50 Vista customisation tips for beginners

Quick and easy tweaks for a a desktop to suit the way you work

31. Switch to classic Start menu

If you don't like the new Start menu, you can replace it with a stripped-down version instead – right-click the Start button and select Properties. Choose Classic Start Menu and click OK.

32. A new Start menu

Want to try out a completely different Start menu? Download Vista Start Menu from here – it's not as fully featured as the proper Windows Vista Start menu, but has some unique options of its own, including one-click access to all power options, plus the ability to magnify the Start menu for easier reading – perfect if your sight isn't what it used to be.

33. Customise the Start menu

Right-click the Start button and select Properties, then click Customize. You can pick and choose exactly what gets displayed on the Start menu, and also display system folders such as Control Panel and Computer as fully accessible menus rather than just a simple shortcut.

Customise vista

34. Use TweakVI

TweakVI has a section dedicated to the Start menu, giving you even more customisations to choose from – select Start menu tweaks from the Visual Tweaks section and work your way through the tabs to completely fine-tune the Start menu to your personal requirements.

35. Change Sleep button to shut down

If you want to replace the Sleep button with a Shut Down button on the Start menu, open the Power Options Control Panel (look under System and Maintenance).

Click Change plan settings under the currently selected power plan, followed by Change advanced power settings. Expand Power buttons and lid > Start menu power button and click Sleep to change it to Shut down. Click OK.

36. Resize taskbar

By default, the taskbar is designed to fit everything on a single row, which can quickly become a little cramped. Right-click the taskbar and untick Lock the Taskbar by selecting it.

Hover the mouse pointer over the top edge of the taskbar and you'll notice it changes to a double arrow. Click and drag the mouse up and the taskbar increases in size to two rows.

37. Rearrange taskbar items

You'll notice that when the taskbar is unlocked, some drag handles appear either side of the Quick Launch icons. These enable you to rearrange your toolbars so they sit either side of each other or – if your taskbar is two or more rows in height – on top of each other.

Experiment with clicking and dragging on these to get the taskbar looking the way you want it to.

38. TweakVI taskbar tweaks

Open Visual Tweaks > Start menu Tweaks and Settings, then switch to the CTRL+ALT+DEL tab. In the Taskbar section you can further customise the taskbar a number of ways, plus prevent other users from either adding or removing taskbars, or rearranging the current layout.

39. Shortcut to Flip3D

Fancy accessing the Flip 3D window preview directly from your desktop? If you have TweakVI installed, you can create one simply by clicking the large button on the DWM tweaks and settings tab of the Desktop tweaks and settings section under Visual Tweaks.

If it's not installed, right-click your desktop and choose New Shortcut. Type the following into the New Shortcut box before clicking Next: C:\Windows\system32\rundll32.exe DwmApi #105

Call your shortcut Flip 3D and click Finish. Double-click it to see it in action.

Customise vista

40. Ditch the taskbar

Stardock's ObjectDock gives you a dynamic (and transparent) alternative to the taskbar. Download it from here and find out how it works below.

a) Set up ObjectDock

Once installed, double-click the program shortcut on the desktop. You'll see the dock appear immediately above your taskbar. Roll the mouse over each icon to see what's set up by default.

b) Add new shortcuts

You can drag existing shortcuts from your desktop, Start menu or taskbar on to your dock, or right-click the left-hand edge of the taskbar and choose Add followed by the type of shortcut you wish to include, including a Start button.

c) Configure Dock

Click the Configure Dock icon to customise the dock to your own preferences – concentrate on the Appearance, Effects and Positioning tabs to fine-tune your dock's appearance; use Dock Contents to display open windows on the dock too (perfect if you hide the main taskbar from the General tab).

Media and the internet

41. Skin Windows Media Player

When you opt to run Windows Media Player in Skin Mode (press Ctrl and 2), you're given a limited choice of two cut-down versions of the main player when you select View > Skin Chooser.

Click the More Skins button, though, and you see dozens of more striking examples to choose from. Opt to download and open the file directly, and it appears for selection in the Skin Chooser as soon as it's downloaded.

Customise vista

42. Customise library view

The Windows Media Player Library provides you with a number of different views depending on the information that you want to see. For example, open the program and choose Library. Now select Year to see your albums arranged by year and grouped by decade.

If you're not sure that the album information you have is correct, right-click the album art and choose Update Album Info.

43. Add new features to Internet Explorer

Want to improve Internet Explorer even further? You can extend its functionality with the help of handy add-ons. You'll find a selection of add-ons by choosing Tools > Manage Add-ons > Find more toolbars and extensions.

Three favourites include McAfee's Site Advisor for additional protection against untrustworthy websites, IE Spell for checking your spelling in web forms and boxes, and Open Last Closed Tab, which enables you to re-open an accidentally closed tab simply by pressing Alt and X.

44. More toolbars

You'll find plenty of toolbars available that offer additional functionality to Internet Explorer, too. If you've got your own website, you can even build a toolbar from scratch for it at www.loyaltytoolbar.com – customise it with the elements you and your site visitors will find most useful.

If you don't have a site, but want to see what all the fuss is about, check out the SupportPCs toolbar for an example of what's possible.

45. Customise links toolbar

Fancy quick access to your favourite websites in Internet Explorer? Select Tools > Toolbars > Links and then drag web addresses from the main address bar on to the Links bar to add them.

Alternatively, move existing Favorites to the links bar by choosing Favorites > Organize Favorites (select Tools > Menu Bar if it's not visible).

46. Tweak Windows Live Messenger

If you're a fan of instant messaging with Windows Live Messenger, read on to discover how to customise it to your tastes.

a) Change your look

If you want to change your display picture, select Tools > Change display picture and choose one from the list or add your own by clicking on Browse.

Customise vista

b) Create emoticons and add winks

Choose Tools > Emoticons, then click Create followed by Find Image. Browse to and select your choice of picture before clicking Open. Pick the keyboard shortcut you'll use to trigger the emoticon and provide a name. Click OK.

Select Tools > Winks to preview existing winks, or click Get more winks to download. Alternatively, visit this page in your web browser.

c) Change sounds

To change the sound effects used, pick Tools > Options > Alerts and Sounds. Select an event and click Play to hear what it currently sounds like. Click Browse to change it (you can use WMA, WAV or MP3 files), or untick an event to prevent it playing a sound at all.

47. Customise Windows Media Center

You can switch the default blue colour scheme for a high-contrast black or white background by selecting Tasks > Settings, then choosing General > Visual and Sound Effects. While you're here, you can also change the video background colour's shade from black to white through various shades of grey.

48. Expand Windows Media Center

If you spend a lot of time with Windows Media Center, you'll be glad to know you can add more plug-ins so its functionality is extended. Need to check the weather forecast between programs, for example? Download mceWeather from here.

Whether it's useful little tools for the Media Center or some fun games to play within it using your remote control, visit here for a massive list.

49. Windows Sidebar

The Windows Sidebar offers a collection of useful features at your fingertips, but have you taken the time to set it up exactly the way you want it to work?

Start by removing those sidebar gadgets you don't need and adding those you do – click Add Gadgets followed by Get more gadgets online to track down loads of free add-ons.

Customise vista

50. Change Sidebar behaviour

If you right-click the Windows Sidebar and choose Properties, you can change where it appears on-screen and what it displays. To prevent it from starting automatically, untick Start Sidebar when Windows starts.

The Arrangement section enables you to keep the sidebar on top of all other windows (they'll shrink to accommodate it), position to the left of the screen and even put it on a secondary monitor if you have two displays connected to your PC.


First published with Windows Vista: The Official Magazine Issue 31

Liked this? Then check out Windows deathmatch: Windows 7 vs Vista vs XP

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