Windows Vista Advanced Tips, Tricks & Facts

by Ian Matthews Written April 10, 2007 Last Update Feb 22, 2008 

The purpose of this article is to provide a 15 minute guide to Windows Vista’s advanced features and functions.  There is a lot to learn so we also have three other articles you may want to read:

How to SlipStream SP1 into Vista RTM?: Ya, you can’t.  There is a SERVICING LAYER in Service Pack 1 which allows updates to be installed on files that are being used by the Vista (thereby substantially reducing reboots caused by future updates) is being itself updated by  SP1 and as such you can not slipstream SP1.  There are two ways around this currently.  First, wait for a new Vista With SP1 DVD/Download from Microsoft, likely to be released in March 2008.  Alternatively you could use software like Windows Deployment Services to install the RTM, then service pack it, then recapture the image… not pretty for all but serious corporate admins.  Also, if you are considering the WDS route, you should look at the new Windows Automated Deployment Kit (WAIK) for Vista SP1 and Server 08.

How to Use Vista Upgrade CD/DVD for Clean Install: MS has attempted to block the Upgrade CD/DVDs from being used to perform bare metal installs.; this can readily be circumvented as follows.  Boot off the upgrade disk but at the PRODUCT KEY field do NOT enter anything and DESELECT the “AUTOMATICALLY ACTIVATE WINDOWS…” checkbox.  When prompted to enter a Product Key again, click NO.  When prompted for the type of install choose CUSTOM (ADVANCED) (rather than Upgrade).  Answer all other questions as you prefer.  Once Vista is installed and operational you will have 30 days to “upgrade” it to itself.  That’s right, pop the Vista disk back in the machine and choose UPGRADE when prompted and answer all questions as normal (including the CD key, if you wish).  Click HERE for a much longer version of this process.

Remote Desktop Supports Dual Screens: The monitors must be the same resolution and aligned side by side. To have the remote computer’s desktop span multiple monitors, type Mstsc /span at a command prompt.   This feature is sometimes called continuous resolution. To toggle in and out of full-screen spanned mode, press CTRL+ALT+BREAK.

Save Your Search: This feature was called “Virtual Folders” in the beta versions of Vista but that name has since been dropped.  You can save your search by right clicking on SEARCH RESULTS and selecting SAVE SEARCH.  This will provide a list of files that match specific search or filter information. You can save a search created in the Search folder. Whenever you open a saved search, it will search your computer again to find all files that match what you’re looking for.

  Virtual Folders: How to save your search in Windows Vista   virtual_folders.jpg (76212 bytes)

Boot Process: The boot process has changed substantially.  For example Vista does not use Boot.ini but if you dual boot (with say Windows XP), you will see a Boot.ini.  If you edit it with Notepad (or any other text editor), you will corrupt it.  Vista uses a Boot Configuration Database (BCD) which MS says you must edit with a cryptic command line tool called BCDEdit.  Clearly MS will replace this tool with a GUI based product in the near future.  Until then, free third party tools like THIS one are my recommendation.  A complete but concise explanation of the process and errors can be found HERE.

Telnet is Gone: Not just the Telnet server but even the Telnet client!  Don’t worry, you can get it back via PROGRAMS AND FEATURES (the new ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS), WINDOWS FEATURES.

GHOST 2005 and Older:  On existing versions of Ghost, the drive signature is replaced during the Ghosting process.  Vista is not amused and the cloned drive will not boot.  The answer is to rung GHOST -FDSP which preserves that signature.  The new version of Ghost Solution Suite, does support Vista.

How to Change the “Logon Wallpaper”:  Personally, I think the new logon wallpaper is brutal and just will not tolerate it.  After about 5 hours of extracting and modifying graphics in .DLL’s and googling my Butt off, I found that the only way to change log on wallpaper was with THIS free tool.  Note that it expired in March 07, so you need to set your system clock back to any date prior to March to use it.   There are lots of professional grade logon wallpapers available for free through sites like THIS one.  Minor note of caution, if you uninstall the tool, your system will revert to the old ugly wallpaper.

Only 3 Days To Activate? If are think you have 30 days to activate Vista but you are confused by the 3 day activation alert in the SYSTEM dialog… don’t worry about it!  That 3 day notice relates to when Vista will attempt to activivate WITHOUT asking you; it does not relate to how long you have before Vista shuts down because you have not activated it.  You can check your actual licence parameters by typing SLMGR -DLI into a command prompt (or even the START, SEARCH BAR).  I confirmed with Microsoft directly that the 30 day rule applies to ALL versions of Vista.

Vista 3 Day Activation is actually 30 Days

VISTA’s Hidden Product Key:  On the Vista CD in \SOURCES\PID.TXT there is a temporary CD Key that corporate admin’s can use to setup their corporate images without using their MAK licences.  This key can not be activated so you can safely get the 30 days you need to build your image. 

Robocopy is in!  If you ever used xcopy from the command line, you will love Robocopy.  Robocopy was originally written by Microsoft for use on poor network connections like long WAN links, including those involving satelites!  It first appeared as part of the NT4 Resource Kit but is now integrated into Vista.   Just click START, RUN, CMD to bring up a command prompt, then type ROBOCOPY or ROBOCOPY /? for details.  Be sure to use /XJ to exclude “Junction Points” like C:\USERS\APPLICATION DATA” otherwise Robocopy will create thousands of entries in which exceed the NTFS limit and can only be deleted by repartitioning the disk.

Hardware Encryption: The entire hard drive can be keyed to a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 chip. This eliminates the ability of thieves to take a hard drive from stolen machine and read the data off of it by installing it in a different machine.  

Folders Renamed: Microsoft has always liked to rename folders in new Operating System releases but the Vista team took this to a whole new level.  In addition to removing all of the “My’s” (i.e. My Computer and My Documents are now just called Computer and Documents), the following table shows a number of important (and frustrating) changes to user profiles:

OLD PATH NEW PATH
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS C:\USERS
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\ALL USERS C:\PROGRAMDATA
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\DEFAULT USER C:\USERS\DEFAULT
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\<NAME>\LOCAL SETTINGS C:\USERS\<NAME>\APP DATA\LOCAL
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\<NAME>\APPLICATION DATA C:\USERS\<NAME>\APP DATA\ROAMING
C:\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\<NAME>\LOCAL SETTINGS C:\USERS\<NAME>\APP DATA

Partition Resizing: Under Vista, partitions can be dynamically expanded AND contracted using the standard DISK MANAGER. This is a great improvement to Windows XP and 2000 partitions which could be extended by patching unused space onto an existing partition.  Many tech’s (and me)  I have found problems (i.e. buttons greyed out) with Expanding partitions but not with Reducing partitions. 

Defrag Is Gone from COMPUTER MANAGEMENT:  That’s right, Defrag is now a separate application.  Just type DEFRAG into the Start Menu search and you will see that Defragmentation is now scheduled for Sundays at 4am. 

Two Great Performance and Health Tools: All of these can be accessed a dozen ways via PERFORMANCE INFORMATION AND TOOLS and via COMPUTER MANAGEMENT

  1. The RELIABLITY AND PERFORMANCE MONITOR, displays all of the CPU, DISK, NIC, and RAM activities in real time as a graph and in detail.  Its like TASK MANAGER on steroids.  Note: I think, like all previous versions of Windows, this tool will omit 16 bit applications and drivers, but I have not verified this yet.
  2. The SYSTEM HEALTH REPORT, checks your entire machine, including hardware like memory and hard disk for problems and generates a clear and usable report detailing specification, problems and solutions.  WONDERFUL!!!  There are also tools for wired and wireless NIC performance but I have not much success with it, likely because I have not spent to the time on them yet.

Vista Performance Monitor 

Cached Folder Redirection: Like the Exchange / Outlook 2003 arrangement, files that are from redirected sources (i.e. My Documents is often redirected to a server) will be edited using their local cached versions. Only differentials will be pushed to the server, and this re-syncing will occur in the background. This means users can work when servers go down and the performance hit from redirection is all but eliminated.  

Where is the i386 Folder in my Hard Drive?  Vista uses Windows Imaging (WIM files) and during the install it expands the WIM image from the DVD into the %systemroot% (i.e. c:\windows\ folders).  That means there is no need for us to copy the Sources folder from the installation CD to local hard drive then modify the SourcePath in the Registry for usage in the future.

Network Access Protection: If machines (i.e. laptops) do not meet minimum security standards (i.e. out of date antivirus signature files, missing critical security updates…) then it will not be allowed to connect to you corporate LAN. This feature likely will require the server version of VISTA currently code named Longhorn scheduled for release in late 2007.

Advanced Search: What a huge improvement from the garbage “desktop search” Microsoft made available for Windows XP.   Click the START BUTTON then SEARCH or just launch a system window, like (MY) COMPUTER and type your search into the top left search bar. You can click SAVE SEARCH to keep the search rules for future use; basically creating a dynamic filter you can apply any time in the future.  You can click the options in the SHOW ONLY bar to filter what the search has returned.  Note, if you don’t see the SEARCH TOOLS button and then click SEARCH PANE.  Also you can have search return the contents of .ZIP files if you turn it on by clicking SEARCH TOOLS, SEARCH OPTIONS, INCLUDE COMPRESSED FILES

Search Filters How to Enable
Search Pane
How to Enable
Search of Zip Files
Windows Vista Advanced Search  Search Pane Advanced Options Search Options

Group Policy Control:  If you run a Domain (i.e. group of security objects, not www.ilikegirls.com ) and you have heard Microsoft talk about Vistas 700 new policies you might think that you should control those through your Windows 2003 domain.  Welllllll my friend, think again. You need to migrate all of your existing policies to the new ADMX (XML based) format.  Then you can load the new ADM templates.  After spending hours and hours working on this, I was told directly from MS fee-based support that it is just not worth the risk.  This process is quite difficult and time consuming.  Worse, I was told that the upgrade process doesn’t always work and then you are stuck restoring System States from backup.  I have confirmed that applies to R2 and will NOT be resolved with the upcoming SP2 for Win2003.  Even if you did get the whole process to work, you will only be able to manage those Vista polices from a Vista box; if you view Vista policies on a W2003 Server, they show with some sort of “unavailable” error (sorry I can’t recall the exact message).  Wait for Longhorn Server, it’s just that simple.  If you still want to try, you may find THIS Microsoft Web Cast to be useful.

Customize the START MENU Search:  You can increase the speed of your search by eliminating some of the items is considers.  You can do this easily, by right clicking on the START button, selecting PROPERTIES, click the CUSTOMIZE button, scroll down to the SEARCH section.

Customize Start Bar Search

Event Logs: Log files from the Event Viewer can be extensively filtered and now events can fire custom triggers (i.e. generate a email alert or launch a batch file to stop service).  Click HERE for a good demonstration of how to use the new event logs.

What Happened to the File Associations tab under TOOLS, OPTIONS:  Well, like so many things in Vista, it was renamed and moved to it’s own dedicated shortcut.  It is now in the Control Panel and is called Default Programs

IP Stack: The TCP/IP stack has again be completely re-written. This time, the primary improvement is its ability to automatically configure itself to provide higher bandwidth when connected to a Longhorn Server.

Dual Booting Other Operating Systems:  If you have the “non-vista” operating system installed prior to installing Vista, everything just works as you are used to.  However, if you want to install an older operating system AFTER Vista has been installed, you are going to need to read the CAUSE section of THIS well written KBase article.

Deployment: Windows Imaging Format (WIM) stores images as files rather than simply copies of sectors. This results in different images sharing files thereby dramatically reducing image sizes. For example, if file “A.EXE” is in images 1, 2 and 3, it will only be stored once and the other two images will simply point to that file. You can also load these images offline and adjust them! The images are handed by Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) tool and Windows Deployment Services (WDS). WDS is the completely new tool which replaces Remote Installation Services (RIS).  You can install BDD manually and you can WDS comes with Service Pack 2 for Windows 2003 Server and be on your way! The new tool (available for download HERE) eliminates RIS restrictions like having to apply images to drives that are larger than the one the image was created on.  THESE webcasts may be of some assistance.

XPS Printer: You may be asking your self, what the heck is XPS?  XML Printer Specification files open with Internet Exporer 7.  XPS is theoretically easier to use than Adobe Acrobat (because an XPS printer is now built into Vista) and because it is a “more open” standard than .PDF .  The idea is that you print your work to the .XPS printer then send (i.e. email) the resulting file to someone who has an .XPS print device.  I am certain MS is correct but I personally find .PDF to work so well, I am hesitant to consider other products.

Icon Creation: Aero is built for very high resolutions which will be developed in the future.  As such 48×48 pixel icons just are not going to cut it in the very near future.  Click HERE for more details.

Make sure you review our Windows Vista Must Have Add-Ons.

You may also be interested in our Windows Vista Tips Tricks and Facts, For Standard Users.

Questions or Comments?