Are you one of the many who simply wanted to treat themselves to a new computer
and ended up being dropped into Microsoft's new Vista operating system? I am. I hadn't had the nerve to upgrade my computer yet because my work environment is important and I didn't have time to futz with new issues and the potential driver conflicts of an upgrade right now.
However, recently, I got a surprise gift: a convertible notebook PC. I was thrilled! But I turned it on and suddenly I went from Windows guru to Windows newbie. Yes, it was running Windows Vista as its operating system. There I was with a cool new computer, but I had to find and learn all the commands and programs to do what I wanted to do.
Fortunately, I have learned one great big, fat, golden rule about technology over the years: RTFM. This acronym stands for Read The "Fine" Manual. When it comes to computers, if you simply read a manual or buy a few books, you can quickly be up and running. You won't waste hours, weeks or even months fussing with frustrating issues that you don't understand.
I still have a lot to learn about Windows Vista, but I'm starting to get comfortable with it. In this article, I'll give you a few tips to help you organize your new environment so you can, hopefully, find the things you need.
The Three Most Important Commands
One of the first things I teach my computer students about any Windows computer is to learn the three most important commands.
- Right Click
Taking advantage of right clicking on things can save you gobs of time and frustration. Why? Because in most cases, if you right click on a menu, graphic, word, button or option, to name a few, you'll get a shortcut "mini" menu that will display the most common commands for that item. Let's say you want to change the property setting so you can better customize the Start Menu. How do you go about that? You can check the Windows Help files, but you can also just right click the Start button. There you'll find several commands, one of them being the Properties command. Click that and you'll discover several settings you can customize.
The Esc or Escape key will help you do just that
escape from potential problems. If a dialog box suddenly pops up because you clicked something, but you have no idea what you did to cause this action, don't panic! Just hit the Esc key and it will go away. However, be sure to check to make sure that the dialog box isn't an important warning message before you dismiss it.
- Ctrl + Z
If you do something that you didn't want or mean to do and now it's been done and you don't know how to undo it, again, don't panic. You can press Ctrl + Z to undo whatever you did that you didn't want to do.
Go Back to Classic Windows
At first glance, Windows Vista can be a bit daunting even to professionals, so think of how scary this new environment can be to someone who only recently started getting comfy in Windows XP or a previous version of Windows. The new 3D effects in Vista may be "eye candy," but these effects can make finding what you want more difficult than in prior versions. Now you're not only trying to find where they put all your favorite commands, but you have to put up with all these fading, switching and floating dialog boxes. Once you get used to Vista, the eye candy can help you get things done with fewer clicks. But at the beginning, you might want to revert some of the eye candy back to Classic Windows layouts so you can deal with one new aspect at a time.
Here are a few rollbacks to consider. You can always go back to the flashy new environment once you're ready for the next challenge.
If the new start menu seems confusing to you the way it lists the programs by swapping out the main view rather than opening a fly-out panel, change it back by right clicking the Start button. Click Properties. On the Start Menu tab, choose Classic Start menu.
This will cause your Start Menu to display like this:
rather than the new look in Vista, like this:
Granted, these two displays may not look all that different, but they do act differently. The Vista menu doesn't use fly-outs. Instead, it changes the main display (the white part) to the new view as you click. If the menu's disappearing act is bothersome, change it back to the more familiar look.
Another area I found myself cursing at when I couldn't find what I wanted was in the Control Panel. Not only did Microsoft rename most functions and move many under new categories, but they also have an extra helpful group layer to explain things. (I don't need explanations; just tell me where you stuffed the blasted Display settings!)
The first image below is the default grouping view. If you prefer to have your individual icons back, click the Classic View link along the left. Doing so, gives you the icon view shown in the second image. However, you still have to do some heavy investigating and memorizing to find and remember where all your favorite settings are now hiding.
The default view:
vs. the Classic View:
Speaking of Display settings, to change how windows display, don't bother looking in the Control Panel for the old Display icon. Now it is called Personalize. Click the Personalize icon and you'll see several settings. Click the Themes link. Click the drop down for Theme and you can choose Windows Classic.
This setting reverts all the actual windows that display back to the older Windows 98 look, as shown below.
Before you go changing your current Theme to something else, consider what changes you may have already done to customize your current display. If you've set it up just right, you should click Save As and give your current look a name. This way you can easily get back to where you were versus just returning to the Vista default look.
Microsoft also hid the old Windows Explorer menu toolbars. You can access Windows Explorer by pressing the Windows Key + E. I needed to map a drive to my network backup and went nuts trying to figure out how to do that now. As it turns out, the solution is quite simple. While in Windows Explorer, press the Alt key, which temporarily displays the old toolbar. Then you can click Tools|Map Network Drive. If you want the toolbar to be permanently displayed in your folders, click Tools|Folder Options and choose the General tab. Then choose Use Windows Classic Folders. If you don't want to go back to the entire classic folder look, but you do always want the menu displayed, click Organize on the new top menu. There you find Layout; click it and choose Menu Bar.
Customizing the Taskbar
Another area I customize is the Taskbar, which is the bar at the bottom of Windows where the Start button resides. In Windows XP, I moved the Quick Launch bar (the little icon area to the right of the Start button) to the left side of my screen so I can make it the height of my monitor and load it with shortcuts to all my favorite programs. My customized Quick Launch bar along with several Windows shortcut keystrokes means I hardly ever have to click to move through programs. However, I haven't been able to drag the Quick Launch bar off the Taskbar in Vista, so I don't think it's possible.
I was able to unlock the Taskbar to make some adjustments though. You can unlock the Taskbar by right clicking it and unchecking Lock Taskbar. You'll now see some faint, vertical divider bars, which you can drag to adjust various areas on the Taskbar. You can also click on the top of the Taskbar and drag it upward if you want more space, as I prefer. Then you can load up the Quick Launch bar with shortcuts to your favorite programs. If you add them to the Quick Launch bar, you don't have to hunt down your programs through the Start button.
As you can see in the image below, I've added several program shortcut icons. To add them, you just right-click a program and choose Add to Quick Launch.
The Quick Launch bar already has a couple of icons on it. One displays your desktop with a click; another launches the new 3D Windows Switcher. I say new, but it's really not. Only the 3D effect is new. Someone recently told me that they love this "new" feature because now they don't have to always move to and click on the Taskbar to switch programs, but this feature has actually been in Windows for years! You could (and still can) switch to any open program by pressing Alt + Tab. Hold down Alt while tapping the Tab key to cycle through all your open windows. Let go of the Alt key when you highlight the one you want and the program opens in the foreground. This command still works in Vista. But now you can see a thumbnail of each program versus just seeing the file name as in previous versions.
What's new about this feature is the 3D effect that floats all your open programs as you cycle through them if you use the enhanced Windows Switcher. You'll find an icon to start this in your Quick Launch, but you can also easily start it by holding down the Windows Key and again, tapping the Tab key to cycle through all open programs.
Because the Windows Switcher has a hotkey, you don't need the icon shortcut, so you can delete that icon from the Quick Launch toolbar if you wish.
If you want more space for your own programs, you also can delete the Desktop icon. Again, you don't need it because you can easily press the Windows + M shortcut to minimize all open programs and display the desktop. Press Windows + Shift + M to reverse that action. Or you can right-click the Taskbar and add the Desktop toolbar to your Taskbar. That toolbar lets you access anything on your desktop from a Desktop menu.
If you don't want to load up the Quick Launch toolbar, you also can Pin some of your favorite programs to the Start Menu. Right click a program name in the Start Menu and choose Pin to Start Menu. It then shows up at the top of the list and stays there until you decide to remove it. It's another way to find the programs you use most often without having to search through long program lists.
You can do a number of other things with the Start Menu and Taskbar. And most of these tricks are in Windows XP too. To learn more, go to my ezine, TechTrax. Once you enter the magazine itself, click the Archives button along the top and search for "WinXP" to find my Windows customization articles. Most of those tips still apply to Vista. Keep checking TechTrax to find new Vista tips articles I'll be adding soon.