How to tame Windows Vista

Although Vista has been available for a while now, lots of folks are still deciding whether to make it their operating system of choice. While the interface is pretty, you don't have to work with Vista very long to realise that lots of things are different - and there really aren't many new features that might be considered compelling.

So an extended trial period with Vista is understandable before committing to it as the operating system you'll live with. Unfortunately, Vista itself isn't easy to tame. There are maddening pop-ups, frequent reminders to activate the operating system, and interface elements of questionable value - all adding up to impediments that might make you give up on the operating system before you've given it a fair evaluation.

So what can you do to improve your life with Vista? You'll need some Vista know-how, along with the help of some third-party tools.

Vista's User Account Control (UAC) may be its most controversial feature. It's certainly one of the most productivity-sapping. Anyone who comes to Vista from a previous version of Windows will notice almost immediately that many actions that previously went unhindered - including installing applications and deleting files - will now be stopped temporarily until you dismiss a security pop-up dialog box.

These dialog boxes are intended to keep you safe, adding a firewall, of sorts, between a potentially malicious program and the havoc it might otherwise wreak upon your PC. But to any moderately adept user of Windows, they server only to annoy, adding little if anything to a good antivirus software.

Thankfully, you can either turn off or tone down UAC. To turn it off, open the Control Panel and navigate to the User Accounts section. Click "Turn User Account Control On or Off," and clear the check mark on the following screen.

If you're worried that turning off UAC will leave you totally vulnerable, you can enlist the help of TweakUAC (http://www.tweak-uac.com/what-is-tweak-uac/), a free tool that will give you the option of putting UAC in a "quiet mode" that will suspend prompts for anyone logged on to Vista as an administrator.

Windows Vista requires you to register - or "activate" - the operating system with Microsoft within 30 days of installation. If you don't, the OS will put the clamps on your activity by going into Restricted Mode, which allows you to do little else other than activate the software.

There are good reasons for wanting to delay activation, however. You might, for instance, want to try out Vista on a test machine before committing it to a production environment. If you activate the software and then reinstall it on another machine, you'll probably be forced to call Microsoft when you attempt to activate it again.

You can extend the 30-day countdown, though, with a little-known trick. Open the Start menu, and type "cmd," without the quotation marks. Then press Ctrl-Shift-Enter, or right-click the cmd.exe result you see, and select Run as Administrator. Doing either will open a command prompt window in what's known as administrator mode.

From the command prompt, type "slmgr -rearm," without the quotation marks, and press Enter. This restarts the 30-day countdown to Restricted Mode. You can perform this "rearm" trick three times. After that, the operating system will tell you that the number of rearms allowed has been exceeded.

The Vista sidebar might be a neat idea, but certainly that space on the right side of the Vista screen can be used for tools that are more useful than an analog clock and picture viewer.

But first, if you just want to get rid of the sidebar, you can. Right-click the sidebar or the Windows Sidebar tray icon, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. In the resulting Windows Sidebar Properties dialog box, clear the check box labelled "Start Sidebar when Windows starts." From that point on, when you start your computer, the Sidebar will be gone.

Before you say "so long" to the Sidebar, though, you might want to try replacing the default Sidebar gadgets with some that are truly useful.

Microsoft has gathered together a lot of gadgets at its Windows Live site (http://gallery.live.com). To install a new gadget, you just click the Download button under the gadget you're interested in, and then click Install from the resulting pop-up.

Among the more interesting gadgets is an App Launcher (http://tinyurl.com/39pe2n) that represents a major upgrade from the default QuickLaunch section of the taskbar. Another gadget, Mini Outlook Inbox (http://tinyurl.com/3yhm8y), gives you an always-on view of the e-mail coming into your Outlook.

Yet another, Clipboard Manager (http://tinyurl.com/22g4t4), makes working with the Windows clipboard much more intuitive and friendly.

The new look and feel of the Windows Explorer file manager in Vista is different enough from the "classic" Explorer that a productivity hit is likely to result, at least in the beginning. Unlike other elements in Vista, you really cannot revert to the old-style Windows Explorer.

You can, though, look to alternative file managers that look and act more like Explorer you probably know and love. Xplorer2 Lite (http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm) displays files, folders, and the address bar in a classic fashion, and adds some new twists as well, including dual panes and folder tabs. ExplorerXP (http://www.explorerxp.com) is small and fast and allows you to see file folder sizes at a glance.

FreeCommander (http://www.freecommander.com) offers everything that most users will need in a file manager in a no-nonsense classic interface. All of these are free. For those willing to consider paying for an Explorer replacement, TotalCommander (http://www.ghisler.com) rises to the top of most people's lists. ( Dpa )

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