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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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 Window Arrangement Active 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.
Did Windows 7 "Spontaneously" Reboot?
When certain errors occur, Windows 7 will reboot itself. This apparently random behavior is actually built in to the system in the event of a system failure (also called a stop error or a blue screen of death -- BSOD). By default, Windows 7 writes an error event to the system log, dumps the contents of memory into a file, and then reboots the system. So, if your system reboots, check the Event Viewer to see what happened.
You can control how Windows 7 handles system failures by following these steps:
1. Select Start, type systempropertiesadvanced, and press Enter to open the System Properties dialog box with the Advanced tab displayed.
2. In the Startup and Recovery group, click Settings; the Startup and Recovery dialog box appears.
Use the Startup and Recovery dialog box to configure how Windows 7 handles system failures.
3. Configure how Windows 7 handles system failures using the following controls in the System Failure group:
Write an Event to the System Log -- Leave this check box activated to have the system failure recorded in the system log. This enables you to view the event in the Event Viewer.
Automatically Restart -- This is the option that, when activated, causes your system to reboot when a stop error occurs. Deactivate this check box if you want to avoid the reboot. This is useful if an error message appears briefly before Windows 7 reboots. By disabling the automatic restart, you give yourself time to read and write down the error message.
If the BSOD problem occurs during startup, your computer winds up in an endless loop: You reboot, the problem occurs, the BSOD appears, and then your computer reboots. Unfortunately, the BSOD appears only fleetingly, so you never have enough time to read (much less record) the error message. If this happens, display the Windows Boot Manager menu (refer to Chapter 4, Customizing Startup and Shutdown"), press F8 to display the Advanced Boot Options menu, and then select the Disable Automatic Restart on System Failure item. This tells Windows 7 not to reboot after the BSOD appears, so you can then write down the error message and, hopefully, successfully troubleshoot the problem.
Write Debugging Information -- This list determines what information Windows 7 saves to disk (in the folder specified in the text box below the list) when a system failure occurs. This information -- it's called a memory dump -- contains data that can help a tech support employee determine the cause of the problem. You have four choices:
None -- No debugging information is written.
Small Memory Dump (128 KB) -- This option writes the minimum amount of useful information that could be used to identify what caused the stop error. This 128KB file includes the stop error number and its description, the list of running device drivers, and the processor state.
Kernel Memory Dump -- This option writes the contents of the kernel memory to the disk. (The kernel is the Windows 7 component that manages low-level functions for processor-related activities such as scheduling and dispatching threads, handling interrupts and exceptions, and synchronizing multiple processors.) This dump includes memory allocated to the kernel, the hardware abstraction layer, and the drivers and programs used by the kernel. Unallocated memory and memory allocated to user programs are not included in the dump. This information is the most useful for troubleshooting, so I recommend using this option.
Complete Memory Dump -- This option writes the entire contents of RAM to the disk.
Windows 7 first writes the debugging information to the paging file -- Pagefile.sys in the root folder of the %SystemDrive%. When you restart the computer, Windows 7 then transfers the information to the dump file. Therefore, you must have a large enough paging file to handle the memory dump. This is particularly true for the Complete Memory Dump option, which requires the paging file to be as large as the physical RAM, plus 1 megabyte. The file size of the Kernel Memory Dump is typically about a third of physical RAM, although it may be as large as 800MB. If the paging file isn't large enough to handle the dump, Windows 7 writes only as much information as can fit into the paging file. I showed you how to check and adjust the size of the paging file in Chapter 6, "Tuning Windows 7's Performance."
See "Changing the Paging File's Location and Size,"
Overwrite Any Existing File -- When this option is activated, Windows 7 overwrites any existing dump file with the new dump information. If you deactivate this check box, Windows 7 creates a new dump file with each system failure. Note that this option is enabled only for the Kernel Memory Dump and the Complete Memory Dump (which by default write to the same file: %SystemRoot%Memory.dmp).
4. Click OK in all the open dialog boxes to put the new settings into effect.
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