top of the screen, and go to Folder Options under Tools. Hit the View tab and uncheck the “Hide empty drives in the Computer folder” option.

Arrange Your Taskbar (System Tray, Too)

The programs that you pin to your Taskbar can be moved around to any order you want, whether they’re just shortcut icons or actually active applications. We recommend moving frequently used programs and folders to the front of the stack, so it’ll be easily to launch them with the aforementioned Windows + [number] shortcut. The Taskbar, if unlocked, can also be dragged to latch to the left, right, or even top of your desktop. Windows 7 improves side-docked Taskbar support with better gradient rendering and shortcut support. It really works well if you’re using a widescreen monitor.

Just as the Taskbar icons can be rearranged at will, the icons in the System Tray (actually called Notification Area) can be dragged and set to any order as well. Hidden Icons can be dragged back into view, and you can hide icons by dropping them into the Hidden Icon well – which is easier than working through the Notification Area Customization menu.
Bring Quick Launch Back from the Dead

The Quick Launch is superfluous with the presence of the updated Taskbar, but you can still bring it back with the following steps:

• Right-click the Taskbar, hover over Toolbars, and select New Toolbar.
• In the Folder selection field at the bottom, enter the following string:
%userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch
• Turn off the “lock the Taskbar” setting, and right-click on the divider. Disable “Show Text” and “Show Title” and set the view option to “Small Icons”.
• Drag the divider to rearrange the toolbar order to put Quick Launch where you want it, and then right-click the Taskbar to lock it again.

Cling to Vista’s Taskbar

Let’s start with the bad news: Windows 7 eliminates the option to use the classic grey Windows 2000-style Taskbar. You’re also committed to the modern version of the Start Menu. But the good news is that you can still tweak the Taskbar to make it run like it did in Windows Vista – replacing the program icons with full names of each open app.

Right-click the Taskbar and hit properties. Check the “use small icons” box and select “combine when Taskbar is full” from the dropdown menu under Taskbar buttons. You still get the peekview thumbnail feature of the Taskbar, and inactive program remain as single icons, but opened programs will display their full names. Combine this with the old-school Quick Launch toolbar to complete the Vista illusion.

Banish Programs to the System Tray

All active programs show up as icons on the Taskbar, whether you want them to or not. While this is useful for web browsing or word processing, your taskbar can get cluttered up with icons you would normally expect to be hidden away, like for Steam or a chat client. You can keep active instances of these programs hidden away in the System Tray/Notification Area by right-clicking their shortcuts, navigating to the Compatibility tab, and selecting “Windows Vista” under the Compatibility Mode drop-down menu. This only works for programs that would previously hide away from the Taskbar in Vista.

Accelerate your Start Menu

The Start Menu hasn’t changed much from Vista, but there are some notable improvements. The default power button is thankfully changed to Shut Down the system, as opposed to Hibernation, as it was in Vista. This can be changed to do other actions from the Start Menu Properties menu.

Additional customization brings Videos and Recorded TV as links or menus to the right side of the Start Menu, next to your Documents, Music, and Games. Feel free to mess around the Customization options since you can always return to the default Start Menu settings by clicking the “default” button at the bottom.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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'.

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.

Hiding the Windows Live Messenger icon
If you use Windows Live Messenger a lot, you'll have noticed that the icon now resides on the taskbar, where you can easily change status and quickly send an IM to someone. If you prefer to keep Windows Live Messenger in the system tray, where it's been for previous releases, just close Windows Live Messenger, edit the shortcut properties and set the application to run in Windows Vista compatibility mode.

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).

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).

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.

Watch more videos
Windows Media Player 12 is a powerful program, but it still won't play all the audio and video files you'll find online. Fortunately the first freeware Windows 7 codecs package [] has been released, and installing it could get your troublesome multimedia files playing again.

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.

Restore your gadgets
Windows 7 has tightened up its security by refusing to run gadgets if UAC has been turned off, so limiting the damage malicious unsigned gadgets can do to your system. If you've disabled UAC, miss your gadgets and are happy to accept the security risk, though, there's an easy Registry way to get everything back to normal. Run REGEDIT, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Sidebar\Settings, create a new DWORD value called AllowElevatedProcess and set it to 1. Your gadgets should start working again right away.

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.

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 has 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.

PROTECT YOUR DATA: Your USB flash drives can easily be encrypted with BitLocker

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.

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.

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 "Only restore previous versions of files" option. 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.

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.

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 GPEDIT.MSC, go to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Explorer, double-click "Turn off display of recent search entries..." and click Enabled > OK.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Keyboard shortcuts
Windows 7 supports several useful new keyboard shortcuts.

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

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.

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.

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 website.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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