Since June 30 has been and gone, unless you're one of the few that can get their hands on XP, you're pretty much stuck with Vista. Here's a round-up of the best tips and tricks that will make Vista a winner.

June 30 has now been and gone marking the fact that consumers can now only get their hands on Windows XP with some difficulty.

Although it is available in some circumstances, Microsoft has relaxed restrictions on new XP laptops, for instance, most of us will see our Windows options reduced to Windows Vista.

However, with a bad reputation that includes slow performance, annoying security features, and lack of support for many existing devices, its no wonder that users aren't jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of using the OS.

Fear not, because we've unearthed a number of ways to tame the quirks and foibles of Vista and make it easier to use.

Speed up Windows Vista

Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista may not give your system much extra oomph, but there are other ways to speed up Windows Vista.

Spending a few minutes (or a few pounds) optimising your Vista PC, can pep it up noticeably.

Make Vista's user account control work for you

Logging on as a user with fewer privileges is one way to avoid enduring the incessant User Account Control interruptions that are irritating to say the least. The less privileged your log-in profile is, the more secure your PC will be.

Activate Vista's Snipping tool

The screen-capture utility built into Windows Vista got dropped from some versions of the OS. But we've put together a straightforward explanation of how to turn the Vista snipping tool on if you have it and how to upgrade to it if you don't.

If you have Windows Vista Basic, you have the wrong edition all the way around. Vista Basic is, in essence, Windows XP with a pretty face, and not even the attractive Aero interface that comes with other Vista editions. Also missing are Vista's Shadow Copies feature, its scheduled backups, and the Snipping tool.

Sorting out all the differences between the other Vista editions isn't easy, although some sites do offer to help you compare features. The comparison charts on Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows are our favourites. But Vista itself has a feature that can help.

Open Control Panel and launch Windows Anytime Upgrade. At the bottom of the window, click Compare versions for details that match your flavour of Vista against those that you can upgrade to.

If you have a version of Vista other than Home Basic, you already have the Snipping Tool screen capture utility: Choose Start, All Programs, Accessories, Snipping Tool.

If you don't see it there, it may not be activated. Go to Control Panel and open Program and Features (you may have to click Programs first). In the task pane on the left, click Turn Windows features on or off. If necessary, click Continue when prompted by User Account Control.

Scroll through the list of features, check the box next to Tablet PC Optional Components, and click ok. Turning on these features gives you not only the Snipping Tool, but also the Tablet PC Input Panel, Windows Journal, and other stylus-related features.

NEXT PAGE: Adding Vista Ultimate features to Vista Home Premium

  1. Tips and tricks that make Vista easier to use
  2. Adding Vista Ultimate features to Vista Home Premium
  3. Solving Vista's defrag problems
  4. More ways to minimise your Vista hardware hassles

Since June 30 has been and gone, unless you're one of the few that can get their hands on XP, you're pretty much stuck with Vista. Here's a round-up of the best tips and tricks that will make Vista a winner.

Add Vista Ultimate features to Home Premium

The numerous and confusing differences among Vista versions have led many people to opt for Home Premium rather than the full-featured Ultimate, not least because its cheaper. Fortunately, you can give Home Premium many Ultimate features a try, often for free.

The backup program built into Vista Ultimate lets you make images that exactly duplicate a disk or partition, byte for byte. Through it you can easily restore a failed disk with the operating system, files, and settings running as they did before the crash.

You can add this feature to Home Premium by purchasing Symantec's Norton Save & Restore or Acronis' True Image.

If you have a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive, you can download free versions of DiscWizard and MaxBlast imaging utilities that are based on Acronis True Image. An unpolished-but-free alternative is DriveImage XML from Runtime Software.

Next is Vista Ultimate's Shadow Copy, which automatically backs up different versions of the files you save, so you can easily revert to one of them.

To get the same protection in Vista Home Premium, look no further than the freeware utility FileHamster from Mogware. Each time you save a file, FileHamster prompts you to add a comment to annotate that version and (optionally) to protect it from deletion.

Through Virtual PC (downloadable), you can run other operating systems as if they were applications within Vista Ultimate. This is useful when you need a program that can't run in your current version of Windows, or when you want to browse safely.

VMware's free VMware Player brings this feature to Home Premium. After you download and install it, you must go back to the VMware site to download one or more 'virtual appliances' that run in VMware Player (many of which are free). For example, we downloaded Damn Small Linux (DSL), complete with desktop utilities.

NEXT PAGE: Solving Vista's defrag problems

  1. Tips and tricks that make Vista easier to use
  2. Adding Vista Ultimate features to Vista Home Premium
  3. Solving Vista's defrag problems
  4. More ways to minimise your Vista hardware hassles

Since June 30 has been and gone, unless you're one of the few that can get their hands on XP, you're pretty much stuck with Vista. Here's a round-up of the best tips and tricks that will make Vista a winner.

Deal with Vista defrag problems

Think Vista's defrag doesn't work in Safe Mode? Well you're not alone. But it actually does work in Safe Mode; it just doesn't tell you.

Vista treats defragging as a hidden background task, no progress bar, no pretty boxes changing colors, no sign whatsoever that anything is happening. When you launch Defrag under normal conditions (by right-clicking your hard drive's icon in Computer, selecting Properties, and clicking Tools, Defragment Now), you get a dialog box for controlling when defrags happen, but that's about it.

Do the same thing in Safe Mode, and defragging quietly starts.

Here's another Vista Defrag problem: Entering 'defrag c:' at a command prompt brings up an error message. In Vista you can launch a command-line defrag only from an administrator command prompt.

To get one, select Start, All Programs, Accessories. Right-click the Command Prompt icon and select Run as administrator. You'll know you're on the right track when Vista makes you pass through a User Account Control dialog box (if you haven't disabled this 'security' feature, that is).

Minimise Vista-related hardware hassles

If you plan to upgrade to Windows Vista, here's some tried and true tips for easing your move to the newer OS.

Study up beforehand: Make sure you've got the minimum system requirements. For example to run the bare-bones Vista Home Basic, Microsoft recommends a CPU running at 1GHz or faster, plus 512MB of RAM and 15GB of hard-drive space.

Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate editions with the Aero environment require at least 1GB of RAM, and for systems without integrated graphics, a DirectX 9.0-capable graphics processor with 128MB of its own RAM, DirectX 9, and a few other features.

Microsoft's Vista Upgrade Advisor scans your PC to determine which editions of Vista will run on it, and which of its hardware components are incompatible with Vista.

When we ran Upgrade Advisor on a year-old machine, the program found no compatibility problems, but it did list 10 components for which it had no data, including the PC's USB port.

Need to identify what components are in your system? The free Belarc Advisor utility will quickly scan your PC and identify all its hardware.

If Vista doesn't support one of your PC's components, look for updated Vista drivers on the vendor's website. If you can't find them, the drivers may still be in development, so ask the company about it. RadarSync, a device driver update service, has created a list of links to Vista drivers.

After you have identified which drivers lack Vista equivalents, copy the XP versions to a CD or anyplace you can easily access them once you've installed Vista. Make sure you have your network drivers handy so you can go online and download other device drivers and updates.

NEXT PAGE: More ways to minimise your Vista hardware hassles

  1. Tips and tricks that make Vista easier to use
  2. Adding Vista Ultimate features to Vista Home Premium
  3. Solving Vista's defrag problems
  4. More ways to minimise your Vista hardware hassles

Since June 30 has been and gone, unless you're one of the few that can get their hands on XP, you're pretty much stuck with Vista. Here's a round-up of the best tips and tricks that will make Vista a winner.

Be prepared for trouble Back up your old XP installation to a second hard drive or to a different partition on your main drive so you can revert to XP if something goes wrong with Vista. As an alternative to doing a complete backup on a separate hard drive, use a drive-image program such as Acronis True Image 10 to burn an image of your XP installation on to recordable DVDs. Or set up your PC to dual-boot.

Once you've installed Windows Vista, open Device Manager to check for problems.

Right-click the Computer icon and choose Manage, Device Manager. Nonfunctioning devices are flagged with an exclamation point in a yellow triangle. If Windows can't find a driver, it may list the device as 'Unknown Device' under 'Other devices'. HunterSoft's free Unknown Device Identifier utility helps you find the name of the mystery hardware.

  1. Tips and tricks that make Vista easier to use
  2. Adding Vista Ultimate features to Vista Home Premium
  3. Solving Vista's defrag problems
  4. More ways to minimise your Vista hardware hassles