Windows

Improve performance and productivity with these Vista tricks

Greg Shultz shows you several performance and productivity enhancing tricks for Windows Vista.

Over the last week, I've encountered some interesting Vista tricks and wanted to share them with you in this edition of the Windows Vista Report.

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.

Quickly accessing Network Connections

The other day a buddy of mine brought his laptop over to the house and told me that he had a cool new Microsoft Windows Vista trick to show me. He began by reminding me that in Windows XP, you could quickly and easily access the Network Connections folder right from the Start menu. But in Windows Vista, you must use one of several meandering routes to access the Network Connections folder. It's not even in the Control Panel he pointed out.

Then he showed me that in Vista you either have to right-click on the Network icon in the notification area, select Network and Sharing Center, and then click Manage Network Connections link in the Tasks pane or you have to click Start, select Network, choose Network and Sharing Center, and click Manage Network Connections link in the Tasks pane.

He then smiled and said "Watch this!" He clicked the Start button, typed ncpa.cpl in the Start Search panel, and clicked the ncpa.cpl item that appeared in the results list. Sure enough up popped Network Connections.

I smiled at him and said "Watch this!" I then clicked the Start button, selected Control Panel, typed Network Connections in the Search panel, and clicked View Network Connections from the results list, as shown in Figure A. When I clicked it, up popped the dialog box for Network Connections.

Figure A

Using the Search panel in the Control Panel, you can locate almost any subtool that is buried within another larger tool.

So now you have two tricks for quickly accessing Network Connections. My friend's trick, which employs a hidden mechanism -- the fact that Network Connections' ncpa.cpl file still exists even though the tool isn't directly available in the Control Panel -- and my trick, which uses the Control Panel's Search panel to quickly access almost any subtool that is buried within another larger Control Panel tool. (Keep in mind that you must be using the Control Panel Home view for this search feature to work.)

Who needs DreamScene?

On April 30, in the article Examine the New Ultimate Extras Available for Windows Vista Ultimate, I showed you the new Vista sound schemes and the DreamScene Content Pack #3, which added three new nature setting video backgrounds to the DreamScene collection. Well, I recently discovered a trick that is along the same lines as DreamScene and every bit as cool. Instead of running a video as your desktop background, you can just run your favorite screen saver as your desktop background. Doing so requires a negligible amount of memory and will work in all versions of Vista -- not just Ultimate.

To get started, find the filename of the screensaver that you want to use as your desktop background. (See the list in Listing A for all the default Vista screen saver filenames.)

Listing A: Windows Vista native screen savers

  • Aurora.scr
  • Bubbles.scr
  • logon.scr
  • Mystify.scr
  • PhotoScreensaver.scr
  • Ribbons.scr
  • scrnsave.scr
  • ssBranded.scr
  • ssText3d.scr 

Now, right-click on the Command Prompt shortcut on your Start menu and select the Run as Administrator command. When the UAC appears, respond appropriately. Once the Administrator Command Prompt window appears, type the following command:

screensaver.scr  /p65552
Where screensaver.scr is the filename of the screensaver you want to use. When you press [Enter], the screen saver will begin running as your desktop background, as shown in Figure B. It will essentially block out your desktop, and any icons on the desktop will be inaccessible while the screensaver is running. However, the Start menu and the Taskbar are still accessible, and you can continue to use your computer.

Figure B

Running the Mystify screen saver as a desktop background is pretty neat, but you should be able to use any screen saver you wish.

You'll find a screensaver icon on the Taskbar; you can only right-click on it. When you do, the Taskbar will hide and the screen saver will essentially go full screen. While it is full screen, you can press [Alt]+[F4] to close the screen saver. Or you can press the [Windows] key on your keyboard to make the Start menu and Taskbar accessible again.

Check out Vista's Sticky Note

While searching for the exact names on the screen saver files for the previous trick, I stumbled across a file called StikyNot.exe, which opened a little applet called Sticky Notes that I had not seen before. Like its paper counterpart, this applet allows you to create little reminders; the only trick to using this version of Sticky Notes is that unless you have a Tablet PC, for which the applet was designed, you have to write using your mouse. Fortunately, for those of us not very skilled in the art of writing with a mouse pointer, Vista's Sticky Note (Figure C) includes a voice-recording feature.

Figure C

Writing with a mouse is a bit tricky, but you can use the voice-recording feature instead.

Sticky notes are arranged in a single stack that you can flip between by clicking the arrows toolbar. The number of the current note and the total number of notes also appear in the toolbar. As you can see, recording a voice note is a very familiar procedure -- just click the red button.

(Keep in mind that this Stick Notes is indeed different from the Notes gadget, which also comes with Vista and allows you to type notes.)

Ancient tools uncovered

When Microsoft talks about making sure that Vista is backward compatible with previous Microsoft operating systems, they aren't kidding. While poking around, I discovered that Windows Vista still includes the ancient Edlin line editor, shown in Figure D, which first made its debut with DOS 1.0, as well as Edit, shown in Figure E, which became a stand-alone editor in DOS 7 (Windows 95).

Figure D

Edlin has to be the oldest application that I've encountered hidden in Windows Vista.

Figure E

While dating from 1995, Edit is still a very functional text editor.

While antiques, both Edlin and Edit function just the same as when they were in their glory days. In other words, if you're feeling a bit nostalgic, you can still use them to create text files.

What's your take?

Do you use Network Connections and need to access it often? What do you think about setting a screen saver as a desktop background? Will you experiment with Sticky Notes' voice-recording feature? Do you remember using Edlin and Edit?

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

50 comments
rowbear33
rowbear33

Greg- I tried putting the screensaver as wallpaper on my laptop -very nice, but.... How do you get the old setup back??

mikeline
mikeline

These are my top performance enhancements: 64bit Ultimate, SLI 8800gts, 15k SAS Stripe, 8Gig 1066. Ahhh, Productivity, is truly in the hand, eye and memory of the user. My top productivity strategy is to adopt the fewest clicks. As in the case of ncpa.cpl and other panel options, I just create a shortcut, and for this one, named it netsetup to que my memory and drop it into my prod folder on quick launch. The key to effective productivity is often simply a matter of creating a repetitive measure reducing time and energy.

toddrenouf
toddrenouf

screensaver.scr is not recognised as an internal command - my respose to attempting to have desktop screensaver as tip above - would really like to give this a go - doing all as instructed - an clue why i get this message - todd

gjohnson
gjohnson

Change the title please. Not one of the tips offered has anything to do with performance. Even improving productivity is questionable.

martinrej
martinrej

The "/p65552" actually refers to the handle of the desktop window so you can also put the screen saver in any window you like. You can use the spyxx tool from visual studio to discover the handle of some window, convert it to decimal and then execute bubbles.scr /p1234 or whatever. I have bubbles running in outlook at the moment and its much more interesting than most email!

0zSpitt
0zSpitt

see what you can do with vista when you actually use rather than bad mouth it?

julioa.morales
julioa.morales

For the network connections is easier to create a shorcut in the desktop. Just rightclick on the desktop selecte New->Shorcut and type in ncpa.cpl and hit Enter!...

pmdoyle65
pmdoyle65

The quickest way i have found to Network and Sharing is to - Click on Start Go to Network - if it is on menu Right click on Network Click on Properties

WindsorFox
WindsorFox

Not in the control panel?? I don't know what Vista you have but in mine "Network and sharing center" is in the control panel and "Manage Network Connections" is in the list on the left.

paul
paul

Given the name of the article I was hoping to find some information that would "Improve performance and productivity" of Windows Vista

Jasonjk74
Jasonjk74

How do you do this with screensavers with spaces in the file name? I've tried it with Windows Energy, as WindowsEnergy.scr /p65552, Windows_Energy.scr .... etc. and I can't get it to work. Does this only work for the screensavers on your list?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Greg discusses several tweaks for Windows Vista, what tricks can you add to the mix?

pmdoyle65
pmdoyle65

Agreed this is the easiset to get tot he network connection itself. With the other route that I was talking about you get to sharing and many other options, one of which is the network connection.

inertman
inertman

give it a shortcut keystroke.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

WindsorFox, you are correct, Manage Network Connections is technically in the Control Panel and is inside of the Network and Sharing Center. However, what I was referring to is that in Windows XP, Network Connections had its own icon in the Control Panel's Classic View. In other words, it was a separate entity that could be quickly and easily accessed

tidoo2001
tidoo2001

I was hoping to learn an improvement feature or a tweak to increase performance. What I was shown was a shortcut to a network connection. (No bells or whistles... all I can hear the crikets...) Plain and simple, nothing more... nothing more than a shortcut.

wsmith
wsmith

Very, very misleading name for the article. Not that i dont like reading the type of information provided, but someone needs to look up the definition of "productivity" and "performance"

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Why didn't you find this helpful? In what area is Visa giving you trouble?

jsmith
jsmith

The Energy screen saver is actually has the following filename: ssBranded.scr Use the command: ssBranded.scr /p65552 Additional screen savers and their filenames: Aurora.scr Bubbles.scr logon.scr (default Windows Logo) Mystify.scr PhotoScreensaver.scr (Photos) scrnsave.scr (Blank) ssBranded.scr (Windows Energy) ssText3d.scr (3D Text)

progers84
progers84

Use quotation marks around the filename, like "windows Energy.scr"

jck
jck

- Backup data - Take out XP Pro CD - Put XP Pro CD in CD drive - Install over Vista - Restore data QED :^0 Really...the only thing I know to improve the performance is to turn off the Aero components and disable a couple of services. Vista has too much glitz and really overhead that doesn't give you much bang for the buck.

rheitzman
rheitzman

Other posts provided ways to get to the network settings. Here's a variation: 0 create a shortcut to ncpa.cpl 0 give it a name you will remember 0 drag it into the Programs portion of the Start menu (can be down deep) Now you can hit Start and start to type the shortcut name and it will appear on the list. Works for other shortcuts too of course making them all a few keystrokes away! FYI if you type "Net..." the Network and Sharing Center will pop up.

rsaulpaugh
rsaulpaugh

There are a LOT of shell: commands that work with Vista. One that works with XP and Vista to bring up the Network Connections folder is this one (entered from the Run line in XP and the Start Search line in Vista) shell:ConnectionsFolder For more just Google: "vista shell: commands" Another way to open the Network Connections folder from a command console this time is the old standard: control ncpa.cpl You can open nearly every control panel icon using the syntax above running it from either a command console or the run line.

williaa6
williaa6

I reckon the best trick you can do with Vista is to load XP straight over the top of it. If you don't have XP, load W2000 over the top; even better. :-)

wanttocancel
wanttocancel

I use Device Manager alot and I discovered that instead of opening Device Manager through Control Panel, I just type it in the Search bar on the Start screen and it brings it up automatically. Now for this to work you must have Indexing on and "Search Programs" check box marked in the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties.

john
john

...anything to get advertising hits. ncpa.cpl works in in xp,2003 and probably win2k. Not new to vista. The title of many techrepublic articles frequently overstates the usefulness of the articles. I usually quickly scan the article, find little useful or new. HOWEVER, I generally find the users replies very useful. However, The bickering amongst the replies is sometimes nasty, hurtful and counterproductive. I sometimes wish there was a moderator. Respectfully, John

adam.eilers
adam.eilers

I agree. Disappointed! I was looking forward to something of substance. I guess a screensaver as a background is a productivity thing for Vista users. Well... at least it has that cool element, at first. Sticky Note would be really useful if you didn't have to mouse it. I'm still disappointed with disk defragmenter and that stupid spinning circle. Whoever thought that up should be shot... well at least flogged. Please, next time, don't waste my time. Headline should describe what is to come.

tidoo2001
tidoo2001

Ever since I installed Vista my faithful Palm Zire fails to communicate. Before I HotSync I have to re-install the Palm software. Vista is useless over all.

waldenasta
waldenasta

If you are concerned that Vista is using the 15% of your hard disk it needs for system restore, shadow files, etc. You can limit the size by using the vssadmin in the admin command prompt..here's another one to speed up internet browsing...issue this command in admin command prompt window..netsh int tcp show global, chang autotuning to what works for you.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I know I know, all the other fan boys hate Vista for no apparent reason otherthan what they have heard. Anyone who has actually instaled, tweaked and used Vista can tell you that it has a lot of excellent upgrades over XP, it runs fine and the issues peoeple whine about are generally isolated, a result of not configuring the system (where they spent days tweaking XP) and simply not KNOWING any better. But you enjoy your, soon to be antiquated, XP; good thing you are not older, you'd be stuck with Win3.11 still, everyone hated 95, 98, ME, 2K and XP when they were released too. Something tells me that you would have followed those fanboys into non existence too. noob.

mailman907
mailman907

Since you can't directly load XP directly over a Vista install, obviously you are an ID 10 T who shouldn't be allowed on a PC, got back to your Mac - oh wait, even they run Windows, doh! How about getting hardware sufficient to run the OS...or are you still trying to find HiMem? Timmy!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Okay - we get it - you don't like Vista. Please, give it a rest already.

HipposRule
HipposRule

don't bother to read the article and make fatuous comments

john.decoville
john.decoville

Yes, many of the responses are very helpful here and I DO NOT Appreciate the unnecessary insults and put-downs I read here. Let us professionalize these articles and reponses by being professional. Many insulting responders are some of the most ignorant folk.

bradsell
bradsell

If you think using a screensaver as background or typing 19 characters ("Network Connections") improves productivity, I feel sorry for you.

mwalkeden
mwalkeden

I agree waste of my time. Not only that, but it doesn't work. I typed in the command line for the bubbles, and up they came, cool. Moved my mouse, they went away. Great trick.

techienate
techienate

This was not intended for a xp vs. vista debate. This thread was started to share vista tips and tricks.

hughk
hughk

No kidding! I can?t believe we are still getting bogged down with which OS we ?like?. Let the hobbyists play around aging operating systems. As professional we need to learn an OS, not like it!

bhpruss
bhpruss

I'm not a Vista-lover, but it's OK. It sounds like you are having problems with your applications. I use Firefox (not IE), Thunderbird (not Outlook), and Open Office (not Office 2007). I have not had a hang-up or BSOD. I'm not happy that I can't run some older applications (even under compatibility mode), and some old hardware had to be retired.

Kevin.Legrande
Kevin.Legrande

By listening to all the anti-Vista hype in the workplace and on the net, I knew the OS sucked badly. However I was forced to use a new notebook that came with Vista native. Job 1 was to blow it out and instal XP but I was delayed by travel and was forced to use the notebook as is and after defeating my denial, I had to admit the system worked nicely. No hangs or BSOD's. It just hummed along and was actually decently fast. Instead of installing XP, I maxed out the RAM and it ran even better. Then I took off all the eyecandy, trimmed startup and it seemed to really snap. Been using this system for a bit over a year now and I like it. Vista 64 Ultimate, with Adobe CS4 Master Suite, Lightwave, Modo, Vegas, MS Office and other stuff so it's not just cruising the web. Still have to listen to people trash Vista but most of those guys have never even tried it.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I run Office 2007, Adobe Master suite, high end 3D modeling and audio editing software (Cakewalk, Maya etc.) and a host of cool games. NEVER EVER haad a blue screen on my notebook. Sounds like teh manufacturer put together a bad build and you are blaming it on the OS. Funny how so many other poeple don't have your issues, if they are OS dependent.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

And its been the same since Windows 3.11 for workgroups. Same shite, different day. XP, when releasd, was the most buggy, unresourceful and unsecure OS written to date, Vista dances circles around XP's first release, it wasn' tuntil SP2 that it BEGAIN to be a useable OS, now everyone thinks it's teh greatest thing. Vista has been stable and solid for me too, WAAAAAAAAAY better than XP. I reverted to Win2K after giving up on XP after 6 months, it was great until I was forced to get new hardware which came with Vista. I groaned at the thought of Vista but found I was horribly wrong and it has been a great OS so far. The tools and features are WELL beyond anythign XP had to offer.

aalvarezj
aalvarezj

Vista is an powerfull system. NO blue screen. I am IT engineer and work with Vista OEM for more of six months in Toshiba Satellite Laptop and this work very fine. The problem of BSOD may be system?s not configured properly, OR not installed by manufacturer of hardware. Apologize my english. TKS.

inertman
inertman

your problem w/ mcafee is mcafee's problem, not vista's. the same thing happens every generation, win 3 to '95, '95 to '98, '98 to 2k or xp. i remember each new version had some 'issues' w/ multiple vendors, eiither hardware or software. to think this is exclusive to vista is, well, naive. xp has been around since 1999, so plenty of time for mcafee to get it to work, especially since 2k was out first (not to mention nt) and they had time to get a version that works for your application.besides, why would anyone use mcafee or anything provided by their isp? get your own, then you'll have the ability to get one that is vista compatible.

todd
todd

Quote: Then I try to install the Internet Protection suite that is provided with my ISP account (McAfee), and it won't install on Vista. Why is it a MS problem when a 3rd party app wont work? Shouldnt it be your ISP for not having an up to date program? or the program make themselves (in this case McAfee... who I wouldnt touch with a 10 foot pole if I could help more of a virus than protection I think!) Ive been using Vista since the early betas and it has changed a lot, some ways good, some ways bad but I generally like the product we see today, Im using a 3 yr old notebook, and all I needed to do was upgrade the ram (2gb) and Home Premium runs perfect, Aero and all even with the basic intel video apapter. i think its probably 15% OS Fault, 30% Application (non MS related) fault, 20% hardware/driver fault (incompatible) and 35% USER FAULT. A bad worker always blames his tools rings true lol. Also being a windows network admin for 12 yrs wouldnt you have seen this with XP and NT? Load a copy of XP (with no service packs) and see how your 'Standard' holds up! BTW Microsoft should really release an OS that doesnt act like a beta until the 1st or 2nd service pack, but with the millions upon millions of different pieces of hardware and software out there you cant blame them for not getting everything to work 100%, Apples are only more 'stable' because everything is the same, motherboard - same, video cards - same, you cant (well not sure how well this holds now lol) just buy an off the shelf motherboard to replace your dead one in a mac but windows pc you can compromise people!

ccantispam
ccantispam

....but not only did they move my cheese, they are keeping me from eating my cheese when I find it. On top of that, the protection they put in place is just so annoying that I want to shut it off. (Are you sure you want to do that?) Then I try to install the Internet Protection suite that is provided with my ISP account (McAfee), and it won't install on Vista. The thing is, I have an older system running XP. It works. No fuss. No 'issues'. It just works. That's what I need it to do. That is the Standard. If Vista takes more time to do the same things, or if it won't do some things at all, then I can't help but dislike it. That's a fair criticism, isn't it? Jim (Windows based Net Admin for the last 12 years)

Braggeroni
Braggeroni

I'm running V:U and V:HP on a PC/Notebook respectively, and I've yet to see this kind of issue. Both systems are running 3+ Gb Ram, so perhaps I just have more memory available. I have never gotten a bluscreen on Vista yet (just over 1 year of use). I'm also using Office 2007 Pro. You might want to check into some hw/sw compatibility.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

I really want to like Vista, but my productivity has plummeted since I was migrated across a few months ago. I get almost daily OS hangs, weekly bluescreens and Office 2007 is close to un-useable. At least once per hour either Outlook, Word or IE7 crashes so I have to save my work continuously. Its not a hardware or installation problem as I've replaced the (new) laptop twice and re-installed half a dozen times. Clean out the box with only Vista SP1, updated drivers, Office 2007 and nothing else I can generate crashes and hangs nearly at will. I've experienced 1 bluescreen in XP in 5 years and Office 2003 was totally stable on this hardware.

waldenasta
waldenasta

I wish all the Vista haters would go away...This OS is rock solid...Get over it already and step into the future. The funny thing is when XP came out people hated on it. Now it's Vista. I bet when Windows 7 comes out and all the bugs are ironed out of Vista, people will LOVE Vista and hate on Windows 7!

john.decoville
john.decoville

I didn't take this comment ("the best trick")personally. But you personalized it. Let's keep these posts professional. Yes, we can be hard on the problem, but not on the people. Insults have a chilling effect on what could be some really good submits. While I like VISTA on one of my home computers, my CIO, for good reason, has handed down down the decision: no VISTA for Pinal County Government and 3,500 workstations. I consider Richard, very knowledgable, and believe me, his decision was not fatuous.