Windows Vista Tips, Tricks & Facts

by Ian Matthews Written May 23, 2007  Last Updated May 23, 2007

The purpose of this article is to provide a 20 minute guide to Windows Vista’s new features and functions.  There is a lot to learn so we also have three other articles you may want to read:


Hardware Requirements:
  Any PC with an AMD or Intel processor produced in or after 2006 with at least 756MB of RAM, will do the job.  To be “Vista Premium” compliant, you must have at least 1GB of RAM and a DirectX 9 video card.  Click HERE for Microsoft’s Vista Advisor Tool.

Feature Overview:  The following one minute Microsoft video will give you a easy overview of many new features in Vista and is intended as a primer for the rest of this article.  You don’t need to focus too much on the details of this video, just try to “catch the drift”:

   

Start Menu Search: This is a great new feature.  Click the Start Button and type something you want to search for into the search bar.  Note that the results are broken down into three categories, PROGRAMS, FILES, and COMMUNICATIONS.  Communications are emails and I have been told by more than one MS staffer that this category will ONLY appear if you have your Outlook, Windows Mail or other Vista compliant mail client running, although this has not been my experience.  The Communication section even includes a search through your email attachments.  You should never need to dig through ALL PROGRAMS again.

NOTE: This article does not tell you how to start any most of the applications, because all you need to do is click START and type in part of the name.  For example, if you type in “DVD M” the menu will show WINDOWS DVD MAKER or if you type in “Calc” the menu will show CALCULATOR.  To Turn USER ACCESS CONTROL OFF, simply click the START button, type “user” and press enter (or click on USER) in the menu, which will take you to USER ACCOUNTS where you can click the TURN OFF UAC link.

Start Menu Search

Aero Glass Interface: Aero is the new interface that makes your windows have transparent frames and makes Flip3D possible (see below for details).  If you have an old or particularly lame video card you will not be able to use the new “Aero” interface. Contrary to what many critics claim, this is not the end of the earth. 

  • Flip3D activates when a user holds the ALT key and clicks the TAB key.  It turns pops up all windows into the middle of the screen, turns them approximately 30 degrees and then lets the user scroll through them.  The windows are not only viewable, but live (see the video below for an example).  From a technical perspective this is interesting because the processing of this 3D work is done on the video card chip and not the main CPU.
  • Transparent Window Frames allow background windows to be partially visible through foreground windows.  Colour and the amount of transparency are customizable through, START, CONTROL PANEL, PERSONALIZATION, WINDOWS COLOR AND APPEARNCE.
  • Live Thumbnails show the live content of a minimized window in a small popup window
   

Any card which supports DirectX 9 (i.e. ATI x550 or newer and even Intel 965 Chipset Express integrated video) will work with Aero.  Many upgraded PC’s which can support Aero do not have it enabled.  If Aero is not enabled and you think your hardware will support it make sure you download the latest drivers for your video card.  Often you need to go to Control Panel\Performance Information and Tools and click REFRESH NOW button or UPDATE MY SCORE link to force Aero to be invoked.

Windows User Experience Rating:  Mentioned in the previous point is W.U.E. which runs your PC is run through a battery of tests and important components are ranked on a scale of 1.0 to 5.9 .  The “Base Score” is the lowest score of all the items tested, not an average.  THIS video will explain WUE in greater detail.

User Access Control (UAC): This is the feature that pops up and asks you “Are you sure” whenever you try to do anything!  We ran with it for more than a year through all of the Beta’s and have now given up on it.  Click HERE for our 1000 word brief on UAC.  User Access Control (UAC) be can easily disabled or granularly controlled.  For most users I recommend disabling it.

  • Disable UAC: START, CONTROL PANEL, USER ACCOUNTS, DISABLE USER ACCESS CONTROL:
    How to Disable User Access Control (UAC) in Windows Vista
  • Control UAC: START, CONTROL PANEL, ADMINSTRATIVE TOOLS, LOCAL SECURITY POLICY, LOCAL POLICIES, SECURITY POLICIES, scroll to the bottom
    How to Control User Access Control (UAC) in Windows Vista

Internet Explorer 7: IE7 has tabs and an antiphishing filter which makes it a very important part of the Vista experience.  By clicking the small “4 square” icon to the left of the tabs, thumbnails of each tab appears on a new screen.  Also, you can have more than one home page because more than one tab can be launched at when IE is started.  The biggest problem with IE7, however, is that is is quite slow, average users will not notice or care about the speed but power users will be annoyed by it.

Internet Explorer 7 Quick Tabs

Use the ALT Key to Display the Old Menus in My Computer and IE7: You might be asking yourself, what can this lowly underused key do for you?  It can save your butt!  When you can’t find the ‘new way’ of doing things, click the ALT click (just once) and you will often find the old menus appear.

Old Menus in
My Computer
Old Menus in Internet Explorer 7
  Click the ALT key to see to the old Windows menus in My Computer under Windows Vista Click the ALT Key to enable the old FILE, EDIT VIEW... menus in IE7

Add to FAVOURITE LINKS: This is GREAT!!!  You can drag files or folders the the FAVORITES pane in all Windows dialog boxes.  This is a fantastic time saver when you are saving files to non-default locations when you are working in Word or when when you need to locate files from common locations.

(My) Computer Default Favorites (My) Computer Custom Favorites
  Default Favourites Added Link to Favourites in My Computer

Voice Recognition: Vista has an good Speech Recognition software which is useful for not only navigating the windows interface and web sites but also dictation into applications like word.  You can enable this feature in the Control Panel by launching the SPEECH RECOGNITION icon.  My experience with this feature has been acceptable but some power users I know just love it.  THIS video on Vista Speech Recognition may help clarify the core concepts.

Text to Speech: Vista can also read text, web sites and dialog boxes to you, using its Text To Speech software which can also be enabled through the Control Panel.

   

DVD Burning: You can now burn date and/or music to DVD’s including re-writables using the integrated burning function.  In other words, most people will no longer require Roxio or Nero software. Also, Vista now uses UDF format which allows you drag files directly to a CD and burn it without having to use an intermediate staging area like Windows XP does.  Click HERE for more details.

Windows DVD Maker: This tool is a bolt on to Windows Movie Maker (which has been only slightly enhanced from the Windows XP version) but I like to use it by itself.  It only exists in the Windows Home Premium and in Windows Ultimate editions.  With DVD Maker you can easily add still pictures with slick transitions; moving video; an audio track; professional looking opening title sequence and then burn a DVD that can be played in most newer DVD players (i.e. you don’t need a PC to view the output).  The process is very fast and easy.  It does have a number of important limitations, like it will only accept one audio track, but most home users will not notice or care about these limitations.  The best resource I have found is for this feature is www.windowsdvdmaker.com; it includes tutorials, help forums and nice beginners guide.

Views: This is a very nice feature which, simply put, lets you zoom preview your files and folders.  I use this extensively.

Windows Vista Views Options  Windows Vista Views - Extra Large Icons

Windows Mail: Outlook Express has been replaced with a much more capable tool which includes AntiSpam and AntiPhishing.  If you purchase the Office 2007 Home Edition you will find that it is the only version of Office that does NOT include Outlook 2007.  Windows Mail is now considered enough of an improvement over Outlook Express that home users no longer need the “full version”.

Windows Calendar: The new Calendar feature is a flexible and easy to use feature for those using Windows Mail.  Click HERE for Microsoft’s Calendar page.

Side Bar & Gadgets: The side bar (shown below) contains many “gadgets” like a clock and s slide show tool. You can select many more gadgets by right clicking on the Side Bar and clicking ADD GADGETS.  If you add more gadgets than fit on your screen the small arrows located at the top right of the gadget bar will become available for you to toggle to the “overflowed” gadgets.  You may then think you are limited to the 10 or gadgets shown, but if you look very carefully at the bottom right of that window, you will see GET MORE GADGETS ONLINE.  You can also see in the screen shot below, Aero’s transparent window frames can make this link very difficult to see.  THIS short one minute video will help explain the Side Bar and Gadgets.

Windows Vista Side Bar  Get More Gadgets OnLine

“Previous Versions”: Like Windows 2003 Server’s “Shadow Copy”, Vista can also restore files back to previous versions through its automatic, bit level, periodic snapshots.  Simply right click on any file you have modified and select the PREVIOUS VERSIONS tab.  This feature is on by default, but you can disable it by going into the System Properties.  My suggestion is that you use COPY or OPEN and not RESTORE as it is easy to make mistakes like restoring a whole folder when you only wanted a single file.

Shadow Copy, Previous Versions Previous Versions Settings like Shadow Copy

Windows Easy Transfer: This tool will transfer all your settings from your old PC to a new PC through an easy to understand wizard.  You can now backup your old data onto CD/DVD or a flash drive.  You can use special dual headed USB cable (cleverly called a Windows Easy Transfer cable) to move data directly to a new Vista Box.  The software comes with Vista but you can run it on Windows 2000 or XP.  Under Win2000 the tool will NOT backup your program settings; it will only take your profile information (i.e. Desktop, Email, My Documents…).  Click HERE for a one minute video explaining WET.  NOTE: You should disable power management (i.e. sleep) on both the old and the new computer prior to starting WET.

Media Center:  Media Center was always just an application for Windows.  In XP it was sold as an entirely different operating system called Windows XP Media Center Edition.  That version is dead and now, under Vista, it (correctly) comes with Vista Home PREMIUM Edition and Vista Ultimate Edition.  It is well worth the approximately $30 more to get the PREMIUM edition.  I will assume you are distantly familiar with the old Media Center explain some of the new Vista enhancements.  

  1. You can now Remote Desktop (RDP) to a Vista Media Center session (using the new RDP 6 client)
  2. Media Center now functions quite well in a window. (i.e. it does not have to be full screen)
  3. The Sports Section has been completely rewritten to allow:
    • links to live TV
    • ultimate sports team selection and scoring from Fox Sports
    • player stats, pictures, bios, replays…
  4. The On-Line Section allows you to pull large amounts video from web sites in an organized fashion.  For instance, you can go to Comedy Central’s “Motherload” to select from an alphabetized list of approximately 200 comedians without commercial interruption.  My biggest complaint about these new services is that they are not frequently updated but I am sure this will change as product use and demand grows.
  5. Overall the interface is much more cluttered than previous versions but it does much more.  For instance, if you are watching TV and then bring up the Guide, the channel you are watching still plays in the background.
  6. My biggest complaints Media Center are:
    • Even though the initial setup scans your TV card to find out which channels you do not have, it will show you ALL channels in the Guide and even let you schedule a recording of a channel you do not receive.
    • There is no built in process to remove advertisements from recorded shows.  You are still forced to fast forward through them.  I understand that MS is trying to be “broadcaster friendly” and keep content providers happy, but this drives me nuts.

DVD Codec Included: Well for some.  If you have Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate, you have a DVD codec.

Paint Has Crop:  I rely on Paint for quick screen shot editing.  I found that after you have selected a group of pixels, you can right click and select Crop.  Man that is nice!

Task Manager & Resource Monitor: If you can’t figure out what your computer is doing bring up the Task Manager (i.e. CONTROL + ALT + DELETE and click START A TASK MANAGER).  You will notice that there is a new tab called SERVICES which, shockers, lists the services (i.e. background programs) which a running.  Much more importantly, you will notice a RESOURCE MONITOR (RM) button on the bottom right of the PERFORMANCE tab.  That button is one of several ways to launch the RM.  Notice that you can now see all facets of your machines performance with very nice detail.  Specifically, a hard disk “input / output” monitor has been added.

Windows Vista Resource Monitor

Power Management: “Sleep” is a new and awesome power management option. This is a combination of standby and hibernation. If a system is in standby for a period of three hours, the system will resume from standby and enter hibernate so no data will be lost. In standby mode the system flushes all the buffers and shuts down power to everything but the memory.  You need modern hardware to get this functionality.  In my case, the machine is up an running in < 2 seconds with NO startup lag.  Truly amazing.

Backup is Unusable: Microsoft “Appled” the backup tool.  It is now very easy to use but so limited I think it is garbage.  In THIS one minute Microsoft video they explain that Backup is really only intended for “full backups”.  You can not backup shares from other computers and you can not granularly control (i.e. folder selection) exactly what is backed up.  On a bright note I found that Roxio version 9 includes a what appears to be the same Veritas Backup Exec strip down that XP had.  I assume that since Symantec has taken over Veritas, the Roxio Backup option will also be ruined in future versions.

Windows Remote Assistance: The re-written RA code allows both the remote controller and host to work on the same desktop at the same time (like terminal server), will traverse firewall NAT’s and can even reconnect after a remote boot (although I have not been successful in my testing of this feature).

Parental Controls: Just like it sounds. This version lets an administrator lock individual programs and it is a serious improvement over the Windows XP version. I am sure your 8 year old will figure out a way around these but it will keep the kids who don’t want to see offensive content safer. 

“Side Show” Secondary Display: On the outside of the newest laptops, on remote controls, or perhaps on a keyboard will be a small LCD display that lets you access common information stored on your computer, even the machine is turned off. So if your laptop is running low on power but you really need a phone number stored in Outlook, you can get to it using that small, low power, display. Obviously, the OEMs of the world need to redesign their hardware to support this interesting new feature but there are already a few products in the channel from Asus and LG.

 

Defragment Your Hard Drive:  This is no longer required because Windows Vista Automatically defrags your drive every Sunday at 4am.  If you right click on any of your hard drives (i.e. C:), click Properties, click the TOOLS tab, then DEFRAGMENT NOW you will see the following window.  Alternatively you could just type DEFRAG into the START MENU search and get to the same place.

Diagnostic For Self Healing: A diagnostic framework that enables intelligent event tracing and data retention, as well as automatic problem detection, diagnosis, and resolution. If self-healing is not possible, Windows Vista guides you through manual resolution.

Help! In addition to the usual help systems built into Vista, Microsoft has set up a very nice website called windowshelp.microsoft.com .  The site provides access to drivers as well as extensive help and tutorials.

If you are a standard user, make sure you review our Windows Vista Must Have Add-Ons.  You may also find THESE video’s helpful.

If you are an advanced user or corporate administrator, make sure you read your Windows Vista Advanced Tips.  You may also find THESE webcasts helpful

Questions or Comments?