The Online Tech Tips blog delves into a little-discussed feature of Windows Vista that can turn your spare blank discs into drag-and-drop bins for extra files. The Live File System mounts writable CDs and DVDs as pseudo-flash drives, letting you add files to them on a continual basis rather than having to initiate one big burn session. You can't recover space from added files, but if you've got blank discs to spare, Live File System can be a handy write-as-you-go backup method. Turn your CDs into flash drives using Vista's Live File System
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Windows Vista only: By default, Windows Vista doesn't allow you to install custom colour and window decoration themes, unless they've been specifically reviewed by Microsoft. With a set of Uxtheme Patches, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and patch your system, you can enable custom themes and tweak your colours, windows, and other desktop parts to your heart's content. The How-To Geek has a step-by-step guide to installing, patching, and enabling custom themes, and it's highly recommend that anyone trying it out back up their files and create a restore point before pressing on. Having said that, there are some pretty slick themes out there, at deviantART and elsewhere. Uxtheme Patches are free downloads for Windows Vista (standard and SP1) only. Image from NEXTLevel theme by patrickgs.
When icons start disappearing from Windows Vista's system tray—like the networking, volume control, or time display—and you can't restore them from the standard options menus, the itch to re-install can be strong indeed. The How-To Geek, however, finds the balm for disappearing Vista icons in the registry, where a few key options need to be deleted to restore your system tray to functionality. Hit the link for instructions on how to kill out the options yourself, or download a registry hack that does it for you. Fix for When Clock, Volume, Power or Network Icons are Missing and Grayed Out in Windows Vista
Amit at the Digital Inspiration blog has written up a how-to on launching web sites directly from Windows Vista's Start Search box (and therefore at the tap of a "Windows" key), using Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" function to quickly bring up the first result of a search using your entry. The hack involves using the Group Policy editor (gpedit.msc), which is unfortunately available only in the Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions—unless, of course, one of our intrepid readers can point us toward enabling or unlocking that feature in the Home and Basic versions. Hit the link below for yet another way to make your Windows key into a full-fledged quick-launcher. Open Your Favourite Website Directly from Windows Vista Start Menu
Windows Vista includes a feature, "Receive Window Auto-Tuning," that you've likely never seen mentioned on your desktop, but which can cause noticeable drag and even crashing when browsing certain web sites or using some routers or other network hardware. If you're noticing browsing glitches that only occur in Vista, the Wise Bread blog has a tip, pulled from PC Magazine's recent issue, that explains how to turn off auto-tuning and skip the spinning blue circle of death.
Windows Vista tip: Web site OCModShop details how to speed up your hard drive performance in Vista by tweaking an advanced setting to enable write caching and advanced performance on your SATA hard drive. The net effect of this tweak should certainly bring improved disk performance, but there is a catch: If you're not using a backup power supply—either a battery on your laptop or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) on your desktop—enabling these features increases the likelihood of data loss in the event of a power outage. Either way, this tweak is worth a look if you're looking to beef up your disk performance, and besides—you should already be using a UPS anyway. How to: Speed Up SATA Drives in Vista
Windows Vista has a habit of making files unavailable for backup programs or just copying into new locations, claiming files you haven't touched are "In use," or sometimes just generically "Locked." The How-To Geek shows us a command-line utility, Hobocopy, that can find its way past the walls thrown up by the operating system's shadowy functions. You'll also learn how you can use Hobocopy as an incremental backup solution, like a less syntax-heavy version of cross-platform solution rsync. Hit the link to find Hobocopy and get step-by-step instructions. Backup/Copy Files that are "In Use" or "Locked" in Windows
You know you put that phone number in some file on Monday, but you're drawing a blank as you gaze at your Vista desktop. The How-To Geek offers a solution for those who haven't explored Windows Vista enough to learn the syntax of the Start menu's search box. The syntax for finding an Excel spreadsheet, for example, within a range of dates is:name:xls modified:2/1/2008..2/20/2008The Geek has, as always, way more information on this technique and a mouse-powered one as well, including the syntax for finding files based on date created or just "date." Got any more Vista-specific search tips for your fellow Lifehacker readers? Feel free to drop them off in the comments. Find Files Within a Date Range with Windows Vista Search
Windows Vista only: Shadow Copies, an automated file version saver built into all copies of Windows Vista (and enabled by default), isn't a complete backup solution, but it could be a life-saver in certain situations. As The How-To Geek blog points out, however, it's pretty hard to find, let alone extract files from. Luckily, a forum member at the Geek's site has posted a complete tutorial on accessing and recovering previous file versions using the free utility ShadowExplorer. Using ShadowExplorer requires a good deal more clicking and searching than Apple's Time Machine, but it's a good solution for those "Oops, I forgot to back up ..." moments. Hit the link below for instructions and screenshots. Recover Files with Shadow Copies on Any Version of Windows Vista
We've shown you how to disable Windows Vista's secure-but-really-annoying User Account Controls feature (a.k.a. the "A program needs your permission ..." pop-up) using Vista's settings and tweaking apps, but reader Kel points us to a way of disabling that prompt for specific applications. The trick involves downloading a Microsoft utility and clicking through about a dozen prompts, but it really does work, and you can keep your security settings just where they are while removing a major annoyance. Here's hoping Microsoft includes this kind of app-by-app disabling in their upcoming Service Pack 1. Disable UAC for Certain Applications in Vista
The best way to speed up your PC is to give it more available memory—but freeing up as much of the memory you already have is cheaper and easier than cracking open your case to install a new stick of RAM. It takes a lot of memory to get a modern Windows system up and ... well, not doing anything in particular, really. Between cryptic system processes, confusing "helper" applications, and background utilities, a whole lot of who-knows-what gobbles up memory and slows down your work. While a lot of programs claim to optimse memory use and pare down processes, Windows' built-in Task Manager can do the job just fine, given the right tools and know-how. Today you'll extend and empower Windows' Task Manager to speed up your system by cutting out unnecessary memory hogs.
The How-To Geek blog points out a tucked-away trick in Windows Vista that lets you restart Windows Explorer—the file browsing and desktop display aspect of Windows—without hastily killing its process and potentially borking your session. The trick:Open the Start menu.Hold down the Control and Shift keys, and right-click on a blank space in the Start menu.Choose "Exit Explorer."Open the Task Manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc), navigate to File->Run, enter "explorer" and hit OK.Why would you ever want to restart Explorer, you might ask? To try out new system modifications, for one, or try and rescue your desktop from crashing. In any case, the Geek's method gives Explorer a chance to properly close down and protect against any strange occurrences down the road. Hit the link for details on the "Classic" method of performing this trick. Hidden Trick to Close Windows Explorer in Vista
You may like having Vista's pretty-fying Aero effects enabled while you're working, but many modern games can make you want to devote every last bit of memory and power to their 3-D awesomeness. The How-To Geek shows how to easily disable desktop effects by editing (or creating) a shortcut for the game (or other program):Simply right-click on the shortcut and choose Properties, and then the Compatibility tab ... Now on the Settings block check the box for "Disable desktop composition" in order to disable Aero the next time you use the shortcut.I have to guess many people might have never found that tweak, based on its obscure label, but it sure comes in handy.
Easily Disable Vista's Aero Before Running an Application (Such as a Video Game)
If you've taken control of your startup applications with the Windows stalwart, msconfig, you may have stumbled onto a new annoyance in Vista. When you block a program's startup with msconfig, Vista displays a "Windows has blocked some startup programs" message whenever you restart the computer. The How-To Geek weblog details how to disable the annoying pop-up with a simple tweaking of the System Configuration Utility. Just right-click the blocked programs system tray icon, choose Run blocked program -> System Configuration Utility, and then tick the "Don't show this message..." checkbox. Annoyance solved.
Stop the Annoying "Windows Has Blocked Some Startup Programs" Balloon
For the average Windows Vista session, the "Needs your permission to continue" prompts are just momentary, occasional annoyances which can be disabled or by-passed. But if you're planning to do a lot of tweaking or installations, having a dedicated Administrator account—like the kind available in XP—can be mighty helpful. The How-To Geek blog shows how to enable (and disable) the account from the log-in screen:
Windows Vista only: I've recently engaged on a more serious foray back into the world of Windows Vista (turns out it's not that bad), and one of the first sources of major confusion for me came the first time I tried to access the menu bar in the new Windows Explorer. Why? Because it's not there. Luckily, if you're big on the functionality therein, it's not all that difficult to get it back. First, if you prefer the clean look without the menu bar, you can just tap the Alt key whenever you want to access the menu bar and it'll pop up until you click elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want it back permanently, just click the new Organize button, then go to Layout, select Menu Bar, and voilà! Similarly, in Internet Explorer you can bring it back by going to Tools -> Menu Bar. Simple, but it was a major source of confusion to begin with. Thanks Adam!
Even with the specialised "files" sticking out of them, the folder icons on a Windows Vista desktop can be pretty hard to tell apart, and there's no built-in OS X-like colouring application to aid quick location. The Dumb Little Man blog posts a dead-simple guide to overcoming look-alikes with custom icons. It's fairly similar to how you do the same in Windows XP, but worth revisiting for a more navigable desktop.
Customize Folder Icons in Vista for Extra Fast Location Of Your Files
If you're familiar with putting your PC in Standby or Hibernate mode (and hopefully you know the difference), you probably know that both are anything but a sure bet. Dennis O'Reilly, blogger at CNET, runs through a few checks any Windows user should go through to make sure their computer slumbers when they want it to. Among the fixes are disabling the "Wake on LAN" setting in BIOS, pruning down scheduled tasks and modifying the properties of your mouse and keyboard. Not all of these tweaks are feasible for every system, especially business machines, but the post is worth a read for anyone struggling with their machine's sleep disorders. Photo by Goldring.
We've heard plenty about Stacks in the upcoming Mac OS X Leopard, but what you may not know is that Windows Vista users have their own Stacks worth checking out. Weblog CyberNet takes a look at the new groups and stacks features in Vista, highlighting how the new Explorer features can improve your file organisation.If I were to stack files by name, they would appear almost like they would with a group, except none of the file names are actually shown . Instead you'd double click on the stack that you want and it will open up all of the corresponding files. The more files that correspond with a particular stack, the larger the "stack icon" will be.