Monday, December 31, 2007

10+ tweaks, tricks, and hacks to make Windows Vista fly

by Mark Kaelin 

Takeaway: No matter how well designed an operating system purports to be, there are ways to tweak it for performance. Here are 10+ tweaks, tricks, and hacks you can apply to Microsoft Windows Vista to make it run like a champion and perform to your particular specifications.

1: Add the Run command to the Start Menu

Beginning way back with the release of Windows 1.0, Microsoft has been all about the GUI interface (more or less effectively). But sometimes you just want to run a program without having to navigate the GUI maze of menus and folders. Windows Vista, by default, does not include the Run command on the Start Menu. This was a common and favorite feature of Windows XP.

To add the Run command back to the Vista Start Menu, follow these steps:

  1. Right click the Taskbar in an open area
  2. Click on Properties

Click on the Start Menu tab (See Figure A)

Figure A

Taskbar and Start Menu Properties
  1. Click the Customize button to get to the Customize Start Menu

Scroll down the list until you find the Run command checkbox and check it (See Figure B).

  1. Click OK and the Run command will now appear on the Start Menu.

Figure B

Customize Start Menu

2. Disable the Welcome Center and Sidebar

The Windows Vista default setting is to show the Welcome Center on startup. While the Welcome Center is mildly interesting the first time you see it, you will quickly tire of it appearing every time you boot your Vista PC. This behavior is easily changed by unchecking the Run a Startup button located at the bottom of the Welcome Center as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Welcome Center

Similarly, the Vista Sidebar is also on by default. While some users will find the Sidebar and its widgets useful, many will desire the desktop real estate and underlying resources for other more productive uses. You can turn the Sidebar off by:

  1. Right clicking the Windows Sidebar icon in the system tray
  2. Click Properties
  3. Uncheck the Start Sidebar when Windows starts checkbox (See Figure D)
  4. Click OK

Figure D

Windows Sidebar Properties

3: Change the Product Key

A Windows Vista installation disk essentially has all of the various editions of Vista included on that one disk. Which version gets installed is dependent on what product key you enter during the installation process. At some point you may want to upgrade your current version to a version with more bells and whistles, which would require a new Product Key.

Or you may want to Activate your Windows Vista under a different Product Key for some reason. The easiest way to change your Product Key is through the System applet in the Control Panel. (See Figure E)

Figure E

System applet

Under the Windows Activation section there is a link: Change Product Key. Clicking that link brings up the screen shown in Figure F where you can enter in a different Product Key.

Figure F

Windows Activation

4: Start Windows Explorer at somewhere other than documents

While Windows Vista has desktop search that will theoretically allow you the option of merely typing in a location on your hard disk to get an Explorer view, some users will undoubtedly prefer to use Windows Explorer. By default, Windows Explorer in Vista shows you the files located in the user Documents folder. Follow these steps to have Windows Explorer start in a different folder:

  1. Copy the Windows Explorer shortcut, usually found in the Start Menu under Accessories, to the Desktop.
  2. Right click the shortcut and click properties.

Click on the Shortcut tab to get the window shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Windows Explorer Properties
  1. Change the Target filed to the desired location.

For example, to have Windows Explorer start at C:\ type in"

C:\Windows\explorer.exe /n, /e, c:\
  1. Click OK

5: Privacy tweak

As a convenience, Windows Vista by default saves and displays a list of recently opened files and programs on the Start Menu. Ostensibly, this is supposed to make it easier to find a file or program. However, many users would prefer that information to remain hidden. Here is how to turn it off:

  1. Right click the Taskbar and click Properties on the resulting menu
  2. Click the Start Menu tab

Uncheck the checkboxes under Privacy (See Figure H)

  1. Click OK

Figure H

Privacy settings

6: Smaller icons on Start Menu

The icons located on the Windows Vista Start Menu default to large (Figure I).

Figure I

Large icons

For many users, the personal preference will be for those icons to be much smaller. Here is how:

  1. Right click the Taskbar and click on Properties
  2. Click the Start Menu tab
  3. Click the Customize button
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the list (See Figure J)
  5. Uncheck the Use large icons checkbox
  6. Click OK twice

Figure J

No more large icons

7. Add Internet Explorer to the Vista Desktop

For some reason known only to the Windows Vista development team, there is no easy option to add the Windows Explorer icon to the Vista Desktop. You can add Computer, Recycle Bin, and the Control Panel --- perhaps someone can explain that to us. In the meantime, if you want to add Internet Explorer you can do it with a Registry hack. Before editing the Windows Registry it is always advisable to make a backup of the Registry file.

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Open the Run dialog box (or type regedit in to the search box on the Start Menu)
  3. Type in regedit and press Enter
  4. Navigate to the following registry key:
  5. Create a new DWORD 32-bit by right clicking in the key area (See Figure K)
  6. Copy this as the key name including the brackets:
  7. Close regedit
  8. Right click on the Desktop and click the Refresh menu entry --- Internet Explorer should now appear.

Figure K

Regedit Internet Explorer

8: Change Security Center notifications

One of the most often leveled criticisms of Windows has been its lack of security. To overcome that perception Microsoft had programmed Vista to complain loudly and often if it discovers your malware, firewall or virus protection software is off or requires maintenance. For many users, the constant badgering to update your virus definitions is more annoying then effective. To calm Vista down a bit you can change the way you are notified of potential lax security.

Open the control panel and click the Windows Security Center as shown in Figure L.

Figure L

Windows Security Center

Click the link Change the way Security Center alerts me to reach the dialog box shown in Figure M.

Choose you preference for notification

Figure M

Chose your preference

9: Set Folder options

One of the first things experienced users change when they get a new Windows computer is change the Folder View options to a preferred setting. Windows Vista is no exception to this rule.

  1. Open the Control Panel and click on the Folder Options icon
  2. Click on the View tab (See Figure N)

Figure N

Folder options
  1. Check or uncheck your folder preferences --- some suggestions:
    1. Check show hidden files and folders
    2. Uncheck Hide extensions for known file types
    3. Uncheck protected operating system files

10: Adjust power settings

By default, Windows Vista sets the power options to what it calls a "Balanced" plan. While for many users this plan will be adequate, there are many who will want to make adjustments. For laptop users specifically, settings can vary greatly when operating on battery power versus plugged into an outlet. To adjust power settings:

Open the Control Panel and then click the Power Options icon (See Figure O)

Figure O

Power Options

Click on the Change Plan Settings under one of the default plans to make changes (See Figure P)

Figure P

Power settings

For additional fine tuning click Change advanced power settings (See Figure Q)

Figure Q

Advanced power settings

11: Reduce Desktop Icons

By default, the Windows Vista Aero GUI uses what it classifies as "Medium" icons on the Desktop. Medium in this case is really quite large. (There is also a Large icon setting, but we won't go there.) To bring the icons back to a less eye-popping size:

  1. Right click on the Desktop
  2. Choose the View menu item
  3. Change to Classic Icons (Figure R)

Figure R


12 Add another time zone

For many of us working away from home offices at satellite offices, home or on the road, knowing the time across various time zones can be a necessary evil. Windows Vista will allow you to keep time in two additional time zones to the machine time.

  1. Right click on the time display located in Taskbar System Tray
  2. Select the Adjust Date/Time menu item
  3. Click on the Additional Clocks tab (See Figure S)

Figure S

Add clocks
  1. Choose a time zone
  2. Click the checkbox next to Show this clock
  3. Click OK

Now when you mouse over the time in the Taskbar System Tray you will get the time in your chosen time zones.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tweaking Windows Vista so it can run a bit faster

I decided to write this article after I bought myself a brand new, state of the art, laptop from Dell. I'm talking about 2.33 MHz Core Duo, 4 GB of fast RAM, a 7200 RPM SATA hard disk, and all the other necessary hardware. And yet, when I booted up the pre-installed Windows Vista Ultimate edition, it was so painfully slow.  After poking around and investigating for awhile I found a few tweaks that have dramatically improved performance for me.

The Aero Theme

If you read my "Aero Theme is bad, disable it" article (insert link) you will understand why the Aero Theme is bad for your computer's resource usage, if you haven't gotten that insight yourself already.
Disabling the Aero theme is easy, however Microsoft went through some hoops to make you look for the option. Once you know where it is it's easy.

Right-click an empty spot on your desktop and click Personalize. Click on the Window Color and Appearance link. Click on the "Open classic appearance properties for more color options" link.

BTW, you can also run the following command from the Run option in the Start menu:

Next, select any of the available themes, such as the Windows Classic theme.
If you need to reserve as much system resources as possible in order to run other applications or services, Aero is bad for you. Lose it.

The Aero theme has another “undocumented” feature you might want to consider. If you’re using Vista on a laptop computer you might notice that Vista drains your batter life much faster than you’d expect. I don’t have details on exactly how much battery life is reduced when using Vista Aero, but many websites report seeing this reduction.

When Aero is turned off, battery life is equal to or better than Windows XP systems. But with it turned on, battery life suffers compared with Windows XP.

If you’re using a laptop and care about your battery life, turn off Aero!

File copying

One of the most annoying "features" of Windows Vista is the fact that although it boasts a much faster TCP/IP stack and other re-designed items that can make networking much faster, from my experience (and by reading about this issue on the Internet – for many many more people) Windows Vista is much slower in performing file copy and move operations. This is true both for the local file copy (i.e. from one partition to the other), or a network file copy (via shared folders or mapped network drives).

I looked all over for a solution (if you happen to know one, please let me know). Some of my findings and a few possible solutions will be listed here. Note that not ALL Vista users will experience such slow response, but if you feel that since you've installed Windows Vista on your machine it has suddenly become much slower when copying files, then feel free to try one or more of these solutions. Again, I'd appreciate it If you could share your findings. The list of solutions is not presented in any particular order.

  • Disable Remote Differential Compression

One of the solutions you may look into is to disable and remove the Remote Differential Compression feature in Vista.

Remote Differential Compression (RDC) allows applications to synchronize data between two computers in an efficient manner. The synchronization efficiency is made possible by using compression techniques to minimize the amount of data sent across the network. RDC is suitable for applications that move data across a wide area network where the data transmission costs outweigh the CPU cost of signature computation. RDC can also be used on faster networks if the amount of data to be transferred is relatively large and the changes to the data are typically small.

Open Control Panel and in the Programs node, click the Uninstall a Program link.

In the Uninstall or Change a Program window, click on the Turn Windows Features On or Off link.

BTW, you can also type the following command from the Run option:

In the Windows Features window click to un-select the Remote Differential Compression checkbox and click Ok.

This *should* increase network performance a bit. If you do not notice any improvement you can always turn the feature on.

  • Disable TCP Autotuning

Vista's issues with slow browsing and network operations can be, in part, due to problematic network devices such as NICs and routers, but also because the new TCP Receive Window Auto-Tuning Level. You can read more about this issue in the "Browsing websites gets painfully slow with Windows Vista" page, but here is the drilldown:

  1. Click Start and type CMD.
  2. Press CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER to open the command Prompt with Administrative rights.
  3. At the prompt in the Administrator: Command Prompt window, type the following command, and then press ENTER:

Now reboot your machine and see if it helps. In most cases, you will notice an improvement in file copy performance.

  • Install hotfix 931770

Some of you might have noticed a slow down or a non-response message when copying a file across the network. The copy process may stop responding (or hang), and you might get this message:

Calculating Time Remaining
0 minutes remaining

Microsoft has issued a fix for ALL versions of Vista that should correct the problem. However the hotfix is NOT publicly available, and you need to call PSS and ask for it.

The copy process may stop responding when you try to copy files from a server on a network to a Windows Vista-based computer - 931770

Note that unless you are experiencing this problem, do not apply the fix.

You *might* be able to find that (and other hotfixes) available here, but I strongly advise against doing so. The *right* place to get ANY hotfix from is PSS…

The Hotfix Share Download Section - index/Language Neutral/Vista/: Neutral/Vista

Make sure you've got the latest drivers for ALL your hardware components

But especially for the Mother board, disks, network (including your wireless network card) and display cards (pay a close attention to those nVidia chips!). I've seen people complain about Vista's bad performance and when they installed the latest driver from the manufacturer's site (and some less known or OEM manufacturers try hard to hide their updates…), the performance issues were all but gone.

Make sure you've updated your 3rd-party Anti-Virus/Firewall/Anti-Spyware program

Like in the previous tip, many 3rd-party software vendors simply did not plan ahead fast enough for Vista, and having a not-so-optimal Anti-Virus software that isn't designed for Vista might be the cause of many performance issues. I've seen people disable their McAfee software that came bundled with their laptop/desktop computers and since then they've been happy. Try it yourself, see what performance changes you get.

Disable Indexing

While indexing is one of Microsoft's new puppies in Windows Vista, boasting of endless options and tons of user productivity due to the fast manner in which the results are brought up, I find the old fashioned way of simply knowing where I put everything much better.

Even if you do enjoy the luxury of using the search feature in Vista, remember that it is exactly that. A luxury. And if you are using your machine and wish to bring out the most of it, then you could consider disabling the Indexing of files and mailboxes on your computer.

Note that Vista has 2 indexing options – One is the Desktop Indexing feature, and the second is the Index Server service which is NOT installed by default.

  • Method 1 – disable unnecessary indexing of files or folders

Open Indexing Options from the Control Panel, or run the following command from the Run option:

Next, in the Indexing Options window, click Modify.

Now uncheck any V in any checkbox you see, and leave just the start menu, if you so wish.

  • Method 2 – disable indexing altogether

However, based upon my tests, just removing checkboxes from the Indexing Options window will not stop the relevant processes from launching. Therefore, if you need to totally disable the indexing feature you will need to disable the Windows Search services and stop it from running.

Although Microsoft claims that the indexing in Vista is configured to it will not run in high priority manner and will always allow other, more important processes to gain access to resources before it, disabling the Windows Search service is mostly useful when using Vista on virtual machines (for example when running multiple instances of Vista on the same physical computer) or for other testing scenarios, and no less important – when using 3rd-party indexing solutions (such as Google's Desktop Search). Although the indexing is supposed to give priority to other tasks, I often saw the indexing-related processes (these are SearchProtocolHost, SearchFilterHost and SearchIndexer) active even though my computer was working on other tasks. This can tremendously decrease the overall performance. Plus, many users have reported "hearing" their computer's hard disks thrashing and frantically working for minutes and even hours, trying to index the masses of files that they have stored in their personal folders.

From Control Panel open Administrative Tools > Services. You can also type the following command from the Run option:

Scroll down to find the Windows Search service. Double-click it, and in the Startup type list configure it to be Disabled (you can always re-enable it by configuring it back to Automatic). Next, click to Stop the service.

Delete the index folder

After reading the previous tip, if you do not need to re-enable indexing and you do not care about the already-built index (for example when using virtual machines) you might also want to delete the local index. The index is usually located under the following path: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft

This folder is hidden, so you need to enable the display of hidden files and folders from the Explorer window.

Open Windows Explorer, click on ALT, then from the now-visible menus click Tools > Folder Options.

In the View tab click to select Show hidden files and folders, and also to un-select the Hide protected operating system files checkbox.

Browse to the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search folder. Look at the folder's properties. In my computer, with ONLY the Start menu and the mailbox being indexed, this takes almost 500 MB. Full indexing of personal folders will take anywhere between 1 and 2 GB of disk space.

If you want, and you've disabled the Windows search service as described in the previous tip, you can delete the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search folder.

Disable hibernation

Hibernation is a term used for laptops and portable computers. You can read more about it on my "Quickly Enable or Disable Vista Hibernation" article. As the article describes, working with windows Vista on a laptop computer will AUTOMATIICALLY enable hibernation, and thus will create a file called hiberfil.sys with the size of your installed physical memory (RAM, and I have 4 GB of it) on your system partition (usually the C: drive). Since Vista already takes around 10 to 11 GB of disk space (after installing Office 2007 and a couple more applications, nothing fancy or big), not including the pagefile.sys file which too will take as much as your installed RAM – if you do not need hibernation you will also save valuable disk space.

With that said, not everyone needs the capabilities of hibernation in their laptop computers. I, for one, found out that hibernating my laptop is bad for my personal needs, mostly because when you resume your working state you find that any virtual machines you had running (even if they were saved BEFORE entering hibernation) will stop responding properly. So I simply use Standby (or Sleep) mode on my working laptops.

Note that the hibernation status of your laptop has nothing to do with actual system performance, however the fact that it is enabled causes less disk space to be available for other purposes.

Open Command Prompt with administrative privileges (see above for instructions on how to do that), then type in the following command:

There is no need to reboot the computer and the hibernation file will be automatically deleted.

A note about memory usage on Vista

This topic will probably soon become an article on itself, but for now please make a mental note that unlike previous Microsoft operating systems, Windows Vista handles memory in a different manner. I will not go into these issues fully here, but the rule of thumb is – the more physical memory you have (RAM), the more Vista is going to use. Install Vista on a computer with 521 MB of RAM and you'll see that Vista will use less than 400 MB of RAM for the basic running OS. Try running Vista on a machine with 2 GB or RAM and you'll see it uses 800-900 MB of RAM.

As long as you don't need to use the machine for many memory-intensive tasks (such as running virtual machines or graphic intensive programs) then you'll be fine. But if you do need the machine to perform other memory-intensive tasks, I'd consider trying Windows XP or moving to a server type OS.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Limit computer times...

By using this technique you can limit when your children or employees are
able to use a system.
I have used this multiple times. Two examples...

My children have personal accounts on our home box and log-in to the
internet from these accounts. Using this technique I can make sure that
they can only log-in during certain times of the day (as in when I can
supervise them.)

Several computers at my office had been getting crazy stuff installed on
them at night. Some employees were staying all night surfing and absorbing
bandwidth. This technique limits their use to more appropriate hours.

Here are the steps to activate limitations:

1. Click on the Start Menu
2. Click Run
3. Type CMD in the Open textbox and click OK
4. In the command window type:

net user accountname /times:M-F,8am-8pm; Sa,8am-5pm;Su,8am-1pm

Replace accountname with the name of the account you wish to limit. The
time command is a bit tricky, but the above example is easy to replace
with the appropriate values. Here's microsoft's further information
regarding the format of the time command:

Specifies the times that users are allowed to use the computer. Time is
limited to 1-hour increments. For the day values, you can spell out or use
abbreviations (that is, M,T,W,Th,F,Sa,Su). You can use 12-hour or 24-hour
notation for hours. If you use 12-hour notation, use AM and PM, or A.M.
and P.M. The value all means a user can always log on. A null value
(blank) means a user can never log on. Separate day and time with commas,
and units of day and time with semicolons (for example,
M,4AM-5PM;T,1PM-3PM). Do not use spaces when designating times.

Here are the steps to turn off limitations:
1. Click on the Start Menu
2. Click Run
3. Type CMD in the Open textbox and click OK
4. In the command window type:

net user accountname /times:all

Once again, replace accountname with the name of the account you wish to

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New employer

I now work for Heartland On-Site Services, a truely local Kansas City company that provides computer rescue and repair services to area homes and businesses. Call me at 913.449.7121 or visit the website at