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Windows Vista Tips for IT Pros

This commentary originally appeared in the January 30, 2007 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul

While working on a presentation for Windows Vista security features recently, it occurred to me that there are a lot of little changes in Microsoft's latest operating system that will affect IT professionals and administrators. Some of these changes, like User Account Control (UAC) will be obvious and divisive. Others are of the sort familiar to Windows users: It just seems like Microsoft changes things randomly in each Windows release, leaving users to figure out where stuff is. Here, then, are a few Vista tips I think will help you overcome these niggling problems.

The Run command is gone

Microsoft removed the Run option from the Start menu, largely because the new Start Menu Search feature (see below) can do much of what Run could. However, some of you old-school admin-types (you know who you are) will want things just the way they were. Good news: You can get it back. Right-click the Start button (or "Start Orb" as its sometimes annoyingly called now) and choose Properties. Then, choose Customize from the Start Menu tab: You'll seen an option to enable Run.

Bonus tip: You don't actually have to enable the Run option in the Start Menu to use it. Instead, just type WINKEY + R at any time to bring up the Run dialog. Thanks to Jon Sweeny for the tip.

Start Menu Search is magic

I can't stress this enough. As a power user, you will love the new Start Menu Search feature. You can find applications, of course: Just type in "note" (no quotes), click Enter, and Notepad is up and running. But it's not just about applications. From the Start Menu, you now quickly launch network shares (type \\machine-name and you'll see a list of shares in the search results), documents, Internet sites, and, my personal favorite, Windows features that were previously hard to find. For example, if you want to get to Device Manager the quickest way possible, just open the Start menu and type "dev" (no quotes). Need to get to your network connections, which are oh-so-hidden in Vista? Just type "network," which brings up the Network and Sharing Center. Then click the link for Manage network connections. Voila.

Run Command Prompt as administrator

If you need to get any admin-level tasks done from the command line, be sure to run Command Prompt as administrator, even if you are, ahem, logged in with an administrator account. That's because, by default, Command Prompt runs as Standard User, even if you're an admin. You can do this on the fly by right-clicking Command Prompt in the Start Menu and choosing Run as administrator from the pop-up menu. Or, you can make your own shortcut to Command Prompt, in the Start Menu, Desktop, or whatever. Then, change the Properties sheet for the shortcut so that the option "Run as administrator" is checked. You'll have to deal with a UAC prompt each time you run Command Prompt, but at least you can get your work done.

Leave UAC alone

Speaking of which, I know you're going to hate UAC. I know the dialogs are going to annoy you, and I know you're going to wonder why you have to consent to these interruptions. Please, learn to deal with it. UAC is an important component of Microsoft's "secure by design" mantra for Windows Vista, and it plays an important role in keeping PCs safe from electronic attack. It's also required for file system and Registry virtualization. Here's the good news. UAC gets less annoying over time, once you've finished installing applications and configuring the system just the way you want it. So give it time, and realize it's for your own good. Seriously.

Turn UAC off

OK, I just told you that you should leave UAC alone. And you should. But some of you will want to turn it off otherwise, and to avoid the inevitable questions, I'll tell you how. What price my soul? Anyway, in Group Policy, navigate to Computer Configuration, Windows Settings, Local Policies, Security Options (in Local Security Policy it's in Local Policies, Security Options) and find the option titled "User Account Control: Run all administrators in Admin Approval Mode." Change it to disabled and reboot.

Get free anti-virus

This last tip is for you IT pros running Windows Vista at home. You may have noticed that the default Vista install doesn't include any anti-virus, causing Windows Security Center to cough up a warning about your computer not being safe. Sure, you could go nuts and spend a lot of money on a security suite (and bog down your PC's performance in the process), but I've been testing a free AV solution for months now and it seems to work great. It's called AVG Free Edition, and it's made by a company called Grisoft. You can find out more about this product, and their other security wares, from their Web site.

More tips?

If you have any Vista-related tips you'd like to share, send them along and I'll consider them for a future follow-up. Thanks!

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