Windows 7 features that you might not know about and a few useful tips

I know you’ve probably had enough with the Windows 7 stories all over the tubes, but, I’ve got more to share.  Even though I have been using the RC1 version for months, I am finding things that I either missed or, rather, were not in that version. Certainly, many of the themes were missing and Microsoft has a few really nice ones on the downloads site at Microsoft.com.  There are some branded themes that are also really nice, among them are the Bing theme with some fantastic photos, the Coca Cola theme is whimsical, I personally love the Infiniti theme since I have an I30 and Zune themes are colorful.

Themes aside, Microsoft added quite a bit of little things that, individually, are not much but, collectively, they add up to a really nice experience.  Now, I’m sure you’ve read about the Aero features like shake, dock and peek, so I won’t talk about those.  Instead, I’m going to talk about some other, lesser know things that I think add value and, a few of them that I don’t recall seeing in the RC1.

For example, for laptops, there is a new feature that will dim your screen after x minutes of use.  ‘X’ is anywhere from five minutes to 5 hours or never.  This feature may have been there before, but not turned on.  It defaults to ten minutes, I believe.  I don’t recall since I have changed it.  ThemeBackground

To change the timing:

  • Open Control Panel
  • Select Hardware and Sound
  • Power Options
  • Edit Plan Settings
  • Next to Dim the Display, select either On battery or Plugged in and select the interval you want
  • Click Save Changes and then close the window by clicking the X in the upper right corner

From that same screen, you can also set the normal brightness-something I think was available in Vista.

Another nice little feature, part of which was in RC1, is the improved theme manager.  While this was present in RC1, I didn’t play with it too much because themes in RC1 were a bit wonky for me.  It was definitely the video driver as the problem is gone now.  One of the nice things you can do is select a range of background photos and have them rotate every few minutes, hours or day.  You can also have them shuffle so the order is different each time.  

To do this:

  • Right click on an empty part of your desktop
  • Select Personalization
  • Pick a theme, I always use the standard Windows 7 theme
  • Click Desktop Background
  • In the Picture location, select a folder that contains the pictures you want to use.  Note: YOUR photos are in the Picture Library
  • Click CLEAR ALL to uncheck the pictures
  • Now, for each photo you want to include, click ONE time on the check box in the upper left of the photo icon
  • Once you have selected the photos, set the ‘Change picture every:’ timing selection
  • Click Shuffle if you want them to be in a somewhat random order
  • For Picture Position, it is best to leave it at Fill, since that will fill the whole screen, but you can experiment with the setting to get it right for you
  • If you are using a laptop, there is an additional setting (that I don’t remember being there) that will suspend the slide show if your are running on the battery
  • Click Save Changes when you are done

Context menu (right click)You can also set the sounds for your theme.  The works much the same as the pictures select, but you have to click on each event and select a sound file to play.  I usually leave it on the default or select no sounds.  This is a bit more tedious to perform.

Start Menu

The Start menu has undergone some subtle changes as well.  Gone are the auto pinned items at the top.  You have to do this yourself, and, I think, that’s OK.  I didn’t  always want the items that were there under XP or Vista, so this is a welcome change for me.  Pinning is easy, too.  Right click the item you wish to pin, select Pin To Taskbar or Pin to Start Menu.  Once pinned, you can unpin simply by right click the pinned item and selecting Unpin. Pretty easy and very handy.Start Menu list

Other start menu changes include a menu on items that support lists or previously used files.  For example, say you use Notepad enough for it to stay in the recently used applications list in the Start Menu OR you have pinned it.  When you open the Start Menu, you’ll see a right arrow next to the icon.  Click the arrow and the right side of the start menu switches to what ever list the program supports.  For example, the Getting Started guide, which should be the first non-pinned item right after you’ve installed Windows 7, shows the various tasks you can perform that Microsoft thought you would want to do after installing the operating system.  This is just like the jump lists in the task bar.  There is, of course, an API for that if you are a programmer and wish to add such support to your own software.  This is one of the handiest features yet.

Not part of Windows 7, but these are a few things you should get…

One of the things that Microsoft did to streamline Windows 7 is get rid of some of the applets that shipped with Vista and some previous versions of Windows.  Namely, the mail application, photo gallery and movie maker are now separate but free downloads.  Go to Windows Live Essentials and run the installer from the web page. Select the items you wish to install and let the installer do its job.  Please note: if you use Parental Controls, you will also need to download the Family Safety program as well.  This is one thing they took out of Windows 7 that should have stayed.  Click here for instructions on using this part.

Next, head over to Lifehacker and check out this article on some cool software to augment any version of Windows. While at Lifehacker, check out this story on 10 things to boost Windows 7.

I will post more findings after having gone through the retail even more.  Stay tuned!

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