Quick cures for the worst Windows 7 annoyances

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

In its seemingly never-ending quest for a better Windows, Microsoft simply can’t resist tinkering with — and sometimes completely removing — features that many of us loved.

If you find yourself tripping over new Windows 7 features or missing favorite old ones, I’ve got some tips that will come to your rescue.

Lost in all the glowing Windows 7 reviews and marketing hype is the fact that not everything about Microsoft’s new OS is an unqualified success. You don’t have to use Win7 for very long before you notice one of your favorite features of earlier Windows versions is changed or missing.

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But if you don’t like the default Win7 interface and the features that Microsoft prefers, no problem! A few simple tweaks can let you adjust Win7 to your own liking. Even better, some of the following tips also apply to Vista and XP.

The return of the Quick Launch toolbar

Annoyance: The latest Windows versions let you place the Quick Launch toolbar on the taskbar. From there, you can launch your favorite applications, documents, or folder windows with a single click. In Windows 7, unfortunately, Quick Launch is MIA.

In Win7, a new Taskbar combines elements of the classic Taskbar and Quick Launch toolbars into one. To be sure, many people like the new Taskbar. Al Arnston is one of several readers who suggests that Win7′s “Pin to Taskbar” feature trumps Quick Launch, as he explains in the Nov. 19, 2009, Known Issues column. But you may disagree.

Solution: In the Nov. 12, 2009, Known Issues column, reader Ed Kirkpatrick describes how to restore the Quick Launch toolbar to Windows 7.

An alternate solution that I prefer is to devise a custom toolbar that serves as a Quick Launch replacement. To do so, create shortcuts to your most-used items and place them into a folder stored anywhere on your computer.

(Not sure how to create a shortcut? Right-click the desktop or any other folder and choose New, Shortcut. Enter the path to the file or folder you’re linking to, or click Browse to locate the file. Give the shortcut a name and click Finish.)

Next, right-click the taskbar and choose New, Toolbar. Locate and select the folder you just created and click Select Folder. Voilà!

You can customize the taskbar’s settings by right-clicking it and choosing one of the options. For example, choose Show Text to uncheck and remove labels; or click View, Small Icons to pack more shortcuts into a smaller space. Drag the toolbar to your preferred position in the taskbar. If it doesn’t move, right-click the taskbar and make sure Lock the taskbar is unchecked.

Restore ‘Show Desktop,’ ‘Switch Between Windows’

Annoyance: Other useful items you may be missing from Windows 7′s taskbar are the two buttons named Show Desktop and Switch Between Windows. What to do?

Solution 1: In Windows 7, the Show Desktop button is actually still there, but it’s been moved to the end of the taskbar farthest from the Start button. Similarly, the function served by the Switch Between Windows button is now available by holding down the Windows key and pressing Tab repeatedly to scroll through your open windows.

Solution 2: If you prefer to have these features appear as buttons in your Quick Launch toolbar, you can recreate them. To make a new Show Desktop button, open Notepad or your preferred text editor and type the following lines just as they appear here:

  • [Shell]
    Command=2
    IconFile=explorer.exe,3
    [Taskbar]
    Command=ToggleDesktop

Save the file with the name Show Desktop.scf. Hold down the right mouse button as you drag the file to your Quick Launch bar, and then choose Move Here.

Creating a Switch Between Windows button is even simpler: right-click the Desktop and choose New, Shortcut. When prompted for the location, type the following line:

  • C:WindowsSystem32rundll32.exe DwmApi #105
Click Next, name the shortcut Switch Between Windows, and click Finish.

To give the button an appropriate look, right-click your new shortcut and then click Properties, Change Icon, Browse. Select imageres.dll and click Open. The default selection in the upper-left corner of the window should do the trick. Click OK twice.

Finally, use the right mouse button to drag the shortcut to your Quick Launch bar, just as you did with the Show Desktop button.

Return of the mysterious disappearing taskbar

Annoyance: You install your favorite screen saver on your Windows 7 machine. When you leave your computer, the screen saver kicks in and, eventually, the power-saving settings shut down the monitor. When you return to the machine, the taskbar has disappeared!

Solution: Some third-party screen savers that aren’t designed for Windows 7 can cause this problem. Your first step should be to see whether the screen saver’s developer has an updated version designed specifically for Win7.

If an update isn’t available, locate your screen saver’s .scr file and create a shortcut to it. Store the shortcut on the desktop or somewhere on the Start menu. To make this solution keyboard-friendly, right-click the shortcut and choose Properties. Click in the Shortcut key box and press the key combination you want to use to activate your screen saver. Finally, click OK.

The next time your taskbar disappears, use your keyboard shortcut — or launch the screen saver from the menu or desktop shortcut. The next mouse move or keystroke will dismiss the screen saver — if it has had time to start — and restore your taskbar.

Prevent Win7 from saving duplicate themes

Annoyance: You use the Control Panel’s Personalization applet to modify an existing theme. When you’re done, you click Save to preserve your work. Instead of just saving your existing theme, you have to enter a new name.

You type the same name as that of the theme you changed, but rather than ask whether you want to overwrite the old theme, Windows simply creates another theme with the same name and adds it to the list.

For some bizarre reason, Microsoft thinks this dialog box’s Save function should behave differently than every other Save function in Windows. The result: every little change you make to your theme results in a new copy, even if you want only one.

Solution: You can’t change the weird Save behavior, but at least you can clean up all your duplicate themes. Press Win+E to open an Explorer window and navigate to this location:

  • C:  Users  username  AppData  Local  Microsoft  Windows  Themes
Replace username with the name of the current account. Once the folder’s open, delete the extra themes you don’t need.

If you’re not sure which to delete, press Alt, V, D to switch to Explorer’s Details view, then sort the files by date to find the newest ones you created. If you saved over an existing name, the older theme will be named “My Theme” while the new one will be named “My Theme (2).”

Bonus tip: If you decide to change a theme name by renaming the file in this folder — other than just deleting the number Windows adds automatically — you won’t see the new name in the Personalize window unless you open the theme file in Notepad and change the text to the right of the DisplayName= attribute.

Tile some open windows, but not all of them

Annoyance: In XP and Vista, you could selectively tile just the open windows you wanted by Ctrl-clicking their taskbar buttons, right-clicking one of the selected buttons, and choosing an arrangement option on the right-click menu. For some reason, Windows 7 has removed this capability.

You can still arrange all open windows by right-clicking the taskbar and choosing an option, but you can’t limit the rearrangement to just a subset of those windows; you’re forced to minimize the windows you don’t want to tile first.

Solution: The ability to tile windows selectively has been replaced in Windows 7 by Aero Snap. This is a new feature that lets you tile windows side by side by dragging the title bar of one window to the far left side of the screen and another to the far right. The two should snap into position.

Unfortunately, Aero Snap doesn’t work if you have two monitors or if you want to stack one window above another.

UPDATE 2010-03-11: In his March 11, 2010, Lounge Life, Tracey Capen clarifies Scott Dunn’s description of using Win7′s Aero Snap feature.

If Aero Snap isn’t the window arrangement you’re looking for, press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to launch the Task Manager (or right-click the taskbar and choose Task Manager). In the Applications tab, Ctrl-click only the windows you want to work with. Then choose a tile or cascade option from Task Manager’s Windows menu.

Note that this technique may not work on the first try if one or more of the selected windows are currently minimized or open on different monitors.

Microsoft keeps coming up with new features, but in the process, the company sometimes also discovers entirely new ways to irritate us Windows users. As long as there’s a Windows, we’ll keep showing you how to work around the inevitable annoyances.

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Scott Dunn is a contributing editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He has more than 20 years of experience as a technical writer and editor and has won multiple business-press awards.
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