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Windows Vista - A Guide for dummies

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Mar 10, 2008
Something you should know about the Windows Vista

Part 1

Comparing selected features in various versions of Windows Vista Feature


------------------------Performance and Troubleshooting--------------------------

Back up (copy) files from your hard drive to a CD drive, DVD drive, removable storage device, or another PC or drive on a network for the purpose of safeguarding or archiving your data, or for saving your computer configuration so that you can restore it in the event of a crash.

To open

Control Panel -> Back up your computer

Control Panel -> System and Maintenance -> Backup and Restore Center


The Backup and Restore Center, new in Windows Vista, offers tools for backing up data as well as creating a restore "image" of your computer, which can be used to re-create the state of your PCincluding the operating system, applications, and settingsin the event of a hardware failure. It fixes a variety of shortcomings in the backup program built into Windows XP, such as not being able to back up across a network. On the other hand, it's less flexible than the XP backup program because it doesn't allow you to customize it to a great extent. You can't, for example, choose specific folders, or files from specific folders, to be backed up. Instead, you have to back up all files of a particular file type, such as documents.

Perform computer management tasks and run tools such as the Task Scheduler.

To open

Run as a plug-in for the Microsoft Management Console.

Command Prompt -> compmgmt


This plug-in to the Microsoft Management Console lets you perform a variety of computer management tasks, including monitoring performance and reliability. It also provides a way to run tools such as the Task Scheduler.

Reclaim disk space by removing unwanted files from your hard drive.

To open

Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup

Control Panel [System and Maintenance] Free up disk space

Command Prompt -> cleanmgr


Disk Cleanup summarizes the disk space used by several predefined types of files, such as Temporary Internet Files and items in the Recycle Bin. If you have more than one hard drive, Disk Cleanup prompts you to choose one. It also asks whether you want to clean up only your files, or files from all users on the computer (you'll need Administrator rights to do the latter).

Reorganize the files on a disk to optimize disk performance and reliability.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> Defragment your hard drive

Command Prompt -> dfrgui


As you create files on your hard disk, they become defragmented so that a single file is stored in several different noncontiguous locations. As more files become fragmented, the reliability and performance of the hard drive diminish. Disk Defragmenter reorganizes the files and folders on a drive so that the files are stored contiguously, and the free space is contiguous as well.

Prepare and partition a hard disk.

To open

Command Prompt -> diskpart


DiskPart is a full-featured program used to prepare hard disks and, optionally, divide them into two or more partitions. It's a command-line program and has no interface to speak of. When you start DiskPart, you'll see a simple prompt: DISKPART>. Type help and press Enter to view a list of all the available commands.

Read system logs and view other system events.

To open

Run as a plug-in for the Microsoft Management Console.

Command Prompt -> eventvwr


A plug-in to the Microsoft Management Console, the Event Viewer provides an easy way to read system logs and view other system events.

Rate your computer's capability to run Windows Vista.

To open

Control Panel -> System and Maintenance -> Performance Information and Tools


This screen rates your PC according to how well it runs Windows, using what it calls a Windows Experience Index. It rates the processor, RAM, graphics subsystem, gaming graphics subsystem, and primary hard disk on a scale of one to five. The higher the number, the better the performance. The lowest rating of any of those is called the system's Base Score.

Controls the balance between using advanced Windows Vista visual features and performance.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> System -> Advanced System Settings -> Advanced, click Settings under Performance


Windows Vista contains a great deal of "eye candy" that makes using the operating system a far more visually pleasing experience. But on some systems, these visual effects can slow a system down. Use Performance Options to balance visual effects against performance.

Automatically solve problems with your computer and Windows Vista.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> Problem Reports and Solutions


One of the best new troubleshooting features in Windows Vista is its capability to automatically detect problems with your computer and offer automated fixes for them. The Control Panel's Problem Reports and Solutions applet is the place to go to find and launch these solutions.

The applet displays any solutions to install, as well as information about problems that do not yet have solutions, are not serious enough to require solutions, or will have solutions. Click any to launch a wizard that walks you through the steps to fix the problem.

Speeds up computer performance by storing commonly used files in a flash device.


ReadyBoost, new to Windows Vista, uses a flash memory device (USB stick, SD card, etc.) to prefetch and store commonly used files, and essentially treats the device as a way to augment RAM. It's an inexpensive and easy way to speed up Windows Vista performance.

ReadyBoost speeds up Windows Vista performance in several ways. It increases the size of the prefetch cache, and it frees up RAM that would otherwise be used by prefetch. Depending on your system configuration, you may see a dramatic speed improvement.

To use ReadyBoost, connect a flash drive to your PC. Windows Vista will recognize the device, and then it will ask whether to use it to speed up your PC with ReadyBoost or use it as a normal drive. Select "Speed up my system" and ReadyBoost goes into action, without further intervention required on your part.

Track and review system performance.

To open

Run as a plug-in for the Microsoft Management Console.

Command Prompt -> perfmon


This plug-in to the Microsoft Management Console tracks system performance and shows a history of application, Windows, hardware, and miscellaneous failures, as well as software installations and uninstallations. Go to any day for details for the failures, installations, and uninstallations for that day. The graph displays the overall reliability over time, so you can see whether your computer is becoming less reliable as it ages.

Collect and display information about your computer.

To open

Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Information

Command Prompt -> msinfo32


Microsoft System Information is a reporting tool used to view information about hardware, system resources used by that hardware, software drivers, and Internet Explorer settings. Information is arranged in a familiar Explorer-like tree. Expand or collapse branches with the little plus (+) and minus (-) signs, and click any category to view the corresponding information in the righthand pane.

Manage system services.

To open

Run as a plug-in for the Microsoft Management Console.

Command Prompt -> services


This plug-in to the Microsoft Management Console displays system services and lets you start and stop services, control whether they run at startup, and customize how they run.

Part Two

Get basic information about your computer.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> System


The System Control Panel shows you at a glance basic information about your computer, including the type of processor and speed, installed RAM, Windows Vista edition, computer name, product ID, and more.

The panel also includes a variety of links to settings, such as System Properties.

View and modify many general Windows settings.

To open

Control Panel [System and Maintenance] System, then click Change settings

Command Prompt -> control sysdm.cpl


The System Properties window contains settings that affect hardware, system performance, networking, and other Windows features.

Roll back your computer's configuration to an earlier state, with the intention of undoing potentially harmful changes.

To open

Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Restore

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> System -> System Protection

Command Prompt -> rstrui


System Protection (also confusingly called System Restore) is a feature that runs invisibly in the background, continuously backing up important system files and Registry settings. The idea is that at some point, you may want to roll back your computer's configuration to a time before things started going wrong. By default, System Restore is turned on, using at least 300 MB of your computer's hard-disk space.

System Restore is particularly useful for restoring the state of your computer if you ever install an application that wreaks havoc on your system. Theoretically, every time you install a new application or drive, a new restore point is created, which is then used to restore the state of your PC to what it was before the installation. But a restore point may not always be created, so if you're about to install a new application that you fear may not be well behaved, it's a good idea to manually create a restore point. System Restore automatically creates a Restore Point once a day as well as whenever a significant system event occurs, such as installing a driver or a new program.

Oddly enough, Windows calls the feature both System Protection and System Restore. System Protection actually refers to the overall configuration screen for System Restore, and System Restore is the actual application that creates restore points and performs system restorations.

Display currently running programs, background processes, and some performance statistics.

To open

Ctrl-Alt-Delete -> Start Task Manager

Right-click on empty portion of the Taskbar -> Task Manager

Command Prompt -> taskmgr

Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-Esc


The Task Manager is an extremely useful tool, but you won't find it on the Start menu. In its simplest form, it displays all running applications, allowing you to close any that have crashed or stopped responding.

Run a program or script at a specified time.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> Schedule tasks

Command Prompt -> taskschd


The Task Scheduler allows you to schedule any program or WSH script to run at a specified time or interval.

To create a new scheduled task, click Create Basic Task to open the Task Scheduler Wizard. You'll be prompted to do the following:

Type in a name for the task and its description.

Select a trigger (for example, at a specific day, when your computer starts, when you log on, when a specific event occurs, and so on). The trigger can also be a specific time of the day and day of the week.

Select an action that the Task Scheduler should take (for example, run a program, send an email, or display a message).

Click Finish, and you're done. The task will now run at the scheduled time.

Transfers file, folders, and settings among PCs.

To open

Control Panel -> [System and Maintenance] -> Welcome Center -> Transfer Files and Settings


Windows Easy Transfer can transfer files, programs, and settings from a PC running Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista to a PC running Windows Vista.

Tip: If you upgrade from a PC running Windows XP to Windows Vista, your files, settings, and programs will be transferred automatically.

You can use Windows Easy Transfer to transfer files and program settings from a computer running Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Vista to another computer running Windows Vista. Start Windows Easy Transfer on the computer running Windows Vista, and then follow the instructions.

Fixes problems that can stop Windows from starting properly, such as missing or damaged files.

To open

Insert the Windows installation disk into your PC, restart the computer, and click "View system recovery options." After typing in a username and password of an account on the computer, click Startup Repair.


If you can't start Windows properly, this utility scans your system and automatically tries to fix the problem. In some instances, a computer manufacturer will install Startup Repair on your hard disk. If so, you can run it not only from the Windows installation disk, but also from the Windows Advanced Startup Options menu (Control Panel [System and Maintenance] System Advanced system settings Advanced tab, click Settings in Startup and Recovery).

Part 3

Registry Structure

The Windows Registry is a database of settings used by Windows Vista and the individual applications that run on it. Knowing how to access and modify the Registry effectively is important for troubleshooting, customizing, and unlocking hidden features in Windows Vista.

The top level of the Registry is organized into five main root branches. By convention, the built-in top-level keys are always shown in all caps, even though the keys in the Registry are not case-sensitive. (For example, HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\Windows is identical to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows.) Their purposes and contents are listed in the following summaries. Note that the root keys are sometimes abbreviated for convenience in documentation (although never in practice); these abbreviations are shown in parentheses. Subsequent sections discuss the contents of the root keys in more detail.


Contains file types, filename extensions, URL protocol prefixes, and registered classes. You can think of the information in this branch as the "glue" that binds Windows with the applications and documents that run on it. It is critical to drag-and-drop operations, context menus, double-clicking, and many other familiar user interface semantics. The actions defined here tell Windows how to react to every file type available on the system.

This entire branch is a mirror (or symbolic link) of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes, provided as a root key purely for convenience.


Contains user-specific settings for the currently logged-in user. This entire branch is a mirror (or symbolic link) of one of the subkeys of HKEY_USERS (discussed shortly). This allows Windows and all applications to access and store information for the current user without having to determine which user is currently logged in.

An application that keeps information on a per-user basis should store its data in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software and put information that applies to all users of the application in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE. However, what Windows applications consider user-specific and what applies for all users on the machine is somewhat arbitrary. Like many aspects of Windows, the Registry provides a mechanism for applications to store configuration data, but it does little to enforce any policies about how and where that data will actually be stored.


Contains information about hardware and software on the machine that is not specific to the current user.


Stores underlying user data from which HKEY_CURRENT_USER is drawn. Although several keys will often appear here, only one of them will ever be the active branch. See the discussion of HKEY_USERS, later in this chapter, for details.


Contains hardware configuration settings for the currently loaded hardware profile. This branch works similarly to HKEY_CURRENT_USER in that it is merely a mirror (or symbolic link) of another key. In this case, the source is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Hardware Profiles\XXXX, in which XXXX is a key representing the numeric value of the hardware profile currently in use. On a system with only a single hardware profile, its value will most likely be 0001.

Value Types

Values are where Registry data is actually stored (as opposed to keys, which are simply used to organize values). The Registry contains several types of values, each appropriate to the type of data it is intended to hold. There are six primary types of values that are displayed and modified in the Registry Editor:

String values (REG_SZ)

String values contain strings of characters, more commonly known as text. Most values discussed in this book are string values; they're the easiest to edit and are usually in plain English. In addition to standard strings, there are two far less common string variants, used for special purposes:

Multistring values (REG_MULTI_SZ)

Contain several strings (usually representing a list of some sort), concatenated (glued) together and separated by null characters (ASCII code 00). The dialog used to modify these values is the same as for binary values. Note that the individual characters in REG_MULTI_SZ keys are also separated by null characters, so you'll actually see three null characters in a row between multiple strings.

Expandable string values (REG_EXPAND_SZ)

Contain special variables into which Windows substitutes information before delivering to the owning application. For example, an expanded string value intended to point to a sound file may contain %SystemRoot%\media\startup.wav. When Windows reads this value from the Registry, it substitutes the full Windows path for the variable, %SystemRoot%; the resulting data then becomes (depending on where Windows is installed) c:\windows\media\startup.wav. This way, the value data is correct regardless of the location of the Windows folder.

Binary values (REG_BINARY)

Similarly to string values, binary values hold strings of characters. The difference is the way the data is entered. Instead of a standard text box, binary data is entered with hexadecimal codes in an interface commonly known as a hex editor. Each individual character is specified by a two-digit number in base 16 (e.g., 6E is 110 in base 10), which allows characters not found on the keyboard to be entered. Note that you can type hex codes on the left or normal ASCII characters on the right, depending on where you click with the mouse.

Note that hex values stored in binary Registry values are displayed in a somewhat unconventional format, in which the lowest-order digits appear first, followed by the next-higher pair of digits, and so on. In other words, the digits in a binary value are paired and their order reversed: the hex value 1B3 thus needs to be entered as B3 01. If you want to convert a binary value shown in the Registry Editor to decimal, you'll have to reverse this notation. For example, to find the decimal equivalent of 47 00 65 6e, set the Windows Calculator to hexadecimal mode and enter 6e650047, and then switch to decimal mode to display the decimal equivalent, 1,852,112,967.

Binary values are often not represented by plain English and, therefore, should be left unchanged unless you either understand the contents or are instructed to change them by a solution in this book.


Essentially, a DWORD is a number. Often, the contents of a DWORD value are easily understood, such as 0 for no and 1 for yes, or 60 for the number of seconds in some timeout setting. A DWORD value is used only where numerical digits are allowed; string and binary types allow anything.

Warning: In some circumstances, the particular number entered into a DWORD value is actually made up of several components, called bytes. The REG_DWORD_BIGENDIAN type is a variant of the DWORD type, where the bytes are in a different order. Unless you're a programmer, you'll want to stay away from these types of DWORD values.

The DWORD format, like the binary type, is a hexadecimal number, but this time in a more conventional representation. The leading 0x is a standard programmer's notation for a hex value, and the number is properly read from left to right. The equivalent decimal value is shown in parentheses following the hex value. What's more, when you edit a DWORD value, the edit dialog box gives you a choice of entering the new value in decimal or hex notation.

Even if you're not a programmer, you can figure out hexadecimal values pretty easily with the Windows Calculator (calc.exe). Just enter the number you want to convert and click the Hex radio button to see the hexadecimal equivalent; 435 decimal is equal to 1B3 hex.

Tip: If you aren't sure about the meaning of a specific Registry value, don't be afraid to experiment. Experimenting might include editing a value with the Registry Editor, but it might be easier or safer to work from the other end: open the application whose data is stored there (e.g., a Control Panel applet), change a setting, and watch how the Registry data changes. In this way, you can derive the meaning of many binary-encoded values. Note that although the Registry data will often change immediately, you may need to press F5 (Refresh) to force the Registry Editor to display the newly affected data. It's a good idea, though, to make a backup copy of a Registry key before making any changes.


This is much like a DWORD value, with one difference: it is a 64-bit value, rather than a 32-bit value like DWORD.

Part 4

Registry Protection in Windows Vista

Many of the changes made in Windows Vista have to do with safety and security, and with ensuring that the operating system doesn't accidentally become damaged. Toward that end, in Windows Vista, only accounts with administrator privileges can make changes to the Registry. This affects not just editing the Registry directly, but also taking an action that will change the Registry, such as installing software.

So, what happens when a standard user wants to edit the Registry or make a change that affects the Registry? Windows Vista handles that in several ways:

When a standard user tries to run the Registry Editor, User Account Control (UAC) springs into action, asking for an administrator password. If one is provided, the Registry Editor can be used and changes made. If none is provided, the Registry Editor will not be allowed to run, and no changes will be made.

When a standard user installs software, UAC will ask for an administrator password. If the user provides one, the software will make the appropriate changes to the %SystemRoot% and %ProgramFiles% folders and to the Registry.

If a legacy application fails to work correctly with UAC, Vista will use a new feature called file and Registry virtualization. This will create virtual %SystemRoot% and %ProgramFiles% folders, and a virtual HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE Registry entry. These virtual folders and entry are stored with the user's files. So the Registry itselfas well as the %SystemRoot% and %ProgramFiles% foldersare not altered in any way, so system files and the Registry are protected.

Registry Tweaks

Armed with your new understanding of the Windows Vista Registry, you're no doubt ready to get in there and start exploring. Hopefully, this chapter has provided the "lay of the land" you need to get and keep your bearings in the otherwise confusing wilderness of the Registry. Although I don't have the kind of room in this book that it takes to make you an expert, I would like to send you on your way by pointing out some interesting landmarksin other words, five cool changes you can make in your own Registry.

Open a Command Prompt from the Right-Click Menu

The command prompt is useful for a variety of down-and-dirty tasks, such as mass-deleting or renaming files. But if you find yourself frequently switching back and forth between Windows Explorer and the command prompt, there's helpyou can easily open a command prompt using the right-click menu.

For example, let's say you want to open the command prompt at the folder that's your current location. Normally, that takes two steps: first open a command prompt, and then navigate to your current folder. However, there's a quicker way: add an option to the right-click context menu that will open a command prompt at your current folder. For example, if you were to right-click on the C:\My Stuff folder, you could then choose to open a command prompt at C:\My Stuff.

In the Registry Editor, go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/Software/Classes/Folder/Shell. Create a new key called Command Prompt. For the default value, enter whatever text you want to appear when you right-click on a folderfor example, Open Command Prompt. Create a new key beneath the Command Prompt key called Command. Set the default value to Cmd.exe /k pushd %L. That value will launch Cmd.exe, which is the Windows Vista command prompt. The /k switch puts the prompt into interactive modethat is, it lets you issue commands from the command prompt; the command prompt isn't being used to issue only a single command and then exit. The pushd command stores the name of the current directory, and the %L uses the name of that stored directory to start the command prompt at it. Exit the Registry. The new menu option will show up immediately. Note that it won't appear when you right-click on a fileit shows up only when you right-click on a folder.

Change the Ribbons Screensaver

Inexplicably, Windows Vista screensavers such as the Ribbon screensaver don't allow you to change how they workfor example, to change the number or width of the ribbons. But you can change their options, using the Registry. Here's how to change the Ribbons screensaver to make it use a larger number of ribbons, and make each ribbon much thinner.

In the Registry Editor, go to:


Create a new DWORD called NumRibbons and give it the hexadecimal value of 00000100. Next, create a new DWORD called RibbonWidth and give it the hexadecimal value of 3c23d70a0. Exit the Registry. The Ribbons screensaver will now have the new settings. To restore the old settings, delete the DWORDs.

Registry Editor Remembers Where You Were

Each time you open the Registry Editor, it automatically expands the branch you had open the last time the Registry Editor was used, but no others. So, if you find yourself repeatedly adjusting a particular setting and then closing the Registry Editor (such as when implementing the preceding tip), make sure the relevant key is highlighted just before the Registry Editor is closed, and that key will be opened next time as well.

Note also the Favorites menu, which works very much like the one in Internet Explorer, allowing you to bookmark frequently accessed Registry keys. Although it's useful, I find the existence of such a feature in a troubleshooting tool like the Registry Editor to be more than a little eerie.

Change the Registered Users and Company Names for Windows Vista

When Windows Vista is installed, a user and company name are entered. Unfortunately, there is no convenient way to change this information after installation. Surpriseyou can do it in the Registry! Just go to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion

RegisteredOwner and RegisteredOrganization are the values you need, and you can change both to whatever you'd like. You may notice that the Registry key containing these values is in the Windows NT branch, rather than the more commonly used Windows branch. Don't worry, both branches are used in Windows Vista. The less-used Windows NT branch contains more advanced settings, mostly those that differentiate the Windows 9x and Windows NT lines of operating systems.

Some Handy Registry Navigation Shortcuts

The Registry has thousands of keys and values, which makes finding a single key or value rather laborious. Luckily, there are a few alternatives that will greatly simplify this task.

First, you can simply search the Registry. Start by highlighting the key at the top of the tree through which you want to search, which instructs the Registry Editor to begin searching at the beginning of that key. (To search the entire Registry, highlight "Computer.") Then, use Edit Find, type in what you're searching for, make sure that all the "Look at" options are checked, and click Find Next.

Another shortcut is to use the keyboard. Like Explorer, when you press a letter or number key, the Registry Editor will jump to the first entry that starts with that character. Furthermore, if you press several keys in succession, all of them will be used to spell the target item. For example, to navigate to:


start by expanding the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT key. Then, press C + L + S quickly in succession, and the Registry Editor will jump to the CLSID key. Next, expand that key by pressing the right-facing arrow, or by pressing the right arrow key, and press { + 2 + 0 (the first three characters of the key name, including the curly brace), and you'll be in the neighborhood of the target key in seconds.

Control Panel Applets



Detect non-Plug and Play devices and install the appropriate drivers.

To open

Control Panel -> Add Hardware (in Classic view)

Command Prompt -> hdwwiz.cpl

Change the settings of your display adapter and monitor.

To open

Control Panel -> [Appearance and Personalization] -> Adjust screen resolution

Control Panel -> [Appearance and Personalization] -> Personalization -> Display Settings

Right-click on an empty portion of your Desktop Personalize Display Settings

Command Prompt -> desk.cpl

Change the keyboard repeat rate and text cursor blink rate.

To open

Control Panel -> [Hardware and Sound] -> Keyboard

Command Prompt -> control main.cpl Keyboard

Command Prompt -> control keyboard


The Keyboard Properties dialog controls the way characters are repeated when keys are held down, as well as how quickly the text cursor (insertion point) blinks. Tip: move the "Repeat rate" slider all the way to the right (toward Fast), and your computer may actually seem faster.

Change settings that affect the behavior of your pointing device and the appearance of the mouse cursor.

To open

Control Panel -> [Hardware and Sound] -> Mouse

Command Prompt -> control main.cpl

Command Prompt -> control mouse

This is completely my compilation of Vista Tips & Treaks .It's not being copied from elsewhere.I have this thread stickied in a forum too.I thought why not sharing something here too.Hope people find it useful.