Windows 7 tips, tricks and tweaks

Running the Windows 7 beta, and want to bend it to your will? No problem. We've got plenty of tips, hacks and secrets to keep you busy for a long time, including automatically opening Windows Explorer to a folder of your choice, bringing back the Quick Launch toolbar, forcing User Account Control to act the way you'd like, keeping your Explorer searches secret from others, and more.

Slideshow: Seven things to love, hate about Windows 7

Video Tutorial: Windows 7

So check out these tips. If you like them, we'll keep more coming.

Note: A few of these tips involve editing the Windows Registry. If you don't feel comfortable creating a Restore Point, finding your way around the Registry or performing tasks such as creating a DWORD value, see "The tweaker's guide to the Windows Registry."

General tips

We'll start with a few nifty tips that can make it easier to get around and increase your computer's power efficiency.

Shake your desktop free of clutter

If you frequently run multiple programs simultaneously, your desktop can get extremely cluttered. This can get annoying if you're working on one program and want to minimize all the other windows -- you'll have to minimize them individually.

With Windows 7's new "shake" feature, though, you can minimize every window except the one in which you're currently working in a single step. Click and hold the title bar of the window you want to remain on the desktop; while still holding the title bar, shake it quickly back and forth until all of the other windows minimize to the taskbar. Then let go. To make them return, shake the title bar again.

You can accomplish the same thing by pressing the Window key-Home key combination -- although doing that is not nearly as much fun.

Kill the Send Feedback link

The beta of Windows 7 includes a "Send Feedback" link at various places throughout Windows 7, including at the top of Internet Explorer and on top of dialog boxes. Don't like the link? You can easily get rid of it, using a Registry hack.

(Important: Always create a Restore Point before editing the Windows Registry.)

1. Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit in the Search box and pressing Enter.

2. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop, and double-click the FeedbackToolEnabled entry.

3. Change the value to 0, exit the Registry and restart your PC. The feedback link will now be gone. To turn the link back on again, change FeedbackToolEnabled to 3 and restart.

Get a power efficiency report

Have a laptop and want to get more battery life out of it? Windows 7 includes a hidden, built-in tool that will examine your laptop's energy use and make recommendations on how to improve it. To do it:

1. First, run a command prompt as an administrator. To do this, type cmd in the search box, and when the cmd icon appears, right-click it and choose "Run as administrator."

2. At the command line, type in the following:

powercfg -energy -output \Folder\En Energy_Report.html

where \Folder represents the folder where you want the report to be placed.

3. For the next minute, Windows 7 will examine the behavior of your laptop, and will then analyze it and create a report in HTML format in the folder you specified. Double-click the file, and you'll get a report -- follow its recommendations for ways to improve power performance.

Windows Explorer tips

Windows Explorer is the heart and soul of the Windows interface, and overall it works quite well. But you can make it better.

Set a new Windows Explorer launch folder

When you run Windows Explorer, it always opens to the Libraries folder. That's fine if you use Microsoft's default file organization, which designates Libraries as the overall container for your folders. But what if you don't? You might prefer to have Windows Explorer open to Computer or any other folder you choose. Here's how to do it:

1. Right-click the Windows Explorer icon on the taskbar (it's the one that looks like a folder), and then right-click the Windows Explorer icon from the context menu that appears and select Properties. The Windows Explorer Properties dialog box appears.

2. You'll have to edit the Target field on the Shortcut tab of this dialog box in order to change the default location at which Explorer opens. If you want Explorer to open to a specific folder, simply enter the name of the folder, substituting your folder name for Folder, below, like this:

%windir%\explorer.exe c:\Folder

So to open Explorer to the folder named Budget, you would type this in the Target field:

%windir%\explorer.exe c:\Budget

If you want Explorer to open to special, pre-set locations, such as Computer, you'll need to enter special syntax in the Target field. Following is a list of three common locations and the syntax to use, followed by the syntax for the Libraries folder in case you ever want to revert to the default.

* Computer: %windir%\explorer.exe ::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

* Documents: %windir%\explorer.exe ::{450D8FBA-AD25-11D0-98A8-0800361B1103}

* Network: %windir%\explorer.exe ::{208D2C60-3AEA-1069-A2D7-08002B30309D}

* Libraries: %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe

3. After you've changed the Target field, click OK. Next time you launch Windows Explorer, it will open in the new location you've designated.

Show all your drives in Windows Explorer

Depending on your system settings, when you go to Computer in Windows Explorer, you may be in for a shock -- you may not see all your drives such as memory card readers if those drives are empty. If this disconcerts you, there's a simple way for you to see them even if there's nothing there:

1. Launch Windows Explorer and press the Alt button to reveal the top menu.

2. Select Tools --> Folder Options and click the View tab.

3. Under "Advanced settings," uncheck the box next to "Hide empty drives in the Computer folder." Click OK. The drives will now always be visible.

Protect the privacy of your Explorer searches

When you search through your PC from Windows Explorer, you can see the most recent searches that have been performed. If you share a PC and don't want others to see what you've searched for, you can turn off the recent searches feature:

1. In Explorer's Search box, type GPEDIT.MSC and press Enter to launch the Group Policy Editor.

2. Go to User Configuration --> Administrative Templates --> Windows Components --> Windows Explorer.

3. Double-click "Turn off display of recent search entries in the Windows Explorer search box" and select Enabled from the screen that appears. Then click OK. The recent searches feature will now be turned off.

Build your own Internet Search Connector

Windows 7 has a very useful new feature called a Search Connector that lets you search through a Web site from right inside Windows Explorer. With it, you type in a search term and select the Search Connector for the site you want to search; Explorer searches the Web site without having to open Internet Explorer, and the results appear inside Windows Explorer. Click any of the results to head there using your default Web browser.

Normally, you'll need to get each Search Connector from the Web site through which you want to search, and very few Connectors are available. Sites normally need to adhere to OpenSearch standards in order for their Connectors to work.

However, there's a work-around that will let you easily build your own Search Connector for any site, using Windows Live Search as a kind of go-between. Don't worry, you don't need to know any code to write a Connector. Just follow these steps:

1. Copy the following text and paste it into Notepad. The text you'll need to change is in bold, all-caps text:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<OpenSearchDescription xmlns="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/" xmlns:ms-ose="http://schemas.microsoft.com/opensearchext/2009/">

<ShortName>NAME YOUR SEARCH</ShortName>

<Description>DESCRIPTION OF SEARCH</Description>

<Url type="application/rss+xml" template="http://search.live.com/results.aspx?q={searchTerms}+site%3ASITENAME.COM&count=50&format=rss" />

</OpenSearchDescription>

2. In place of NAME YOUR SEARCH, type in the name of the search as you want it to appear. In our case, we're going to build a Search Connector for Computerworld, so we'll just type in Computerworld.

3. In place of DESCRIPTION OF SEARCH, type in a longer description of the search. In our instance, it will be Search through Computerworld.

4. In the first SITENAME.COM entry, enter the Web site's domain. Don't use the http:// or www -- just the domain name. In our instance it will be computerworld.com.

5. To the right of "count=", type in the number or results you want to appear. In our instance, we'll keep it at 50.

6. In our example, here's what the code should look like (no bold necessary):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<OpenSearchDescription xmlns="http://a9.com/-/spec/opensearch/1.1/" xmlns:ms-ose="http://schemas.microsoft.com/opensearchext/2009/">

<ShortName>Computerworld</ShortName>

<Description>Search through Computerworld</Description>

<Url type="application/rss+xml" template="http://search.live.com/results.aspx?q={searchTerms}+site%3Acomputerworld.com&count=50&format=rss"/>

</OpenSearchDescription>

7. Save the file in Notepad, choose UTF-8 from the Encoding drop-down box near the bottom of the Save As screen, and give it an .osdx extension. In our instance, we'll call the file Computerworld.osdx.

Congratulations! You've successfully installed a Search Connector.

8. In Windows Explorer, right-click the .osdx file and select Create Search Connector. The Search Connector will be created, and you'll see a screen like that shown to the right.

9. You can now use the Search Connector. To get to it, in Windows Explorer go to YourName --> Searchers --> Connector, where YourName is your account name, and Connector is the name of the Connector. Y

User Account Control tips

The User Account Control (UAC) security feature was one of the most reviled additions to Windows Vista, with good reason -- its constant warning messages asking for permission to continue many operations drove users around the bend. UAC has been significantly improved in Windows 7 so that it's not as intrusive as in Vista, but you can still tweak it if you like.

Modify UAC

Here's how to turn UAC on or off, and make it less or more intrusive than the default:

1. Go to the Control Panel --> User Accounts and Family Safety.

2. Click User Accounts, then click Change User Account Control settings.

3. From the screen that appears, use the slider to select the level of protection you want. Here are the four levels, and what they mean:

Always notify me. Think of this as UAC Classic. It works like Vista's UAC: When you make changes to your system, when software is installed or when a program tries to make a change to your system, an annoying prompt appears.

Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer. This is the default; make a change yourself and UAC leaves you alone. When a program makes a change, a prompt appears. Otherwise, UAC sits there silently.

Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer (do not dim my desktop). This setting is identical to the default setting, with one difference: It won't dim your desktop so that you only see the UAC prompt asking you to take action. This presents a slightly elevated security risk over the default setting, because theoretically a program could allow a malicious program to interfere with the UAC prompt.

Never notify. In this one, UAC is completely turned off. This is, of course, an insecure option and not recommended for most users.

After you make the selection, click OK. Depending on the selection you made, you may need to restart it for it to take effect.

Use gadgets without UAC

If you turn off UAC as described in the previous tip, you can't use gadgets, tiny applets that run on the desktop, because Microsoft deems them a potential security threat. However, if you feel comfortable enough with that potential threat, you can use gadgets even when you've turned off UAC by following these steps.

(Important: Always create a Restore Point before editing the Windows Registry.)

1. In the Search bar, type regedit and press Enter. This will launch the Registry Editor.

2. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\

CurrentVersion\Sidebar\Settings.

3. Create a new DWORD value called AllowElevatedProcess. To create the new DWORD, select Edit --> New DWORD (32-bit) Value and give it the name AllowElevatedProcess.

4. Set its value to 1.

5. Close the Registry Editor, right-click the desktop and select Gadgets. You'll now be able to add gadgets as you would normally.

Taskbar tips

One of the most significant changes to the Windows 7 interface is its new taskbar, which acts more like the Mac OS X dock than the Windows taskbar of old. Here are a few tips for using the new taskbar and tweaks for taking charge of it.

Take control of the taskbar notification area

The notification area, at the far right of the taskbar, shows system messages and alerts, and displays the icons of programs and services that typically run in the background, such as Windows 7's wireless service. But what determines when, how and which icons show up there seems one of Windows' great mysteries.

There's a simple way to find out, and better yet, to customize it.

1. Right-click the taskbar, select Properties, and from the dialog box in the notification area section, click Customize.

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