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Windows 7 Tweak

It’s been over a week since the Windows 7 Beta was released to the public. You’ve read our initial impressions and even followed our guide to installing the OS using a USB key. So what now? Microsoft’s post-Vista Windows experience is more than the obvious Taskbar and user interface updates; there are plenty of hidden features and shortcuts that haven’t been advertised. But fear not: we’ve compiled a list of every known Windows 7 tweak and secret. Follow these 20 tricks to make the most out of this beta and become a Windows 7 power user.

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. In Windows 7, we’ve uncovered several new sets of essential time-saving shortcuts that will make your mouse jealous with neglect.

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 1900×1200 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%AppDataRoamingMicrosoftInternet ExplorerQuick 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.

Fix MP3 Bug

There’s a reason this Windows 7 release is a Beta. The versions of Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player that shipped with the OS have a nasty bug that may damage your MP3 files. By default, Windows Media Player 12 enables a feature that auto fills-in missing metadata on your imported music files, which includes large album art. But filling in this metadata on files that already have large headers will permanently cut away a few seconds of audio from the beginning of the track. Microsoft offers a hotfix on this page: https://support.microsoft.com/kb/961367 in addition to a workaround if you don’t want to install the fix:

Workarounds for the MP3 file corruption issue

If you do not apply this update, the most effective workaround is to set the properties of all MP3 files to read-only on local hard disks, removable drives, and network shares that can be accessed by Windows 7 Beta computers. To do this, follow these steps:
1.    In Windows Explorer, select and right-click your MP3 files, and then click Properties.
2.    On the General tab, click to select the Read-only check box.
3.    We recommend that you back up all the MP3 files before you use Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center.
A simpler but less complete workaround is to disable metadata automatic updates in Windows Media Player by setting the Windows Media Player options. To do this, follow these steps:
1.    On the Tools menu, click Options.
2.    On the Library tab, click to clear the Retrieve additional information from the Internet check box and the Maintain my star ratings as global ratings in files check box.
3.    Click OK.

A possible solution to the MP3 file corruption issue

If some of your MP3 files have already been affected, you might be able to restore the corrupted MP3 files to their pre-edit status. To do this, follow these steps:
1.    In Windows Explorer, right-click a corrupted MP3 file, and then click Properties.
2.    On the Previous Version tab, select an earlier version in the File Versions list, and then click Restore. If multiple edits were performed, you may have to revert to the oldest version that is available.

A Welcome Gesture

Windows 7 natively supports touchscreen devices and has incorporated a gesture-based system to navigate the desktop with a stylus. Lucky for you, one of these gestures also works with a mouse. Instead of right-clicking a Taskbar icon to access its Jump List (the new program-specific menu that replaces the right-click context menu), you can hold left-click and drag upwards to smoothly call it up. Clicking and dragging down in the Internet Explorer address bar will also unveil your browser history and related favorites bookmarks. Some of the staff here found this especially useful when running Windows 7 on their Macbook Pros (*cough* Will Smith *cough*).

Ctrl + N is so 1995

We’ve already shown you a new way to open new instances of applications on the Taskbar by using the Windows + [number] keyboard shortcut. There are two additional shortcuts to popping open a new window too. You can click the Taskbar icon with your middle mouse button (which also works to launch the app if it isn’t open already), or hold down Shift while clicking the icon with the left mouse button.

Keep in mind that this only works with programs that allow multiple instances, like web browsers. It won’t work with the default Explorer shortcut, since you can only open another instance of Explorer when diving into a new folder (the Explorer shortcut always points to Libraries). 

Pin-Up Your Favorites

Explorer’s Jump List shows your seven most frequently visited folders, but you can manually bookmark some favorites to the top of the list by pinning folder locations. Just hold right-click on any folder, either on your desktop or from an open instance of Explorer, and drag that folder icon to the Explorer shortcut on the Taskbar. You’ll see a message that reads “Pin to Windows Explorer” before you release the mouse button. The folder will appear under a “Pinned” section of the Jump List, and you can remove it by clicking the “Unpin from this list” icon on the right side of the panel.

More Resources

Eager for more Windows 7 tricks? Microsoft offers several resources for Windows 7 Beta support. We recommend browsing through TechNet for essential downloads and troubleshooting tips, as well as the official Windows 7 discussion forums.

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