Friday, May 23, 2008

Vista Spiffs 1

Simple things you can do to improve your Vista experience and performance.

The following are simple things you can do to improve Windows Vista. Most only take a few moments and although I've written about some of them before, they are worth repeating. Many of these ideas also work in XP. On a personal note, Vista has all-but been abandoned by Microsoft and the user community; consider upgrading to Windows 7. I realize it is expensive and time consuming to upgrade.

  • Install/Confirm Vista SP1
  • SP1 Cleanup Tool
  • Missing Windows Explorer Menu Bar
  • Missing Start, RUN
  • Set Classic Start Menu
  • Speed up the Start Menu (Fading)
  • Explorer - Show Folder Options (show menus; don't hide extensions)
  • Adding MyComputer, Network Places to the desktop
  • Narrow Windows Border Thickness
  • Reduce Desktop Icon Sizes (especially for Netbooks)
  • Add Notepad to SendTo menu
  • Change Default Shutdown from Sleep to Power-Off
  • Speedup SATA drives
  • Turn off Superfetch
  • Cleanup Startup Programs
  • Turn off unneeded Services

Vista SP1: A Requirement
If you are running Microsoft Vista, and have not installed Vista Service Pack 1, do so now. SP1 rolls up about 500 different patches and many of these were only available to corporate users until now. You may be shocked at 500 different patches, but this number is not out of line with previous XP Service packs. The update fixes 75 IE security problems, but more importantly, there are over 50 sleep, hibernation and shutdown patches. These have improved my Vista experience and have helped both the laptop and desktop computers.

How to tell you have it: Start, Windows Explorer; on the folder-tree, scroll until you find "Computer". 'Other-mouse-click' Computer and read the Windows edition text in the center of the screen.

SP1 Cleanup Tool
Reclaim the Service Pack's un-install files by running the Vista SP1 Cleanup tool, which was installed with the Service Pack. This recovers disk space varying from 600MB to a Gig. Do the following:

1. Start, Run

Are you missing the Start, Run command? See "Start Menu and Mousing Around," below.

Windows Explorer Missing Menu Bar

If you miss the Windows Explorer "File, Edit" Menu bar, get it back with these steps:
1. Launch Windows Explorer.
2. Choose button-bar "Organize", Layout, then "MenuBar".

u and Mousing Around

Do you find yourself wandering aimlessly around in the Start Menu looking for a program you know was there the other day? Don't you find the new Start Menu vaguely confusing? If so, revert the Start Menu to the "Classic" version (illustrated on right) with these steps.

1. Click Start, Control Panel (or Settings), "TaskBar and Start Menu".
2. Click the top [Start Menu] tab.
3. Choose "Classic", then "Customize".

4. In Customize, choose the following options:
[x] Display Logoff.
[x] Display Run (which Enables Start, Run).
[x] Show small icons in Start Menu.
[ ] Uncheck personalized menus!

Other choices may be clicked or unclicked; leave them as you see fit, but the ones above are the most interesting, especially the Personalized menus. By disabling this feature, the icons stay in the same order on the Start Menu and do not re-shuffle and hide themselves based on use. Trust me: you will love these changes.

Other Menu Speedup Items:

1. For Vista:
Select Control Panel, "Performance Information and Tools".
In the left-menu, choose "
Adjust Visual Effects".

For Windows XP:
Other-mouse-click "MyComputer", Properties;
Click The "Advanced" tab. Click in the Performance Section, "Settings"

2. In the "Visual Effects" tab, choose "Custom":

[ ] Uncheck Animate controls and elements.
[ ] Uncheck Animate Windows when minimizing.
[ ] Uncheck Fade or slide menus into view.
[ ] Uncheck Slide open Combo Boxes.
[ ] Uncheck Smooth-scroll list boxes.

These will make the computer seem noticeably faster and they do not detract from other Vista beatifications, such as AeroGlass. I reserve special animosity for the smooth-scrolling list box option. Enabling this option makes all pull-down menus intolerably slow and I cackle gleefully when ever it is unchecked.

Explorer Folder Options

Show all files and all extension:

1. In Control Panel, Folder Options, [View] tab:
[x] Check Always Show Menus.
[ ] Uncheck Hide Extensions for known file types.

By unhiding File Extensions you can tell a SETUP.EXE from a SETUP.HLP or SETUP.HTML. It is beyond me why Microsoft would hide this important information as their default. This helps protect you from viruses and other malware.

Are You Missing MyComputer?

Are you missing the "(My)Computer" and "(My)Network" icons from the desktop? Get them back on the desktop. Mercifully, they have been renamed to "Computer" and "Network".

1. Select Control Panel, Personalization.
2. Choose left-menu "Change Desktop Icons".

Window Border Thickness

Change Vista's default window-border thickness from a child-like "4" to 1, by:

1. Right-click desktop, choose Personalize

2. Select "Windows Color and Appearance"
Choose the Aero Color Scheme (or Windows Vista Basic if you have an older computer)
Click "Open Classic Appearance Properties", "Advanced"

3. In the "Item" pull-down, select Border Padding
Recommend setting to "1"

Desktop Icon Sizes:

I've found, especially on netbooks, that the default icon sizes are too large when compared to the smaller screens. Only make these changes if you think your icons are too large; for most machines these steps should be skipped:

1. Other-mouse-click the desktop; choose "Personalize"

2. Choose Windows, "Color and Appearance"
(on XP, choose Desktop Properties, the "Appearance" tab).

3. Click the blue link: "Open classic appearance properties"

4. Click the "Advanced" button; choose Item: "Icon"
Change the size to "48" to "32"

5. Choose Item "Icon Spacing (Vertical)"
Change the size from "48" to "32"

6. For Windows XP only: Return to the previous screen, choose button "Effects"
Confirm [ ] Use Large Icons is unchecked

7. You must reboot to see the Vertical Spacing change.

SendTo Menu

Often I want to peek inside of files and I often need to view them in Notepad. To add Notepad.exe to the "SendTo" menu, do the following:

1. Start, Run:

2. Once the folder opens, "other-mouse-click" in a blank area in the icon list and create a new shortcut.
3. Name the shortcut "Notepad". Use this command line: "notepad.exe".

To test the new shortcut, locate an ASCII text document on your C: drive (e.g. a ReadMe.txt file somewhere); other-mouse-click, select "SendTo", Notepad. This saves you the trouble of selecting "Open With."

Change the Default Shutdown from "Sleep" to "Shut Down"

When you click Start, Shutdown, the computer probably defaults to "Sleep". Follow these steps to change it to "Shut Down".

1. Windows Control Panel, Power Options

2. Choose each of the options, "High Performance," "Balanced", and "Power Save"

3. For each option, scroll down the list, locating "Power Buttons and Lid"

4. Change the "Start Menu Power Button option":
Change onBattery and Plugged in from "Sleep" to "Shutdown"
Apply the changes; move to the next set of options (e.g. Balanced)

Speed-up SATA Drives

If you have a newer computer, especially a laptop, speed up the SATA hard disks by

1. Other-mouse-click desktop icon (MyComputer).
2. Choose "Manage"; Choose Disk Management.
3. Locate your hard disk in the bottom-center list.
4. Other-mouse-click "Properties".
5. Click the [Policies] Tab.
6. Check [x] "Enable Write Cache".
7. If you have a battery UPS or laptop, check "Enable Advanced"

Turn off Superfetch

Windows Superfetch pre-loads programs into memory based on past usage. If for example, you always use IE or Firefox, Vista detects this and loads a copy of the program in a pre-fetch cache directory. Then, each time you boot, it pre-loads the program into memory for faster launching. In other words, the program loads even if you have no intention on using it.

There is some admittedly interesting technology at play here. Vista monitors when you load programs and can prefetch them at different times of the day, but as you can imagine, pre-loading adds a lot of time to your computer's startup time.

I suspect that most computers running Vista have adequate CPU, disk and memory and are modern enough to load the programs from scratch without much effort. Turning off Prefetch will take longer to load programs, but it will save memory and startup-time. You may want to experiment with this setting and rather than relying on benchmarks, go by gut-feel; does the computer boot faster? Do the applications load in a reasonable time?

To disable Prefetch:
1. Start, Run, Services.msc.
2. Locate services "Superfetch".
3. Other-mouse-click and "Stop" the service.
4. In the service's Properties, set the Startup Type to "Disabled".

Startup Programs:

As you install programs, most vendors sneak little utilities into two different startup areas. Many of these programs are fluff and are not needed. Periodically, I peruse these to see if there are programs that can be weeded-out. Usually there are.

See this article for a more complete description on cleaning up Start Menu items.

In the Startup Group (C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup), consider unchecking these programs:

* QuickTime (it loads just fine without this running in the background).
* Billminder (Quicken pay-your-bill reminder service, which you probably don't use).
* Quicken Startup (We look at our checkbook twice a month; no sense pre-loading daily).

Then, by running the Microsoft "MSConfig" utility, you can disable other sneakily-installed programs. To disable startup programs, do the following:

1. Start, Run, "msconfig".
2. Click the Startup Tab.
3. Uncheck various programs (see below).

For example, I've disabled these programs (which you may or may not have), but after viewing this list, this may give you an idea on what you can disable:

* Adobe Acrobat (loads fine without being in the startup).
* Corel File Shell Monitor (watches for changed files and pre-loads images).
* Corel Photo Downloader (automatically connects to digital cameras; I connect manually).
* Nvidia Media Center Library.
* Nvidia Driver Helper Service.
* Nvidia Hotkey Service.
* Java.
* WebCam Managers.
* C-Major Audio (Sigmatel) System Tray icon

Programs you should not disable:
+ Windows Defender and Virus programs.
+ Pointing and Mouse Devices.
+ Display Driver (However, Nvidia installs lots of other stuff).
+ Most sound-card programs.

Click image for larger view; "Back" to return

Most vendor programs (Acrobat, Quicken Checkbook, etc.) load just fine without being in the startup areas. But do use caution. If you are unsure about turning off a program, let it be. Searching the web is a good resource for helping you decide if you should shut down a program or not.

*A more complete article on cleaning up Start Menu items can be found here.

Consider making these changes (see illustration above):

Turn off ReadyBoost if you don't use USB Drives to expand physical memory (it is horribly slow).

Turn off the FAX service, if you do not have a Fax Modem.

Turn off Windows backup (if you have another backup solution)

Turn off Tablet PC Input Service (if you are not using Tablet PCs)

Once you apply the changes, MSConfig will bug you each time you boot. This gives you a chance to re-enable a stopped-program. If you shut-down a program that you wished you hadn't, simply re-check the box; save your changes, and reboot to see the results. At some point, say a week or so later, you can dismiss this box by checking the "don't show this message again."

Related Articles:
Cleaning up Startup Programs
Optimizing the Windows Paging/Swap File
Taming Browser Cookies
Disk Cleanup Steps (Prior to backing up)
Stopping Vista's Most Annoying UAC Nag
Vista's 'Unidentified Network Problem -- How to fix

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