Lifehacker’s Complete Guide To Windows 7

Lifehacker’s Complete Guide To Windows 7

Windows 7 officially launches today, but we’ve been testing, tweaking, customising, fixing and writing about this OS for a year now. We present here a guide to everything we’ve learned about the OS, from first install to final settings change.

Whether you’ve played around with Windows 7 during its beta or release candidate versions, launch day is finally here, and Windows 7 is finally ready for widespread, public consumption. This guide will take you straight through from system requirements and upgrading your PC to highlighting Windows 7’s best new features to helping you hit the ground running with all of the awesome tweaks Windows 7 has in store for you.

System Requirements

According to Microsoft:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Buying, installing, and upgrading

  • Figure Out Which Windows 7 Edition Has the Features You Need: Not everybody needs Windows 7 Ultimate, but what if there’s a certain feature you must have when you grab your upgrade this Thursday? CNET breaks down each Windows 7 edition feature by feature in a handy chart.
  • Prep Your PC for Windows 7: When Windows 7 drops this Thursday, you can either spend many, many hours watching a progress bar, or you can boot into a clean, speedy system with that new-OS smell. Let’s get your system set up for a proper Windows 7 upgrade.
  • Run Windows 7 for 120 Days Without Activation: The command line code (slmgr -rearm) that could be entered at the end of three different 30-day periods to give Vista 120 days without activation works just the same in Windows 7.

Our take on Windows 7

New features

The Taskbar

  • Aero Peek: Peek supercharges Windows’ taskbar thumbnail previews, and lets you view, close and switch between multiple windows by just hovering over the taskbar thumbnail, as well as pin programs to the taskbar permanently.
  • Pin Individual Folders to the Windows 7 Taskbar: Windows 7’s taskbar lets you pin any running program to the taskbar for easy future access, but it treats folders like second-class sub-items of the Explorer icon. Create a fake “program” to pin individual folder shortcuts to your taskbar.
  • Middle-Click to Close Applications from Windows 7’s Taskbar: In Windows 7, middle-clicking a taskbar button opens a new program instance. The easy solution for closing an app? Middle-click its preview window.
  • Hold Shift While Dragging to Windows 7 Taskbar to Open Files: All you have to do is hold down the Shift key while dragging a file to an icon on the taskbar, and the tooltip will change to say “Open with” instead of pinning to the taskbar.
  • Pin Any Item to the Windows 7 Taskbar: We already showed you how to pin specific folders, and this is just a slightly tweaked application of that method.
  • Put a Recycle Bin Shortcut on the Windows 7 Taskbar: Once you are finished, you’ll have a separate recycle icon on the taskbar — useful for quick access to deleted files without having to hunt down an icon on your desktop.
  • Get a Functional Recycle Bin on Windows 7’s Taskbar: TechSpot’s solution—creating a Quick Launch taskbar, removing its text and title, then bringing the desktop Recycle Bin icon into it—covers all the bases, and lets you place your Recycle Bin pretty much wherever you’d like on the taskbar.

Jump lists

Built-in Applications

  • Set Up and Use XP Mode in Windows 7: Windows 7’s new XP Mode lets you seamlessly run virtualised applications alongside your regular Windows 7 applications — so your outdated software will continue to work.
  • Calculator: While mathletes, scientists, coders and statisticians will appreciate Windows 7’s built-in calculator’s programmer, statistics and scientific modes, everyday people will love figuring out things like hourly wages and mortgage payments without a spreadsheet.
  • PowerShell: (A) souped-up command line and scripting GUI that frees you, finally, from the limits of DOS batch scripts.
  • Windows 7 Media Center’s Music Player Is Hot Hot Hot: Good news for music lovers excited for Windows 7: The new and improved music interface in Windows 7 Media Center is overflowing with eye candy and usability.
  • Windows 7’s WordPad Opens Word 2007 DOCX Files: … The ribbon-style WordPad in Windows 2007 opens Word 2007 files, the .docx kind, pretty handily, albeit with some formatting loss.
  • Backup and Restore Center: For the average user with both media and crucial file needs, Windows 7’s default backup features look promising.
  • Windows 7 Guest Mode Creates Bomb-Proof Accounts: In the simplest terms, Guest Mode takes a snapshot of how a PC was working before the kid, friend, coffee shop customer, or whoever else is using the Guest Mode account logs on. That user can’t do much to alter the system, and whatever they can do, like dropping files on the desktop, is discarded when they log off.

Themes, wallpapers, and login screens

Mouse and Keyboard Shortcuts

  • The Best New Windows 7 Keyboard Shortcuts: Windows 7 has more cool new shortcuts than you can shake a stick at.
  • Aero Shake: When you want to focus on the task at hand on a desktop cluttered with windows, just grab the window bar of the app you want to work in and shake it back and forth to clear away the rest. Another shake will restore the background apps to their former state. You can also drag and drop a window to the edge of the screen to maximise it, and click on its top bar again to restore its previous size.
  • Snap windows to half screen size: Dragging a window to the top of the screen maximises it. Following that, if you drag a window all the way to the left or the right of the screen, Windows 7 will display a glass overlay on the desktop. Let go of the mouse button and it will snap the window onto that overlay, which is half the screen’s size — a handy helper for widescreen monitor owners.
  • Maximize Windows Vertically with a Double-Click in Windows 7: Reader John points out that you can simply move your mouse to the top of a window until the pointer switches to the resize icon, and then double-click your mouse to instantly maximise the window to fill all the available vertical space.
  • Shift and Right-Click to Expand Windows 7’s Send To Menu: Just as with Vista, holding down the Shift key while right-clicking in Windows 7 gives you a fuller range of options.
  • Activate Windows 7 Jumplists with the Left Mouse Button: You don’t have to right-click on the taskbar buttons to activate Windows 7’s Jumplists — you can hold the left mouse button and drag upwards.
  • Windows 7 Creates New Folders With a Hotkey: To create a new folder, simply press Ctrl+Shift+N with an explorer window open and the folder will instantly show up, ready to be renamed to something more useful.

Tweaks, fixes, and customisations

  • The Best Windows Tweaks that Still Work in Windows 7: The final version of Windows 7 is being released this week to the general public, and after you get your hands on it the first thing you’ll need to know is: Do all my tweaks still work?
  • Customise or Disable Windows 7’s Action Center: Windows 7’s Action Center does a great job of compressing all of Windows’ update/alert/whatever notifications into one icon, but it takes some tweaking to make it show what you want, or disable it entirely.
  • Add text to the Windows 7 taskbar buttons: Just right-click the taskbar, select Properties, then change the Taskbar buttons drop-down from “Always combine, hide labels” to “Never combine”.
  • Set Default Printers Based on Network in Windows 7: Windows 7 sports a great new feature that allows you to set default printers based on what network your computer is connected to, perfect for folks who carry laptops from network to network.
  • Get Quick Access to Windows 7’s Jump Lists From the Keyboard: When we showed you how to master Windows 7’s new Jump Lists feature, there was one extremely useful tip that we left out: you can also access them from your keyboard.
  • Get the Old “Show Desktop” Back in Windows 7 — Kinda: The short version: Create a folder, place a “Show Desktop.scf” file in there (either your standard Google-found kind or the script available at the bottom link), then right-click your taskbar to create a “New Toolbar” that points to that folder. Turn off the text and titles on that new toolbar, change the icons to large size, and then put your new one-button toolbar where you’d like.
  • Hidden Windows 7 Tool Troubleshoots Sleep Mode Problems: The report lists all of the devices that are causing problems with sleep mode, explains the different power saving modes your computer supports, and even gives you detailed information on your battery — invaluable information when your system takes forever to go in and out of sleep mode.
  • Disable the New Libraries Feature on Windows 7: Simply download, extract and double-click on the provided registry hack file, then restart your computer and you’ll see that the Libraries are completely gone. There’s also an uninstall registry script provided just in case.

Third-party helpers


We hope you found at least one link in that rather large list that helps you get settled into your new OS. Did we miss anything? Got a favourite tip or link you feel Windows 7 newcomers should consider? Share it in the comments.

Log in to comment on this story!