40+ Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Windows

Windows 7 has been out for ages now — its successor is but a few months away. With a big portion of the world’s population running this operating system, its nooks and crannies are well explored. Well, almost!

Here are more than forty not so obvious features and shortcuts to make your life that much more easier! In the interest of keeping this fairly lightweight, I haven’t included your run of the mill registry hacks and such. Look for a nerdier roundup very soon! Now off we go!

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1. Launch Taskbar Apps in a Cinch

You probably have all your favorite apps pinned to your taskbar. Launching each requires you moving your mouse all the way down and clicking. Boring!

An easier is to press the Windows key and the position of the app in the taskbar. For example, in the example below, I have Explorer in the first position. Pressing Win+1 will open it up right away. Oddly, using the numpad for this doesn’t seem to be working.

I wish I could multitask better

2. Search Within Documents

By default, Windows doesn’t search the contents of files that aren’t indexed. If you’re in a hurry and need everything searched, prefix your search keywords with content: and Windows will look for every instance of the word.

3. Change the ‘Shut Down’ Button Behavior

For people like me who hibernate on a whim, the shut down button in the start menu is an absolute hindrance. Two clicks to get what I want? Unacceptable. Fortunately, you can easily customize this behavior.

I still prefer XP's approach. Win followed by U and enter.

Go to your Control Panel, click Appearance and Personalization -> Taskbar -> Start Menu. Select the Start Menu tab and choose the Hibernate option and you’re good to go.

4. Enable Internet Searches from the Start Menu

A slightly impractical but still very useful tip. From the start menu, run gpedit.msc. In the window that opens up, go to User Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Start Menu and Taskbar. In the right page, you should find an entry called Add Search Internet link to Start Menu. Go ahead and enable it to see Windows display a Search the Internet link with every search.

As I mentioned, not very practical but at least saves you from opening a browser

5. Copy into the Command line

Let’s start off with a nerdy one. Often when you’re following a tutorial online, you’ll be asked to run a few commands in your command line. You coyly press Ctrl+V but uh oh. What’s this? Nothing happened.

To copy something into the command line, press Alt+Space which invokes the windows menu. Now go to the edit option and choose paste. Voila! To make it even shorter Alt+Space followed by E and P gets it done in four keystrokes.

6. Use the Volume Mixer to Granular Audio Control

Did you know Windows ships with the ability to control volume on a per app level? You’d usually control the volume by clicking on the speaker icon in your system tray. For the volume mixer, right click on the icon and choose the mixer. You’ll notice a window with options for your main playback device as well as each application that’s capable of outputting sound. In the example below, I have Firefox, and Winamp running.

Great song, if you're wondering.

As an added bonus, if there’s a ungodly sound blaring from you speakers and you don’t know where it’s coming from, the mixer is the place to check!

7. Create a Picture Slideshow on your Desktop

Tired of using the same wallpaper but tired of having to constantly change your wallpapers? Windows 7 has a solution.

The much easiest way is to select multiple images in an explorer shell anywhere, right clicking and choosing Set as Background. Windows will automatically cycle through the chosen images.

You're free to select as many as you want

If you’re itching for a little more control, right click anywhere on the desktop, choose Personalize -> Destkop Background and choose multiple images. You can now choose the interval between changes as well as the order in which they are shown.

8. Invoke the Run Utility in a Single Keystroke

As a power user, I’m constantly looking for getting things done quickly. The run utility is a big help in this aspect. Launching it is still a chore. The easier way? Win+R. Keep in mind that the utility is launched with user level permissions only.

Hola there, indeed!

9. Adding Additional Clocks

I work as part of a distributed team and I frequently have to look up times in different cities. To make this work in Windows 7, click the clock icon in your tray. Choose Additional Clocks in the windows that pops up and add the additional cities you want. Unfortunately, the additional times don’t exactly get displayed in your tray — you need to hover over the clock.

Yes, I'm writing this article this late.

10. Instant Window Docking

Do you have multiple windows open at a time and in need of some immediate organization? Press the Windows key and the left or right arrow key to dock that window to that portion of the screen.

Once docked, you can revert to your earlier position and size by pressing the Windows key and the opposing arrow key.

11. Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Did you know you can launch your favorite applications through custom shortcuts? Let me show you how, it’s easy.

Great game and gets a thumbsup from me!

Just right click the application or its shortcut and click on Properties. Select the Shortcut tab where you’ll find a field for Shortcut Key. Just use a keystroke combo that doesn’t clash with existing shortcuts!

12. Maximize and Minimize Windows in a Heartbeat

Tired or too busy to click the maximize button? Windows provides you with a super quick shortcut: Win+Up key. What about minimizing, you ask? Win+Down key . Pretty nifty when you’re juggling lots of windows.

13. Clean Up Your Text Rendering

One thing I adore on OS X is the clean, crisp typography that it renders. While earlier versions of Windows struggled with this aspect, 7 is pretty spot on.

If you’re unhappy with the current way it renders text, you can always tune it up. Go to Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization and choose Adjust ClearType text under the Fonts category. The utility that pops up should walk you through setting up text rendering the way you want.

Pay attention to this tool -- it relies on user input for proper calibration

14. Turn Your PC Into a Wifi Hot Spot

Windows 7 ships with the ability to turn any run of the mill wifi adapter into a working, basic wifi router.

Setting it up is a matter of running two commands as well as clicking a few checkboxes. But for the sake of brevity, I’m not including the full guide today — you can find it here.

15. Tweak the Autorun Behavior

By default, Windows 7 pops up an autoplay window when you plugin new media. While a lot of people find it quite useful, it merely gets in the way for me.

Thankfully, you can tweak this behavior in a granular manner. Want your audio CDs to autoplay in Winamp but want your movie DVDs to open with VLC instead? Or want autoplay disabled on just your USB devices? Easy. Go to Control Panel -> Hardware and Sound. There you can find a separate section just for autoplay. The first link lets you tweak everything to your heart’s contents.

It's best to disable autoplay for software

16. Open Folders in New Processes for Added Stability

Folders are opened under the same process by default which, while more efficient, can cause issues when you’re dealing with an unstable file system. You can work around this issue by opening each folder in its own process. You can do so by pressing Shift when right clicking a folder and choosing Open in new process.

The approach is pretty similar to how browsers sandbox plugins and tabs.

17. Use the Inbuilt Black Box

Windows 7 ships with a utility that records the steps you’ve taken on the computer automatically including mouse clicks. You can use these recordings to speed up issues when you’re dealing with tech support.

Use the previously mentioned Win+R combo to bring up the run dialog and type in psr. Just click on the bright red button to get started with recording your steps.

This tool is a boon when you need tech support.

18. Remove the Recycle Bin from the Desktop

I tend to run a super tight ship on my desktop. No icons whatsoever. When I first started using Windows 7, the recycle bin was a thorn in my side. Vista let me right click and delete the entry but Windows 7 denied me that.

As I figured out earlier, the functionality is still present — just behind a couple of clicks. Right click on the desktop, choose Personalize and then Change Desktop Icons on the left side pane.

Uncheck the relevant entry and off the bin goes!

It should be apparent which options is relevant here

19. Insta-Lock Your Workstation

Do you have someone at the door in the middle of a financial transaction or something else sensitive? It’d be wise to lock your computer before leaving but it takes multiple pesky mouse movements and clicks to get it done.

There is a simple combo in 7 to instantly lock your desktop: Win+L. Really helps when you’re in a hurry and has saved me lots of times.

20. Minize All Open Windows

If you’re running a Rainmeter or otherwise widget heavy desktop like me and need to look at your desktop instantly to look something up, the traditional way is a bit of a chore.

Look no further than a quick Win+M which will instantly minimize all open windows. Win+D does roughly the same thing except it seems to render the widgets invisible as well.

21. Restore the Quick Launch Bar

I was one of those people who used the quick launch bar fervently in Vista. Even though, this feature is not enabled by default in 7, there is a quick workaround.

Right click your taskbar, choose Toolbars -> New toolbar. In the dialog that pops up, paste in %AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch. You can now tweak the bar’s position, enable/disable titles and the size of the icons.

Start here

22. Show the AM/PM Symbol in the System Tray

Depending on which locale you selected during installation, the time in the system tray may not display the AM/PM marker. Changing it takes only a few steps.

Go to Control Panel -> Clock, Language and Region and choose Change the date, time or number format. In the window that pops up, look for the Short time setting and change it to hh:mm tt

I still can't get over the way the yanks format their dates

23. Set the Taskbar to Show Text Along with Icons

The default taskbar is setup so that apps only display their icons. Which works for me but you may feel otherwise — specially if you’re feeling nostalgic about Vista.

aka Vista mode

To display each icon’s text as well, right click the taskbar and choose Properties. In the popup, change the Taskbar buttons setting to Never combine.

24. Disable Aero Peek

When you hover over the icon at the end of your taskbar, Windows displays renders just the borders for each window letting you take a look at your desktop — otherwise called Aero peek. This might be a performance killer if you run an older generation machine.

For those reading these captions -- again, some excellent music

To turn this off, right click your taskbar, choose Properties and uncheck Use Aero Peek.. This method seems to have a variable success rate so let me know how it’s working out for you.

25. Zoom in Effortlessly

For users who need to zoom into their screen quickly, here is an alternative that’s mouse free: Win plus + button. The Windows magnifier tool will kick in at 200% magnification. You can zoom in further or zoom out once done.

Yes, the tool really is this small. Works great though.

26. Shift Click for a New Instance of an App

Here’s a cool trick: if you have an app running that has an icon in your taskbar, shift or middle click on its icon and Windows will launch a fresh instance of the application.

As an added bonus, Ctrl + Shift + click will open an instance with admin privileges.

27. Automatically Reduce the Volume When a Call Arrives

I think a vast majority of our readers use our PCs to make voice calls. Windows 7 has lots of built-in functionality around this feature. Let’s take a look at one of the most practical.

When you’re using a PC to make calls and you have a sound producing app on the side, Windows 7 will automatically reduce the system volume. I prefer completing muting everything and that’s how I’ve set mine up. Here’s how.

Press Win+R and type in mmsys.cpl. This will take you directly to the Sound section of the Control Panel. Click on the Communications tab and choose Mute all other sounds. As expected, this will automatically mute everything but the call.

28. Move Your Page File

This is one of those fabled performance tricks told over the years: moving your system’s paging filr from the C partition to a separate hard drive gives you a nice little performance boost. I’ll let you google up about the whys but here is how to do it.

Open Control Panel -> System -> Advanced System Settings. Choose the Advanced tab and click on the settings button of the Performance category. In the popup, click on the Advanced tab and finally the change button. Uncheck the solitary checkbox and create a new page file in a different hard drive after selecting the No paging file option for the C partition. Phew!

29. Activate God Mode

Though the name is quite misleading, the fabled God mode is a neat trick. Invoking it is pretty easy. Create a new folder titled GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C} and the folder’s icon will change to resemble a control panel and will contain a plethora of control options.

And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

30. Shake to Minimize

This is another of those nifty little window management tricks. When you’re working on a cluttered desktop, grab the titlebar of a window and give it a vigorous shake and every other window will minimize meekly providing you all the focus you need.

As a bonus, Win+Home does the same thing.

31. Drag and Drop to Path Glory

When working in the command line, there are plenty of times where you need to provide the path to a specific file or folder. Compiling code, for example. Instead of typing it out, just drag the file into the command prompt and its path will automatically be inserted.

32. Enable Hidden Wallpapers

Considering wallpapers are, well, free this isn’t as impressive as I’d like but hey, hidden is hidden and unlocking equals dopamine. Right? Right?

Go to C:\Windows\Globalization\MCT and you’ll find it stuffed with folders named MCT-xx where xx is a named region. Each of these folders contains region specific themes and wallpapers. Go nuts. Or not. It’s your call, really.

Yay! Dopamine!

33. AutoArrange Your Desktop

You can ask Windows 7 to arrange your desktop by right clicking on the desktop and choosing View -> Auto arange. Once enabled though, you don’t have to go through all those clicks to re-arrange your desktop. Pressing and holding F5 does the trick!

34. Easier App Switching

Alt+tabbing is nice but there is an easier way to switch to your apps. Press the Windows key plus the position of the app in the taskbar. For example, if an app is placed first in your taskbar, press Win+1 and the app will get focus. If it’s not running, it will be launched, as mentioned earlier above.

35. Open a Command Prompt at a Specific Folder

Again, a tip that works out for devs. Press the the Shift key when right clicking on a folder and you’ll see additional options. One amongst them is Open command window here. Really helps if you don’t feel to comfortable with the command line.

That's the Ruby root folder, if you're interested.

36. Calibrate Your Screen

Windows 7 ships with calibration tools in built. While you google around for the long way, here is a quick tip. Press Win+R, and enter dccw.exe in the popup. The Windows Display Color Calibration tool will pop up to sort out your issues.

The calibration tool's welcome screen

37. Monitor Your Performance with Resource Monitor

Windows 7 is usually incredibly quick for me but if yours is acting out, here is a quick little tool buried in Win 7 to help you diagnose the issue.

Click on the start menu and type in resmon to launch the Resource Monitor. The tool provides you with an indepth look at what is eating your CPU cycles, memory and network.

Only video games and transcoding seem to make any kind of dent in modern CPus

38. Enable Checkboxes to Select Multiple Files

I think everyone knows to press the Ctrl key to make multiple selections. Here is a keyboardless way to make it happen.

Go to any folder, click on the the Organize button on the top and select Folder and search options. Go to the view tab and enable the Use check boxes to select items option. Once done, a small checkbox will appear next to each item letting you select multiple items with just a mouse.

Yes, I know the file names are incredibly chaotic

39. Navigate Your Taskbar With Your Keyboard

You can easily move through your taskbar directly through just your keyboard. Press Win+T to cycle through the taskbar icons. Once the initial combo has been pressed, you can also use the arrow keys to navigate your apps.

40. Launch Task Manager in the Proper Context

I bet you always press Ctrl+Alt+Del to bring up the venerable task manager. Have you noticed there is a slowdown before it launches?

While you can deal with the technicalities of why it happens here, here is a quick little shortcut that step around the entire process: Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

Looking for More?

If you enjoyed the deluge of information here, please feel free to check out some of our other massive roundups below:

Wrapping Up

Well, that’s about everything I’ve got at the moment. How many of these did you know already? And how many new ones do you have for me?

And yes, I know the title mentions 40+. Here’s the final piece of the puzzle and it’s a path: C:\Windows\Media\onestop.mid. You’re welcome!

Let us know in the comments and thank you so much for stopping by!


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