It's hardly a secret that Windows Vista hasn't been Microsoft's most popular launch. Many of its features seem decorative rather than useful and some of them - most notably User Account Control (UAC) - are downright restrictive. Does it really need to warn us when we're about to adjust the clock by a couple of minutes or start a manual backup we initiated?

While some people need their hands holding when performing straightforward software installations, most of us find UAC's constant demands for confirmation that we really want to proceed with an action we initiated in the first place a teeth-clencher.

Another well-meaning but poorly implemented Vista feature is its firewall. Windows XP was roundly criticised for its lax security and its inbound-only firewall. Vista has a two-way firewall, but its default setting is Off. In this state it can do nothing about what your system sends out.

Since an infected PC can mass-mail spam and forward your credit-card numbers to someone who doesn't have your best interests at heart, that's an important shortcoming.

A useful addition to Vista would have been an automated backup tool that allowed you to save data without even trying. While you can return your PC to a prior state should anything go wrong, Previous Versions can save your settings and files to an external drive from whence you can recover it.

Here, we address some of the biggest gripes users have with Vista. We show you how to alter their settings or dump unwanted features in favour of tools that can do their intended task so much better.

1. UAC is a royal pain. If you're an administrator, fortunately, you can turn it off. Select Start, Control Panel, User Accounts, ‘Turn User Account Control on or off'. Select Continue at the UAC prompt and then untick ‘Use User Account Control (UAC) to help protect your computer'. Click ok.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 1

2. Having reset UAC, you may occasionally be warned that it's switched off when you start up your Vista PC. TweakUAC can turn off UAC for administrator accounts while leaving it on for everyone else. Simply run the program, select ‘Switch UAC to the quiet mode' and click ok.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 2

3. Another useful move is to tell Vista when it should and shouldn't issue a UAC warning. This fine-tuning works only in Vista Business or Ultimate. Select Start, type secpol.msc and press Enter. Browse to the Security Settings, Local Policy, Security Options and scroll down for nine ways to control UAC's behaviour.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 3

4. Vista's outbound firewall protection is switched off by default. Click Start, type firewall and select Windows Firewall with Advanced Security. Click Windows Firewall Properties. The first three tabs have an Outbound Connections menu. In all three, select Block. An alternative is to use Comodo.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 4

5. An automated backup application gives you the option of restoring a system backup without harming your data. If you use Vista Business or Ultimate, you already have one. To access it, select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Backup Status and Configuration, Complete PC Backup.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 5

6. For other Vista users, Genie Backup Manager Home builds on the capabilities of System Restore. Genie's Disaster Recovery option insists on backing up everything on the drive, but it's possible to restore the system while keeping the data unchanged.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 6

7. Installing a program usually means allowing it to dig its claws deep into the operating system (OS). Running an uninstaller usually eliminates the app's functionality but leaves the claws behind. Revo Uninstaller is a better alternative to Vista's Programs and Features.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 7

8. Vista's Windows Explorer is decent, but its Address Bar's drop-down menu of recently visited folders lists only those you accessed from the address bar and confuses things by including web pages. Instead, try using a Favorites folder: drag items for inclusion to the top left pane in Explorer to create a shortcut to them.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 8

9. Another option is to use a different recent folders list. Click the down arrow to the left of the address bar for a list of recent folders. Close and re-open Explorer and the list will be blank. Alternatively, Hyperionics FileBox eXtender brings drop-down Recent and Favorites menus to Explorer.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 9

10. In Windows XP you could drag items you wanted to the Start menu, whereas the same action in Vista physically moves the file or folder. There's no easy workaround, but if you drop items on the Start button rather than in the menu area, you'll get a shortcut in the left pane rather than in All Programs.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 10

11. Another way to get access to the files and folders you use most often in Vista is to use the context menu. Instead of left-dragging the object to the desired location in the Start menu, right-drag it. When you release the button, select ‘Create Shortcuts Here' from the resulting menu.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 11

12. You can access your most important folders via the Vista menu's right pane. But Microsoft limits the entry options to Documents, Music and so on. To fix this, you should make your special folder an official special folder. First, right-click the Start button and choose Properties, Start Menu, Customize.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 12

13. Scroll down the list of folders and choose an item you don't need. Select Display as a Folder. Right-click the folder you chose in the previous step and select Properties. Click the Location tab and type in the path for the folder to which you want easy access. Click ok. Decide whether or not to copy all your items to the new folder.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 13

14. If all of this sounds like a lot of bother, instead use Vista Start Menu. This replaces the Windows Start menu with a larger and more versatile (but uglier) alternative. You can control which folders and other items appear on the main menu.

Fix Vista's worst shortcomings: Step 14