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Month of February, 2008

Vista Tip 29: Famous Last Words...

This great tip is masterminded by a colleague of mine, Prakash Punnoor, who fell in love with the Penguin OS.

He says that

Censored

...would be the right thing to do with Vista.

Well, as you may have guessed, I don't share his opinion ;)

No really, I like Vista. It's not perfect, but it's on the right way. SP1 won't fix all problems and the Media Center still has a long way to go, but it never really let me down since I first installed it using the Beta 2. And since this is the last tip in the Vista Tips Galore, I thank you all for reading and for your feedback.

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Vista Tip 28: Changing the Default Encoder for Media Center

When watching TV or other videos, the video decoder integrated into the Vista Media Center isn't really that great. The PowerDVD video decoder is much better and faster, which for example eliminates the sometimes stuttering video when using the standard video decoder.

After installing another video decoder, you have to tell Vista which one to use. You can either do this performing some artistics in the Vista registry, or simply by downloading a very small tool from Garry Whittaker called VMCD.exe.

After starting it, you see the following dialog allowing you to choose a video as well as an audio decoder for use with Vista Media Center.

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I would recommend leaving the audio decoder as is and setting the video decoder to PowerDVD as shown in the picture.

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Vista Tip 27: Start Media Center in a Specific View

If you don't like the view in which Vista Media Center starts up by default, you can change that using some command line parameters:

Parameter Behavior
ehshell.exe /directmedia:general Starts VMC in fullscreen mode
ehshell.exe /directmedia:music Starts VMC in fullscreen mode and navigates to the Music Library
ehshell.exe /directmedia:video Starts VMC in fullscreen mode and navigates to the Video Library

ehshell.exe /directmedia:tv

Starts VMC in fullscreen mode and navigates to the TV Recordings
ehshell.exe /directmedia:pictures Starts VMC in fullscreen mode and navigates to the Picture Library
ehshell.exe /directmedia:discplayback Starts VMC in fullscreen mode and starts playing a CD or DVD inserted into the drive.
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Vista Tip 26: Switch of Unneeded Aero Effects

Aero effects are quite nice, but some of them can be annoying after some time. If you also like Aero and don't want to switch back to the old XP Standard Theme, you can tweak the Aero settings quite a bit.

You find those settings buried inside the performance options:

  • Open the Control Panel
  • Go to System and Maintenance -> Performance Information and Tools
  • Click on Adjust Visual Effects in the Tasks area.

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In the popup window go to the Visual Effects tab and select Custom. Now you can disable certain options:

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I disabled the following:

  • Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing
  • Fade or slide menus into view
  • Fade or slide ToolTips into view
  • Fade out menu items after clicking
  • Slide open combo boxes
  • Smooth-scroll list boxes

For those of you not liking the transparent glass effects (e.g. in headers of windows) you can disable those too by deselecting Enable transparent glass.

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Vista Tip 25: Harness the Power of Symbolic Links

As I mentioned in the Vista Tip 16: User Folders in Vista and How To Move Them post, Vista finally(!!) supports symbolic links similar to those Linux ones. Although there are a few restrictions, symbolic links are quite useful!

Why use symbolic links?

Let's say you have a server for storing your digital pictures and you want to access them on your desktop. You could create a network share for those pictures and mount a drive under a new drive letter on your desktop. Let's say you also like to store some pictures locally and not on the server. Since Windows allows you to have only one Pictures folder you cannot wrap both local and server stored pictures under the same Pictures folder.

Well you can with symbolic links: Vista brings a command line tool called mklink. Using the tool symbolic links (as well as hard links) can be created with a snap.

To merge your local and server stored pictures you simply open a command line inside your Pictures folder and use the following call:

mklink /D myServerFolder \\<my server name>\<my server share for pictures>

This would create an new directory called myServerFolder inside the Pictures folder pointing to a network share on your server containing the server stored pictures. You can then simply browse your pictures regardless of whether located locally or on the server. It's completely transparent to the Windows Explorer besides a small shortcut icon for the symbolic link folder.

Try it and I promise you will love it!

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Vista Tip 24: Pimp the Start Menu using Start++

The somewhat unimpressive input field in the Vista start menu yields great power, but it can be extended even more. A small program called Start++ from Brandon Paddock extends the start menu with powerful, customizable extensions called Startlets.

You can:

  • Perform a web search
  • Look-up something Wikipedia or Dictionary.com
  • Play all music matching certain keywords, or by a particular artist
  • Send an e-mail to a specific contact
  • "sudo" - Run a command as an Administrator
  • etc.

Start++ is expandable through Startlets in the form of Commands or Gadgets. Yes, you get it for free, but since it's CareWare, you might consider a donation.

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Vista Tip 23: Pin Applications to the Start Menu

By default Vista fills the initial view of the start menu with often used applications. The order of those applications may change based on how frequent an application is started. One can make sure, that an application stays permanently in the start menu.

Just Right click on an application in the start menu and select Pin to Start Menu.

This even works for any .EXE file in the Windows Explorer! Right clicking and selecting Unpin from Start Menu detaches an application from the start menu.

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Vista Tip 22: Change Function of Power Switch in the Start Menu

Microsoft seems to think that never ever anyone shuts down their Vista computers.

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When pressing the red shut down button in the start menu, Vista goes to sleep instead of really shutting down. This behavior can be changed in the depths of the system:

  • Press Start
  • Enter power (which searches for something containing the word power)
  • Select Power Options
  • Click on Change plan settings underneath the active power plan
  • Click on Change advanced power settings
  • Expand Power buttons and lid -> Start menu power button
  • Select Shut down in the drop down list

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Vista Tip 21: Show Additional (Meta) Data in Windows Explorer

This is something I stumbled upon, which isn't really obvious. You can actually grab the bluish status bar in Windows Explorer and drag it upwards to display more meta data of the selected file.

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You can even edit the meta data in this view!

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Vista Tip 20: Removing Meta Data using Windows Explorer

The meta data of files sometimes contains sensible information, which should be removed before e-mailing the file for example.

Vista now has the built-in functionality to remove this meta data. Just open the context menu of a file and go to the Details tab. To remove the meta data, click on the Remove Properties and Personal Information link at the bottom.

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Vista Tip 19: File Content Preview

It's possible to show a file content preview in Windows Explorer:

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This option is hidden behind Organize -> Layout -> Preview Pane. The preview not only works for image files, but for all files with a preview handler installed, e.g. for Office 2007 files.

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Vista Tip 18: Changing Views using the Mouse Wheel

Vista offers the feature of choosing between different file views, which can be changed using the context menu or the slider behind the Views button in Windows Explorer or the Desktop.

You can change those views more quickly using the mouse wheel: Just hold CTRL and turn the mouse wheel.

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Vista Tip 17: Add Explorer Context Menu Entry "Copy To Folder"

The context menu of files and folders in Windows Explorer can be extended with a new entry "Copy To Folder", which greatly simplifies frequent copying processes.

  • Open regedit.exe and navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\AllFileSystemObjects\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers
  • Create a new key named "Copy To Folder" (or whatever you prefer)
  • Set the Standard value in the right window to {C2FBB630-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}

An entry "Move To Folder" can also be added. Just follow the instructions above and set the Standard value to {C2FBB631-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}.

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Vista Tip 16: User Folders in Vista and How To Move Them

Vista radically changed the location and structure of user folders. No more "Documents and Settings" or "Dokumente und Einstellungen" (in german).

The root for the user folders of a specific user is located under c:\users\<User name>. This folder can be accessed over Windows Explorer where it is located underneath the Desktop folder.

Localization

The c:\users folder is always named users regardless of the operating system language, but on a german version of Vista for example the user folder is named Benutzer. Why is that? Well, inside the users folder lives a file called desktop.ini. It can revealed by enabling Show hidden files and folders and unchecking Hide protected operating system files in the view tab of the folder options. The folder options again can be accessed by pressing the Alt+T in Windows Explorer.

The desktop.ini looks like this:

[.ShellClassInfo]
LocalizedResourceName=@%SystemRoot%\system32\shell32.dll,-21813

The LocalizedResourceName parameter allows to mask the folder name and replace it with another.

Symbolic Links

Finally Vista uses the benefits of symbolic links in many areas (I'll get to that in a later post). But beware of symbolic links, when trying to move user folders around using registry hacks!

You find more information about that in two posts of Scott Hanselman:

http://www.hanselman.com/blog/MoreOnVistaReparsePoints.aspx
http://www.hanselman.com/blog/WindowsVistaJunctionsAndMovingMyDocumentsToAnotherDrive.aspx

Moving user folders

Luckily no extra tools are needed anymore to move a user folder.

Why moving user folders? I absolutely don't like to place my documents, settings, etc. on my boot drive. I often try something out, make changes to the system and restore backups to keep the system clean(er). When moving at least some of the user folders to another partition, I don't have to bother resetting my system to a previous state, or even reinstalling it.

To move a user folder:

  • Right click on the folder in Windows Explorer, e.g. Music
  • Click on Properties
  • Choose the Location tab
  • Click on Move an choose a target folder

Where are the other folders, like StartMenu, SendTo, etc.?

Those folders also located inside the users folder. They can be found at c:\users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows, but you have to enable Show hidden files and folders in Windows Explorer (see Localization).

An easier way to access those folders is to open the Start Menu and enter shell:sendto for example. This works even with Show hidden files ... disabled.

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Vista Tip 15: Program Installation from a Network Share

Problem

Most of my setups for tools, etc. are stored on my server. When installing them over a network share, an UAC prompt pops up, I confirm it and the installation starts. But sometimes an error occurs telling me, that it's an illegal drive letter or that some files are missing. When trying the same after copying the setup to a local drive everything works fine.

Solution

UAC is the evildoer in this case. When confirming the UAC prompt, Vista logs again into the system, but with more rights. In this process a lot of the user specific data will be transferred to the new session, but not the existing network connections. Thus a setup, which has been started over the network, doesn't anymore see the folder where it was started from.

This behavior can be changed with a registry key:

  • Open regedit.exe
  • Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System
  • Create a new DWORD value named EnableLinkedConnections
  • Set the value to 1

Now the administrator session uses the same network conections as the standard user. You have to restart the system for the changes to take effect.

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Vista Tip 14: Identify Autostart Programs

Vista brings an out-of-the-box tool for identifying and changing autostart programs, but it's somewhat hidden.

To access it:

  • Search for "Windows Defender" in the Start Menu
  • Go to Tools -> Software Explorer
  • Select the Category "Startup Programs"

Here you can browse, disable and remove specific autostart programs.

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Vista Tip 13: Check the State of Activation

The state of the activation can be checked using a small VB script, which comes with Vista.

Just enter slmgr.vbs -dli in the search box of the start menu, or in a command line (no admin rights required) and after a short waiting time, you get the following dialog:

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Tip: Another great thing about this dialog is the Partial Product Key display. If you got more than one Vista license, you can quickly find out which license is installed on which PC.

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Vista Tip 12: Reactivate Hibernation

Hibernation is a windows feature I simply cannot live without. I love to shut down my computer and get it back on not only really fast but in the same state I left it.

After initially installing Windows Vista, I could not find my beloved Hibernation feature anymore. Annoyingly Vista has no GUI support for enabling Hibernation, but you can do it from the command line.

All you have to do is:

...and you can use Hibernation again

Of course you can disable Hibernation using this method. Just use powercfg.exe /hibernate off in that case.

Accidentally disabling Hibernation

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Yes, Vista "provides" a way for accidentally disabling the Hibernation feature. Inside the Disk Cleanup program, there is an option called Hibernation File Cleaner. If you check this option, not only the Hibernation file will be deleted, but Hibernation will be disabled.

Please don't ask me, what those guys at Microsoft thought when implementing this "feature".

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Vista Tip 11: Get Help to Work for Older Programs

With the release of Windows Vista, the windows help program (WinHlp32.exe) is no longer included. So when summoning the help of some older programs (".hlp" files) you get a nice error message, but no help.

Shortly after the initial release of Windows Vista, Microsoft put the old WinHlp32.exe online for download in different language versions for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista.

The overview article is located at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/917607. A download link is also included in that article.

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Vista Tip 10: Disable User Account Control Prompt for certain Applications

As I said before, disabling UAC is really not the right thing to do. But sooner or later nearly everybody comes across an often used application, which does require administrative rights. In this case the UAC prompt can be REALLY annoying. (In my case it was Visual Studio 2005)

Fortunately Microsoft published an article on how to disable the UAC prompt for a specific application with the Application Compatibility Toolkit (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/946932).

Be prepared, that this process may not work for all applications. In case of Visual Studio 2005 it didn't work as described, but it can be done anyway.

Starting Visual Studio 2005 with administrative rights, but without UAC prompt

  • Create a Compatibility Fix as described in the Microsoft article.
  • In addition to the RunAsInvoker fix also select ElevateCreateProcess.

Visual Studio will then run brave administrative rights without bugging you anymore.

Update (2009-07-11): The KB article mentioned above doesn't seem to exist anymore. There is an alternative located at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc709628%28WS.10%29.aspx. Just scroll down to the part named "Configuring Pre-Windows Vista Applications for Compatibility with UAC" and you should find everything you need.

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Vista Tip 9: Important Keyboard Shortcuts

Windows Opens the Start Menu
Ctrl+E Selects the Instant Search box
Windows+E Starts Windows Explorer
Windows+F Displays the search dialog
Windows+Tab Starts Flip3D
Ctrl+Shift+Enter Starts a program with administrator rights from inside the start menu
Windows+# Launches a program from the Quick Launch toolbar corresponding to the number used.
Example: Win+2 would start Outlook
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Windows+X Opens the Windows Mobility Center
Windows+L Switch user
Windows+D Minimizes or restores all windows
Windows+R Displays the Run dialog
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Vista Tip 8: Create Screen Shots with the Snipping Tool

Vista brings a quite nice program called Snipping Tool for creating screen shots. image

You can choose between Free-form, Rectangular, Window and Free-form snips. The screen shots can then be saved as gif, jpg, png, mht or can be copied to the clipboard.

Hint: If you can't find the Snipping Tool, just go to the Control Panel, search for Turn Windows features on or off and select Tablet PC Optional Components in the shown dialog.

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Vista Tip 7: Disable UAC (User Account Control)

Disabling UAC is really not recommended and I strongly advise against it!

Some users find it annoying to get the UAC elevation prompt, every time a program asks for administrator rights. You can disable UAC, so every program is automatically started with administrator rights (of course, the user has to be in the administrators group anyway).

Just go to Start -> Control Panel -> User Accounts and Family Safety -> User Accounts -> Turn User Account Control on or off and uncheck the CheckBox.

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Vista Tip 6: No Elevation Prompt for Standard Users

Talking about administrator rights and elevation prompts: If you are a standard user, it can be annoying to get the UAP User Account Protection) prompt every time a program likes to start with administrator rights.

  • The screen doesn't get shaded anymore
  • The elevation prompt doesn't pop up

The following steps are necessary:

  • Open Local Security Policy (secpol.msc)
  • Under Security Settings -> Security Options open the entry User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for standard users
  • Change the value from Prompt for credentials to Automatically deny elevation requests

Of course, those programs cannot be started anymore for standard users ;)

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Vista Tip 5: Elevated Command Prompt Here

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Starting an elevated command prompt (meaning a command prompt with administrator rights) isn't supported in Vista by default, but can activate this feature using a simple REG-file.

You can get the REG-file at http://www.randyrants.com/2007/02/vista_tip_eleva.html

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Vista Tip 4: Command Prompt Here

This feature is finally integrated into Vista. To use it in Windows Explorer:

  • Shift+right click on a folder (works only in the right part of Explorer window)
  • Choose Command Prompt Here in the context menu
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Vista Tip 3: Copy Path of Selected File

In Windows Explorer:

  • Shift+right click on file or folder
  • Choose Copy as Path in the context menu
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Vista Tip 2: Quickly Starting a Program with Administrator Rights

To start a program with administrator right, simply:

  • Search for a program using the start menu
  • Pressing Ctrl+Shift+Enter starts the program with administrator rights
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Vista Tip 1: Searching in Vista

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When typing something into the text box at the bottom of the start menu, Vista starts searching. By default Vista searches the following areas:

  • Everything on the desktop
  • All start menu entries
  • Favorites
  • History
  • Contacts
  • E-Mails
  • My documents folder

Saving Searches

When searching in Windows Explorer, each search can be saved by clicking the Save Search button. Saved searches will be saved in the Searches folder. They are saved as XML-files with the extension .search-ms.

Enhanced und natural language search

Queries like documents modified last month or kind:docs modified:last month are possible.

To activate this search features perform the following steps:

  • Open Windows Explorer and click on Organize
  • Select Folder and Search Options
  • On the Search tab check the option Use natural language search

A complete list of search features in the Advanced Query Syntax (or Natural Language Query) is located here.

Using AQS in own applications

If you are using the OLE DB provider for Windows Search for executing user defined queries, you can simply implement the ISearchQueryHelper interface. The method GenerateSQLFromUserQuery converts AQS queries to SQL queries, which can be passed to the Windows Search OLE DB provider.

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