[AI] some features of Windows 7

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Sat Apr 10 02:23:45 EDT 2010

CARRIE-ANN SKINNER shows how to get the benefits of Win 7 in Vista and XP, and
gives Media Center a TV make-over


Windows 7 was certainly highly anticipated.  Vista was never the easiest
operating system (OS) to use and, with its many quirky functions and features -
not to mention slow booting times - PC users have been crying out for an
alternative for years.

Now that Microsoft has finally delivered, we're thoroughly impressed with
Windows 7, from its sleek interface to its swift operation.

But if you haven't got the spare cash to buy the new OS, consider instead one of
the free or cheap apps available online that can speed up boot times for Windows
XP and Vista.  We look at simple tweaks, upgrades and downloads overleaf.

Another feature of Windows 7 that has been subtly improved is Windows Media
Center.  It now offers better playback options and support for more media types.
However, it remains most useful if you've got a digital tuner in your PC and use
it to record TV shows.  You can even watch Sky TV.

Committed telly addicts will find, however, that Media Center recordings munch
through storage space at an alarming rate.  Thankfully, there are ways to reduce
the amount of space assigned to the program.  Alternatively, you can expand your
storage and record as much as you like.

Here we look at ways to get the best from Media Center in Windows 7 and Vista,
as well as exploring ways to enjoy Windows 7 features without going to the
expense of upgrading.


Windows Media Center is the must-have software if you have a TV tuner in your PC
- you can use it in place of a personal video recorder (PVR), recording
television programmes or whole series to watch later.

There's just one problem: it can consume almost your entire hard drive. 

For example, suppose you configure Media Center to record 'EastEnders' and 'The
X Factor'.  By default, the program records an unlimited number of episodes,
regardless of whether some are repeats or it's on every day for years.  If you
leave it a while before sitting down to watch your shows (that's what a PVR is
for, after all), you may find your hard drive is full up.

Get strict about storage... 

To ensure you've got enough disk space for actual computing, limit the amount of
space Media Center can claim.  Open Windows Media Center, scroll down to Tasks,
Settings and press Enter.

Now choose Recorder, then Recorder Storage.  (Note that these options appear
only if you have a TV tuner installed and configured.) Use the minus icon next
to 'Maximum TV limit' to decrease the storage (in 25GB increments) to the amount
you want to allow Media Center.  Click Save.

...or just boost your capacity 

On the other hand, if your PC doubles as your home-entertainment system, then
you may want to consider giving your PC more storage capacity.  As with any PC
that needs more space, there are two basic options.

First, you can replace the existing hard drive with something larger.  This is a
fairly major job, what with copying everything to the new drive, making the swap
and so on.

Alternatively, you can install a second drive that works in tandem with the
original.  Ideally this would be an internal drive, but you'll need a free bay -
the path of least resistance is to plump for an external USB hard drive.  The
main requirements are that it's quick (at least 5,400rpm) and quiet.

Fortunately, drives such as this are easy to come by and reasonably priced.  At
sites such as amazon.co.uk and dabs.com you'll find a terabyte (1TB) USB drive
costs around ukp65 inc VAT.

Switching Windows Media Center over to the new drive is literally a
plug-and-play affair (in Vista, anyway).  After you've plugged it in and
verified that it's available to the system, use the same steps as before to
access the storage options menu.

Launch Windows Media Center and check you're not currently recording anything.
Scroll down to Tasks, then click Settings.  Choose Recorder, then Recorder

As before, these options appear only if you have a TV tuner installed and

Use the plus sign next to 'Record on drive' to select your newly added external
drive.  Click Save to finish the operation.

>From now on, all shows will be recorded on the new drive.  But you'll still be
able to access previously recorded shows, even though they're on the primary

The only thing you can't do is get Media Center to use both drives for
recording; it's one or the other.  Of course, if the new drive starts to get
full, you can always switch back temporarily.  Just follow the steps outlined
above and choose your C drive.

For Windows 7 users the process is pretty much the same.  Although it's worth
noting that if the Recorder option isn't available in the Settings menu, your PC
probably doesn't have a TV tuner.  However, USB TV tuners are available pretty

There's one final option: you can use an iPhone or Xbox 360 as an extension of
your Media Center storage.  Xbox controllers even feature a convenient Media
Center button.

WMP in Windows 7 

Windows 7 also includes a new version of Windows Media Player (WMP).  WMP 12.0
has a new-look interface with two views: Library view, allowing you to see and
manage your media; and a Now Playing view for enjoying podcasts, videos and so

It also benefits from the ability to minimise the player into the Taskbar,
leaving you with mini-controls and a Jump List.

Simply hover the cursor over the WMP button on the Taskbar after the program is
launched and a thumbnail window shows up with options for controlling the app
and playing songs.  The controls are basic - Previous Track, Play/Pause, Next
Track - but having quick access to music from the Taskbar is a nice time-saver.

Microsoft has added support for several media types that WMP 11.0 didn't
support, including AAC audio and H.264 video.  These are the formats it needs to
play unprotected music and movies from Apple's iTunes Store.

Media options in XP and Vista 

Windows XP and Vista users needn't feel disheartened, however.  You can get your
hands on all of these features without upgrading to Win 7, by downloading WMP
12.0 for free at tinyurl.com/wmp12free.  What XP and Vista users can't currently
access, sadly, is Windows 7's simplified media-sharing facilities.  Thanks to
Homegroups and Remote Media Sharing, Win 7 lets you stream information over the
internet and share media remotely.

Media Streaming Options lets you restrict which specific PCs have access to your
media by choosing 'more streaming options...'  from the WMP 'Stream' menu.


Compro Vista E900F 

Compro's latest VideoMate Vista PCI TV tuner can be slotted into your PC,
ensuring you can pick up, play and record digital and analogue TV channels.  It
has dual digital tuners so you can watch one channel while recording another,
and comes with a remote control that can access Windows Media Center and an
electronic programme guide.  ukp80 inc VAT scan.co.uk

Altec Lansing Orbit 

This ukp39 circular laptop speaker from Altec Lansing is a lightweight device,
but it could make a substantial improvement to your laptop's sound quality.

Weighing in at a featherweight 36 grams , the circular speaker is made from
aluminium and composite materials, and connects to your laptop via a retractable
16 inches USB cable.  The manufacturer enthusastically notes that the spherical
design allows for a 360-degree sound field, and says the speaker is easy to
position to suit the listener's needs.

The Orbit comes with a neoprene case and carabiner hook so it can be attached to
the laptop case for transportation.  It draws power from the computer, so you
needn't worry about a supply of batteries.  ukp39 inc VAT alteclansing.com


Vista has come in for a lot of criticism - that it boots slowly, for example, or
that User Account Control (UAC) is annoying.  The software giant addresses many
of these complaints in Windows 7, but those who wish to stick with Vista or its
predecessor, Windows XP, have several other options, as we explain here.

Faster bootups 

If slow bootups are an issue, evaluate your RAM allocation.  Vista and XP users
alike should upgrade to at least 2GB.

Next download the free Startup Delayer ( bit.ly/1FCBg7).  Using this, you can
choose which programs should run during startup and which can wait their turn
for 10 or 15 mins.  This will make the OS boot much faster.

User Account Control 

Microsoft provides granular control in Windows 7, which is a better alternative
than UAC being either off or on.  A slider control lets you select from four
security settings that range from maximum protection to nothing.  The new OS
also lets you insist that UAC notify you only if a program is making changes to
any Windows settings but not if you're changing them yourself.

Vista users can't adjust the settings on UAC, so you'll have to put up with it,
turn if off completely or rely on a third-party replacement such as Norton User
Account Control ( bit.ly/2wASgj).  This replaces the stock UAC with one that
learns from your responses and nags you less often.

Another alternative is UAC Snooze ( bit.ly/qwLB8), a system tray utility that
puts UAC to sleep for a designated period of time - a helpful arrangement if you
plan to do some system tweaking and don't want to be bothered every step of the

Interface enhancements 

Windows 7's Taskbar has much larger, clearer icons and has integrated the Quick
Launch toolbar.  You can also pin the applications of your choice in the Taskbar
and launch them from there.

To get similar options in Vista and XP you need to visit the Registry.  Click
Start, type regedit, and press Enter.  Find and click on the value listed at
Hkey_Current_User\ Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics.

Now, in the right pane, right-click in a blank space and select New, String
Value.  Name the new string value MinWidth, and set its value to -255.  Then
exit the Registry Editor and restart your system.  To reverse this at any point,
return to the Registry and delete the entry.

To give Vista's Taskbar the 'pinnable' function you'll need to make sure the
Quick Launch toolbar is displayed.  Right-click the Taskbar and choose Toolbars,
Quick Launch.  Now right-click again and untick the box next to Lock the
Taskbar.  This operation adds a handle to the right of the Quick Launch toolbar.
Drag the handle to the right to make more room.

Finally, right-click the Taskbar and choose View, Large Icons. 

Besides adding new icons, you can attach icons for folders and documents to your
newly improved Taskbar.  Simply drag an icon down and drop it in.


Windows 7 users can minimise all but one of a group of windows on their desktop
by clicking and holding the title bar of any open window, and then shaking the
mouse back and forth a few times.  Aero Shake ( bit.ly/l11ZP) gives XP and Vista
users this ability.

They can also resize a window to half the size of the screen by simply dragging
a window to the right or left edge of the screen.  AeroSnap (
tinyurl.com/win7snap) provides XP and Vista with the same function, but instead
drags items to the top edge.

Finally, there's a Windows 7 function that makes windows temporarily transparent
so you can see what's on the desktop: you simply hover the cursor over the Show
Desktop button in the bottom-right corner of the screen.  The freebie AeroPeek (
tr.im/aeropeek takes you to a downloadable .zip file) for XP and Vista works a
bit differently - you have to click to activate it and then click again to
deactivate it - but the end result is much the same: your open windows become
see-through, allowing you to view the desktop behind them.

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