You may consider yourself a Windows master, but chances are you have still forgotten some of Windows' awesome built-in features. Here are seven of our favourite forgotten Windows features — and the cool things you can do with them.
You can beef up your Windows PC with cool downloads, but there's something to be said for exploiting an awesome option that is already built into Windows. Some of them you may have forgotten; some you may have never known about in the first place. Others you may know about but haven't realised their full potential. Even if you're a Windows expert, there's always something new to learn, so check out our seven favourite forgotten features below.
Task Scheduler: Automate Just About Anything
One simple key to staying productive in the digital age: automate everything. Windows' built in Task Scheduler can relegate boring, menial tasks to the OS and run them on a schedule (as the name implies). You can create tasks both simple and complex, ranging from starting a program and sending an email to running complex scripts under specific conditions, all with just a few clicks.
To use Task Scheduler, open up the Start menu, type "task scheduler", and press Enter. You'll see a window with all your currently scheduled tasks in it, which could have been created by other programs on your system (such as a task to automatically update a piece of software, or run a program when you log in). Expand the Task Scheduler library on the left to see tasks in other categories and what they do.
To create your own task, click "Create Task" in the right window pane. You can give it a name and description, and add some basic security options. The other tabs help you create the task itself:
- The Triggers tab lets you set when the task will run. This includes options for a fixed schedule (such as every day or once a week) or every time your computer boots.
- Actions is where you set what the task actually does. This could be launching an application, sending an email, displaying a message, or running a command line command. See "Clever Uses Of Task Scheduler" below for ideas.
- Under Conditions, you'll be able to create exceptions and conditions for the task. For example, you can set it to run only if the computer has been idle for a certain amount of time, or set it to wake your computer from sleep..
- The Settings tab mainly deals with what happens if your task doesn't run (or takes too long). You can set it to run at the next opportunity if it's missed, stop it if it runs too long, or let multiple instances of the task run at once.
You can also go to File > Create Basic Task if you want a simpler wizard to guide you through the process.
Clever Uses For Task Scheduler
- Start and shut down your computer automatically on a schedule
- Run CClearner on a schedule to keep your PC crap-free
- Schedule Disk Cleanup in Windows 7 & Vista
- Use Ninite and Task Scheduler to Keep Relatives' Computers Up to Date
- Change Windows' clock update settings to avoid losing minutes every week
System Restore: Save Yourself From "Oh S#!+" Moments
Sometimes you install a program or update a driver that causes more problems than it solves. Windows' System Restore feature is designed for just such an occasion: open it up, and it will roll back your system to exactly the way it was right before you installed that program or driver. It isn't a replacement for a full, bulletproof backup — System Restore only copies certain registry and system files — but it can be very handy when you just want to undo a small mistake caused by software installation woes.
To use System Restore, head to the Start menu, type in "System Restore", and press Enter. System Restore will show you all your most recent "restore points", which are points in time you can roll back to. By default, Windows automatically creates a restore point every time you install new software or drivers, so you don't even have to set it up in advance. If you notice a problem, fire up System Restore and roll back. For a more detailed look at how to use the tool, check out our complete guide to Windows System Restore.
Make System Restore More Powerful
- Change how often System Restore creates restore points
- Use System Restore to recover individual files (remember, though, you should still have a real backup in place too)
- Make a shortcut to create System Restore points
- Make System Restore use less drive space
- Disable System Restore completely
Libraries: Organise Your Files, Make Windows Search Better
Libraries were one of Windows 7's best underhyped features when it came out, and they're more powerful than they look. If you aren't familiar with libraries, they essentially collect the contents of multiple folders from around your system and put them in one place, organised by what's inside. For example, if you have your music collection strewn across three different folders on your system, you can add each of those to the "Music" library. Then, when you open up Music from the Libraries window, you'll see all your music in one place, as if all those files were all in the same folder.
Libraries became a lot more powerful when you create your own libraries or add network locations, both topics we covered in our original primer on Windows 7 libraries. The best feature of libraries is their integration with Windows Search. If you want to index a folder, simply add it to one of your libraries, and Windows Explorer will be able to search it with lighting-fast speed. That's just one of the ways you can make Windows Search a million times better.
Other Cool Ways To Tweak Libraries
- Use them to share data across multi-booting Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs
- Add unsupported removable drives to libraries
- Get complete control over your libraries with Win7 Library Tool
- Customize your libraries' icons
- Disable the libraries feature completely
Homegroups: File Sharing Made Simple
If you have more than one computer in your house, you'll eventually want to share files between them. A Homegroup is the easiest way to do that, letting you have constant access to any file you want to share across the network. You can use Homegroups to share printers and other peripherals as well.
To set up a Homegroup, search for "Homegroup" in the Start menu and fire up the Create a Homegroup wizard. From there, you'll be able to choose which libraries you want to add to the Homegroup (see above if you haven't set up libraries). Join that homegroup from your other computers and you have instant access to any file you add to those libraries. For a more detailed how-to, check out our guide to setting up Windows 7 Homegroups.
Windows homegroups are also great for setting up a geeky media centre that non-geeks can actually use. If you have no use for homegroups, you can turn the feature off.
Jump Lists: Your Favourite Features Just aAClick Away
Jump Lists are another underhyped feature. They give you quick access to recently-accessed items and popular features directly from your taskbar. Each application in your taskbar will have its own jump list, so you can access the best features of each program in two clicks.
To access a jump list, right-click on a taskbar icon. A menu will slide up from the taskbar, and you'lll be able to open a recent document in Word, start up private browsing in Chrome, and control your media in Winamp or foobar2000. You can also pin certain items, such as saved Windows Explorer searches, to jumplists. For a full rundown of how to use them, check out our guide to Mastering Windows 7 Jump Lists and Boosting Your Productivity.
More Customisations And Clever Uses For Jump Lists
- Get quick access to Windows 7's Jump Lists from the keyboard
- Jumplist Extender customises any Jump List entriy in Windows 7 — perfect for apps that don't have jump list support
- Jumplist Launcher launches multiple programs from one taskbar slot through jump lists — perfect for overflowing taskbars
- JumpLaunch turns your quick launch folder into a Jump List
- Use Windows 7's Jump Lists to quickly attach files in Gmail
Resource Monitor: See What Your Programs Are Actually Doing
Windows' Task Manager has some nice resource charts built-in, where you can see if certain programs are misbehaving. However, Windows also has another tool called Resource Monitor that gives you a much more detailed look at CPU, memory, disk and network usage, letting you see what's really going on under the hood.
To use it, head to the Start menu and type in "Resource Monitor". Press Enter when it pops up, and you'll be greeted with an Overview tab, showing you a brief rundown of your CPU, disk, network, and memory activity. Clicking on the other tabs will show you more detailed charts and graphs of each resource — for example, Memory will show you a graphic of how much memory is in use, in standby mode, or free. From here, you can find your program that's acting up, slowing down your machine, or taking up too much network bandwidth.
Reliability Monitor: A Must When Things Go Wonky
If you've been noticing the same error message, crash or problem for a few weeks but don't quite know how to fix it, the lesser-known Reliability Monitor tool is here to help. It keeps track of every application failure, Windows failure, warning message and other important information, putting them on a timeline so you can see exactly when everything happened. That way, you can look back and see when an error first started popping up, and see if there are any patterns in when it decides to cause you pain.
To use it, launch the Start menu and type in "view reliability history". Press Enter, and you'll see a graph of your most recent problems. Click on a column for more information about what happened that day, and you'll see a list of the failures, warnings, and other messages in that column. You can view the graph by days or weeks, check for solutions to problems, and view other details of anything that went wrong. In short, when something's wonky with your computer, check out the Reliability Monitor to get the troubleshooting information you need.
These aren't the only forgotten Windows tools we love, but they are some of our favourites. Honourable mentions go to the Problem Solution Recorder, which records your screen so you can get help troubleshooting; the Mobility centre, which lets you customise essential laptop settings with just a keyboard shortcut; and the Compatibility Troubleshooter, which helps you get programs running that may not work with newer versions of Windows.