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More Windows Vista Tips

Monday's publication of Windows Vista Tips for IT Pros triggered an avalanche of email, thanks for that. Here's what will likely be just one installment in a long list of Vista tips, most of which come directly from SuperSite readers. Enjoy!

Fix the Start Menu Power button

I've often complained that the prominent Power button on the Windows Vista Start Menu--which triggers Vista's new sleep state by default--isn't obviously customizable. Victor Sacco tells me, however, that you can in fact change how this button operates. Here's how: Open the Power Options dialog (there are various ways to do this, but here's an obvious one: Navigate to Control Panel, Hardware and Sound, Power Options, Change plan settings [under your chosen power plan], Change advanced power settings) and Expand Power buttons and lid and then Start menu power button. You'll see one or two options here, depending on what type of system you're running: Desktop PCs will typically have a single setting, while portable PCs will have two, one for running on power, and one for running on battery.

The default value is Sleep for each setting, but you can choose between various other values, including Hibernate and Shut Down. Hey, a power button that actually powers off your PC, what a concept.

Vista anti-virus, take two

In Windows Vista Tips for IT Pros, I recommended Grisoft AVG Free Edition, a free anti-virus solution that I've been using on my own Vista machines since I gave up on Windows Live OneCare late last year. I really like AVG, but a surprisingly large number of readers have recommended avast! 4 Home Edition, which is free for home use. Avast looks decent, and it certainly has at least one huge advantage over AVG: The free version works just fine on x64 versions of Vista too. It's definitely worth checking out. Thanks to everyone that wrote in about this.

Matt Hickman tells me that he uses ClamWin Antivirus, another free anti-virus solution. I have no experience with this one, but I thought I'd pass it on. I will say this: After years struggling under the yoke of heavy, busy, annoying security suites, I'm particularly interested in lightweight solutions that really work. It's unlikely I'll ever use another Symantec or McAfee consumer-oriented security product again.

Running as administrator

Quite a few readers told me that there's a handy way to run any application as administrator on the fly: Open the Start Menu, type the name of the application you want to run, and then tap CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER instead of just ENTER. The presence of a User Account Control dialog will let you know you got it right.

Running without Run

A number of readers also wanted me to point out that enabling the Run command in the Start Menu is rarely necessary because the Start Menu Search feature can be used to run virtually anything anyway. I thought that was obvious, but clearly it needs to be reiterated: Most of you probably won't need to re-enable Run: Just type the name of the executable you want in the Search field of the Start Menu. Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this.

Use the address bar

Randy Eisner likes the infrequently-used Address toolbar in the Vista taskbar. Disabled by default, this IE-like Address bar isn't just good for Web addresses, as you might expect: You can also use it much like the Run command and launch applications and even documents. There are a variety of ways you can configure this toolbar, but if you're using a hi-res display, you might consider resizing the taskbar so that it's double the normal height, and then run the Address bar along the bottom.

To enable this feature, right-click a blank area of the taskbar and choose Toolbars then Address. You will need to unlock the taskbar in order to move or resize the Address bar.

Click image for a larger version

Fun with the Quick Launch toolbar

Mark Livschitz tipped me off to an excellent and hidden feature of the Quick Launch toolbar, which typically appears as a list of shortcut icons to the right of the Start button. It turns out you can access the shortcuts in the Quick Launch toolbar using hidden keyboard shortcuts. The first shortcut (Show desktop in the shot below) is triggered by tapping WINKEY + 1, the second by tapping WINKEY + 2, and so on.

Quick access to network connections

Despite making networking generally much easier in Windows Vista, Microsoft inexplicably made it very difficult to get at your network connections. Cody Cutrer has a solution: In the Start Menu Search box (or Run dialog), type "ncpa.cpl" (no quotes) and tap ENTER. Consider the job done.

Start++: The first Vista PowerToy?

Scott Bressler told me that Brandon Paddock, a Microsoft employee, has written a handy utility called Start++ that I think qualifies as the first unofficial Vista PowerToy. In Paddock's words, Start++ adds a handy Windows Desktop Search (WDS) feature back to Windows Vista's integrated Start Menu Search: The ability to create little aliases so you can quickly launch applications, online services, and other features without having to type long strings of text. For example, you could type "g Stuff" to search for "Stuff" on Google. Nice!

To find out more about Start++, check out Paddock's blog.

View hidden menus

Many (but not all) Windows Vista applications and shell windows hide their menu systems by default. (IE 7, Windows Media Player, and the Windows shell are three examples.) If you wanted to, you could simply enable these menus manually in each application, when available. Or you could use this handy shortcut, provided by Dr. Abhishek: Just tap the ALT key and the menu will appear temporarily so you can access the options you need.

Customize the desktop

Dr. Abhishek also notes that the Vista desktop is far more customizable than in previous versions. You can view the desktop icons in three different styles now, including Extra Large Icons, which is particularly handy if you have a hi-res display.

Turn off User Account Control

I briefly mentioned one way to turn off User Account Control (UAC) in the previous Tips article, but John Baird recommends another method: In the Local Security Policies management console (to find, open the Start Menu, type "Local Security" and tap ENTER), expand Local Policies and then Security Options, and find the option titled "User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode." Change it to Elevate without prompting.

Note: I don't actually recommend turning off UAC for various reasons, some security-related, some functionality-related. Doing so can make your system more vulnerable to malware.

Some added Windows Flip functionality

Jiri Fiala tells me that Windows Flip, the ALT+TAB task switching utility has been updated a bit in Windows Vista: Now, you can select open windows using the mouse pointer while Windows Flip is activated. That's an interesting way to combine a keyboard shortcut with the mouse.

Got more? Send any tips my way and I'll get them posted in a future follow-up. Thanks!

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