10 essential tweaks for Windows Vista RC1

10 essential tweaks for Windows Vista RC1

Summary: No, this is not just another set of random Windows Vista screenshots. Now that Release Candidate 1 is available to the public, I've put together detailed instructions for my 10 favorite tweaks, including how to set up Vista without a product key and how to speed up your system without taking the cover off.

TOPICS: Windows

[Don't miss the sequel to this post, 10 tips and tweaks for Vista experts, which covers RC2] 

Admit it: You're curious about Windows Vista Release Candidate 1. Now that Microsoft has made it available for download by the public (after giving technical beta testers a five-day head start), you can take it for a test drive.

There's no doubt that RC1 is a huge improvement over Beta 2, which was released earlier this year. On the right hardware, it's fast and a pleasure to use. (On the wrong hardware, it's downright painful, but that's a story for another day...) If you're ready to give Vista a try, I've put together a list of 10 tweaks that will make the experience easier for you. This page contains a summary of the ten tips. For detailed instructions with illustrations for all the tweaks, visit the accompanying image gallery.

Tweak #1: Set up without a product key

The Windows Vista setup process makes it appear that you have to enter a product key to install the operating system, just as you do with Windows XP. But that's not so. Regardless of how you start the setup program, you'll quickly come to a dialog box that asks you to enter a product key. Leave it blank, and then click No in response to the "Are you sure?" dialog box. You'll be presented with a list of all the different Vista versions available on the DVD. You can pick one and use it for up to 14 days without any hassle. After 14 days, though, you'll need to enter a valid product key or do a fresh install.


Tweak #2: Adjust power settings

By default, Windows Vista sets power management to what it calls a Balanced plan. I don't like the fact that it puts my PC to sleep after an hour of inactivity, and it's also a little baffling that the power button on the Start menu doesn't actually turn off the computer. I'll show you how to fix these and other annoyances.

Tweak #3: Give your system a performance boost

Vista's ReadyBoost feature allows you to plug in a USB flash drive or a flash memory card and use its contents to cache frequently used files. Surprisingly, this feature really works, and with the cost of 1GB+ flash drives these days it's a cheap way to speed up a system without having to remove the cover.


Tweak #4: Put a gadget or two on the desktop

OK, the concept of the Windows Sidebar isn't all that fresh. But some of its gadgets are actually useful. I'm partial to the weather widget, er, gadget and the CPU/memory meter. You might like the lightweight RSS reader or the Pokemon-style desktop clock. Or maybe you want the Sidebar to go away for good.

Tweak #5: Tame the Start menu

I don't understand why the default configuration for the Start menu uses large icons. The optional small icons take up half as much room, and the text labels are exactly the same size. For displays on portable PCs in particular, switching to smaller icons is essential. You can use the same dialog box to control what appears on the Start menu.

Tweak #6: Change the look and feel of your desktop and more

The new Personalization dialog box organizes just about every "look and feel" setting in a single place. You can change the color of window elements, change or disable transparent title bars, add an artsy background, and reconfigure the screen saver so it doesn't demand a password when you get back from lunch.


Tweak #7: Tune up performance

The new Task Manager has one extra tab, a bunch of new features, and a completely redesigned Performance tab that's much easier to understand than its XP predecessor. If that's not enough detail, open the Resource Monitor and get exhaustive details on just exactly which processes are using your CPU and memory and whether your disk and network are really working at top speed.

Tweak #8: Make searches smarter

Search is integrated into the Windows Vista file system. It works reasonably well out of the box, but you can improve its usability and performance with a few judicious tweaks. You'll need to look in at least three different places to find all available search options.

Tweak #9: Check startup programs

Windows Defender, which is included with Windows Vista by default, gets pigeonholed as an antispyware utility, but it's really much more. The Software Explorer feature lets you take a close look at every running program and remove or disable those that are starting automatically.


Tweak #10: Back it up

Finally, Windows has a decent backup program. If you install Windows Vista Business or Ultimate, you can use the new Complete PC Backup feature to save an image of your system drive after you get everything configured just right. For the Home Basic and Home Premium editions, set file-based backups that run on a scheduled basis.

Topic: Windows

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  • Number 11

    Format hard drive and get off the Windows treadmill.

    Leave Redmond behind. You will have more money, you will get more work done because you're not constantly fighting the exploit-of-the-day or endlessly applying the patch-of-the-moment (which requires a restart), and your PC will be fun again like it used to be.
    • #12 Reformat the

      Linux partition and give Vista the entire hard drive. You will be much happier with an OS that can do real work and run real applications.
      • No, #11 is correct, there is no #12.

        Millions are getting "real work" done on Linux systems everyday. Just because you can't seem to get your cranial capacitor around it doesn't mean others can't too. ]:)
        Linux User 147560
        • Linux and Work?

          Yes, I agree. Linux is work! Oh, okay, you got me. You mean you can DO work on Linux.

          The average user doesn't want to go anywhere near Linux. And why should s/he? They don't need to. They can get full use of their computer and many, many applications without the hassle of dealing with Linux.

          Sure, you can do real work on Linux. But not every one can or wants to! Heck, you can do real work on a Mac, too. But if everyone wanted to, they would be using a Mac. A Mac, in my mind, is a far better computer than a PC running Windows or Linux. It's just Apple wants to control the whole darn thing - the architecture is closed, and has been since day one. You see, Apples and PC?s don?t mix well. Or at less not until Apple finally got smart and switched to Intel processors, which allows the running of Windows, so the user can now switch without losing the use of all his/her applications.

          I?m sorry bud, but I would buy a Mac before I would ever consider switching to Linux. You say your fun is Linux and I say mine is Windows (or a Mac). You say tomato and I say tamoto?:)

          Linux doesn't offer anything compelling enough to switch from Windows, except for those of you who want to play with their OS, or get paid by a corporation to do so.
          • Sorry but I don't play

            with my OS. I install and use. I have some systems that have the original install from 3 up to 5 years ago, all I have done is regular updates. Never had to re-install (Windows seems you have to every year, as it gets so cluttered it can't run.) I just use them.

            I get paid for Linux by supporting it. I paid for Windows for fixing it. I am learning the Mac (albeit slowly at the moment) so I can get paid to support it as well. I use Linux exclusively at home and in my business. I don't play with my OS, it just works. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Work and Play

            While Linux does great for stuff I like to WORK on it cannot play the games I want to play. So my solution is to dual boot. Amazing as it may seem a dual boot system would be the best (or worst) of both worlds. I can run the Windows stuff I like AND the Linux stuff I like, imagine that. I don't show favorites, unlike Linux fanboys or Microsoft cronies. I use what works. Step down off your soapbox for a moment and see the bigger picture.
          • I will admit to having a dual boot for games but that area is improving

            I use a removable hard drive tray.

            There are some tools for running games in Linux and if they work well I might loose the dual boot.
          • You don't give me any compelling reason to NOT use Linux

            [i]"The average user doesn't want to go anywhere near Linux. And why should s/he? They don't need to. They can get full use of their computer and many, many applications without the hassle of dealing with Linux."[/i]

            That really is a strange comment. I'm an average user and I shifted to Linux because I don't NEED the hassles of dealing with Windows and its many holes, keeping anti-virus up to date, cleaning up spyware, trying to tune it to run quickly again.

            How many applications come WITH Windows? In Linux many many applications come fully installed with the OS. Almost anything else is available in repositories with a few mouse clicks. You're not for ever forking out money for software and then again for upgrades. The OS AND installed software are updated/patched, by the OS itself. Installation of software is SO MUCH easier in Linux than in Windows. Where is the hassle??

            [i]"Sure, you can do real work on Linux. But not every one can or wants to! Heck, you can do real work on a Mac, too. But if everyone wanted to, they would be using a Mac. A Mac, in my mind, is a far better computer than a PC running Windows or Linux.[/i]"

            Another ridiculous statement. Not everyone CAN do real work on Windows either. Those who can can do it on Linux as well. If they get over the mental hurdle of it not BEING Windows it's not that hard.

            Why would you fork out more money to buy new hardware to go with your OS(Mac), then more money for software to go with your new OS, when you can use your current PC and load Linux alongside Windows or without Windows? I don't have a problem with Mac OS but to me Linux is a better OS and it's free. Doesn't cost a cent AND it's free as in freedom.

            [i]"Linux doesn't offer anything compelling enough to switch from Windows, except for those of you who want to play with their OS, or get paid by a corporation to do so."[/i]

            I don't have the knowledge or time to play with my OS. I'm never likely to get paid by a corporation for my Linux knowledge. I had one compelling reason to shift from XP. I was sick of the sluggishness, the continual need for vigilance and updates to anti-virus and anti-spyware and adware. The continual need to reinstall the OS every few months to TRY to get it back to a fresh state. The hours it took to reinstall and reload software.

            12 months on and my Linux is running as smoothly as the day I installed it. To me that's compelling, considering I'd only had the computer for 6 months when I switched.
          • Guess what! I agree!

            I suspect there are no compelling reasons inexistence ?FOR YOU? to use XP or Vista for that matter. Clearly if you have been using Linux for a year and you are still happy with it its serving your needs very well, and so it should its generally a good OS. But seriously fella, did you really have all those ?so called? Windows exploits cause you headaches? I mean really. I haven?t had a virus or even a significant spyware issue in years and I slice and dice my hard drive savagely with serious abuse everyday and all I use is freeware security apps that auto update. Common, you can?t be telling me you?re that much of a novice that you just never could get XP to behave. I just cannot believe that. Maybe you should have stopped clicking in those 2kb unsolicited email attachments.

            Seriously, XP is designed so that grandmothers and children can run it, certainly anyone with some real computer experience has got to know how to get XP buckled down secure with ease, because it is REAL easy.
          • I find this very hard to beleive

            Not a single problem using Windows.

            You must be the luckyist person on the planet.
          • One of the best post I have ever read

            Very well put.
          • Have you ever actually got down and tried using Linux for work

            Most likely not.
        • Already BEING THERE and ...

          TRANSITIONING to LINUX are two quite different things. No matter what the platform, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' but sooner or later, it will be time to move on from Windows XP and when the time comes, one should consider very carfeully the costs of moving from Windows XP to Vista versus the VERY REAL costs of transitioning from Windows to Linux.
          M Wagner
          • In business there are costs, yes

            on a personal system, some but then again if it's time to move consider that all the software built for WinXP most likely will not run on Vista in the first place. So there is the cost to the home user.

            Now if Bill and Jane Homebody don't have any exotic or custom application needs (and from what I am seeing in my line of work, they rarely do.) then that can be a factor. But if people are going to move to Vista then the applications they have will most likely need to be replaced. Since I have already shown you a listing of applications available to the home user that will fit the bill for them at a kick @ss price, that problem is solved.

            Bill and Jane Homebody need (subjective actually, nobody needs technology, it's more a want. We have lived for thousands of years without it and we can still live without it so I digress) the following: (again this is based on my experiences supporting home users)
            (Free with OS) 1 ? E-Mail: Thunderbird, KMail, Sylpheed Claws, Evolution to name 4.
            (Free with OS) 2 ? Word processing: Open Office, KWord, Abiword to name 3.
            (Free with OS) 3 ? Photo editing: The Gimp, Krita and Digikam to name 3
            (Free with OS) 4 ? Financial software: KMyMoney, GnuCash, (Cost $30.00 runs on Windows too) MoneyDance to name 3
            (Paid Service) 5 ? Tax software: (to be honest very few people use this that I see, they prefer online tax tools, mainly because if there are any last minute changes or updates, they get them without the hassle of updating) Turbo Tax online (there are others I am sure).
            (Free with OS) 6 ? Web browsing: Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Mozilla, Netscape, Konqueror to name 5.

            The cost of the OS is free, if it is preinstalled then the cost is part of the system purchase. Even if it isn't it's not hard to install and if the user doesn't want to deal with that, then there are many people (like me!) that will save all their documents, photos etcetera and install and set-up their new Linux system.

            Next the training issue, oh yes this is another one that I love to hear from the Microsoft camp. Teaching someone how to use a modern Linux system is really easy. So that is a non-starter. For the most part it's pretty intuitive, especially the menuing system. Have you seen a modern Linux desktop? Take a look at how the menus are organized. There is no cruft and stock very intuitive to navigate:

            Here to open e-mail (if the desktop icons are turned off, which is how some people like it)

            [B]K[/B] ? Equivalent to Start
            |-- Internet (folder)
            |-- Email (folder)
            |-- KMail (application)

            Or better yet, I usually will set up a key stroke for many of my users:
            [ALT]+[SHIFT]+[E] starts KMail, the users love it. It's easy to use and remember.
            [ALT]+[SHIFT]+[W] starts OpenOffice Writer
            [ALT]+[SHIFT]+[S] start OpenOffice Calc
            [ALT]+[SHIFT]+[F] starts finance manager
            [ALT]+[SHIFT]+[W] starts Mozilla Firefox (or whatever browser they want)
            Every client I have set this up for LOVES it. It's easier than having to find the icon and click it.

            Bottom line for an average home user, Linux is not only a viable solution, it's cost effective as well. A complete Linux install done by myself including training comes up to about $150.00 on average (so long as their systems hardware is satisfactory), that is including fees for some applications such as Money dance. All of their files are saved, moved and accessible. A move to Windows Vista will cost far more, if they do not have a system that is capable of running Vista reasonably it's going to cost more in hardware. Also there is the application suite costs and of course the cost of the OS upgrade or new purchase itself. Then the fact is they are left on their own to figure out the new OS, which from what I have seen is a pretty significant change from XP to cause some problems.

            For a company... some can make the change with only a moderate expenditure. Other will cost more and some cannot at all due to proprietary applications that have no equivalent. But the fact remains many applications will have to be re-written for Vista, so why not also include a Linux version as well and let the people decide? ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Kudos!

            I installed SuSE 10.1 a couple of months ago to support my AMD64 processor and found it easy as pie. As a newbie to Linux I added a spam filter to Kmail, software updates are a snap, and both SuSE and KDE documentation are superb. After I get familiar with Linux wireless support I'll replace Windows 2000 on my laptop.
        • Not according to anything I have seen

          Desktop Linux has simply never happened with the exception of geeks with nothing better to do but fark around with trying to make it work.
          • Well get out of

            your basement then. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Funny,

            I run it at work and I have far fewer problems than my co-workers XP machines, and that is running gentoo unstable.

            Almost every network specialist/engineer I have met uses linux exclusively.

            Linux is no more difficult than Windows once you understand the basics.
          • I guess.....

            Linux would be intimidating to a computer novice such as yourself. You THINK that yoy know alot, but you don't. Those of us that actually know what we are talking about and have been in the computer world for 20 years+ would like to tell ya to stay out of conversations that you are clearly not qualified to present an opinion.
          • Your comments are totally obsolete

            Just like your OS.

            These comments fit the Linux of 10yrs ago not the ones being used today.