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Windows XP and Vista expert tweaking guide

Have Windows your way. Today

Tweak Vista for peak performance

Got a problem with Windows? There's no need to put up with elements that don't suit you. We've got the tools to help you get XP or Vista looking and acting just right.

Vista's lack of speed annoys us as much as it does everyone else. So we've come up with some straightforward and practical ways to improve its overall speed.

Slim down the user interface

Regardless of the task at hand, Vista puts up a beautiful screen; but you wouldn't run a marathon wearing a tuxedo.

Get Vista out of its tails and into some joggers.

1. Start by scrapping the Sidebar. Its analogue clock and RSS feed are nice, but you may decide they're not worth the CPU cycles they use. Right-click the Sidebar and select Properties. Deselect 'Start Sidebar when Windows starts', then click ok. The Sidebar will be gone with your next boot.

2. Next, turn off some of Vista's cool-looking but cycle-eating visual effects. Click Start, type 'sysdm.cpl', press Enter and tell the User Account Control dialog box to Continue. In the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab, then click the Settings button in the Performance box.

In the resulting dialog box's Visual Effects tab, deselect whichever options you can live without, such as 'Animate windows when minimising and maximising'. Alternatively, let Windows decide and select 'Adjust for best performance'.

Faster file and folder access

Shaving a few seconds off loading a file will be of little help if you still spend three minutes looking for it.

3. Look at the top lefthand corner of Windows Explorer or a File Open dialog box. The box located there, called Favorite Links, contains, er, Microsoft's favourite links. To add a link to one of your favourite folders there, drag the folder from the Folders box underneath into Favorite Links.

You can arrange the links by dragging them up and down. You also have the option of removing one or more of them from the box by right-clicking the item and selecting Remove Link.

4. You can save some time in your file and folder search if you put everything in one cascading menu. By adding your desktop to the taskbar, you can make every folder on your computer and network easily accessible along with all the shortcuts on your desktop that usually hide behind open program windows. Simply right-click a blank spot on the taskbar and then select Toolbars, Desktop.

5. On top of that, there's no need to go through any menus to load a program if you know that program's name. Simply click Start, or press your keyboard's Windows key, then start typing the application name. You don't even have to start at the beginning of the name; typing 'Elements', for example, will bring up Adobe's Photoshop Elements. When the program name appears, press Enter.

Below the program name you'll see a list of documents and (if you use Vista's Windows Mail program) email messages containing that word. Those additional search results can be handy, but they slow down the search.

6. You can boost the speed of the Start Search by restricting where it looks for the string of characters you type. Right-click the Start button and select Properties. On the Start Menu tab, click Customize, then scroll down until you find the various Search options. The more options you leave selected there, the slower but more thorough your Start Searches will be. Lincoln Spector


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