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Welcome to Vista Manager
By Scott Wolf
Vista Manager is an application that provides a front-end interface to many different OS and application settings within Vista. In addition to giving access to many, sometimes hidden settings, Vista Manager also integrates many freeware utilities used for general maintenance on your PC. Is it the Right Tool for the Job? A number of TechRepublic members assured me it was, so I decided to find out for myself. Here’s what I learned when I used Vista Manager to tweak my Vista laptop.
Read a concise summary of Vista Manager’s strengths and weaknesses in this blog post.
The Vista Manager install was very standard. After the install, not only was Vista Manager available through the start menu, but a series of “mini applications” were also now available.
Apparently, Vista Manager is primarily a menu program that allows quick access to multiple mini applications, all of which allow you to easily tweak Windows Vista.
First prompt after install
First time running the application, you are given a chance to set a system restore point, in case you find your changes detrimental. Hard drive space is cheap, so not a bad idea.
System restore point
It works, or so it says.
The program has left-side navigation, as well as tabular navigation along the top right, once you’re in a section.
Many novice users using Outlook Express have had issues backing up their e-mail messages in previous version of Windows. Vista Manager includes a method of backing up e-mail, shown here.
This is a nice feature. However, unlike Windows XP, Vista allows you to do this directly, via the ‘Windows Easy Transfer’ application.
Adjust # of TCP/IP Connections
Learn something new every day. I didn’t know Windows Vista limited this. I guess I should RTFM.
Here you can adjust the number of TCP/IP connections for popular file sharing programs.
Shutdown and reminders
Here you can create or view the scheduled shutdown and reminder tasks.
File Splitter 1.1
File Splitter is a utility for, well, splitting files. You can either split files, or remerge them. You can split files into common sized pieces (floppy, CD, DVD), or you can select a custom size.
The output file that is created is proprietary to this tool and cannot be re-merged using pkzip or another utility.
System Information 1.2 >> Hardware
This screen gives you a summary of the hardware on your machine.
The tabs along the left will show various information about your mainboard, BIOS, CPU, memory, hard drive(s), video, audio, network, external drives, software, operating system, user accounts, system folders, desktop, and any hotfixes installed on your machine.
The process manager shows all process and threads currently running on the machine. It allows the quick and easy shutting down or the changing of priority of processes.
It also has a nice menu option of “Query Internet” that will Google that process for helpful information.
Optimizer >> System Speed >> [System]
The system speed menu option gives you a central location for the adjustment of several options that could affect the speed of your system.
The tabs across the top allow for the adjustment of System, RAM and Disk Cache, Startup, Shutdown, and Performance (visual effects) related options.
Optimizer >> Service Manager
The service manager gives you access to a nice little application that manages your system services.
From here you can verify/view digital signatures, view the status of services, their startup status, as well as locate the executable file path of each service.
Optimizer >> Startup Manager
The startup manager allows you to see the applications that are set to startup when the computer starts up.
From here you can do many different things such as query the Internet to find out if the application is necessary, stop the application, or remove it from the startup process altogether.
Optimizer >> Multimedia
From the multimedia optimizer screens you can adjust settings related to the multimedia devices and images, as well as Windows Media Player itself. Each check box gives a helpful tool tip when hovering over it.
Optimizer >> System Repair >> [System Repair]
This feature is one of the nicer features of the product. I can’t tell you how many times I reinstalled XP because of minor system glitch. Yeah yeah, I know I could have used the system restore utility in XP, but that was finicky, at best.
From here you can reinstall some core system components in hope of getting rid of a core system problem.
Cleaner >> Disk Analyzer 1.0
Disk Analyzer is a nice freeware tool that Vista Manager has integrated into their software. This tool makes analysis of the selected drive or directory, displays summary by attributes (files, directories, type, size, date, etc..), sorts items by attributes (size, date/time, title, type, etc.), finds duplicate files, displays graphs, and can prints reports.
Definately a handy tool for those of us who like to keep our hard drives clean and organized.
Cleaner >> Registry Cleaner
Registry Cleaner can easily check your registry, repair incorrectly linked registry entries, and automatically remove invalid entries.
Cleaner >> Registry Defrag
Just like a fragmented hard drive slows down access to that hard drive, a fragmented registry slows down computer speed. The more fragmented the registry becomes, the more memory that is consumed to store it in memory while the computer is running. This is one of the reasons a computer can run slower than it used to after several months of use.
The registry defrag tool defragments and compacts the Windows registry by scanning through and eliminating useless gaps.
Customization >> Customize System >> [System]
Nothing too exciting here, but I wanted you to to see a comprehensive screenshot set.
Customization >> Customize System >> [Explorer]
Some tweaks for Windows File Explorer.
Customization >> Customize System >> [Desktop]
Some tweaks for the Vista desktop.
Customization >> Customize System >> [Start Menu]
The customize start menu is one of my favorite features of this application. One of the limitations of Windows 95, out of box, was the inability to control much about the start menu and it’s a theme that has persisted throughout the newer versions of Windows.
From the screen you see here, you can control what you see on the start menu, how fast the menu displays, and many other features that affect how the start menu behaves and renders.
Customization >> Customize System >> [Task Bar]
Some tweaks for the Vista taskbar.
Customization >> Customize System >> [Other Setting]
Do you often use “Hibernate”? Since the world revolves around me, and I don’t, I’m going to assume you don’t either. I don’t pretend to be a super nerdy operating system user. I don’t all there is to read about an OS before I dive in and install it. So I was particularly glad that Vista Manager told me, on this screen, that if I disable the hibernate feature in Vista, I will save 1.2gb of hard drive space. Good to know, CHECK.
I’ve also always wanted to know how to change that OEM information that you find on the system properties. I had fun with this one.
Customization >> Boot Configuration
I didn’t find this feature all that helpful. Anyone savvy enough to be dual-booting, I’m assuming, is also savvy enough to know about boot.ini that is in your C:\ root.
Customization >> Context Menu >> [Clean CM]
For those that do not know, the Context Menu is what you see when you right click on something inside of Windows.
This screen allows you to “clean” up your right click menu.
Customization >> Context Menu >> [Add Normal CM]
This screen allows you to add functionality to your right-click menu.
Customization >> Context Menu >> [Add Administrator Privilege CM]
I’ve included this screenshot for completeness, but there’s nothing too exciting to do here.
Customization >> Context Menu >> [Repair CM]
This screen allows you to repair your right-click menu, just in case it ever gets out of whack (i.e. you might have deleted a program manually or the program’s uninstall did not remove it appropriately).
Customization >> Wallpaper Changer
Here you can manage the ultra important-task of changing wallpapers. You can even have the wallpaper change every time you reboot the computer. Got kids?
Customization >> Run-Shortcut Creator
Here you can create or delete Run-Shortcut entries that execute on the Run -dialog box located in the Start Menu. These shortcuts help you to execture files, open folders and open URLs quickly.
Customization >> Icon Manager 1.3
I always use themes to manage my icons, but if you want to tweak individual icons, you can do it here.
Security >> System Security >> [System]
The following 13 screenshots are all security related.
This is where Vista Manager really shines. Although I personally could only find practical implications for a few of the features found in the security section, I am sure a few of you out there, possibly the ones using Vista in a corporate environment, may find these tweaks useful.
I never looked into it, but I always did wonder how those kiosks in the mall locked out the control panel, run menu, etc.
I did use a knoppix boot disk once to get around security on a hotel lobby PC in Cancun and used the Internet for free.
Security >> System Security >> [User Account Control (UAC)]
One of the large new features in Vista is the User Account Control (UAC). Microsoft introduced UAC to reduce the possibility of application-based attacks to users’ systems.
Many security attacks come through malware. Sometimes this malware is hidden in other software that appears legit. UAC in Vista, by default, will force all applications to run in “standard” user mode. Standard user mode limits the things that can be done and OS settings that can be changed by that application.
The downside to this is that the limitation sometimes causes programs to fail to function correctly, especially programs that were written without taking UAC into consideration, such as older apps. One example of this is Adobe Acrobat Reader. When Vista was first released, I was unable to install Adobe Acrobat Reader because my “standard” user did not have access to write to an obscure TEMP folder Adobe was trying to use during installation.
This screen gives you control over how UAC works and the prompts that you see (or don’t see) as applications try to access these newly restricted areas of the OS.
Security >> System Security >> [Log-in]
This screen gives you quick access to the setting in the registry that sets the legal notice that pops up (mostly seen in corporate environments) before anyone logs into your system. It also tweaks a few other login-related functions.
Security >> System Security >> [Update, Error Report]
This screen gives you instant access to the Windows Update-related tweaks. Vista has a very effective, yet annoying restart reminder. It might not be so bad for most users, but considering I leave things running and have some large files downloading every now and then, it doesn’t work for me.
Security >> System Restore
From this screen, you can adjust how often your system creates system restore points. System Restore Points are very invaluable if you know how they are created. A restore point is automatically created when
Knowing when these points are created, in addition to knowing what has been done to the computer prior to it becoming unstable, can let you know which restore point to go back to. This can “undo” the changes that made the system unstable.
From here you can also tweak the shadow copy settings to change the default (35 percent) amount of disk drive space saved for system restore and shadow copy.
Security >> Drive and Program >> [Hide and Restrict Drives]
From here you can restrict access to any drive you want to.
Security >> File and Folder >> [File Security]
Vista Manager has included two freeware applications here: one to encrypt/decrypt files, and another to “shred” files. We all know that when a file is deleted, it isn’t really deleted. I guess when it’s “shredded,” it’s really deleted.
Security >> Privacy Protector
From here you can change some of the settings that govern what is tracked as you use the computer: your URL history, what documents you’ve opened, and so on.
Security >> Control Panel
This screen allows you to control the control panel. But what’s controlling the control that controls the control panel? Sigh.
Here you can hide and delete individual icons as well as disabling access to the control panel altogether. This is just another feature I’ve seen on some locked down machines that for some reason I never looked up how to do myself. (I’m sure it’s just a registry setting).
Security >> Network >> [Accelerate Network]
From here you can select your Internet network type, which will automatically adjust some settings for you (MTU size, TCP/IP timeout life, and DNS query timeout). In addition, you can make some other adjustments such as ‘Enable Path MTU Discovery’ to try to eliminate fragmentation at routers along the path of your destination.
Security >> Network >> [Tweak Network]
Here you can adjust how your computer is discovered and displayed on the network neighborhood as well as disable some automatic network scanning features in Vista.
Security >> Network >> [Share Manager]
The share manager of Vista Manager seems a little redundant. You can easily access your share manager by going to computer management and viewing your shares from there. But oh well — if you’re already in this application, you may as well access it from here.
Security >> Network >> IE Manager
This screen will allow you tweak many many different things in Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 7 is highly robust and has, literally, dozens of its own tweaks.
The Right Tool for the Job?
Vista comes with a myriad of new features, which will take even a savvy user some time to master. I like to think of myself as a fairly savvy user, but I didn’t know that leaving Hibernation enabled as an option took up 1.2gb of extra hard drive space. By going tab by tab with Vista Manager, I not only gained a greater understanding of some of the newer features in Vista, but I also gained valuable information (e.g. through tool tips) to make better decisions about whether I wanted a particular feature on or off.
A couple months back I did a Right Tool review of TweakVista. In my opinion, TweakVista was not the Right Tool for the Job. Vista Manager, on the other hand, is.
Read a concise summary of Vista Manager’s strengths and weaknesses in this blog post.