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?