Windows 7 Annoyances
Windows 7 Annoyances
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Windows 7 Annoyances
David A. Karp
Beijing • Cambridge • Farnham • Köln • Sebastopol • Taipei • Tokyo
Windows 7 Annoyances
by David A. Karp
Copyright © 2010 David A. Karp. All rights reserved.
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ISBN: 978-0-596-15762-3
Table of Contents
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi
1. Get Started with Windows 7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Editions of Windows 7
Got Ultimate Edition Envy?
64-Bit Windows
Install Windows 7
Install Windows on an Empty Hard Disk
Boot Without a Boot Disc
Upgrade from a Previous Version of Windows
Fix Problems with Windows Setup
Set Up a Dual-Boot System
Virtualize Whirled Peas
Migration to Windows 7
Coming from Windows XP?
Coming from Windows Vista?
2. Shell Tweaks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Customize Windows Explorer
Clean Up the Navigation Pane
Choose Folder View Defaults
Start Explorer with Any Folder
Get to the Desktop
Quick Access to Control Panel
Prune the Start Menu
Secrets of Window Management
Tweak the Taskbar
Keyboard Is My Friend
Clean Up the Tray
Stretch Out on Multiple Monitors
Working with Files and Folders
Why It Takes So Long to Copy Files
Slicker Ways to Select Files
Take Charge of Drag-Drop
Copy or Move to a Specified Path
More Ways to Rename Files
Delete In-Use Files
Zip It Up
Customize Drive and Folder Icons
Fix Windows Search
3. The Registry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
The Registry Editor
The Structure of the Registry
The Meat of the Registry: Values
The Registry on 64-bit Windows
Registry Tasks and Tools
Search the Registry
Search and Replace Registry Data
Locate the Registry Key For a Setting
Create an Interface for a Registry Setting
Export and Import Data with Registry Patches
Prevent Changes to a Registry Key
Back Up the Registry
Edit Another PC’s Registry Remotely
File Type Associations
Anatomy of a File Type
Change the Icon for All Files of a Type
Customize Context Menus for Files
Lock Your File Types
Expand the Scope of Your File Types
Customize Windows Explorer’s New Menu
Fix Internet Shortcuts
4. Video, Audio, and Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
Get Videos to Play
Install the FLV Flash Video Codec
Repair Broken and Incomplete Videos
Fix Other Playback Problems
Simplify Your Media Players
Rewind or Fast-Forward Stubborn Video
Control Video Buffering
Download Online Video Clips
The Trouble with Webcams
vi | Table of Contents
Turn a USB Webcam into an IP Webcam
Use an IP Webcam for Videoconferencing
Sound and Music
Get Sound Where There Is None
Get Windows to Listen
Fix Garbled Music
Crossfade Your Music
Extract Sound from Video
Convert Audio Files
Fix Music Tags
Photos, Pictures, and Images
Quickly Sort Photos
Choose Where to Store Your Pictures
Generate Thumbnails for RAW Photos
Tweak the Thumbcache
Get Rid of the Windows Photo Gallery
Get More Accurate Color
Sort Photos Chronologically
Media Center Hacks
Watch TV on Your TV
Watch Hulu in Media Center
Add DVDs to Your Movie Library
Optical Storage Annoyances
Burning Discs
Stop Windows 7 from Burning Discs
5. Performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261
Trim the Fat
Tame Mindless Animation and Display Effects
Make Menus More Mindful
Start Windows in Less Time
Start Windows Instantly (Almost)
Shut Down Windows Quickly
Start Applications Faster
Make Your Hardware Perform
Get Glass
Maximize the Windows Performance Rating
Improve Battery Life
Manage IRQ Priority
Overclock Your Processor
Hard Disk
A Quick Performance Hack
A Defragmentation Crash Course
Table of Contents | vii
If in Doubt, Throw It Out
Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache Settings
Choose the Right Filesystem
Advanced NTFS Settings
Transfer Windows to Another Hard Disk
Work with Partitions
6. Troubleshooting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 341
Crashes and Error Messages
Viruses, Malware, and Spyware
What to Do When Windows Won’t Start
Manage Startup Programs
Check Your Drive for Errors
What to Do When a Program Crashes
What to Do When a Program Won’t Start
What to Do When an Application Won’t Uninstall
Green Ribbon of Death
Blue Screen of Death
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware
How to Add Hardware
Interpret Device Manager Errors
Test for Bad Memory (RAM)
Don’t Overlook the Power Supply
Fix USB Power Management Issues
Fix Printer Problems
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery
Manage Windows Updates
Go Back in Time with Restore Points and Shadow Copies
Back Up Your Entire System
Protect Your Data with RAID
Recover Your System After a Crash
7. Networking and Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 427
Build Your Network
Terminology Primer
To Wire or Not to Wire
Set Up a Wireless Router
Upgrade Your Router
Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots
Troubleshoot Wireless Networks
Lock Out Unauthorized PCs
Connect to a Public Wireless Network
viii | Table of Contents
Get Bluetooth to Work
Troubleshoot Network Connections
Test an IP Address
Internet Me
Share an Internet Connection
Test Your Throughput
Set Up Virtual Private Networking
Control a PC Remotely
Manage the Name Server (DNS) Cache
Secure Your Networked PC
Put Up a Firewall
Scan Your System for Open Ports
Web and Email
Lock Down Internet Explorer
Change Internet Shortcut Icons
Live with Firefox in an IE World
Opt Out of Tabbed Browsing
Fix Symbols in Web Pages
Fix Broken Pictures in Web Pages
Improve Any Website
Put an End to Pop Ups
Solve the Blank Form Mystery
Stop Annoying Animations
Surf Anonymously
Change the Default Email Program
Stop Spam
Send Large Files
Email Long URLs
8. Users and Security . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 543
Manage User Accounts
Permissions and Security
Set Permissions for a File or Folder
Protect Your Files with Encryption
Control User Account Control
Logon and Profile Options
Hide the List of User Accounts
Log In Automatically
Reset a Forgotten Administrator Password
Prevent Users from Shutting Down
Log In As the Administrator
Customize the Welcome Screen Background
Set the Mood with a Custom Startup Sound
Table of Contents | ix
Customize the Default Profile for New Users
Rename Your Profile Folder
Share Files and Printers
Share a Folder
Access a Shared Folder Remotely
Force a Login Box for a Remote Folder
Turn Off Administrative Shares
Hide Your PC from the Network Folder
Going Homegroups
Share a Printer
Connect to a Networked Printer or Print Server
9. Command Prompt and Automation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 623
Command Prompt
DOS Commands
Batch Files
Quickly Build a Single-Use Batch File
Variables and the Environment
Flow Control
Command-Line Parameters
Conditional Statements
Simulating Subroutines
Get to the Command Prompt Quickly
Windows PowerShell
CmdLets and Aliases
PowerShell Variables
PowerShell Scripts
Run Scripts Automatically
Automate Scripts with the Task Scheduler
Make a Startup Script
A. BIOS Settings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 651
B. TCP/IP Ports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 663
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 667
x | Table of Contents
Why Am I Annoyed?
They say no one should see how sausage or laws get made, and I feel the same
is true for software.
Imagine a windowless room in a nondescript office building. Inoffensive tan
carpet lines the floors, fluorescent lights hum softly overhead, and 20 seated
Microsoft employees flank a rectangular folding table in the center of the room.
On the table rests a Windows PC, and at its helm, a slack-jawed cipher punches
blindly at the controls in a vain attempt to carry out a task requested by the
team leader.
“OK, here’s the next exercise: transfer a photo from this digital camera to the
PC and then upload it to the Internet,” says the leader.
The observers—members of Microsoft’s User Research Group—diligently
note each click, key press, and hesitation, hoping they’ll learn the answer to
the industry’s big secret: why do so many people find computers difficult to
With this system, Microsoft has uncovered many startling facts about PC users
over the years, and the software you use has been changed accordingly. For
instance, people new to computers apparently have a hard time with the concept of overlapping windows. (Did I say “startling?” I meant “idiotic.”) So now
we have the Glass interface with translucent borders that sort of show stuff
underneath, AeroSnap, which pulls windows to the edges of your screen as
you drag them around, and a new Alt-Tab window which makes all your windows vanish if you hesitate too long. Of course, most people new to PCs figure
out the concept of stacking windows after about 10 minutes of fiddling, so are
these gizmos effective solutions to a genuine usability problem, or just glitzy
affectations included to give those still using XP a compelling reason to
Another common problem is that people have a hard time finding their stuff,
which is why every Windows Explorer window has a search box in the upperright. But the search tool in Windows 7 doesn’t work particularly well—it’s
slow, the search results are often incomplete, and the interface is clumsy—so
what exactly have we gained here?
Here’s another one: lots of people seem to get lost searching through long
menus for the tools they need, so once again, Microsoft snapped into action.
The team’s first attempt was “personalized menus”—a user-interface disaster
included in earlier versions of Windows (including XP) and Microsoft Office—
which caused about half the items in a menu to vanish so nobody could find
them. Subsequently, Microsoft took a different tack and removed the menus
altogether. At least you’ll no longer get lost in menus; of course, you won’t be
able to find anything, either.
Hundreds of design decisions are made this way, and if that’s all we had to
worry about, Windows would be annoying enough. Now consider the “Strategy Tax,” the concept that a company like Microsoft has so many strategies
to juggle that its products suffer as a result. For instance, the Strategy Tax is
why Windows still doesn’t include an antivirus program, why Internet Explorer is still unsafe at any speed, and why there are six different editions of
Windows 7.
Take content protection, Windows 7’s copy-protection initiative for so-called
premium content like high-definition movies from Blu-Ray and HD DVD
discs. According to Microsoft’s standards, software and hardware manufacturers are supposed to disable “premium content” across all interfaces that
don’t provide copy protection. One such interface is the S/PDIF digital audio
port—usually in the form of a TOSlink optical plug—that comes on most highend audio cards. Since S/PDIF doesn’t support copy protection—meaning that
you could theoretically plug it into another PC and rip the soundtrack off an
HD movie—Windows 7 requires that your TOSlink plug be disabled whenever you play back that HD movie on your PC. As a result, you’ll only be able
to use your analog audio outputs when watching HD content, and that expensive sound card you just bought is now trash. Why would Microsoft hobble
an important feature? For you, the consumer? Of course not. Windows 7’s
content-protection feature is intended to appease piracy-wary movie studios,
so Microsoft won’t be left behind as the home theater industry finds new ways
to rake in cash. And ironically, Microsoft boasts content protection as a feature
of Windows 7.
Would Microsoft be making decisions like these if it weren’t so beholden to
its corporate strategy? After Europe’s second-highest court upheld a ruling that
Microsoft had abused its market power and stifled innovation, Neelie Kroes,
the European Union competition commissioner, stated that “the court has
xii | Preface
confirmed the commission’s view that consumers are suffering at the hands of
So that leaves us lowly Windows 7 users with a choice: do we continue to suffer
with the shortcomings of Windows, or take matters into our own hands?
Of Bugs and Features
The point of this book is to help you solve problems. Sometimes those problems are the result of bad design, such as the aforementioned shortcomings of
Windows 7’s search tool, and sometimes the problems are caused by bugs.
Take the Blue Screen of Death, a Windows mainstay for more than a decade.
Yes, it’s still alive and well in Windows 7, but now it has a cousin: the Green
Ribbon of Death. As explained in Chapter 2, the Green Ribbon of Death—
capable of bringing Windows Explorer to its knees—comes from a combination of poor design and bugs in its code. And thus the reason for distinguishing
where an annoyance becomes clear: you need to know what you’re dealing
with in order to fix it.
The User Account Control (UAC) feature in Windows 7 is a perfect example
of a feature gone awry. Most of the time, UAC does precisely what it was
designed to do—prevent programs from doing harm to your PC, occasionally
asking your permission when it deems it appropriate to do so—but the result
is a system that frequently bothers you with UAC prompts (although mercifully less than Vista) while intermittently breaking older applications without
telling you why. Because this behavior isn’t caused by a bug per se, fixing the
problem is instead just a matter of tweaking a few features to better suit your
This inevitably leads to an important conclusion: one person’s annoyance is
another’s feature. Although Microsoft may be motivated more by profit than
excellence, often leading to products designed for the lowest common denominator, you’re not bound to that fate. In other words, you should not be
required to adjust the way you think in order to complete a task on your computer; rather, you should learn how to adjust the computer to work in a way
that makes sense to you.
But I prattle on. Feel free to dive into any part of the book and start eliminating
Preface | xiii
How To Use This Book
Windows 7 Annoyances is not documentation; you can get that anywhere.
Rather, it’s a unique and thorough collection of solutions, hacks, and timesaving tips to help you get the most from your PC.
Although you certainly don’t need to read the chapters in order, the solutions
and chapters are arranged so that you can progress easily from one topic to the
next, expanding your knowledge and experience as you go. You should be able
to jump to any topic as you need it, but if you find that you don’t have the
proficiency required by a particular solution, such as familiarity with the Registry, you can always jump to the appropriate section (Chapter 3, in the case
of the Registry).
There are nine chapters and two appendixes, as follows:
Chapter 1, Get Started with Windows 7
Get the low-down on what’s special about Windows 7 and what’s annoying. Learn how to install (or reinstall) the operating system in a variety
of scenarios, how to set up a virtual machine, and how to get the Ultimate
edition goodies if you’re stuck with a lesser version.
Chapter 2, Shell Tweaks
Customize Windows Explorer, the desktop, the Start menu, and the
Search tool to be less annoying and more useful. Then, uncover a host of
window management tricks and shortcuts, improve the Search tool, improve your experience with multiple monitors, and put the kibosh on the
green ribbon of death.
Chapter 3, The Registry
Dive inside Windows’ giant database of settings and system configuration
data, and learn about the various tools you can use to explore, hack, and
manage this valuable resource. Protect your file types, export settings to
other PCs, and back up your registry.
Chapter 4, Video, Audio, and Media
Make Windows better at playing videos, displaying color, recording TV,
organizing photos, and burning CDs and DVDs.
Chapter 5, Performance
Speed up your PC and get it to work better. Get Glass on older PCs, start
your computer in less time, make your laptop battery last longer, and
manage your hard disk space.
Chapter 6, Troubleshooting
Learn what to do when Windows won’t start, when applications crash,
and when Windows can’t set up your new hardware. Deal with the Blue
xiv | Preface
Screen of Death, get shadow copies to work, and finally fix that nagging
printer problem.
Chapter 7, Networking and Internet
Get your local network up and running, get your wireless working (safely),
and connect to the Internet. Once you’ve connected, close all of
Windows 7’s backdoors, and then improve your experience with the Web
and email.
Chapter 8, Users and Security
Protect your privacy and your data with permissions, encryptions, and
user account management. Tame the User Account Control (UAC)
prompt, customize your login, share your files and printers with others on
your network, and find out why easier is not always better with
Chapter 9, Command Prompt and Automation
Automate Windows, Command Prompt Batch files, Task Scheduler, and
the Windows PowerShell. Explore the good ol’ DOS commands still used
in the Command Prompt, not to mention the times when Windows won’t
Appendix A, BIOS Settings
This is a brief glossary of the often-neglected motherboard settings that
can significantly affect the stability and performance of your PC.
Appendix B, TCP/IP Ports
Look up common network port numbers, used to identify data traveling
on a network (or over the Internet), and essential for configuring and securing your network.
Conventions Used in This Book
The following typographical conventions are used in this book:
Constant width
Indicates text you’re supposed to type, output from a command-line program, code examples, Registry keys, and paths to Registry keys.
Constant width italic
Indicates user-defined elements within constant-width text (such as filenames or command-line parameters). For example, Chapter 8 discusses a
file encryption utility, cipher.exe, which has a variety of command-line
options. A particular solution might instruct you to type:
cipher /r:filename
Preface | xv
The italicized portion of this code, filename, signifies the element you’ll
need to replace with whatever is applicable to your system or needs. The
rest—the non-italicized portion—should be typed exactly as shown.
Identifies captions, menus, buttons, checkboxes, tabs, clickable links,
keyboard keys, drop-down lists and list options, and other interface elements. Bolding interface elements makes it easy to distinguish them from
the rest of the text. For example, you may wish to turn off the Force
Windows to crash option. Window/dialog titles are typically not bolded,
nor are OK buttons or error messages.
Introduces new terms, indicates website URLs, and sets apart file and
folder names.
Italic is also used to highlight Chapter titles and, in some instances, to
visually separate the topic of a list entry.
{Curly braces}
Denote user-defined elements in paths or filenames, e.g., C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu.
“Quotation marks”
Are used sparingly in this book, and are typically used to set apart topic
headings and emphasize new concepts. Note that if you see quotation
marks around something you’re supposed to type, you should type the
quotation marks as well (unless otherwise specified).
Path Notation
The following shorthand path notation is used sparingly to show you how
to reach a given user-interface element or option. The path notation is
always presented relative to a well-known location. For example, the following path:
Control Panel→Date and Time→ Internet Time tab
means “Open Control Panel, then open Date and Time, and then choose
the Internet Time tab.”
Keyboard shortcuts
When keyboard shortcuts are shown, a hyphen (such as Ctrl-Alt-Del) or
a plus sign (Winkey+R) means that you should press the keys
This is an example of a tip, often used to highlight a particularly useful hint or time-saving shortcut. Tips often point to
related information elsewhere in the book.
xvi | Preface
This is an example of a warning, which alerts you to a potential
pitfall of the solution or application being discussed. Warnings can also refer to a procedure that might be dangerous if
not carried out in a specific way (or if not carried out at all).
Using Code Examples
This book is here to help you get your job done. In general, you may use the
code in this book in your programs and documentation. You do not need to
contact us for permission unless you’re reproducing a significant portion of
the code. For example, writing a program that uses several chunks of code
from this book does not require permission. Selling or distributing a CD-ROM
of examples from O’Reilly books does require permission. Answering a question by citing this book and quoting example code does not require permission.
Incorporating a significant amount of example code from this book into your
product’s documentation does require permission.
We appreciate, but do not require, attribution. An attribution usually includes
the title, author, publisher, and ISBN. For example: “Windows 7 Annoyances, by David A. Karp. Copyright 2010 David A. Karp, 978-0-596-15762-3.”
If you feel your use of code examples falls outside fair use or the permission
given here, feel free to contact us at [email protected]
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Preface | xvii
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Finally, all my love to Torey and our beautiful son, Asher.
xviii | Preface
Get Started with Windows 7
Windows 7 is like a pumpkin: handsome and plump on the outside, but a big
mess on the inside. So get out your knife and start carving.
Now, there was a lot in 7’s predecessor, Windows Vista, that Microsoft got
right, or almost right. But face it: Windows 7 exists because of everything that
was wrong with Vista.
First and foremost, Windows 7 is faster than Vista, and by some accounts,
faster than XP on the same hardware. The staggeringly annoying User Account
Control (UAC) system is still around, but is slightly smarter, in that it doesn’t
interrupt you quite as often, and more customizable than when it debuted in
Vista. And beginner-level networking is theoretically easier with Homegroups,
provided everyone in your house, condo, office, commune, or wikiup drinks
the Kool-Aid and upgrades to Windows 7 (and doesn’t care much about security).
The new taskbar holds icons for open applications and those not yet running
side by side, much like the dock in Mac OS X (which is itself an adaptation of
the NeXTstep dock from the 1980s). Better yet are the “jump lists,” handy
shortcut menus that appear when you right-click taskbar icons, replacing the
useless 25-year-old system menus found in every preceding version. Windows
7 also throws in a bunch of crowd-pleasing window management shortcuts,
like Aero Peek, Aero Snap, and Aero Shake, as well as some nifty features for
those using multiple displays.
But it’s not all lollipops and rainbows. For starters, upgrading from XP or an
earlier version of Windows can be a chore if you don’t know a few tricks.
Microsoft made some stupid decisions when it came to security which you’ll
need to rectify to keep your data safe and your OS malware-free. Windows
Explorer needs tweaking before it’ll work reliably, and the Search feature is
too slow and its results incomplete.
Windows 7 doesn’t provide any convenient tools to associate more than one
application with a file type or even customize file icons. The backup tool
doesn’t let you restore individual files from a complete PC backup, meaning
that you have to back up your data twice in order to get complete protection.
Sharing files with older PCs, non-Windows machines, and in some cases, even
Windows 7 PCs can be needlessly frustrating. And the list goes on and on.
Fortunately, Windows 7 is pliable. UAC can be tamed. The Green Ribbon of
Death found in Windows Explorer can be dealt with. The Backup and Search
tools can be reconfigured to be more useful. You can hack up the Registry to
protect Windows from itself and customize the interface in ways Microsoft
never intended. And Windows 7’s networking can do everything you need if
you know where to look.
Think of it like carving a jack-o’-lantern: a little planning, hacking, and cleaning, and your face will light up!
Editions of Windows 7
Ironically, the internal version number of Windows 7 is version 6.1,* which
implies that Microsoft considers its newest operating system to be a (relatively)
minor revision of Windows Vista (version 6.0). This relationship is more or
less accurate as it turns out, and is akin to that between Windows XP (internally, Windows 5.1) and its predecessor, Windows 2000 (Windows 5.0).
Windows 7 is available in six different editions, all targeted for different markets and carefully designed to give customers the illusion of choice. They’re
all the same version of Windows—effectively, the same software—differing
only in some of the toys included in the box. Only three editions, Ultimate,
Professional, and Home Premium, are available to the general public.
Home Premium lacks some of the data security, management, and networking
features found in the Professional and Ultimate editions, but comes with the
“premium” games (Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans, Purble Place) missing in
Professional. Of course, Ultimate has it all; the only thing you lose with Ultimate is a little hard disk space (not to mention a large sum of cash).
On the fringe, you’ll find the Starter and Home Basic editions, intended for socalled emerging markets, and the Enterprise edition, which has more or less
the same feature set as Ultimate (minus the games and Media Player) but with
volume-licensing for large corporations.
* Open a Command Prompt window (cmd.exe) and type ver at the prompt to see Windows’ internal
version number.
2 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Table 1-1. What you get (and what you don’t) with the primary editions of Windows 7
Home Premium
Aero Glass interface
Backup and Restore
Backup and Restore – Create a system image
Backup and Restore – Network storage support
Create a Home Group
Corporate tools (AppLocker, BranchCache, DirectAccess)
Encryption – BitLocker drive encryption
Encryption – file and folder encryption (EFS)
Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc)
Join a corporate network domain
Local Security Policy Editor (secpol.msc)
16 GB
192 GB
192 GB
Fax and Scan
Local Users and Groups Manager (lusrmgr.msc)
Location Aware Printing
Maximum physical memory (64-bit edition)
Multilingual User Interface Pack
Offline files and folders (sync with network folders)
Pen and Touch (Multi-Touch)
Premium Games
Presentation Mode (Winkey + X)
Previous Versions (Shadow Copies)
Remote Desktop Client
Remote Desktop Host
Subsystem for Unix-based Applications
Virtual Hard Disk Booting
Windows Media Center
Windows Media Player Remote Media Experience
Windows XP Mode for Windows Virtual PC
Editions of Windows 7 | 3
Get Started with
Windows 7
The specific differences between the three primary editions are outlined in
Table 1-1. See the next section for ways you can make up the difference if
you’re not lucky enough to have the Ultimate edition.
Got Ultimate Edition Envy?
Got the Home Premium or Professional editions of Windows 7, and are considering forking over more cash to Microsoft for a “better” version? Not so
fast! Here are most of the goodies included with Ultimate but missing in lesser
editions, and how you can get them for free:
Back up to a network location
See “Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery” on page 404 for information on using network storage with Windows Backup on the Home
Premium edition.
BitLocker Drive Encryption, and the Encrypting File System (EFS)
The NTFS file system used by all editions of Windows 7 supports compression and encryption for individual files and folders, but the encryption
feature is made unavailable in the Home Premium edition. If you want to
encrypt files in Home Premium, try SafeHouse Explorer Encryption or
Cryptainer LE, both free.
BitLocker, included only with the Ultimate and Enterprise editions, is a
method by which you can encrypt an entire drive (as opposed to the
aforementioned folder and file-level encryption). Freeware alternatives for
Professional and Home Premium include FreeOTFE and TrueCrypt.
See Chapter 8 for the skinny on encryption.
Corporate tools
These tools are only available on the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of
Windows 7, and are mostly of use to PCs in a corporate environment that
uses Windows Server 2008 R2. Anyone who doesn’t need to be constantly
connected to a central server at a large company to do his or her work will
likely be bored to tears by these tools.
AppLocker allows you to control which users can run certain applications;
for instance, you can restrict a group of less-privileged users to only running apps by certain publishers (like Microsoft). You can download
AppLocker for free from You can also accomplish this in a much more limited fashion with file permissions, discussed
in Chapter 8.
BranchCache caches files and web content from central servers to improve
performance when working on large-scale team projects on lowbandwidth connections. (There’s no direct replacement at the time of this
writing, aside from upgrading your Internet connection.)
DirectAccess allows you to connect a Windows 7 PC to a corporate network running a DirectAccess server. If you have a lesser edition of Win-
4 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Editions of Windows 7 | 5
Get Started with
Windows 7
dows, you can still set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection, as
explained in Chapter 7, to do something similar, albeit with more fuss.
Group Policy Object Editor
Several solutions in this book use the Group Policy Object Editor
(gpedit.msc) to change a few esoteric settings, but this tool isn’t included
in the Home Premium edition. If the gpedit.msc file isn’t on your system,
you can access most of these settings with the net command-line tool
(provided you open the Command Prompt in administrator mode), as
explained in Chapter 8.
Local Security Policy Editor
The Local Security Policy tool (secpol.msc) provides access to advanced
settings, the useful ones relating mostly to UAC; see “Control User Account Control” on page 569 for details and alternatives.
Offline files and folders
Offline Files is a caching feature, allowing you to work with files stored
on remote network drives even when you’re not connected. When you’re
reconnected, the files are synchronized invisibly. A free alternative for
those using Home Premium is Microsoft’s own Windows Live Sync,
formerly FolderShare. There’s also Microsoft SyncToy and SyncBack Free
Presentation Mode
In the Professional and Ultimate editions, you can press the Windows
Logo key (Winkey) and X to quickly disable the screensaver, set the volume level, and change your desktop wallpaper, all to make your PC more
suitable for hooking up to a projector and giving a PowerPoint-ish presentation. (It’s worth noting that this feature is only available on laptops
through the Windows Mobility Center page in Control Panel, and it’s
disabled by default.) In other words, Presentation Mode is nothing more
than a shortcut, and one that may indeed duplicate similar features in
presentation software you’re already using. Users of Home Premium can
easily accomplish the same thing through more traditional means (e.g.,
Control Panel). See Chapter 2 for more nifty Winkey shortcuts that work
for everyone.
Remote Desktop
All editions of Windows 7 can control another PC remotely with Remote
Desktop, but you’ll need the Professional edition or better if you want
your PC to be controlled remotely (act as the host) with Remote Desktop.
UltraVNC is a free remote control package that works with any version/
edition of Windows, or for that matter, Mac OS X, Linux, and even Ap-
ple’s iPhone. See the section “Control a PC Remotely” on page 488 for
Subsystem for Unix-based Applications
Also known as Interix, this is basically a Unix and POSIX layer that allows
you to run Unix software on your Windows 7 PC. Don’t have the Subsystem for Unix-based Applications? Cygwin does more or less the same
thing, and is free for all versions of Windows.
Virtual Hard Disk Booting
If you use the Windows Backup tool to create an image of your hard disk
as described in Chapter 6, you’ll end up with a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk)
file. VHD files are also used by Windows Virtual PC (see “Virtualize
Whirled Peas” on page 30). In the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of
Windows 7, you can boot your PC off a VHD file without using a virtual
environment, effectively offering another means of multiple booting. If
you have a lesser edition of Windows, you can do the same thing with
multiple hard disk partitions, as described in “Set Up a Dual-Boot System” on page 26. See Chapter 6 for more on virtual hard disks.
Windows XP Mode
See the sidebar “Windows XP Mode” on page 33 for details on this
feature, and how you can get basically the same thing in Home Premium.
64-Bit Windows
More bits gets you access to more memory, and more memory means a faster,
smoother-running OS. The processor inside your PC communicates with your
system memory (RAM) with numeric addressing. Thus the maximum amount
of memory a 32-bit processor can address is 232 bytes, or 4 gigabytes. Newer
64-bit processors—not to mention the 64-bit operating systems that run on
them—can address up to 264 bytes of memory, or 17,179,869,184 gigabytes
(16 exabytes) of RAM. (17 million gigabytes may sound like a lot of space now,
but it won’t be long before you’ll be taking baby pictures with a 9-exapixel
digital camera.)
In reality, 32-bit Windows can only make use of about 3 GB
of RAM before hitting a wall; see Chapter 5 for details.
Windows NT, released in 1993, was Microsoft’s first fully 32-bit operating
system. But it took eight years before the platform, which had since evolved
into Windows 2000 and then XP, became mainstream. (For those keeping
6 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
When Vista first hit store shelves in 2007, x64 computing was a hobbyist niche,
barely registering on any radar. By the middle of 2008, Microsoft reported that
20% of new PCs connecting to Windows Update—mind you, that’s new PCs,
not total PCs—were using 64-bit Windows. Many of those machines were
likely sold with 4 GB of RAM or more, necessitating Windows x64 to be preinstalled. But why isn’t everyone using x64?
While 64-bit (x64) Windows can run nearly all 32-bit applications without a
problem, it’s not compatible with 32-bit hardware drivers or 32-bit utilities
like Windows Explorer extensions (e.g., context menu add-ons). This means
that you need native, signed 64-bit drivers for every device on your PC, which
only recently have become commonplace. (In fact, for a product to be marked
“Certified for Windows 7,” it must be compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit
editions of the OS.) Of course, you still may have trouble finding support for
older hardware, but isn’t that always the case when you upgrade the operating
Now, native 64-bit software running on 64-bit Windows has been known to
run as much as 10% faster, which illustrates the other reason—apart from
memory addressing—that people find 64-bits alluring. But fully native x64
applications are still rare; even Microsoft Office is still natively 32-bits, with
only a handful of x64 DLLs thrown in to make everything work smoothly on
a 64-bit system.
All 64-bit editions of Windows 7 require a 64-bit (x64) processor (both Intel and AMD make x64 CPUs). If you’re not
sure if your PC has an x64 CPU and you’re already using
Windows 7 or Vista, open the Performance Information and
Tools page in Control Panel and click the View and print
details link (available only after you’ve run a performance
check). Otherwise, the free Securable utility works on any
version of Windows. If you haven’t yet installed any OS on
your PC, use the “Processor Check for 64-Bit Compatibility”
So, if you’re on the fence about x64, let’s make it simple. Unless you have fewer
than 2 GB of RAM, a non-x64 processor, or some software or hardware prod-
Editions of Windows 7 | 7
Get Started with
Windows 7
track, Windows 9x doesn’t count because it was a hybrid OS that ran 32-bit
applications on a 16-bit DOS foundation, which was one of the reasons it was
so terribly unstable.) 64-bit Windows became a reality in XP, but Vista—and,
by extension, Windows 7—was Microsoft’s first serious attempt to take 64bit computing mainstream. But the question is, how mainstream is it?
uct that won’t work on 64-bit Windows, there’s no reason to stick with a 32bit OS.
All editions of Windows 7 (except Starter) are available in both the 32-bit or
64-bit varieties; the retail Ultimate edition even includes both 32-bit and 64bit DVDs right in the box. If you have a 32-bit edition (other than Ultimate),
you can get the 64-bit version of your edition (in the US, call 1-800-360-7561),
and assuming your license key checks out, you only pay shipping. But beware:
once you “convert” your license key to work with the 64-bit version, you won’t
be able to use it to reinstall the 32-bit version, should you decide to go back.
(Thus you may want to try a virtual install first, as described in “Virtualize
Whirled Peas” on page 30.)
Once you’ve got your 64-bit OS installed and functioning, it’ll look and feel
just like its 32-bit (x86) counterpart, with only a few minor quirks. See Chapter 2 for Windows Explorer considerations on 64-bit Windows, Chapter 3 for
64-bit registry issues, and Chapter 6 for troubleshooting 64-bit hardware and
Unless otherwise noted, all of the solutions in this book apply to both the 32bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.
Install Windows 7
It used to be that installing an operating system was a dreadful experience.
More specifically, it should be said that it was always a dreadful experience.
Fortunately, things have improved to the point where installing Windows 7 is
only occasionally dreadful. In fact, it’s usually fairly painless, provided you
have a relatively new PC, a true installation disc, and no data you care about
on the target drive.
But what if you’re upgrading and you don’t want to ruin a functioning system?
Or what if upgrading isn’t an option, and you have to perform a clean install?
Or what if setup halts halfway through with nothing more than a blue screen
to show for your trouble? Or worst of all, what if setup is completely successful,
and now all that awaits you is a bloated, buggy OS that you need to spend time
optimizing and configuring? (OK, that last scenario is what the rest of this book
is about.)
Microsoft took a somewhat odd approach with Windows 7’s setup tool. Previously, you could install the latest Windows OS on top of just about any recent
version, and the installer would perform an “upgrade.” The process was
convenient, in that anyone could upgrade Windows by simply popping in a
disc, but the resulting system never worked very well because of all the detritus
8 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Whether you’re allowed to install Windows 7 over an older
version or you’re forced to perform a “clean install” is unrelated to the special pricing or licensing you may’ve gotten
when you purchased Windows 7. In other words, just because
you got an “upgrade” version of Windows 7 doesn’t mean you
can do an in-place upgrade over Windows XP.
So, can you do an in-place upgrade? If you have Windows Vista or a lesser
edition of Windows 7 (e.g., Home Premium to Ultimate), see Table 1-2 to find
out. If you have any other operating system, then the answer is no. Frustrating
to be sure, but trust me: Microsoft is doing you a favor.
Table 1-2. Allowed Windows 7 in-place upgrade paths; no checkmark (✓) means you must
perform a clean install
Vista Home Basic
Vista Home Premium
Vista Business
Vista Enterprise
Vista Ultimate
Windows 7
Home Basic
Windows 7
Windows 7
Windows 7
Windows 7
XP or earlier
Furthermore, if you want to switch from 32-bit to 64-bit or vice versa, you
must do a clean install. You’ll also need to install clean if you’re changing the
core language, installing a hobbled version of Windows 7 (e.g., Windows N,
Windows KN, etc.), or are upgrading from any beta or release candidate.
Install Windows 7 | 9
Get Started with
Windows 7
left behind by the previous OS. “Perhaps this was why everyone hated Vista,”
Microsoft reasoned, “so we’ll just disable the upgrade feature in Windows 7.”
(Or maybe building an installer that actually worked was just too much
Install Windows on an Empty Hard Disk
Use this method to set up Windows on a brand-new, empty hard disk; if your
PC already has a Windows installation, even if it doesn’t support an in-place
upgrade, skip to the section “Upgrade from a Previous Version of Windows” on page 18.
The Windows 7 installation disc is bootable, which means that you can pop
it in your drive, turn on the computer, and the installation process will start
If your PC doesn’t boot off your setup disc, you’ll need to do one of the
BIOS setup
Enter your BIOS setup utility (see Appendix A), navigate to the Boot section, and change the boot device priority or boot sequence so that your
DVD drive appears before your hard disk. Save your changes and exit BIOS
setup when you’re finished.
Boot menu
Alternatively, some PCs provide a “boot menu” that lets you choose the
boot drive on the fly. Look for a message above or below the boot screen
right after you power on your PC; usually, all you do is press the F12 key—
before the beep; don’t dawdle—select your CD/DVD drive from a list,
and hit Enter.
When your PC detects a bootable disc, you’ll usually see this message for three
to four seconds:
Press any key to boot from CD or DVD . . .
Press a key on the keyboard, and in a few moments, setup should load normally
and display its Welcome screen. (See the section “Boot Without a Boot
Disc” on page 15 if you can’t boot off the Windows setup disc.)
On the first screen, click Next to display the Install Windows screen shown
Figure 1-1. From here, click Install now to proceed.
On the next page, setup asks for your product key, which you can read off the
DVD sleeve or the sticker on your PC case. Mercifully, Microsoft allows you
to skip this step—leave the field blank, click Next, and then answer No—so
you don’t have to waste time fishing around for the sticker and typing the
excruciating 25-digit key, only to have setup laugh at your propensity for typos.
This is a particularly useful time-saver if you’re only setting up a temporary
installation for software testing or data recovery.
10 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Get Started with
Windows 7
Figure 1-1. From this page, click Install now to begin setup, or Repair your computer to
use the repair tools explained in Chapter 6
If you complete setup without typing your key, make sure you
choose the edition of Windows 7 for which you actually own
a license. If you choose the wrong edition, you won’t be able
to change it later without reinstalling from scratch. When
Windows boots, it’ll operate in a fully functional “evaluation
mode” you can use normally for 30 days. If you don’t enter a
valid product key for the edition you chose during setup in
time—through the System page in Control Panel—Windows
goes into a lockdown mode. (See “Install clean with only an
upgrade disc” on page 13 for a way to extend this evaluation
period.) So, if this installation ends up being a keeper, don’t
put this step off, lest you risk giving yourself a nice big
A few pages later, you’ll be asked “Which type of installation do you want?”,
at which point you can select Upgrade or Custom (advanced). The Upgrade option is only for performing an in-place upgrade from Windows Vista;
try it with an earlier version like XP, and setup will display an error and then
start over.
Install Windows 7 | 11
So click Custom (advanced) to advance to the “Where do you want to install
Windows?” page, and then click the Drive options link to reveal the partition
editor shown in Figure 1-2. See Chapter 5 for more information on partitions
and the tools included with Windows to manage them.
If the hard disk is clean and you want to use the entire hard disk for your
installation, just click Next to proceed. Otherwise, use Delete to wipe out any
existing partitions—as well as the data on them (warning: there’s absolutely
no undo here)—and New to create new partitions on the drive. See Chapter 5 for more on partitions and the reasons you might want more than one.
Figure 1-2. Click the Drive options link to show these drive preparation and partition
editing tools
Windows 7 setup creates a 100 MB “System Reserved” partition when you install on a blank hard disk (Professional edition or better). To keep this from happening and use your
entire hard disk for the Windows installation, see “Prevent
extra partitions during setup” on page 14.
Follow the screens to complete setup. If setup crashes along the way, or Windows won’t boot after you’re done, see the section “Fix Problems with Windows Setup” on page 25.
12 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
So you thought you’d save a little money by purchasing the “upgrade” version
of Windows, but now you find yourself in a bit of a jam. Your hard disk
crashed, and without a full backup (see Chapter 6), you need to rebuild your
system. Or perhaps you’ve decided against an in-place Vista upgrade to avoid
passing on two years of accumulated junk to your new operating system. Either
way, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that your upgrade disc won’t install if it
can’t find an eligible Windows installation to upgrade.
In this scenario, Microsoft suggests that you install Vista and then install Windows 7 over it. Not bloody likely.
Instead, just follow these steps to get a fresh Windows 7 installation from an
upgrade disc:
1. Use your Windows 7 disc to boot your PC, as described in “Install Windows on an Empty Hard Disk” on page 10.
2. When setup loads, click Install now and proceed normally.
3. When prompted for the product key, leave the field blank, and just click
Next. Without the key, setup will ask you which edition of 7 you’d like
to install; make sure you choose the edition you actually own.
4. When setup is complete, you’ll be operating in the 30-day evaluation period, but you won’t be able to activate 7 until you enter your product key.
To enter the product key, open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode, as explained in the section “Control User Account Control” on page 569, and then type this at the prompt:
cscript \windows\system32\slmgr.vbs -ipkxxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx
where xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx is your Windows 7 product key,
taken from the DVD sleeve or the sticker on your PC case. Press Enter to
If this doesn’t work, you may need to temporarily deactivate the UAC feature as described in Chapter 8, and
then try again. Then, reactivate UAC when you’re done
(should you so desire).
5. Next, activate Windows with this command:
cscript \windows\system32\slmgr.vbs -ato
and press Enter. To verify that activation was successful, type this:
cscript \windows\system32\slmgr.vbs -dlv
Install Windows 7 | 13
Get Started with
Windows 7
Install clean with only an upgrade disc
6. Type exit or close the Command Prompt window when you’re done.
Using a process known as rearming, you can extend the
evaluation period up to two or three times, for a total of
120 days. Just execute the slmgr.vbs script with the
-rearm parameter. It will take 15–30 seconds to make the
change, at which point you’ll need to restart Windows.
Prevent extra partitions during setup
When you install Windows 7 (Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions)
on an empty hard disk, setup creates an extra, hidden 100 MB partition. It’s
used for BitLocker drive encryption (see Chapter 8), although BitLocker works
fine without it. It also holds a copy of the Windows Recovery Environment so
you can repair Windows without having to fish out the setup DVD, as described in “What to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355.
If you’re installing on a hard disk that already has partitions
with data, if you have the Home Premium edition, or you don’t
mind the extra partition—admittedly, 100 MB isn’t much by
today’s standards—then you can skip these steps.
Since this is space you can never use for your own data, you can use the following procedure to keep this partition from ever being created:
1. On the “Where do you want to install Windows?” page (Figure 1-2) partition screen of Windows 7 Setup, click Drive options (advanced).
Delete any existing partitions (if applicable) and then create a new partition to fill the drive. See Chapter 5 for more information on partition
2. When Windows warns you, “To ensure that all Windows features work
correctly, Windows might create additional partitions for system files,”
click OK.
3. At this point, you’ll see two partitions:
• Disk 0 Partition 1: System Reserved (System)
• Disk 0 Partition 2 (Primary)
Highlight the Primary partition and then click Delete.
4. Next, select the System Reserved partition and click Extend. Type the
maximum size available for the partition and then click Apply.
5. Again highlight the newly extended System Reserved partition and click
14 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
See Chapter 5 if you’ve already installed Windows and you wish to remove
this partition.
Boot Without a Boot Disc
I still have a box of floppy disks in my closet, most of which are boot disks for
old operating systems (Windows Me, Windows 95, DOS 6.2, DOS 4.0, etc.).
Not a single one of my PCs still has a floppy drive, but each was such a hassle
to create or obtain, I can’t bear to part with them lest someone knock on my
door one day with a 25-year-old IBM XT that won’t start up.
Suffice it to say, it can be a real pain to boot a PC before any operating system
is installed. Windows 7 comes on a bootable DVD, but if you have an older
drive that doesn’t support bootable DVDs, or if you don’t have a working
optical drive at all, what do you do? One method is to pull the hard drive from
the PC and then use another PC to copy files from the Windows setup disc to
a temporary folder on the drive. But that still leaves the question: how do you
boot the PC so you can get to those files?
Or, what if Windows is already installed, but you need to accomplish a task
you can’t do from within Windows, such as updating/flashing your PC’s BIOS,
your video card BIOS, or your hard drive BIOS?
If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck with one of those BIOS
update utilities that insists on writing files to a floppy drive,
you can use the free Virtual Floppy Drive tool from http://chit to add a fake drive letter. Run your tool, and then use Windows Explorer to retrieve
the files.
Fortunately, there are several “alternate” ways to boot a PC if, for whatever
reason, you can’t boot the conventional way: a network (PXE) boot, a bootable
USB flash drive, and a bootable CD.
Set up a network (PXE) boot
Using your PC’s built-in support for Preboot Execution Environment (PXE),
you can place boot files on a shared folder on another PC on your network,
and then boot the PC off of those files. Setting this up is a bit involved, but it’s
often simpler than using a boot disk.
Install Windows 7 | 15
Get Started with
Windows 7
6. When the format is complete, proceed to install Windows on the lone
To get started, you’ll need a working PC with an Internet connection. Install
the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK), available for free at http:// Open the Windows PE Tools
Command Prompt from the Start menu, and if you’re installing the 32-bit
edition of Windows 7, type:
copype.cmd x86 c:\output
or if you’re installing the 64-bit (x64) edition, type:
copype.cmd amd64 c:\output
and press Enter. The batch file will create the c:\output folder automatically.
When the files have been copied, issue this command to mount the Windows
Preinstallation Environment (PE) image:
imagex /mountrw C:\output\winpe.wim 1 C:\output\mount
Next, open Windows Explorer and create a subfolder inside of c:\output named
boot. Copy all the files from c:\output\mount\Windows\Boot\PXE to the new
c:\output\boot folder. When that’s done, unmount the Windows PE image:
imagex /unmount C:\output\mount
Back in Windows Explorer, copy the boot.sdi file from the WAIK installation
folder to the c:\output\boot folder. If you’re installing the 32-bit edition of
Windows 7, get boot.sdi from C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools
\x86\boot, or if you’re installing the 64-bit (x64) edition, get it from C:\Program
Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\amd64\boot.
Return to the command prompt window and copy the winpe.wim file to the
boot folder and rename it to boot.wim, like this:
copy c:\output\winpe.wim c:\output\boot\boot.wim
After all that, there are a bunch of other tedious commands required to create
a Boot Configuration Data (BCD) file using bcdedit.exe, the same tool used in
“Set Up a Dual-Boot System” on page 26. For a shortcut, just download
makebcd.bat from,
and run it on your PC. When prompted to cut and paste the GUID, right-click
any part of the command prompt window, select Mark, select the text in curly
braces just above the prompt, and press Enter to copy the text. Right-click
again, select Paste to paste the text, and press Enter to continue execution. If
all goes well, you’ll only see a series of messages stating that “The operation
completed successfully.”
The last step is to install Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) server software,
such as Tftp32 (free from so the target PC can connect to the working PC to retrieve the boot files. Install Tftp32 and start
16 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Now that the PXE server is set up, you need to enable PXE Network boot in
your new PC’s BIOS setup screen, as explained in Appendix A. You’ll need
the host name or IP address of the PC acting as the PXE server; see Chapter 7 for more on IP addresses, general networking tips, and troubleshooting.
Create a bootable CD
There are many ways to make a bootable CD, but to make a bootable Windows
7 CD, follow these steps.
1. First, install the WAIK, as described in the previous section. Open the
Windows PE Tools Command Prompt from the Start menu, and if
you’re installing the 32-bit edition of Windows 7, type:
copype.cmd x86 c:\bootcd
or if you’re installing the 64-bit (x64) edition, type:
copype.cmd amd64 c:\bootcd
and press Enter. The batch file will create the c:\output folder automatically.
2. Next, copy the Windows PE image file like this:
copy c:\bootcd\winpe.wim c:\bootcd\ISO\sources\boot.wim
and copy the imagex.exe tool as well:
copy "C:\program files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86\imagex.exe" C:\bootcd\iso\
3. Finally, create the ISO (disc image) by issuing this command:
oscdimg -n -bC:\bootcd\ C:\bootcd\ISO C:\bootcd\bootcd.iso
When the ISO file is ready, use Windows’ own Disc Image Burner (isoburn.exe) or a program like ISO Recorder (free from http://isorecorder.alexfein to burn the ISO to a blank CD. Insert the CD and turn on your
computer to boot. See the section “Install Windows on an Empty Hard
Disk” on page 10 for tips on booting off a CD.
Create a bootable USB flash drive
A flash drive is the modern day floppy, so why not use it like one?
Install Windows 7 | 17
Get Started with
Windows 7
tftpd32.exe. Click Browse, select the c:\Output folder and click OK to set it as
the Current Directory. Next, choose the DHCP server tab, click Help, and
fill out the fields as instructed. In the Boot File field, type boot.sdi. When
you’re done, click the Save button.
You’ll be wiping the flash drive clean, so back up any data on the drive before
you continue. With the flash drive inserted into a USB port, and your Windows
setup disc in your DVD drive, make note of each of these drive letters.
You’ll need a flash drive of at least 4 GB, and one that plugs
directly into a USB port. (In most cases, flash cards used for
cameras are not suitable.) Also, only newer PCs can boot from
flash drives; to see if yours can, check the documentation or
snoop around your PC’s BIOS for settings to enable this feature, as explained in Appendix A.
Next, open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode (see Chapters
9 and 8, respectively), and type diskpart to open command-line disk partitioning tool (discussed in “Work with Partitions” on page 328). At the diskpart prompt, type:
list disk
Look through the list and find the number assigned to your USB flash drive.
Then type:
select disk n
where n is the number of your flash drive. Then type these commands in order:
create partition primary
select partition 1
format fs=ntfs
to prepare the flash drive. When that’s done, type:
d:\boot\bootsect.exe /nt60 u:
where d: is the letter of your DVD drive and u: is the letter of your USB flash
drive. Finally, copy all of the files from the Windows DVD to the flash drive
root (top-level) folder.
When all the files are in place, plug it into one of the target PC’s free USB ports
and use it to start your computer.
Upgrade from a Previous Version of Windows
In a departure from earlier versions, Microsoft has made it impossible to perform an in-place upgrade on any Windows older than Vista. (And XP users
thought they were unhappy when Vista came out!)
18 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Reinstall Windows 7
You may find yourself in a position where you’ll need to reinstall Windows
7, usually in an effort to solve a nasty problem or to repair a damaged installation. The procedure you choose depends on the state of your computer.
If Windows won’t start, see the section “What to Do When Windows Won’t
Start” on page 355. In most cases, you’ll need your original Windows setup
disc, but you won’t need to reinstall.
If you’re able to start Windows and it’s working well enough to reliably access
your DVD drive, but poorly enough that you’re considering reinstalling, then
you’ll need to decide whether to reinstall (“upgrade” as Microsoft setup puts
it) or install a clean copy on your PC.
An in-place reinstallation is the easiest way to go, and despite the warnings in
the previous section, probably won’t make things any worse. Just pop the
DVD in your drive and follow the prompts. When asked what type of installation you want, select Upgrade and then follow the prompts. But if your
Windows installation is sufficiently munged, you may choose to install fresh
without harming your existing installation, as described later in this section.
Before you get started, it’s a good idea to collect a few things
that might be harder to get once you’ve begun setup. For one,
put a Windows 7-compatible driver for your network adapter
on a USB flash drive or CD, just in case Windows doesn’t
support your hardware and thus won’t allow you to download
the files you need. Also, since you’re essentially doing a fresh
install, make sure you have the installers for your most important applications. And if there’s anything you absolutely
can’t live without, use Microsoft’s Compatibility Wizard to
see if you’ll need to put off a Windows 7 upgrade until there’s
an update for your must-have application or device driver.
Now, if you’re upgrading from Vista, you can technically use the Upgrade
feature shown in Figure 1-3, but don’t be fooled: it’s not all it’s cracked up to
be. Sure, you won’t have to reinstall all your applications—although many will
Install Windows 7 | 19
Get Started with
Windows 7
This means you’ve got some work to do before you can install Windows 7 on
a hard disk that already has an earlier version of Windows on it. (If you don’t
have anything of value on the drive and don’t mind wiping it clean, check out
“Install Windows on an Empty Hard Disk” on page 10 for instructions.) The
good news is that there isn’t much to do, despite what Microsoft would lead
you to believe.
need to be updated anyway to work with Windows 7—and you won’t have to
do any real prep work, but what you’ll end up with may be slower and more
buggy than it needs to be, all because of the junk left behind by the old installation. Now’s your chance to start over with a clean slate—take it!
Figure 1-3. Windows 7 setup gives you these two options when upgrading from Vista, but
be warned: the Upgrade option is for suckers
One of the upgrade scenarios that Microsoft doesn’t
support—regardless of the version of Windows you’re
upgrading—is upgrading from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit
(even from Windows 7 to Windows 7). So if you’re considering taking the x64 plunge, right now is your best chance if you
don’t want to bother with yet another clean install in a few
months. See “64-Bit Windows” on page 6 for details.
Microsoft’s answer is to use the Windows Easy Transfer (WET) tool (formerly
known as the Migration Wizard) to copy your personal files to an external
hard disk, USB flash drive, or network drive, wipe your hard disk, and then
install Windows 7. To do this, pop in your Windows 7 install disc and open
Windows Explorer. Navigate to the \support\migwiz folder on the DVD, double-click migsetup.exe, and follow the prompts.
20 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
When you’re done choosing files, Windows Easy Transfer compresses your
files into a single .mig file, which you can save anywhere you like, presumably
on a removable or network drive.
Figure 1-4. Microsoft suggests using the Windows Easy Transfer tool to save your personal
files before wiping your hard disk clean in preparation for Windows 7
Once your data is safe, go ahead and install Windows 7, following the instructions in the previous section. When setup asks “Where do you want to
install Windows?” (see Figure 1-2, shown earlier), you can delete the existing
partition on your hard disk and then recreate it to ensure a totally clean install.
(Keep in mind that any data not backed up with Windows Easy Transfer will
be lost for good if you do so.) Or, just leave the partition intact, as described
later in this section. As soon as Windows 7 is installed and running, just connect the drive and double-click the .mig file to restore your stuff.
Install Windows 7 | 21
Get Started with
Windows 7
What gets transferred? By default, Windows Easy Transfer grabs most—but
not all—of the stuff in your user account folder (c:\users\{your user name}),
which includes your desktop, your Documents folder, your Internet Explorer
Favorites, and a handful of application saved settings (e.g., iTunes library,
Firefox bookmarks). It also collects most of the stuff in the All Users folder,
which it calls Shared Items. To customize what is saved, click the
Customize link next to any item in the Choose what to transfer from this
computer list, and then click Advanced. On this Windows Explorer-like
window shown in Figure 1-4, place a checkmark next to any folder or individual file you want to keep.
So what’s wrong with the WET approach? For one, it doesn’t save all your
files, only those in standard locations (like the Documents, Music, and Pictures folders) plus the ones you explicitly check off. Miss something and you
might lose it. WET also doesn’t save registry settings for your installed applications (e.g., settings, toolbars) or any of your custom file types (see Chapter 3). Don’t be surprised if you lose your file encryption (Chapter 8) and
shadow copies (Chapter 6). WET also doesn’t transfer installed applications,
but even if it did, you’d have to reinstall them anyway.
To move registry data (including file types) from your old
Windows to the new one, use registry patches, as described
in Chapter 3.
Another problem with WET is that it requires that you move all the data you
want to keep—which might be sizable—to another medium. Say you’ve got
675 GB of home movies and photos, another 60 GB of music, and 12 GB of
business documents. You’ll have to wait while WET tries to compress and
consolidate all 747 GB of data, and then try to find a place to put the resulting
746 GB file. Don’t have a 750 GB drive handy, and don’t want to go buy one
just for 3 hours use? Or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable relying on a
single piece of hardware and a potentially buggy program to safeguard your
But the biggest problem with WET is that it is largely unnecessary. Instead,
why not do some Drive Reorganizing Yourself, or DRY? By going DRY, you
simply take charge of migrating your own data so you can be sure that you’ve
got everything and that it all ends up where you want it.
Whether you do a WET or DRY upgrade to Windows 7, it’s
an awfully good idea to back up your entire hard disk first.
That way, if there’s some catastrophic problem with the
upgrade—or you decide this PC isn’t ready for Windows 7—
you can restore the previous Windows installation and all
your data in one step. But make sure your backup software is
compatible with Windows 7, or you may not be able to get at
any of your files.
If you’re upgrading from Vista (Business edition or better),
you can use the Complete PC Backup and Restore feature in
Control Panel to image the hard disk, allowing a full restore
to the pre-upgrade state, or quick restore of individual files
from within Windows 7 (see Chapter 6). Other editions and
versions may require third-party backup software.
22 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
When you perform a Custom installation on, say, Windows XP, setup moves
your old Windows, Program Files, and Documents and Settings folders into a
new folder called Windows.old so it can install Windows 7 on the drive unhindered. Other folders (e.g., c:\Dave’s Personal Stash) are left alone. None of
your data is deleted, and provided you have enough free disk space (at least
11 GB), setup performs what’s called a “parallel installation,” where Windows
7 is placed alongside your old operating system.
A parallel installation isn’t the same as a dual-boot setup.
After installing Windows 7 in this way, the old version will no
longer be bootable. If you want to keep both versions of Windows bootable, you’ll need more than one hard disk or hard
disk partition, as described in the section “Set Up a Dual-Boot
System” on page 26.
The end result is effectively the same as installing on an empty hard disk as
described in the previous section, except that all your old data stays on the
drive. It’s not quite as convenient as WET, but it potentially takes less time,
and you don’t have to worry about missing any files because nothing from the
old installation is deleted. Here’s how you do it:
1. Boot your PC into the old version of Windows, and insert your Windows
7 DVD.
If your old Windows installation won’t start, boot off the DVD
as described in the previous section. But doing so will permit
setup to make changes to your partitions, making it possible
to delete your primary partition and lose all your data.
2. When the Install Windows page appears, click Install now.
3. If you have a working Internet connection and wish to do so, click Go
online to get the latest update for installation. Or, if you prefer, click
Do not get the latest updates.
4. Choose your Windows 7 edition from the list and click Next; make sure
to pick the one for which you have a valid license key, or you’ll have to do
this all over again.
Install Windows 7 | 23
Get Started with
Windows 7
The Custom (advanced) installation type shown in Figure 1-3 is a workable
choice for upgrading Windows XP and older machines, despite the explanation beneath it. In fact, the bit that reads, “This option does not keep your
files, settings, and programs” is a flat-out lie. (It really means that it won’t
migrate your stuff.)
5. Accept the license terms and click Next. You’re not going to read all that,
are you?
6. When setup asks “Which type of installation do you want?” (Figure 1-3),
choose Custom (advanced).
7. On the “Where do you want to install Windows?” page (Figure 1-2), click
the drive with the previous version (usually drive C:) and click Next. Don’t
delete or reformat any partitions here, or you’ll lose data with no hope of
8. At this point, you’ll get a warning about files from a previous installation;
click OK.
9. Go get yourself a nice cup of tea while Windows copies half a million files
to your hard disk and reboots a few times.
10. When Windows 7 finally loads, it’s time for the DRY step: reorganize the
old folders so the new Windows installation can find all your data. Fire
up Windows Explorer (Chapter 2) and navigate to your c:\Windows.old
\Documents and Settings folder (or, if upgrading Vista, c:\Windows.old
11. Next, open the subfolder of your user account, and then open the Desktop folder. Press Ctrl-A to select all files and then drag them to your new
Desktop folder at the top of the tree. (Or, create a new folder called Old
Desktop if you don’t want to clutter up your new desktop with all that old
If you want to keep the old files in the old locations, hold the
Ctrl key while dragging and dropping (see Chapter 2 for subtleties) to copy the files instead of moving them.
12. Repeat the previous step for Pictures (or My Pictures in XP), Music (or My
Music), etc., copying each collection of files to the appropriate new
13. Next comes Application Data, which houses the various personalized data
files created by Windows and most of your applications. By default, both
the old folder and its new Windows 7 counterpart are hidden, but if you
show hidden files in Windows Explorer (explained in Chapter 2), you’ll
see them.
In Windows XP, the old files are in C:\Windows.old\Documents and Settings\{your_user_name}\Application Data. For Vista, they’re divided in
both C:\Windows.old\Users\{your_user_name}\AppData\Roaming and
24 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Another use for the DRY method is to repair a seriously munged Windows 7
installation. If Windows 7 won’t boot, you can perform a parallel installation
to place a new copy of Windows 7 on your PC without harming the existing
data on your hard disk.
One downside to the DRY method—apart from the need to do some manual
shuffling of files—is that your hard disk never gets formatted. If it’s an old
drive with a long history of upgrades, a clean format may improve reliability.
Fix Problems with Windows Setup
The most common cause of a failed installation of Windows 7 is an out-ofdate system BIOS. If setup crashes, or if Windows won’t boot after you finish
installing, check with the manufacturer of your system or motherboard for any
BIOS updates, and update your BIOS if needed. Better yet, make sure you have
the latest BIOS before you begin installation, particularly if your PC is more
than a year old. See Appendix A for details.
Another common stumbling block to a successful Windows 7 setup is your
video card (display adapter). If setup stops with an unintelligible error message, reboots unexpectedly during setup, or just hangs at a blank screen, your
video card may be at fault. Unfortunately, setup will rarely, if ever, warn you
about such an incompatibility before you begin. Of course, updating the driver
won’t help, since you’d either be installing the driver software on an older
version of Windows that will soon be replaced, or installing it on the new OS
that won’t boot. Your best bet is to replace the video card and try again.
Install Windows 7 | 25
Get Started with
Windows 7
You don’t have to copy all the files in these folders. In fact, you may prefer
to only copy certain branches as you discover you need them; that way,
you won’t put anything in your new installation you don’t actually need.
For instance, your Mozilla Firefox profile—complete with your old bookmarks, cookies, and saved passwords—from your old Vista installation
can be found in C:\Windows.old\Users\{your_user_name}\AppData
\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles. But inside the Profiles folder is also
your Firefox cache, which is better left behind. In this case, you’d copy or
move everything except the Cache subfolder to C:\ Users\
14. When you’re done, leave the Windows.old folder intact and close Windows Explorer. Once you’re sure you’ve got everything from the old
folder—perhaps weeks or months from now—you can go back and delete
the defunct Windows.old folder.
Installing on a desktop PC and suspect your video adapter is
sabotaging your installation? If your motherboard has builtin video that you’re currently not using because of an add-on
card, just re-enable the on-board video through the system
BIOS (if necessary), and then remove the troublesome card.
Or if the on-board video is to blame, try assigning it more video
memory (again, see Appendix A) or replacing it with an addon video card.
Next, if you see an error that says something like “failed to open the Windows
image file,” this is an indictment of your DVD drive. Setup installs Windows
7 from a single, huge hard-disk image file, and some older drives can’t handle
files larger than 3 gigabytes in size. The solution is to replace the drive, or, if
you’re particularly attached to the drive and you’re not in a hurry, purchase a
copy of Windows setup on a stack of CDs (which Microsoft calls “alternate
media”) and try again.
Lastly, if it’s an older disc, the culprit might be nothing more than a little dust;
wipe the disk against your shirt and try again.
Set Up a Dual-Boot System
Dual-boot (or multiboot) installations used to be all the rage, and even though
virtualization (discussed in the next section) has stolen a lot of their thunder,
there are still times when having two or more operating systems installed side
by side on the same PC can be useful.
For instance, you can have both Windows 7 and Windows XP—or Windows
7 and Linux, for that matter—installed on the same PC, and choose which to
boot each time you power on the machine. Now, virtualization does this one
better by allowing you to run both platforms simultaneously, but it has its
limitations. Most notably, a virtualized Windows won’t run nearly as fast as
a non-virtualized installation; if speed matters for every OS you use, a dualboot setup is the way to go.
Also, virtualized operating systems don’t have full access to your PC’s
hardware—particularly non-USB devices—while each OS on a multiboot system can use everything for which drivers are available. Games are a great example; without unfettered communication with your 3D video hardware,
many games won’t run, and that rules out virtualization.
Windows 7 comes with built-in support for a multiboot setup called the Windows Boot Manager, which is installed automatically whether you want a dualboot system or not. If, at the end of the installation, Windows 7 is the only
operating system on your computer, it boots automatically without giving you
26 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
To set up a dual-boot system, you’ll need at least two partitions or two physical
drives: one for each operating system. Install the first OS on any drive you like.
Then, during Windows 7 setup, when you see the “Where do you want to
install Windows?” page (Figure 1-2, shown earlier), just select the empty drive,
and setup will do the rest.
See Chapter 5 for more information on partitions, including
a way to divide your current single-partition drive into two
partitions without having to reformat.
In most cases, the boot manager of the most-recently installed operating system is the one that will be used for all your operating systems, so the sequence
in which you install your operating systems is very important. Most of the time,
you’ll need to install older operating systems before newer ones. For instance,
on a PC already running Windows 98, just install 7 on a different drive, and
voilà: you’ll have a functional dual-boot system.
Some other operating systems, such as FreeBSD and Windows
2000, have boot managers of their own, and can therefore be
installed either before or after 7 is installed with little additional fuss. However, those operating systems without their
own boot managers, such as Windows 9x/Me, will break the
Windows 7 boot manager if installed subsequently. For another consideration, see the sidebar “Of Operating Systems
and Filesystems” on page 29.
Modify the Boot Manager configuration
The Windows Boot Manager is responsible for loading Windows 7, and, optionally, booting any other operating systems you may have installed.
The Boot Manager in both Windows XP and 2000 stored its configuration in
a tiny, easily editable file called boot.ini in the root folder of your C: drive, but
in Windows 7, this file is no longer used. If you install 7 on an XP system, and
then open the boot.ini file left behind, you’ll see this message:
;Warning: Boot.ini is used on Windows XP and earlier operating systems.
;Warning: Use BCDEDIT.exe to modify Windows 7 boot options.
The BCDEdit (bcdedit.exe) tool that comes with Windows 7 is a commandline tool, and isn’t exactly user-friendly. Open a Command Prompt window
Install Windows 7 | 27
Get Started with
Windows 7
a choice. Otherwise, you’ll see a menu of installed operating systems, from
which you can choose the OS you wish to use.
(in administrator mode, as described in Chapter 8), type bcdedit and press
Enter, and you’ll see output that looks something like this:
Windows Boot Manager
-------------------identifier {bootmgr}
device partition=C:
description Windows Boot Manager
locale en-US
inherit {globalsettings}
default {default}
displayorder {ntldr}
toolsdisplayorder {memdiag}
timeout 3
Windows Legacy OS Loader
-----------------------identifier {ntldr}
device partition=C:
path \ntldr
description Earlier version of Windows
Windows Boot Loader
------------------identifier {default}
device partition=D:
path \Windows\system32\winload.exe
description Microsoft Windows 7
locale en-US
inherit {bootloadersettings}
osdevice partition=D:
systemroot \Windows
resumeobject {70c7d34d-b6b4-12db-cc71-d30cdb1ce261}
nx OptIn
detecthal Yes
What a mess. In short, the first section describes the menu you see when you
first boot; the second section here—Windows Legacy OS Loader—describes the
older version of Windows (XP); and finally, the third section—Windows Boot
Loader—describes your new Windows 7 installation.
If you type bcdedit /? at the prompt, you’ll see a bunch of command-line
parameters you can use to add or remove entries, choose a new default (the
OS that’s loaded if you don’t choose one before the timer runs out), or run a
variety of debugging tools.
But if all you want to do is choose a default and maybe change the timeout,
there’s a better tool. Open your Start menu, type msconfig in the Search box
and press Enter to open the System Configuration window, and choose the
Boot tab as shown in Figure 1-5.
28 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Get Started with
Windows 7
Figure 1-5. The Boot tab of the System Configuration tool provides most of the features of
BCDEdit in a much more pleasant interface
Here, the easy options are truly self-evident, and the advanced options are at
least available. On the right, you can adjust the Timeout from its default of
30 seconds; type 5 here, and you’ll instantly shave off 25 seconds from your
unattended boot time. (Don’t use a value so small that you won’t have time
to change it, lest you set an inoperable installation as the default and have no
way to get around it.)
To choose the default OS, select it in the list and click Set as default. When
you’re done, click OK, and then restart Windows to see your new settings.
Of Operating Systems and Filesystems
When setting up a dual-boot system for day-to-day use, you’ll need to consider
the matter of sharing files between your operating systems.
In order to share files between operating systems, both partitions must use
filesystems supported by at least one OS. For instance, if you have a dual-boot
setup with both Windows 7 and Windows 98, you’ll be able to see both drives
while you’re in 7, but you’ll only be able to see the 98 drive while 98 is running.
(Although 7 can read drives formatted with the FAT32 filesystem, it can’t be
installed on one.) See Chapter 5 for details.
Now, if both your partitions use the NTFS filesystem—which is what you’d
likely get if you set up a dual-boot system with Windows 7 and XP—you also
may have ownership problems to contend with. As explained in Chapter 8,
every file and folder on your PC has an “owner,” a user tied to a specific
Install Windows 7 | 29
account on your PC. If, for instance, you create a file in XP and then attempt
to modify it in Windows 7, you may be denied permission until you “take
ownership,” as explained in the section “Protect Your Files with Encryption” on page 558.
And in regards to protecting your data, encryption is also effective at preventing an intruder from reading your files by installing a second operating system
on your PC.
Virtualize Whirled Peas
A Gedanken experiment—also called a “thought” experiment—is a means of
testing a hypothesis without actually conducting any physical experiment.
(“Maxwell’s demon” and “Schrödinger’s cat” are both Gedanken experiments.) And as luck would have it, there’s a way to conduct a Gedanken experiment of sorts with Windows 7.
Say you’re using Vista or XP, and you’re considering upgrading (or rather,
“transitioning”) to Windows 7. How do you find out if the new OS works with
all your software without actually completing a painful, laborious, and possibly one-way operating system upgrade? Virtualize!
Virtualization has been around for years, but thanks to processor-level optimizations and recent improvements in virtualization software, it’s easy, quick,
practical, and, for the most part, free. The idea is that you can run a second
copy of Windows—or any other operating system, for that matter—in a window. The new OS behaves as though it was installed on its very own PC, and
even shows up on the network; the experience is not unlike remote control
software discussed in Chapter 7, except you don’t need to buy any more hardware. In most cases, you can copy and paste data between the “host” OS and
the OS running in the window (the “guest”), and even drag-drop files onto the
virtualized desktop.
For best performance for your virtualized operating system,
make sure support for virtualization is enabled in your PC’s
BIOS; see Appendix A for details. Not sure if your CPU supports this? Try Securable (
Also, you’ll need at least 3 GB of physical RAM (4 or 8 is better)
and more than enough free hard disk space for a virtual hard
disk (20 GB minimum).
With virtualization, you can test Windows 7 right on your Vista or XP desktop
before you commit. Or, if you’re already running Windows 7, you can set up
30 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
The process itself is quite easy. All you need is virtualization software (see
Table 1-3) and an original installation disc for the operating system you wish
to install in a window.
Table 1-3. Virtualization software comparison chart
Virtual PC 6.0
Windows 7 as host OS
Windows Vista or XP as host OS
Runs Windows 7 in a window
Runs Vista or XP in a window
Workstation 6.5
Runs 64-bit OS in a window
Supports direct file drag-drop
Clipboard sharing
Dynamic desktop resize
Non-network folder sharing
Virtualized windows alongside
host windows
Supports multiple virtual monitors
Record movies
Runs Linux/Unix in a window
Runs Mac OS X in a window
Supports multiple virtual
USB devices recognized by guest
Includes Windows XP for free
Supports 64-bit host OS
Virtual PC 6.1
Available from
Free 30-day trial
Windows XP Mode is included in the Professional and Ultimate Editions of Windows 7 only; see the upcoming sidebar
“Windows XP Mode” on page 33 for details.
See the sidebar “Virtual Time Machine” on page 36.
Install Windows 7 | 31
Get Started with
Windows 7
a virtual Vista or XP desktop to allow you to run older software that isn’t yet
7-friendly (see “Windows XP Mode” on page 33 for a special case).
In order to run a 64-bit operating system in a window, the host
PC must also be running a 64-bit operating system. And 64bit Windows requires a 64-bit processor, as described in“64Bit Windows” on page 6. At the time of this writing, running
a 64-bit guest OS is only supported in VMware and VirtualBox.
Setting up a new virtual machine is a snap. Here are a few sample scenarios:
Run a virtualized Windows 7 in Vista
Want to test Windows 7 in a virtual environment on your Vista PC before you
commit? Here’s how.
Start by installing Microsoft Virtual PC 6.0 on your Vista PC, and then start
Virtual PC. On the Virtual PC Console window, click New and then follow
the prompts in the New Virtual Machine Wizard.
When it asks you to choose an operating system, select Windows Vista and
click Next.
Next it’ll ask you to allocate memory; this is the amount of physical RAM the
guest OS sees, so give it enough to run (at least 1.0–1.5 GB). Whatever you
allocate for the virtual machine will be sucked out of your host PC’s memory,
so don’t give it more than you can spare. Click Adjusting the RAM and move
the slider or type a value (1536 MB for 1.5 GB) and then click Next.
Next comes the virtual hard disk, the .vhd file your virtual machine uses for
storage. Select the A new virtual hard disk option, click Next, and then
specify a filename (and folder). Thankfully, the virtual hard disk works differently than the RAM: the file starts off small and grows as needed. The value
you specify for Virtual hard disk size is only a cap, so type a sufficiently large
number (like 100000 for 100 GB) and then click Next. Click Finish to close
the wizard.
You can change the virtual hardware assigned to your new
virtual PC at any time—unless the virtual machine is running
or paused—by clicking the Settings button in the Virtual PC
32 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
From this point, install Windows 7 as described earlier in this chapter.
Windows XP Mode
One of Vista’s biggest failings was its incompatibility—or rather, its perceived
incompatibility—with a broad range of applications and devices during its
early days. Microsoft was so concerned that the same thing might happen with
Vista’s successor that the Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions of
Windows 7 include a free licensed copy of Windows XP for use with the
Windows Virtual PC software.
But rather than running Windows XP in a window, thereby confining XP
applications to a smaller, isolated desktop, XP Mode applications run alongside Windows 7 applications. Windows 7 and the virtualized XP share the
same desktop, Start menu, and even file type associations. (XP Mode uses a
Terminal Services session for its hosted applications via the same protocol—
RDP—as the Remote Desktop feature covered in Chapter 7.)
The result is a fully functional, licensed copy of Windows XP running more
or less as a layer on top of Windows 7, not altogether different from the 32bit layer on 64-bit Windows. And this means, at least in theory, no compatibility problems, and thus no barrier to the inevitable upgrade to Windows 7.
(The big exception here is non-USB hardware; if you don’t have a Windows
7-ready driver for one of your devices, the virtualized XP system won’t be able
to talk to it.)
But what if you have the Home Premium edition of Windows 7? Although
you won’t have access to Windows XP Mode per se, you can install XP in
Windows Virtual PC, provided you own an XP license and have an XP install
disc. Or, if that’s overkill, you can try running that cranky application in
“compatibility mode,” as described in Chapter 6.
Install Windows 7 | 33
Get Started with
Windows 7
When you’re returned to the Virtual PC Console window, select the new virtual machine and click Start. Immediately a black window will appear, and
you’ll see Virtual PC attempt to boot off the network. Since that’s not likely
to work, open the CD menu, select Use Physical Drive D: (or whatever drive
letter is assigned to your DVD drive), and pop in your Windows 7 disc. Or, if
you’re installing off an ISO, select Capture ISO Image and select the .iso file.
When you’re ready, open the Action menu and select Reset to boot off the
disc (or image).
Virtual Machine Additions is a sort of link between the guest
and host sessions; it makes the guest OS aware that it’s running in a virtualized environment. First and foremost, VMA
lets you move your mouse in and out of the Virtual PC window
freely; otherwise it’ll get stuck whenever you click in the window. (Without VMA, press the right Alt key to release the
mouse pointer.) It also lets you drag-drop files directly onto—
and out of—the windowed OS, and it even resizes the virtual
desktop when you resize the Virtual PC window.
When Windows 7 first loads, open Virtual PC’s Action menu
and select Install or Update Virtual Machine Additions. In
a few moments, the guest Windows 7 session will detect a new
virtual CD and ask if you want to run setup.exe. Follow the
prompts to install the software and then answer Yes to restart
Run a virtualized XP in Windows 7
Need to run an application that won’t work on anything newer than Windows
XP? Here’s one way to do it in Windows 7.
First, install Windows Virtual PC 6.1 (or later). If you’re using the Professional,
Enterprise, or Ultimate editions of Windows 7, you can also install the optional
Windows XP Mode software, also available at
tualpc; see the sidebar “Windows XP Mode” on page 33 for an introduction.
Otherwise, you’ll need an original Windows XP install disc and appropriate
license code.
Now, Windows Virtual PC doesn’t have a central control panel like the one
found in earlier versions; click the Windows Virtual PC icon in your Start
menu, and it’ll just open the Virtual Machines folder in your home folder.
“Now what?” you may ask. Good question.
Don’t waste time looking for instructions or a way to create a new virtual
machine here; you won’t find it. Instead, just open the Start menu, and in the
Search box, type VPCWizard.exe and press Enter.
When prompted, choose a name for the new virtual machine configuration
(e.g., “Windows XP in a box”) and click Next. Specify how much memory
(RAM) you’d like to allocate—give it at least 1024 MB (1 GB) if you have it to
spare—and click Next. On the next page, choose Create a dynamically expanding virtual hard disk and then click Create.
34 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Next, from the Tools drop-down, select Settings, and then highlight DVD
Drive in the list on the left. Select Access a physical drive and choose the
drive letter where your Windows setup disc can be found. (Or, if you’re installing from an ISO disc image, select Open an ISO image and click
Browse to locate it.) Click OK when you’re done, and then click the Ctrl+Alt
+Del button on the Virtual PC toolbar to restart the virtual machine and boot
off the CD.
At this point, you can install Windows normally; when setup is complete, you
should get something like the setup shown in Figure 1-6.
Figure 1-6. Run an older operating system in a window to provide absolute compatibility
for applications that aren’t yet 7-friendly
Download from Wow! eBook
Install Windows 7 | 35
Get Started with
Windows 7
Back in the Virtual Machines folder, you’ll see your new Windows XP in a
box.vmcx file; double-click it to start your virtual machine. When it first starts,
your virtual PC will attempt a PXE network boot (described in “Boot Without
a Boot Disc” on page 15), which will almost certainly fail.
Virtual Time Machine
One of the advantages of virtualization is that it lets you test applications (and
in some cases, hardware devices) in an isolated environment. But once you
soil that environment with software or drivers, it’s no longer the “clean room”
it once was. Rather than delete the virtual machine and start over, there are
ways to revert back to earlier stages—an undo, if you will—to save you time
and trouble.
If you’re using VMware Workstation, just open the VM menu, select Snapshot and then Take Snapshot. Name the snapshot and click OK to save the
current state to your hard disk. Thereafter, changes you make to your virtual
hard disk (software you install, files you delete, etc.) are saved in a separate
file on your real hard disk.
You can revert to a saved state at any time; from the VM menu, select Snapshot→Snapshot Manager, select the snapshot you wish to use and click Go
Microsoft Virtual PC doesn’t have a snapshot feature, but you can get a crude
approximation, provided you have enough free disk space. When the virtual
machine is in a state you’d like to save—like right after you’ve installed Windows and VMA—shut down the virtual session. Then, open Windows Explorer on the host and navigate to the folder containing your .vhd virtual hard
disk (usually Documents\My Virtual Machines). Using the right mouse button,
drag your .vhd file to another part of the same folder and select Copy Here,
creating a duplicate copy (e.g., Windows 7 - copy.vhd); that’s your snapshot.
To revert to a saved state, make sure your Virtual PC session is shut down,
and then reopen Windows Explorer on the host. Delete or rename the .vhd
file in use, and then rename the backup (e.g., Windows 7 - copy.vhd to
Windows 7.vhd).
Run a virtualized Windows 7 x64 in Windows 7
Here’s a handy way to create a clean Windows 7 install for testing purposes.
For this you’ll need the VMWare Workstation software and the 64-bit edition
of Windows 7 running on the host PC. (The same procedure also works if the
host is running Vista x64 or XP x64.)
Start VMWare, and from the File menu, select New and then Virtual Machine (or press Ctrl-N). On the first page of the New Virtual Machine Wizard,
select Custom (advanced) and click Next. From the Hardware compatibility list, select Workstation 6.5 and click Next.
36 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
When asked to allocate memory, you’ll need to specify at least 2048 MB
(2 GB); more is better, if you can spare it. (Whatever you allocate for the virtual
machine will be sucked out of your host PC’s memory, so don’t give it everything you’ve got.)
On the Network Type page, select Use bridged networking and then click
Next. What follows is the selection of a SCSI adapter, which doesn’t matter.
(In fact, for some other operating systems, you’ll need to disable the SCSI
support altogether.)
Just like with Microsoft Virtual PC, you’ll need to set up a virtual hard disk,
so on the Select a Disk page, choose Create a new virtual disk and click
Next. For the virtual disk type, select IDE. On the Specify Disk Capacity page,
choose a large Maximum disk size—at least 100 GB, since you can’t easily
enlarge it later—and make sure the Allocate all disk space now option is not
Complete the wizard and then click Finish. If all is well, VMware will automatically start the virtual machine, load the Windows 7 installer, and get to
Akin to Microsoft’s Virtual Machine Additions described earlier in this section,
VMware offers VMware Tools, which allow you to easily move your mouse
pointer in and out of the VMware session window. From VMware’s VM menu,
select Install VMware Tools, and then follow the prompts to install.
Virtual Glass
Neither Virtual PC nor VMware gives the guest operating system low-level
access to your PC’s hardware. This means it can’t play with your 3D video
card, and thus can’t display Aero Glass. But there is a nifty workaround if you
want Glass on your Virtual Windows 7 or Vista: use Remote Desktop!
If your host OS is Windows 7, you’re using Windows Virtual PC, and you
have Aero Glass enabled on the host, just fire up Virtual PC and from the
Tools menu, select Enable Integration Features.
But what if your host OS is Vista or an earlier version? You can do it, provided
your guest OS is the Professional edition or better.
On the guest OS, open the System page in Control Panel and click the Remote
settings link on the left side. In the Remote Desktop section, select either
Install Windows 7 | 37
Get Started with
Windows 7
Next, specify the location of your installer disc—either a physical drive on your
PC or an .iso image file if applicable—and click Next. On the Easy Install
Information page, VMware lets you enter the license key, user account name
to create, and associated password, all of which are optional; type them in,
and VMware will pre-enter them for a (nearly) unattended setup.
Allow connections only from computers running Remote Desktop with
Network Level Authentication (assuming your host OS is either Windows
7 or Vista) or Allow connections from computers running any version of
Remote Desktop (for XP and earlier). When you’re done, minimize the Virtual PC session.
Then on the host OS, start Remote Desktop (see Chapter 7) by typing mstsc
into the Start menu Search box and pressing Enter. Before you connect, click
Options, choose the Display tab, and make sure the Colors setting is set to
Highest Quality (32 bit). Then choose the Experience tab and turn on all
the options here (or just choose LAN from the drop-down list).
When you’re done, choose the General tab, type the computer name of the
virtualized PC into the Computer field, and click Connect. Type in your login
credentials when prompted, and then enjoy Glass in a window!
See “Get Glass” on page 286 for more on Aero Glass, and “Control a PC
Remotely” on page 488 for more on Remote Desktop.
Migration to Windows 7
Migration isn’t just for the birds. It’s the process you go through to make all
of your day-to-day tasks—the ones you’re accustomed to doing on Windows
Vista or XP—function on a new Windows 7 installation.
If you haven’t yet installed Windows 7, one way to determine what will work
and what won’t is to use the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (UA) . UA does
nothing more than construct a laundry list of warnings, each pointing out a
potential problem with products it knows Windows 7 doesn’t like. In many
cases, you can remedy such issues by installing free updates from the respective
manufacturers. But don’t expect anything more; UA is useless for products
not on its compatibility list.
For instance, UA might bring to your attention that your printer, antivirus
software, backup software, CD burning software, and perhaps your Bluetooth
adapter are all unsupported on Windows 7. So, this means you’ll definitely
need new versions of your antivirus and backup software (see Chapter 6) and
your CD burning software (Chapter 4). You’ll also need to check with the
manufacturers of your printer and Bluetooth adapter to see whether they’ve
released native Windows 7 drivers (in nearly all cases, native Vista drivers will
do). If there aren’t yet compatible drivers and you don’t want to wait, you’ll
need to replace those devices.
Beyond that, you’ll need to actually try any mission-critical software or hardware with Windows 7 to see if it’ll work. To make sure you’ve covered all your
38 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
What follows is a brief roadmap and some tips to help you get up to speed
with Windows 7 quickly.
Coming from Windows XP?
Disorientation is probably the prevailing sensation among those users coming
to Window 7 from XP or earlier versions of Windows. Here’s where you can
find some of the more elusive entities you may have grown accustomed to:
Add or Remove Programs
This is still in Control Panel, but now it’s called Programs and Features.
Aero Glass interface
Windows 7 features the same see-through Glass interface introduced in
Vista, although the Desktop Window Manager (DWM) has been improved in this latest version to be more memory-efficient. See Chapter 5
if you’re having trouble getting Glass to work.
Address Bar
The path box in Windows Explorer doubles as an address bar, so if you
want to type a path or copy the current path to the clipboard, click just to
the right of the text, and Explorer will show you a familiar, backslashequipped folder path in an editable text field. See Chapter 2 for a complete
tour of the new Windows Explorer.
Display Properties
Right-click an empty area of the desktop and select Screen resolution.
Or, in Control Panel, open the Display page, and on the left side, click
Adjust resolution.
File Types window
Sorry, you don’t get one of these in Windows 7. The best Microsoft could
do is the nearly useless Default Programs page in Control Panel. If you
want to edit your context menus, you’ll need File Type Doctor, explained
in Chapter 3.
Menus in Windows and Internet Explorer
Microsoft took the menus out of both Windows Explorer and Internet
Explorer, and replaced them with tool ribbons and drop-down buttons
that do pretty much the same thing. But you can always press the Alt key
on the keyboard to temporarily show the old, familiar menu bars in either
application. See Chapter 2 if you want to make it permanent in Windows
Migration to Windows 7 | 39
Get Started with
Windows 7
bases before you commit to the new OS, you can either set up a dual-boot
system or install Windows 7 in a virtualized environment, both explained earlier in this chapter.
Network Connections
As explained in Chapter 7, the Network Connections window has been
subjugated and buried in Windows 7. In Control Panel, open the Network
and Sharing Center page. On the left side, click Change adapter settings.
Start Menu→Run
You can use the Search box at the bottom of the Start menu to run any
program; just type the filename (e.g., control.exe) and press Enter.
The familiar System Properties window that has been around since Windows 2000, and the only way to change your PC’s name on your network,
is now buried under the Advanced system settings link on the new System page in Control Panel. Alternatively, you can type SystemProper
tiesAdvanced.exe in the Start menu’s Search box and press Enter to open
this window.
And there’s more; see the next section for some goodies that are unfamiliar
even to Vista users.
Coming from Windows Vista?
Since Windows 7 is a incremental update to Vista, your transition should be
pretty easy. Aside from some minor changes to the way the registry is handled
on 64-bit systems (see Chapter 3), most of the changes are skin-deep:
Action Center
It’s taken too long, but Microsoft has finally acknowledged that people
hate the barrage of pop ups, reminders, warnings, and confirmation windows that has been thrown at them all these years. But instead of simply
eliminating them, Microsoft has consolidated them into the Action Center. So you now know where to go if you want to be reminded to activate
Windows, find and install antivirus software (that should’ve come preinstalled, mind you), and download a gigabyte of updates to fix all the bugs
that have been found so far.
Device Manager
Device Manager (devmgmt.msc) is still present in Windows 7, but there’s
a new icon-based tool in Control Panel called Devices and Printers. Rightclick any device in the Devices and Printers window to access features and
tasks specific to that device. See Chapter 6 for more information.
The Homegroups feature doesn’t replace traditional file and printer sharing, it only augments it, and then only when everyone on your network is
running Windows 7. See Chapter 7 for details.
40 | Chapter 1: Get Started with Windows 7
Migration to Windows 7 | 41
Get Started with
Windows 7
Libraries & improved search
At first glance, Libraries aren’t much different than the specialized folders
found in earlier versions of Windows: Documents, Music, Pictures, and
Videos. (Although the cutesy “My” prefix is absent here, it’s still used for
the folder names, like My Pictures.) But these folders are now accompanied
by a background database that improves searches and connects to the
Homegroups feature for improved media sharing. See Chapter 2 for ways
to improve searches and customize your Libraries, as well as a way to get
rid of the Libraries entry in Windows Explorer if you don’t like the clutter.
Nifty window management shortcuts
Microsoft has added a bunch of keyboard and mouse shortcuts to improve
window management in Windows 7. For instance, grab a window title bar
and shake vigorously from side to side, and Windows will minimize all
windows but the one you’re holding. Or if you’re using multiple monitors,
hold the Windows logo key and the Shift key while pressing the left or
right arrows to move the active window to a different screen. (Without
holding Shift, one press only docks a window to the side of the active
screen—you’d need three presses to do the same thing.) For more shortcuts, see Chapter 2.
The Vista Sidebar is gone, at least on the surface. Sidebar gadgets are now
simply called Gadgets, and they can be placed anywhere on the desktop.
It’s unsettlingly similar to the horrible Active Desktop that was lumped
into Windows 98, but greatly improved.
Taskbar & Jump Lists
The taskbar in Windows 7 now holds icons for running applications and
shortcuts to start new applications, side by side. (Previously, shortcuts
were confined to tiny, annoying dockable toolbars.) Right-click a running
task to pin it to the taskbar so it sticks around even after you exit the
Right-click a taskbar icon (representing a running application) in a previous version of Windows, and you’ll see the same boring system menu that
appears when you click the top-left corner of any open window. In Windows 7, you’ll see a customized jump list with a list of open windows (if
there’s more than one), as well as frequently used locations—folders, if
it’s Windows Explorer, or websites if it’s Internet Explorer—and tasks,
like opening a new window.
Shell Tweaks
Programmers like to draw pictures of how their software is structured, and
more often than not, those drawings make an operating system look a lot like
a cantaloupe. There are invariably concentric circles of different colors or
shades of gray, each with an impressive-sounding label, like kernel and
abstraction layer. (I never found those diagrams terribly helpful either.) But on
the outside, like an old friend, you’ll always find the shell.
The term shell conjures up images of a snail or hermit crab, using its hard shell
for protection from the outside world. But an operating system shell works
more like that of an egg, which is just as effective at protecting the rest of the
world from the goo inside.
Windows Explorer is the shell that comes with Windows 7, and along for the
ride comes the Windows desktop, the Start menu, the taskbar, and those windows that turn your data into cute little icons you can kick around with your
mouse. In short, the shell is what you see when you first boot Windows, and
what responds to your clicks and drags until you start an application. Its job
is to protect you from the goo inside Windows 7.
Figure 2-1 shows Windows Explorer as it appears right out of the box.
You can open an Explorer window by double-clicking any folder icon on the
desktop or selecting one of the locations on the righthand column of the Start
menu (e.g., Documents, Pictures, Computer). There’s also the “pinned”
Explorer icon on the taskbar. Or quicker still, hold the Windows logo key
(which we’ll call Winkey, just to be cute) and press E.
Figure 2-1. Windows Explorer may have been gussied up for Windows 7, but everything
you need is still within reach
Disappointingly, the cloying “My” prefix that was mercifully
absent in Vista has returned in Windows 7. But it’s only used
on the four folders for which there are matching libraries: My
Documents, My Music, My Pictures, and My Videos. In Windows 7, when you see one of these locations without the
dreaded My label (such as the aforementioned Start menu entries), it usually means the library, not the folder. The upshot
is that there’s nothing stopping you from renaming the My
Documents folder to simply Documents.
While the basic layout is more or less the same as versions of Explorer dating
back to 1995, the menu and the title bar are both gone, replaced with many
subtle—almost hidden—controls that do most of what you’ll need to accomplish while working with your files. But that’s only the beginning.
The right side of the window more closely resembles a restaurant menu than
a list of files, which, while friendly in appearance, does little to make day-today file management any easier or faster.
And to the left, where you might expect to find a straightforward folder tree,
resides Favorites (how does it know?) and Libraries. Microsoft really wants
you to organize your stuff into these rigidly defined categories, although it’s
often more efficient to organize files by project rather than data type.
44 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
Luckily, a lot of what seems hardcoded in Windows Explorer can be changed
to suit your needs, or, as the case may be, your obsessive-compulsive disorder
(e.g., me).
If you’re looking for those little plus [+] and minus [−] boxes
you might be accustomed to from earlier versions of Windows, forget it. Instead, you navigate the tree with tiny triangles (arrows) the size of bacteria that fade in and out as you
move your mouse around. An arrow pointing to the left indicates a collapsed branch; an arrow pointing down (or rather,
southeast) indicates an expanded branch.
Across the bottom of the Explorer window is the Details pane; it’s resizable,
so you can enlarge it to show more information, or shrink it out of the way. If
you lose the preview pane and want to get it back, open the Organize dropdown and select Layout→ Details Pane.
See Figure 2-2 for a visual rundown of everything you can do in Windows
Want to make Explorer look more like an earlier version? You sentimental
fool, you. Start by collapsing the Favorites and Libraries branches by clicking
those tiny arrows to the left. (Or get rid of them for good with a Registry hack
as described later in this chapter). Right-click an empty area of the right pane,
select View, and then choose Details (actually, any view is better than the
default, Tiles). And if you want your menu bar back, just press the Alt key,
or open the Organize drop-down and select Layout→Menu Bar to make it
Customize Windows Explorer
The Folder Options window—used to control a lot of the way Windows Explorer displays and handles files—is a mess. Like many other Control Panel
windows, it’s a remnant of earlier times, having not changed very much in the
14 years since its debut in Windows 95.
Customize Windows Explorer | 45
Shell Tweaks
Your actual files—all of ’em—are in the Computer entry, buried near the bottom of the Navigation pane (that’s what Microsoft calls the lefthand part of
Windows Explorer). Fortunately, the basic premise of the Explorer window
remains the same as it has for years: click a location (e.g., folder) on the left
side to see the folder’s contents on the right.
Figure 2-2. All of the subtle—and not so subtle—controls you can use to navigate folders
and manage your files in Windows Explorer
Because so many annoyances can be caused by—or solved with—settings in
Folder Options, it’s only fitting to begin this section with an explanation of
what these options do.
In Explorer, open the Organize drop-down and select Folder and Search
Options (or open Folder Options in Control Panel). First up is the General tab, which essentially has only four options.
46 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
Use the Ctrl key when double-clicking a folder icon to override your choice here: open a new window when it would
otherwise use the same window, or vice versa. (It only works
if the folder isn’t already highlighted.) And you can always
right-click any folder icon and select Open in new window
to do just that.
The Click items as follows option lets you choose between traditional mode
(Double-click to open an item) and a web browser-like mode (Single-click
to open an item). Now, the point of double-clicking is to prevent you from
accidentally opening a program or folder when you’re just trying to select,
delete, move, copy, or rename a file, but it can also be a pain. Here’s how to
live with either setting:
Living with the double-click interface
If you don’t like double-clicking, but you like Explorer’s single-click
interface even less, most pointing devices (mice, styli, trackballs) with
more than two buttons allow you to program additional buttons to handle
double-click duty. Make your middle mouse button (or stylus barrel button) your double-clicker, and you’ll have the best of both worlds.
Living with the single-click interface
If you choose the single-click interface, you’ll no longer be able to rename
an item by slowly clicking it twice. Instead, you either need to right-click
and select Rename or carefully move the mouse pointer so that it hovers
over the icon and press the F2 key.
In the Navigation pane section, the Show all folders option doesn’t really do
what it says. All your folders are shown whether this option is turned on or
off. Instead, it only controls where in the tree some of the special folders (like
Homegroup and Libraries) are shown, and displays your account folder under
Desktop. See “Clean Up the Navigation Pane” on page 53 for details.
Finally, the Automatically expand to current folder option is turned off by
default, but it’s handier to have it turned on. When enabled, it navigates the
tree and highlights the active folder being displayed on the right. (Apparently,
Customize Windows Explorer | 47
Shell Tweaks
The first, Browse folders, is a throwback to the way folder windows worked
in Windows 95. In Windows 7, if you select Open each folder in its own
window, you’ll get a new Windows Explorer window when you double-click
a folder icon in the righthand pane only, whether or not the Navigation pane
(folder tree) is shown. Regardless of this setting, Explorer opens a new window
whenever you double-click a folder icon on the desktop, click a shortcut for
Explorer, or Shift+click the Explorer taskbar button.
the Microsoft committee that designed this page thought your brain was too
small to comprehend the sight of so many folders appearing in a hierarchical
tree when you first open the window.)
You can also quickly change the Show all folders and
Automatically expand to current folder options by rightclicking an empty area of Explorer’s Navigation pane.
Next, the View tab (Figure 2-3) houses settings that affect how much information Explorer shows you, arranged in alphabetical order.
Figure 2-3. The most useful Explorer settings are in the View tab
48 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
Always show icons, never thumbnails
This is a setting Windows has been lacking for years. By default, Explorer
automatically shows large thumbnails when a folder (or search results
window) contains mostly image files. Turn on this option to disable
thumbnails except when you specifically select Thumbnails from the
Views drop-down. See “Green Ribbon of Death” on page 380 for another
reason to use this setting.
Always show menus
You can display Windows Explorer’s menu bar at any time by pressing
the Alt key; turn on this option to make it permanent.
Display file icon on thumbnails
This option displays a file’s generic file icon superimposed over its
dynamically generated preview. Turn this off for cleaner-looking thumbnails, or turn it on if you want to more easily distinguish a .jpg image from
a Photoshop document. Better yet, turn off the Hide extensions for
known file types option, described later in this section.
Display file size information in folder tips
This name of this option is a little misleading. If it’s turned off, the popup that appears when you hover your mouse over a folder on the desktop
or the right pane of Windows Explorer (but not the left) shows only the
date and time the folder was created. Turn on the Display file size
information in folder tips option, and the pop-up also contains the total
size of all the folder’s contents, as well as the names of the first few files
contained therein. The only reason to turn this off is to make the pop-up
appear slightly sooner on slower PCs (it takes time to add up all the files
and subfolders of large branches). To turn off folder tips altogether, use
the Show pop-up description for folder and desktop items option,
described later in this section.
Display the full path in the title bar (Classic theme only)
This poorly worded setting does more than its name suggests. True, when
using the “Classic” theme (open Personalization in Control Panel), you
can turn on this option to display the full path of the current folder
(e.g., C:\Program Files\Windows Journal\Templates instead of simply
Customize Windows Explorer | 49
Shell Tweaks
Unfortunately, the defaults are set in favor of a “simpler” (read dumbeddown) interface, which has the unfortunate and ironic side effect of making
many everyday tasks—like organizing files, sharing folders over a network, or
even opening certain folders—more difficult. Here are some quick ways to
make Explorer more useful:
But when used with any modern Aero theme, enabling this option causes
the full path to appear in the Task Bar, in Jump Lists, and in the Alt
+Tab window.
Regardless of this setting, Explorer’s title bar never contains any text at all when used with Aero, and the full
path of the current folder is always shown in the path box
at the top of the window in any theme. See “Navigating
files and folders” on page 76 for more information on
the path box.
Hidden files and folders
Windows doesn’t show hidden files by default in Explorer. If you set this
option to Show hidden files and folders, any files with the hidden or
system file attribute will appear in Explorer, but their icons will still appear
To hide or unhide a file or folder, right-click it, select
Properties, and change the Hidden option. For quicker
access to a file’s attributes, try the Change file attributes tool, part of Creative Element Power Tools.
Hide empty drives in the Computer folder
This is one of the more stupid options in this window—particularly in
light of the numerous unused items that can’t be removed—and this one
is turned on by default. The idea is to reduce confusion for those users
overwhelmed by the breadth of the English alphabet, and hide drives that
don’t have data on them. Never mind that those same mythical users will
be even more baffled by the disappearance of empty USB drives, new
backup hard disks, and blank DVDs.
To hide a drive you don’t use, just unassign its drive letter
with the Disk Management tool covered in Chapter 5.
Hide extensions for known file types
Filename extensions—the last few letters after the dot in a file’s name—
are hidden by default in Windows, and have been in every Windows release since ’95. Filename extensions (e.g., .txt, .jpg, .doc) determine how
Windows interacts with your documents, and hiding this information
50 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
To see this feature in action, open Task Manager
(Ctrl+Shift+Esc), choose the Processes tab, and click
the Image Name column header to sort the list alphabetically. At first, you’ll see only one instance of
Explorer.exe in the Image Name column. As you open
a few Explorer windows, you’ll see a second Explorer.exe instance appear.
If you want each Explorer window to open in a separate
instance, meaning that three or more Explorer.exe entries
may appear in Task Manager, See “Start Explorer with
Any Folder” on page 60. See Chapter 6 for more on
Task Manager and what to do when an application
Customize Windows Explorer | 51
Shell Tweaks
only makes it harder for you to tell your files apart and predict what will
happen when you open them. For instance, the files tardis.jpg, tardis.xls,
and tardis.pdf will appear by default as tardis, tardis, and tardis in Explorer,
with only their tiny icons to distinguish them. See “File Type Associations” on page 166 for a further examination of why you’ll probably want
to turn this option off and leave it off.
Hide protected operating system files
When this option is turned on (the default), files with the system file
attribute are hidden in Explorer, regardless of the Hidden files and folders option discussed earlier. So-called system files include most of the boot
loader files discussed in Chapter 1, the $RECYCLE.BIN and System
Volume Information folders found on every hard drive, the hiberfil.sys hibernation file (see Chapter 5), and a handful of other files. Normally, I
don’t like it when Windows hides anything from me, but most of the time,
such files are of limited utility to the hacker. Leave this option turned on
to protect these important files from accidental damage, or turn it off
temporarily if you want to see and mess around with them.
Launch folder windows in a separate process
By default, the desktop, Start menu, and all open Explorer and singlefolder windows are handled by the same instance of Windows Explorer.
That is, only one copy of the Explorer.exe application is ever in memory
at a time. Turn on this option if you’d prefer your Explorer windows to
operate in a separate instance of the program from the desktop. Although
this takes slightly more memory and may slightly increase the time it takes
to open the first new Explorer window, it means that if one Explorer window crashes—see “Green Ribbon of Death” on page 380—it won’t bring
down your desktop and Start menu.
Restore previous folder windows at logon
Turn this option on if you want Windows to remember which folders are
open when you shut down or log out and then reopen them the next time
you log in. Another way to do this is to not shut down at all, but rather
put your PC to sleep as explained in “Start Windows Instantly (Almost)” on page 274.
Show drive letters
Turn this off to hide drive letters (e.g., C:, D:, N:) from Explorer’s folder
Show encrypted or compressed NTFS files in color
Among the additional services provided by the NTFS filesystem (see
Chapter 5) are support for on-the-fly encryption and compression. Turn
on this option to visually distinguish encrypted and compressed files and
folders by displaying their names in blue. See “Protect Your Files with
Encryption” on page 558 for a way to customize the colors used for these
Show pop-up description for folder and desktop items
Commonly referred to as “tool tips,” pop-up descriptions show additional
details about the file or folder underneath the mouse pointer (except for
folders in the Navigation pane). Turn off this option to hide these tool
tips. See also the Display file size information in folder tips option,
earlier in this section, for a related setting.
Show preview handlers in preview pane
Preview handlers are the DLLs used to generate thumbnail preview icons
for some of your files (like .jpg images). Turn this option off to disable
resizable previews in the Preview pane (open the Organize drop-down
and select Layout→Preview Pane), which you’d probably only do if
thumbnails were causing problems (see “Green Ribbon of
Death” on page 380) and you wanted to keep the Preview pane visible.
Use check boxes to select items
If you enable this option, you’ll be able to select multiple files without
having to drag a rubber band or use the keyboard. See “Slicker Ways to
Select Files” on page 93 for tips involving this feature.
Use Sharing Wizard
Disable this option to use the Advanced Sharing window instead of the
feeble Sharing Wizard each time you right-click a folder or drive and select
Share. Despite the fact that Microsoft apparently recommends that you
use this feature, only the Advanced Sharing window lets you specify sharing permissions to properly protect your data. See Chapter 8 for details.
52 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
When typing into list view
See “Keyboard Is My Friend” on page 76 for tips involving this setting.
The Search tab in this window is dissected in excruciating detail in “Fix Windows Search” on page 111.
Clean Up the Navigation Pane
Every so often, Microsoft builds a baffling amount of rigidity into a feature,
something that’s usually unwarranted—not to mention unwanted—given
that so many other aspects of Windows are pleasantly flexible and customizable. Case in point: the Navigation pane in Windows Explorer.
Out of the box, the Navigation pane shows five main branches: Favorites,
Libraries, Homegroup, Computer, and Network (all shown in Figure 2-1).
Don’t use Libraries? Sorry, it’s there to stay. Homegroup of no use to you? Too
bad; you’ve got to scroll past it every time you want to get to your drives and
files. Computer is where all your drives are, but it’s near the bottom of the list.
There’s another way to skip the clutter at the top of the Navigation
Folder” on page 60). Although it won’t get rid of any of these
items, it will jump right to a folder in Explorer, and the unwanted special folders will likely be scrolled out of view.
First, right-click an empty area of the Navigation pane and turn on the badly
named Show all folders option. This doesn’t hide anything yet, but it does
create a new Desktop branch and then tosses everything except Favorites into
it (see Figure 2-4). Already a little tidier, no?
Next, here’s how to clean up the major players in the Navigation pane:
Some of the following solutions require editing of the Registry,
which is covered extensively in Chapter 3. Proceed carefully
and make frequent backups with Registry patches (also Chapter 3), lest you mess up something with no hope of undo.
Customize Windows Explorer | 53
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What it comes down to, of course, is that you should use what works best for
you. Don’t blindly accept the defaults just because they came out of the box
that way. (By the way, you can add your own settings to this list, as described in
“Create an Interface for a Registry Setting” on page 143.)
Figure 2-4. The Show all folders option is the first step to tidying up Explorer’s Navigation
Favorites won’t go away without a Registry hack, but you can delete individual favorites to shrink down this section to something manageable.
(Collapsing the branch does no good because it’ll automatically appear
expanded the next time you open an Explorer window.) You can easily
recover the default Favorites items by right-clicking Favorites and selecting
Restore favorite links.
The Favorites in Windows Explorer are unrelated to
Internet Explorer Favorites, so all the deleting in the
world won’t harm your browser bookmarks. Windows
Explorer Favorites are stored in the Links subfolder of
your user account folder (c:\Users\{your_user_name}
\Links), while Internet Explorer favorites are stored in
To remove the Favorites branch altogether, open the Registry Editor (see
Chapter 3) and navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{323CA680C24D-4099-B94D-446DD2D7249E}\ShellFolder. Double-click the Attrib
utes value and in the Value data field, type a9400100. Click OK when
you’re done; the change takes effect for the next Windows Explorer
window you open. To get Favorites back, change the Attributes value
data back to its default of a0900100.
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You may’ve seen a Don’t show in navigation pane option, but it’s only available for libraries if the aforementioned Show all folders option isn’t being used.
To remove the entire Libraries branch from Windows Explorer without
disabling the Libraries feature or deleting any of your personal libraries,
open Registry Editor (see Chapter 3 for more on the Registry). Navigate
Explorer\Desktop\NameSpace and delete the {031E4825-7B94-4dc3-B131E946B44C8DD5} key. (Or, to put Libraries back, recreate the key.) Close the
Registry Editor when you’re done, and the change will take effect in the
next Explorer window you open. (Though keep in mind that removing
the branch will somewhat hinder your access to your libraries.)
To get rid of Homegroup, you’ll need to disable the Homegroups feature.
Open the Homegroup page in Control Panel, click the Leave the homegroup link, and then click Leave the homegroup on the next page.
Next, open the Services window (in the Start menu Search box, type
services.msc and press Enter). Double-click the HomeGroup Listener
service to open its Properties window, and from the Startup type list,
select Disabled. Click Stop and when the service has stopped, click OK.
Repeat this for the HomeGroup Provider service as well. See Chapter 8
for more on Homegroups.
This one you can’t lose, sorry. (If you could, you’d lose access to all your
files; how annoying!)
Even if you use homegroups exclusively, you can’t hide the Network
branch without some Registry work (see Chapter 3). But you can hide
individual PCs from the Network enumerator, as described in Chapter 7.
Close all Explorer windows and then open a new Windows Explorer to see
your changes.
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Like Favorites, you can’t hide the Libraries branch without a Registry hack,
but you can remove libraries you don’t need. Just right-click Video, for
instance, and select Delete. You won’t lose any files, only the associated
Video library database. You can get back your default libraries at any time
by right-clicking Libraries and selecting Restore default libraries.
Choose Folder View Defaults
Why does the Taming of the Shrew line, “There’s small choice in rotten apples,”
come to mind so often when using Windows? It’s not so much the choice of
operating system (that’s another story), as much as the little choices we’re
asked to make every day.
For instance, Windows Explorer offers eight different ways to look at your
files—more than any previous version—yet few are actually useful. Problem
is, Windows chooses the view for you based on the location and type of files
in the folder, and it doesn’t always get it right.
If you’re tired of constantly having to go back to the View menu (either by
right-clicking or using the unnamed drop-down on the top-right) to change
the icon size, or having to click the column headers to sort file listings, you can
change the default to match your whims. But Explorer’s use of your defaults
won’t make much sense until you figure out the clandestine template system.
A template is a collection of folder display settings that includes the view (e.g.,
Large Icons, Details, Tiles, etc.), the sorting method, and the column arrangement. Each time you open a folder, Explorer automatically picks one of the
five preset templates, and uses those settings to configure the view. And herein
lies the source of the problem: Windows is no good at picking the default
template. You might open a folder full of HTML web page documents, and
Explorer will choose the template for music files (see Figure 2-5). Or, a folder
with nothing but photos will show up in the Details view, rather than thumbnails (Large Icons).
Figure 2-5. Windows 7 doesn’t always choose the best view for your files
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You’ll notice there’s no way to edit any of these templates here, nor can you
add or remove templates or change the rules Windows uses when it picks a
template automatically. All you can do is pick one of these five categories:
General Items
Basically the default view, Explorer uses this template when there’s no
specific reason to use one of the others. The columns shown by default
are Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size.
Used for the Documents folder and all of its subfolders, this template is
identical to the General Items template, except for the addition of the
Tags column.
A thumbnail display by default, this template is shown for folders containing photo and video files. The columns shown are predominantly for
photos, though: Name, Date Taken, Tags, Size, and Rating. (If you
want columns useful for video files, such as Duration and Frame rate,
you’ll have to add them yourself.)
Shown by default for music tracks (e.g., MP3 and WMA files), this shows
files in Details view, making Explorer look vaguely like iTunes’ music
library. The default columns are Name, Artists, Album, #, Genre, and
Rating. (Most of the columns get their information from the tags
embedded in the music files, as described in the section “Fix Music
Tags” on page 229.)
Similar to Pictures, this template uses the Large Icons view to show
single-frame previews of video files.
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Now it’s easy enough to click the view button to cycle through the various
display modes or click the arrow to choose a view from the list, but it’s more
effective to change Windows Explorer’s perception of the folder so it uses the
appropriate template. Right-click the folder, choose the Customize tab (Figure 2-6), and from the Optimize this folder for list, choose one of the five
available templates.
Figure 2-6. Use the Customize tab to choose a display template for the selected folder, but
don’t forget to customize the template
Here’s how to customize one of these templates:
1. Find a folder with files that are uniquely representative of a certain kind
of content, like a bunch of photos or a collection of music files, and open
it in a new Explorer window.
2. Right-click the folder in the tree to your left, select Properties, and then
choose the Customize tab. (See the next sidebar, “Missing the Customize
Tab?” on page 60, if this tab isn’t there.)
3. Choose a template that most closely matches the contents of the selected
folder (i.e., Pictures and Videos for a folder containing .jpg files).
The Also apply this template to all subfolders option here
is particularly handy in that it allows you to customize an entire branch of folders in one step. For instance, you might store
all your digital photos in various subfolders of the special
Pictures folder, but this option ensures that they’re all shown
as thumbnails while preserving the more useful Details view
for other types of content.
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This will save your changes to the active template so that the next folder you
view with similar content (at least in theory) will be displayed with the same
view settings. This change won’t affect any other templates.
So how do you get Explorer to choose the appropriate template automatically,
say when you insert a DVD full of pictures or a USB drive full of ZIP files?
One solution is to duplicate the same view settings for each template, so that
no matter which template Explorer picks, it’ll look the way you want. This is
fine if you don’t care about large icons for pictures, but would prefer everything
to appear in the Details view.
Another approach is to use the following Registry hack to reinforce one template as the default, increasing the odds that Explorer will use it above all others
unless you specify otherwise with the Customize tab.
Now, the hack itself is a bit laborious if performed manually. So why not just
download a registry patch that does all the work for you? Just go to http://www and download ResetExplorer.exe
and ChooseTemplate.reg, both free. Right-click ResetExplorer.exe, select Run
as administrator, and answer Yes to clear Windows Explorer’s cached folder
Then double-click ChooseTemplate.reg and click Yes to apply the patch. This
patch adds some new options to the Folder Options window described earlier
in this chapter (using the method outlined in “Create an Interface for a Registry
Setting” on page 143). To use the new settings, open Explorer’s Organize
drop-down, select Folder and search options, and then choose the View tab.
From the Default Folder Template branch in Advanced settings, choose
how you’d like all folders to be viewed by default and click OK.
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4. Click OK to close the Properties window.
5. Use the view drop-down to set a view you find suitable for the files in this
folder (e.g., Large Icons for photos).
6. Right-click the column headers in the right pane, select More, and then
place checkmarks next to all the columns you’d like shown. When you’re
done, click OK, and then use your mouse to rearrange and resize the columns to taste.
7. Sort the listing by clicking the appropriate column; click a second time to
reverse the sort order.
8. When the folder looks the way you want all folders of this kind to look,
click Organize and then select Folder and Search Options.
9. Choose the View tab, click Apply to Folders, answer Yes, and then click
Thereafter, Explorer should use your preferred template rather than guessing.
Of course, you can still use the Customize tab to manually choose a template
for a folder, as described earlier in this section.
Missing the Customize Tab?
If you don’t see the Customize tab in the Properties window for a folder, all
you need is a quick Registry hack to fix the problem. (The Customize tab
only appears in the Properties window for folders; don’t look for it when rightclicking Drives, Libraries, or special folders like Desktop.)
Open the Registry Editor (See Chapter 3) and expand the branches to
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\shellex\PropertySheetHandlers. Look for a
subkey named {ef43ecfe-2ab9-4632-bf21-58909dd177f0}; if it isn’t there, create a new key with that name by going to Edit→New→Key.
Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Policies\Explorer. Double-click the NoCustomizeThisFolder value in the right
pane, type 0 (zero) in the Value data field, and click OK. Do the same for the
NoCustomizeWebView and ClassicShell values. (If any of these values are absent, skip ’em.)
And finally, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows
\CurrentVersion\policies\Explorer, and if the Explorer key is present, set the
same three values to 0 (zero). Close the Registry Editor when you’re done,
restart Windows, and try again.
Start Explorer with Any Folder
Tired of Libraries when you really want \Documents\Invoices\My Richest
Clients 90% of the time?
The only difference between the window you get when you click the Windows
Explorer icon on the taskbar and when you double-click a folder on your
desktop is the folder it opens. So why not customize your shortcuts so they
send you where you want to go?
Start by making a new shortcut to Explorer. Open your Start menu and type
explorer in the Search box; Windows Explorer should appear in the search
results after just expl; when it does, use the right mouse button to right-drag
Windows Explorer from the search results onto an empty area of your desktop,
and then select Create shortcuts here from the menu that appears.
Right-click on the new shortcut, select Properties, and choose the Shortcut
tab. Change the text in the Target field so that it reads:
%windir%\explorer.exe d:\myfolder
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where d:\myfolder is the full path of the folder you want Explorer to open.
(You don’t have to type it; just open it by hand in Explorer, right-click the path
box, and select Copy address as text.) Click OK when you’re done, and then
double-click the new shortcut to try it out.
Want to put this new shortcut on your taskbar? Right-click your customized
shortcut and select Unpin from Taskbar. Then right-click again and select
Pin to Taskbar. Close any open Explorer windows and then click your new
taskbar button to confirm it takes you to your chosen folder.
Jump lists and Favorites
Got several favorite folders? Of course, you can just drag them into your
Favorites folder in any open Explorer window, where they’re just one more
click away. Or, you can take advantage of Windows 7’s jump lists.
Open Explorer and navigate to a folder you’d like to make more accessible.
Drag the folder icon onto the Windows Explorer taskbar button and when it
says Pin to Windows Explorer, let go. Then, click the Explorer taskbar
button and hold down the mouse button while dragging upward (or just rightclick); your new folder is now in the Pinned section at the top of the jump list,
as shown in Figure 2-7.
Figure 2-7. Drag a folder onto the Windows Explorer taskbar button to add it to its jump
list, and then click-slide to open the folder
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By default, when Windows Explorer opens a specific folder,
it does not show the current folder in the tree. To fix this, rightclick a blank space in the Navigation pane (near the tree) and
turn on the Expand to current folder option.
More Explorer command-line options
There are actually a bunch of different command-line parameters you can use
to further customize the shortcut from the beginning of this section. In its
simplest form, you just specify a location by itself, like this:
explorer.exe location
where location can be the full path of some folder or a virtual folder (videos
for My Videos).
Here’s the full syntax for explorer.exe:
explorer.exe [/separate] [/e][[,/select,]location]
The square brackets ([...]) indicate an optional parameter, which they all are
(you don’t ever type the brackets). Note the odd syntax (commas around
the /select switch) and the fact that these parameters must appear in this
This starts a separate instance of the explorer.exe application for each Explorer window you open.
This is different than the Launch folder windows in a
separate process option described in “Customize Windows Explorer” on page 45, wherein only a single separate instance is started for all Explorer windows. See
“Open 32-bit Windows Explorer on x64” on page 73
for another use for this switch.
This ensures that the Navigation pane (folder tree) appears, just in case
you turned it off.
This option instructs Explorer to select the folder or file specified immediately afterwards. You’d use it to select a single file, but if you actually
want to open the path you specify, you’d likely omit /select (otherwise,
Explorer would only open the folder’s parent).
As explained previously, this can be the full path of an actual folder or the
name of a special folder. It can also be a filename (when used with
the /select switch) or a registry class ID (see upcoming example).
Note that the /n and /root, object parameters used in some earlier versions,
are ignored in Windows 7.
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For instance, to open Windows Explorer to the Computer folder so that no
drive branches are initially expanded—which is handy if you have several
drives and you want to see them all on equal footing—type:
%windir%\explorer.exe /e,::{20d04fe0-3aea-1069-a2d8-08002b30309d}
explorer.exe /e,/select,c:\
Or, to show the folder containing the file c:\Windows\Cursors\aero_busy.cur,
you’d type:
explorer.exe /e,/select,c:\Windows\Cursors\aero_busy.cur
This last example is what Windows does when you right-click a file in search
results and select Open file location. Similarly, you can right-click most things
in Windows and select Explore to open a new Explorer window at that
Get to the Desktop
The problem with the desktop metaphor is that, like a real desk top, it’s always
covered with stuff. But in Windows, there are things on the desktop, like files,
shortcuts, and Gadgets, that you need to get to. Fortunately, Windows offers
several ways to do it:
Click the small, blank button on the far right of the taskbar (next to the
clock) to hide all open windows and display the desktop. If you have Aero
Glass (Chapter 5) enabled, you’ll see ghosted outlines of your Windows
when you hover your mouse over the button as part of a nifty feature called
“Aero Peek.”
Hold the Windows logo key (Winkey) and press D to quickly show the
desktop. Press Winkey+D again to restore your windows (although not
necessarily in the same sequence). Do this many times to give yourself a
headache. (If your keyboard has no Winkey, see “Keyboard Is My
Friend” on page 76.) You can also press Winkey+M to minimize all
windows (the same end result), but you can’t get them all back quite so
easily. And, of course, the desktop is shown alongside your running applications when you press Alt+Tab or Winkey+Tab.
Custom icon
Like the show desktop feature, but don’t like the placement of the Show
Desktop button on the taskbar? To make your own Show Desktop icon
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The long string of characters in curly braces is a registry class ID, explained in
Chapter 3. Another way to do more or less the same thing is with this:
you can put anywhere, open your favorite plain-text editor (or Notepad),
and type the following five lines:
Save the file as Show Desktop.scf (or any other name, provided that you
include the .scf filename extension) anywhere you like, including your
desktop. Just double-click the icon to show the desktop.
Windows Explorer
Another approach is to simply open a Windows Explorer window and
navigate to the Desktop folder near the top of the tree. That way, you can
leave your open programs intact, making it easier to drag files onto them
from the desktop.
You can also drag files onto a minimized application,
provided you have a steady hand and some patience. Just
drag down to the taskbar and hover the file over the
minimized application button you want to restore for a
good five seconds. Although you can’t drop files on the
taskbar button itself, if you wait long enough, Windows
will restore the application window, at which point you
can drag the file over to the window and drop it.
Icons on the taskbar
Need to get to your desktop icons all the time? Right-click an empty area
of the taskbar, select Toolbars, and then select Desktop. By default, the
toolbar will probably be smushed up against the notification area (tray)
and the clock, so right-click the taskbar again and turn off the Lock the
Taskbar option so you can move the Desktop toolbar around. Next,
right-click the Desktop title and select the Show Text option to fit more
icons on the bar. It’s not the most convenient interface, especially if you
have a lot on your desktop, but it’s there if you need it.
Quick Access to Control Panel
A lot of the clicking and scrounging in this book takes place in Control Panel,
a window that provides links to many settings that affect the way Windows
looks, sounds, and behaves. It’s a hodge-podge of modern web-like pages and
older tabbed dialog windows. Some of the dialog windows date back more
than a decade to Windows 95, and are still present either to maintain com-
64 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
patibility with add-ons (like extra tabs in the Mouse Properties window) or
merely because Microsoft doesn’t want to invest the resources to update or
replace all their dialogs. As a result, it can be hard to find specific settings in
Control Panel.
Want to make a quick and dirty shortcut to a Control Panel
window? Just open Control Panel and Windows Explorer
side-by-side, and drag any green link from Control Panel into
your Favorites folder. (Note that blue-colored links on most
Control Panel pages can’t be dragged.)
Or, drag any green link from Control Panel onto the Control
Panel taskbar button and when it says Pin to Control
Panel, let go. Then, click the Control Panel taskbar button
and hold down the mouse button while dragging upwards (or
just right-click), and then select your location from the Pinned section at the top of the jump list (see Figure 2-7).
Unfortunately, Control Panel only lets you create shortcuts by dragging the
green-colored links. To provide quick access to almost any page or window in
Control Panel, you’ll need to use the old-school command-line syntax (around
since the days of Windows 3.x in the early 1990s, if you can believe it):
\windows\system32\control.exe sysdm.cpl, 3
which opens the Advanced tab in the Advanced System Properties window,
normally found on the System page. Note that, unlike previous versions, you
need to specify the full path of control.exe. Or, for some windows, you can use
this standalone executable to accomplish the same thing:
For a list of these shortcuts, see Table 2-1.
Not all Control Panel pages can be opened from the command
line. For those tools not listed in Table 2-1, you can make a
Windows shortcut by typing the name of the tool in the Start
menu Search box, and then dragging the icon from the search
results to a folder somewhere. Thereafter you can run the
shortcut from the command line.
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Many windows are buried several levels deep in Control Panel, so it can be a
bit of a pain to make your way around the program, particularly if you need
to return to the same spot often.
Table 2-1. Command-line access to Control Panel pages and tools
Control Panel page
Command line
Action Center
Administrative Tools
\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Adminis
trative Tools
Advanced System Properties→Advanced tab
Advanced System Properties→Computer Name tab
sysdm.cpl or SystemPropertiesComputer
Advanced System Properties→Advanced
tab→Performance Options→Data Execution Prevention tab
Advanced System Properties→Hardware tab
Advanced System Properties→Advanced tab→Performance Options
Advanced System Properties→System Protection tab
Advanced System Properties→Remote tab
Backup and Restore
Bluetooth Devices
Color Management
Color Management→Advanced→Calibrate Display
Date and Time
timedate.cpl or control date/time
Device Manager
devmgmt.msc or hdwwiz.cpl
Devices and Printers
control network or control printers
Disk Management
Display→Screen Resolution
Ease of Access Center
Ease of Access Center→Use the computer without a
mouse or keyboard
control keyboard or control mouse
control fonts
Game Controllers
Internet Options
Mouse Properties
main.cpl or control mouse
Network Connections
Pen and Touch
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Command line
People Near Me
control desktop
Phone and Modem
Power Options
Programs and Features
Programs and Features→Turn Windows features on or
Region and Language
Set Program Access and Computer Defaults
Sync Center
Task Scheduler
User Accounts
control userpasswords
User Accounts (advanced)
control userpasswords2 or Netplwiz.exe
Volume Mixer
Windows Firewall
Does it take an inordinately long time to show Control Panel in the Small
icons or Large icons view? It’s possible that an application you’ve installed
made use of a specific “legacy” feature that lets you hide certain Control Panel
icons; see the “Hide Unwanted Control Panel Icons” sidebar, next, for details.
Hide Unwanted Control Panel Icons
You can hide certain types of icons in Control Panel’s Classic View with a
quick Registry hack. Just open the Registry Editor (explained in Chapter 3),
and expand the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\don't load.
Then, create a new string value for each icon you want to hide. For the name,
type the filename of the .cpl file responsible for the icon (see “Quick Access
to Control Panel” on page 64). Then, double-click the new value, type No for
its data, and click OK.
Refresh the Control Panel window by pressing the F5 key to see the change.
Unfortunately, Control Panel may crash—or at least take a long time to load
all its icons—if there’s an errant entry in the don't load Registry key. If you
see the Green Ribbon of Death (see Chapter 6) whenever you open Control
Panel, delete all the values in the don't load key and then try again.
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Control Panel page
Setting Finder
Wouldn’t it just be easier if you could list all the pages and subpages and
windows and settings in Control Panel in one alphabetized list? There would
be no hunting for settings, clicking from one page to the next, and no guesswork. Strange as it sounds, such a list is built into Windows 7, but it’s nowhere
to be found in Control Panel.
In any folder or on the desktop, create a new folder and type the following for
its name:
All Settings.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}
press Enter, and the name will shorten to All Settings. Open the new folder to
show an alphabetical list of all Control Panel settings, like the one shown in
Figure 2-8.
Figure 2-8. This alphabetical list of Control Panel settings is hidden by default
Prune the Start Menu
There’s no more “classic” Start menu in Windows 7. Never mind that the single
column Start menu that went more or less unchanged since Windows 95 was
a user-interface disaster; it had its plusses. Among other things, it was simple,
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Shell Tweaks
Figure 2-9. Each region of the Start menu gets configured in a different place
short, and almost completely customizable—three things you can’t necessarily
say about the “modern” Start menu.
Miss the old “classic” Start menu that Microsoft kept around
until Windows Vista? Get the free CSMenu add-on to get it
back. Or if you like the look of Aero Glass, but the layout of
the classic Start menu, check out Classic Start Menu with
But there are some things you can do to trim down the new Start menu so the
only clutter is your clutter.
Each element—or rather, elements in each region—are configured in slightly
different ways, as shown in Figure 2-9.
The contents of the standard Windows Start menu are divided into seven
Pinned items
At the top of the lefthand column, above the horizontal line, is the list of
“pinned” items, and is the only fully-customizable portion of the top level
Start menu.
Right-click any application executable (.exe file) and select Pin to Start
Menu to add it to the list, or drag any item (application, folder, Control
Customize Windows Explorer | 69
Panel page, etc.) onto the Start button, hover for just a moment, and when
it says Pin to Start menu, let go. Or, if you hover for just a second or two
longer, the Start menu pops open, and you can drop the item anywhere
you like.
The pinned items list is peculiar because, unlike the All Programs folders, pinned items aren’t shortcuts on your hard
disk. Rather, the pinned items are stored in the Registry (see
Chapter 3) in a format that makes them impractical to edit by
hand. This means that application installers can’t litter your
pinned items list with unwanted icons, but it also means you
can’t easily rename an item.
For example, pin diskmgmt.msc onto your Start menu, and the
new entry is titled diskmgmt. The workaround is to create a
standard shortcut to diskmgmt.msc elsewhere—perhaps a
subfolder of All Programs—and then pin the shortcut instead.
Recently used applications
Below the pinned items on the left side is a dynamic list of recently used
programs. The problem with this list is that it is always changing, making
it a poor choice to store shortcuts to programs you need to use frequently.
To remove the list entirely, right-click an empty area of the Start menu,
select Properties, and turn off the Store and display a list of recently
opened programs in the Start menu option. The space will immediately
become available for more pinned items (above).
Or, to change the size of the list, click the Customize button here, and in
the Start menu size section at the bottom, adjust the Number of recent
programs to display value. (If the section is grayed out, it’s because the
aforementioned Store and display option is turned off.)
All Programs
At the very bottom of the left column is a single entry, All Programs,
which contains the folders and icons for most of your applications. The
items herein are shortcuts on your hard disk, compiled from two sources.
First, there are your personal shortcuts here:
and then there’s the shared “All users” folder here:
C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
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Although you can drag and drop shortcuts in this list, it’s usually a whole
lot easier to work with the folders directly in Windows Explorer, especially
if you have a lot of things to change.
To remove the All Programs item from the Start menu, open the Group
Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc, which is not present in the Home
Premium edition), and expand the branches to User Configuration
\Administrative Templates\Start Menu and Taskbar. Double-click Remove All Programs list from the Start menu, select Enabled, and click
OK. You’ll have to log out and then log back in for this change to take
You can customize some of the aspects of this menu by right-clicking an
empty area of the Start menu, selecting Properties, and then clicking
Customize. If you turn on the Enable context menus and dragging and
dropping option, you’ll be able to drag shortcuts and even right-click
them to customize them; turn off this option if you want them to stay put.
Next, turn on the Sort All Programs menu by name option to keep the
list sorted; or, if you turn it off, you can sort a single folder on the fly by
right-clicking any entry and selecting Sort by Name.
Search box
This is more than just a Search box; it’s also a quick and dirty replacement
for the Run window. You can type any program here—either the application name or the executable filename—and press Enter to run the program. Or, type the first few letters of the program to launch, and then click
the desired entry in the search results above.
If you’ve started a search you want to cancel, click the
blue × button to the right of the search text field (or press
Esc) to get your Start menu back.
By default, search results here are limited to your personal documents,
items in your All Programs menu, and special locations like Control
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Resist the temptation to consolidate your personal Start
menu shortcuts and the All Users shortcuts. Doing so can
incidentally change the registered locations of those folders in the registry (see Chapter 3), which can cause problems as applications create new icons (particularly in the
Startup folder). Instead, just delete unwanted items from
both places, and add new items only to your personal
Programs folder.
Panel. To broaden your searches to include the entire index, right-click an
empty area of the Start menu, select Properties, and then click Customize. Scroll down the list to the Search other files and libraries branch,
and select Search with public folders. See “Fix Windows
Search” on page 111, for ways to improve the speed and breadth of the
The Picture Box
To change the picture, open the User Accounts page in Control Panel (or
just click the picture), and then click Change your picture. There’s no
way to remove the picture box; it’s also used to provide visual feedback
as you hover over other items in the righthand column. Probably the best
you can do is pick a solid color square box for your picture and then
pretend it’s not there.
You can, however, remove your name from beneath the picture by rightclicking an empty area of the Start menu, selecting Properties, and then
clicking Customize. In the Personal folder branch, select Don’t display
this item, and then click OK.
Righthand column
You can have control over every entry in the right column, but not directly
with drag-and-drop.
Instead, to get rid of any unwanted entries, or add some old favorites like
Run, right-click an empty area of the Start menu, select Properties, and
then click Customize. In the list you’ll find each of these items—there are
twenty in all—interspersed with settings that affect other aspects of the
Start menu. To get rid of an item, just clear the checkbox or, if applicable,
select Don’t display this item.
To open the Run box—whether or not it appears on the Start menu—
hold the Windows logo key and press R (Winkey+R). Of course, the
aforementioned Search box also doubles (mostly) as a “Run” command,
except it’s lacking the convenient drop-down list of recently run items.
The Search box also opens a search window when it can’t find what
you’ve typed, as opposed to the unfriendly (yet occasionally helpful) error
message you get from the Run window.
Shut Down button
Last but not least is the simple Shut Down button, which appears at the
bottom of the right column, next to a tiny arrow for more shut down
options: Switch user, Log off, Lock, Restart, and Sleep.
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By default, the Shut Down button puts your PC to sleep,
but you can set it to shut down instead, as described in
“Start Windows Instantly (Almost)” on page 274.
Open 32-bit Windows Explorer on x64
If you’ve got 64-bit Windows, then you’re using 64-bit Windows Explorer.
This means that any Explorer extensions—context menu add-ons, image preview codecs, Property sheet extensions, or drag-drop handlers—must be
native 64-bit as well, or they won’t work.
So what if you have a 32-bit Explorer extension for which there is no native
64-bit version yet? In previous versions of Windows, you could fire up the 32bit Windows Explorer (c:\Windows\SysWOW64\explorer.exe). But in Windows 7, this doesn’t work. Yes, the 32-bit explorer.exe is sitting on your hard
disk, but if you try to open it, Windows just runs the native 64-bit version.
But that’s not where the story ends. In almost every application that works
with files, there’s a File→Open and a corresponding File→Save As window,
and these windows are basically lightweight instances of Windows Explorer.
(Newer apps use the handy two-pane window with the folder tree, while older
apps use the more limited single-pane version.) This means that most native
32-bit applications can be used as makeshift 32-bit instances of Windows
So how do you know which applications are native 32-bit? Just open Task
Manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc) and choose the Processes tab. In the Image
Name column, 32-bit programs are marked with a *32, while native x64
programs are not. For instance, Microsoft Word 2007 appears as
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To remove the Shut Down button et al., open the Group Policy editor
(gpedit.msc, which is not present on the Home Premium edition), and
expand the branches to User Configuration\Administrative Templates
\Start Menu and Taskbar. Double-click Remove and prevent access to
the Shut Down, Restart, Sleep, and Hibernate commands, select
Enabled, and click OK. You’ll have to log out and then log back in for
this change to take effect. Of course, once that’s done, the only way to
shut down or restart (necessary to undo the change) is to use the
shutdown command-line tool described in the section “Control a PC Remotely” on page 488, or press the physical power switch on your PC.
Start button
Yes, you can even remove the Start button from the taskbar, but you’ll
need a special tool for that. See “Tweak the Taskbar” on page 75 for
WINWORD.EXE *32. And the active window is highlighted in gray, so
there’s no guesswork.
So the next time you need access to 32-bit Windows Explorer, just fire up a
32-bit application, and from the File menu, select Open. From there, you can
right-click files and folders to your heart’s content, as well as drag-drop,
rename, delete, and just about anything else you can do with a standard Explorer window.
When all is said and done, you’ll have a leaner, cleaner Start menu that contains
only the items you actually want and use. If you like, you can basically wipe
the Start menu completely clean so that it looks like the one in Figure 2-10,
adorned only with the Search box and your custom picture.
Figure 2-10. Minimalists may appreciate a clean, uncluttered Start menu like this one
74 | Chapter 2: Shell Tweaks
Secrets of Window Management
Aero Snap is the name given to the feature that automatically
helps you position windows as you drag them around. Drag
a window to the top of the screen to maximize, or to the left
or right to half-maximize. Or, drag a window so its edge mates
with the edge of another window or the edge of the screen,
and it’ll snap snugly into position.
Don’t like it? You can turn it off by opening the Ease of Access
Center page in Control Panel. Click the Change how your
mouse works link, and then turn on the Prevent windows
from being automatically arranged when moved to the
edge of the screen option.
Tweak the Taskbar
Windows window management takes place mostly on the taskbar, which got
a big facelift in Windows 7. Gone is the piddly QuickLaunch toolbar; now you
can use taskbar buttons to launch programs as well as manage them when
they’re already open. Jump lists, covered in “Start Explorer with Any
Folder” on page 60, help merge these two functions nicely. You can even rearrange taskbar icons now by simply dragging and dropping.
But one thing you still can’t do is hide several icons inside of a single icon on
the taskbar. As it is now, a program shortcut can either be on the taskbar or
desktop, or buried several layers deep in the Start menu. If you’re itching for
some middle ground, try 7stacks or StandaloneStack, both free, to add submenus of sorts to the taskbar. The term “stacks” is taken from the similar
feature in Mac OS X; if you want the Windows 7 taskbar to be more like the
Mac OS X dock, check out RocketDock, also free.
Want a little more room for buttons on the taskbar? Confuse your friends with
Start Killer, free from, which hides the Start
button completely. You can still open the Start menu with the Windows logo
key or Ctrl+Esc, or you can disable Start Killer by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Shift
If you have a multiple monitor setup, see “Stretch Out on Multiple Monitors” on page 85 for a way to extend the taskbar to all your screens.
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One of the perks you get with Windows 7 is a whole bunch of window management shortcuts and nifty eye candy to happily accompany the drudgery of
generating soils reports. Here are some of the ways you can make working with
Windows just a little more enjoyable.
Keyboard Is My Friend
Despite the fact that Microsoft has excised those little underlined letters—the
ones that show you which letter you have to press while holding the Alt key
to jump to that control—the keyboard is alive and well in Windows 7. In fact,
there are tons of useful keyboard shortcuts that can be real time-savers in
Windows, some even used in conjunction with the mouse.
Navigating files and folders
Hold the Alt key while double-clicking on a file or folder to view the
Properties sheet for that object. Or, press Alt+Enter to open the Properties
window for the selected item without using the mouse at all.
Press Backspace in an open Explorer window to go back to the last folder
you looked at (which may or may not be the active folder’s parent folder).
You can also hold Alt while pressing the left or right arrow keys to go back
and forth through the folder history, akin to the two round arrow buttons
to the left of the path box.
Parent folder
Press Alt+up arrow to jump to the active folder’s parent folder.
Press F5 in almost any window (including web browsers and even Device
Manager) to refresh the current view.
Folder tree
With the focus on Explorer’s folder tree, press Enter to view the contents
of the highlighted folder in the right pane. Also, use the left and right arrow
keys (or + and −) to collapse and expand folders, respectively, or press the
asterisk key (*) to expand all the folders and their subfolders in the current
Press Ctrl+Shift+E to scroll the folder tree so that the active folder is at
the bottom of the Navigation pane.
Jump to an item
With the focus on the right pane, press a letter key to quickly jump to the
first file or folder starting with that letter. Continue typing to jump further.
For example, pressing the T key in your \Windows folder will jump to the
Tasks folder. Press T again to jump to the next object that starts with T.
Or, press T and then quickly press A to skip the first few Ts and jump to
taskman.exe. If there’s enough of a delay between the T and the A keys,
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Explorer will forget about the T, and you’ll jump to the first entry that
starts with A.
New Explorer window
Press Ctrl+N to open another Explorer window at the same folder. Or
press Winkey+E to open a new Windows Explorer window, even when
you’re not currently in Explorer.
In Windows Explorer or on the desktop, press Ctrl+F or F3 to open a
separate search window so you can search without losing the current view.
To search in the current Explorer window, press Ctrl+E to jump to the
search box and start typing. (Or, if you’ve selected the Automatically
type into the Search Box option explained earlier in this section, just
start typing to immediately jump to the search box.) Press Winkey+F to
open a search window no matter where you are. See “Fix Windows
Search” on page 111 for other ways to improve search.
Show hidden context menu items
Hold the Shift key while right-clicking a file to show two new items in the
file’s context menu: Pin to Start Menu (normally shown only for programs) and Copy as Path (used to copy the full path of the item to the
Or, hold Shift while right-clicking a folder to show three new items: Open
in new process (discussed earlier in this chapter), Open command window here (see Chapter 9), and the aforementioned Copy as Path.
Finally, hold Shift while right-clicking an empty area of the desktop or
open folder window to show the Open command window here
See “File Type Associations” on page 166 for instructions to customize the context menus for files, folders,
and many Windows objects.
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If you prefer, you can have Windows Explorer begin a
formal search as soon as you start typing. Open the
Organize drop-down, select Folder and Search Options, and then choose the View tab. Scroll to the bottom
of the Advanced settings list, and under the When typing into list view branch, click Automatically type
into the Search Box.
Path box
Press Alt+D or F4 to jump to the path box so you can type or flip through
recently visited folders. Once you’re there, press Esc to close the dropdown history and select the text. Press Esc once more to revert to the
modern “breadcrumbs” path box so you can navigate parent folders with
only the arrow keys.
Cycle through all the controls
Press the Tab key to jump between the file pane, the file pane column
headers, the address bar, the Search box, the tool ribbon, and the folder
tree. The F6 key does the same thing as Tab, but it skips the Search box.
Preview pane
Press Alt+P to toggle the Preview pane on and off.
View / Icon size
Hold Ctrl while rolling the mouse wheel to cycle through the various view
settings (Details, List). Roll up past Small icons, and further rolling will
progressively enlarge the icons.
Selecting and managing files
Select all
Press Ctrl+A to quickly select all of the contents of a folder, both files and
Select range
Select one icon, then hold the Shift key while clicking on another icon in
the same folder to select it and all the items in between. To do this only
with the keyboard, hold the Shift key while moving up or down with the
arrow keys.
You can select a range of files without using the keyboard
by dragging a rubber band around them. Start by holding
down the left mouse button in a blank portion of a folder
window, then drag the mouse to the opposite corner to
select everything that appears in the rectangle you just
Select multiple items
Hold the Ctrl key and click multiple files or folders to select or deselect
them one by one. (Note that you can’t select more than one folder in the
Navigation pane (folder tree), but you can in the right pane.) To do this
only with the keyboard, hold Ctrl while moving up or down with the
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Starting programs
Start menu
Press the Windows logo key (Winkey) to open the Start menu, and then
navigate with your arrow keys. You can also open the Start menu by
pressing Ctrl+Esc. See the “Hack the Windows Logo Key” sidebar if you
don’t have a Windows logo key.
Hack the Windows Logo Key
What if your keyboard has no Winkey? Strictly speaking, you don’t really need
it, but there are a bunch of nifty keyboard shortcuts you can only do with the
Winkey, such as Winkey+D to show the desktop, Winkey+R to run a program, and Winkey+Tab to use the corny Flip 3D task switcher.
To give your keyboard a Winkey, or any other key it doesn’t have, you need
a keyboard remapping tool. Most tools use an obscure feature already built
in to Windows, such as Sharpkeys (free,
keys/), KeyTweak (free,, and Microsoft’s own Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator.
First, pick a key on your keyboard you don’t use—the right-hand Alt or
Ctrl keys are usually good candidates for the Windows Logo Key—and remap
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arrow keys, and then press the spacebar to select or deselect the active
You can also use the Ctrl key to modify your selection. For example, if
you’ve used the Shift key or a rubber band to select the first five objects
in a folder, you can hold Ctrl while dragging a second rubber band to
highlight additional files without losing your original selection.
Delete files
Select a file or folder and press Del to delete it. Or, press Shift+Del to
delete it permanently without sending it to the Recycle Bin.
Press F2 to rename the currently selected item.
Create a new folder
Press Ctrl+Shift+N in any folder window or on the desktop to create a
new, empty folder.
Automatically resize all Windows Explorer columns
Press Ctrl+plus (that’s + on the numeric keypad) while in the Details
view of Windows Explorer to resize all visible columns to fit their contents.
You can also double-click column header separators to size-to-fit individual columns (just like in Microsoft Excel).
it to the key you want Windows to think you pressed. In SharpKeys, for instance, click Add, select Special: Right Alt from the Map this key list, select
Special: Left Windows from the To this key list, and click OK. Back in the
main window, click Write to Registry, and then log out and back in again
for the change to take effect.
Of course, the Winkey isn’t for everyone. On most keyboards, it’s right next
to the Space bar, which means it’s easy to hit by accident. And since it’s one
of the few keys that takes the focus away from the active window, it can be
decidedly inconvenient if you press it while you’re typing.
To disable Winkey, all you do is use one of the aforementioned keyboard
remapping tools to remap Winkey to something innocuous, like Ctrl or
spacebar (or Pause/Break if you want it to do nothing at all). Or, if you have
the MyExpose task switcher installed (see “Get Glass” on page 286), you can
remap the Winkey to activate MyExpose instead.
While you’re at it, you can likewise disable some other nuisance keys like
Insert (Ins), so you’ll never again inadvertently delete text as you type.
If you want to keep your Windows logo key, but you don’t like the Winkey
hotkey combinations (e.g., Winkey+R), you can turn those off with a quick
Registry hack. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and expand the
branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Policies\Explorer. Create a new DWord value by selecting Edit→New→
DWord Value (32-bit), and then name the new value NoWinKeys. Doubleclick the new value, type 1 for its data, and click OK. You’ll need to log out
and then back in again for the change to take effect.
Taskbar and jump lists
Hold Winkey while pressing a number key to open the taskbar item at
that location; for instance Winkey+1 opens the taskbar button closest to
the Start button, Winkey+2 opens the next one over, and so on. Or, press
Winkey+T to cycle through taskbar buttons, and then press Enter to open
the one selected. If the program is already running, Winkey+number
switches to that program.
Hold Shift while clicking a taskbar button to open a new window rather
than switching to one already open. Similarly, press Shift+Winkey and a
number to open a new window of the application at that location on the
Hold Shift while right-clicking a taskbar button to show the Properties
window for the target file. Or, if the program is already running, hold
Shift to show the old-school System menu for that window.
Hold Ctrl+Shift while clicking a taskbar button (or Ctrl+Shift+Winkey
+number) to open the application as an administrator (see Chapter 8).
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Press Alt+Winkey and a number to open the jump list for the application
at that location on the taskbar, and then use the arrow keys and Enter to
select an item. Or, when using the mouse, right-click the button or click
down and drag (slide) up.
Press Winkey+R to open the Start menu Run box.
Windows Explorer
Press Winkey+E to open a new Windows Explorer window.
Task Manager
Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager (see Chapter 6).
View System Information
Press Winkey+Pause/Break to open the System page in Control Panel.
Presentation Mode
Press Winkey+P to activate Presentation Mode, provided you have the
Professional edition of Windows 7 or better. To customize Presentation
Mode, open the Windows Mobility Center (available on laptop PCs only).
Windows Mobility Center
Press Winkey+X to open the Windows Mobility Center page in Control
Ease of Access Center
Press Winkey+U to open the Ease of Access Center page in Control Panel.
Press Shift five times to toggle StickyKeys on and off. Hold Shift for eight
seconds to toggle FilterKeys on and off. Hold Num Lock for five seconds
to toggle ToggleKeys on and off. Press Alt+LeftShift+Num Lock to toggle
MouseKeys on and off. Press Alt+LeftShift+Print Screen to toggle high
contrast mode on and off.
Get Windows Help
Press Winkey+F1 to open Windows Help and Support, or F1 by itself
(usually) to open Help for the active application or window.
Managing running programs
Switch to a different window
Press Winkey+Tab to show the silly Flip 3D Rolodex-style task switcher,
or Alt+Tab to show the simple “classic” task switcher. See “Get
Glass” on page 286 for another alternative. Hold Shift (Shift+Winkey
+Tab or Shift+Alt+Tab) to go backward.
If you’re using an application with more than one document, press Ctrl
+Tab to switch among the open documents. Likewise, press Ctrl+Tab
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to cycle through tabs in a tabbed window. And again, hold Shift to go in
Taskbar and jump lists
Hold Winkey while pressing a number key to switch to the taskbar item
at that location, as described earlier in this section.
Hold Ctrl while clicking a grouped taskbar button to cycle through the
windows in that group.
Drop the current window to the bottom of the pile
Press Alt+Esc to move the active window to the bottom of the stack and
activate the one underneath it. Hold Shift to go backward.
View the desktop
Press Winkey+D to show or hide the desktop, Winkey+M to minimize
all open windows, or Shift+Winkey+M to restore minimized windows.
See “Get to the Desktop” on page 63 for more.
Show only the active window
Press Winkey+Home to minimize all windows except the active one. To
do this with the mouse, grab the title bar and shake vigorously for at least
a second. Do this again to restore the windows.
Resize the active window
Press Winkey+up arrow to maximize a window. Press Winkey+down arrow to restore a maximized window or minimize a standard window.
Once you’ve minimized a window with Winkey+down,
it loses focus, so pressing Winkey+up immediately afterward won’t work. Instead, use Alt+Tab, Winkey+Tab,
or Winkey+T (all covered previously) to switch to a
minimized window.
Press Shift+Winkey+up arrow to maximize the current window only vertically; its horizontal size and position won’t change.
Press Winkey+right arrow to shove the active window to the right side of
the screen (sort of a half-maximize); same thing goes for Winkey+left
Move a window to another monitor
Got a multiple monitor setup? Hit either Shift+Winkey+right arrow or
Shift+Winkey+left arrow to move the window to a different screen. Or,
hit Winkey+left arrow or Winkey+right arrow three times to accomplish
the same thing.
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Editing text
Press Ctrl+C to copy the selected item to the clipboard, Ctrl+X to cut
(copy and then delete), and Ctrl+V to paste the item anywhere else.
Press Ctrl+Z to undo the last text edit, file operation, deletion, etc.
Drop-down listboxes
Use the up and down arrow keys to flip through items in a drop-down
box, or press Alt+down arrow to open the listbox.
Clean Up the Tray
The notification area as Microsoft calls it—or tray, as it’s called on the street—
is the box full of tiny icons on the far right side of your taskbar, next to the
It made its first appearance in Windows 95, but it didn’t take long for most
trays to get cluttered with junk from every program installed on your PC. And
since Microsoft wasn’t too careful about establishing standards for the icons
put there, applications weren’t too careful about giving their customers control
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Press Winkey+G to cycle through active desktop gadgets.
Close a window
Press Alt+F4 to close the current application, or Ctrl+F4 to close the
current document (if it’s the type of program that can hold multiple documents). Press Alt+F4 while the keyboard focus is on the desktop or taskbar to shut down windows.
Notification area (Tray)
Press Winkey+B to send the focus to the notification area (tray).
Press Alt or F10 to jump to the menu bar (or show the menu if it’s hidden).
Zoom in, zoom out
Press Winkey+plus (+ on the numeric keypad) to zoom in where the
mouse is pointing (using the Magnifier tool), or Winkey+minus (− on the
numeric keypad) to zoom out. Then, just drag your mouse past the edges
of the screen to pan to the extents of the desktop.
Log off
Press Winkey+L to lock your computer, at which point you unlock it by
typing your password or switch users.
Figure 2-11. If you don’t want to hide the tray completely, use this window to bury unwanted
clutter under a collapsible panel
over those icons. As a result, many applications won’t let you remove their
icons, and of those that do, the process is a little different for each one.
Microsoft snapped into action to solve the problem, and five years later came
up with a system to automatically hide unused/unwanted tray icons. In Windows 7, open the Notification Area Icons page in Control Panel, shown in
Figure 2-11, to choose what’s shown and what isn’t.
Tired of dealing with tray icons on a one-by-one basis? If you’re using the
Business or Ultimate edition, you can turn off the tray completely. Open the
Group Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc, which is not present on Home Premium), and expand the branches to User Configuration\Administrative Tem
plates\Start Menu and Taskbar. Double-click Hide the notification area,
select Enabled, and click OK.
In Windows 7 Home Premium, you’ll need a registry hack to do the same
thing. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and navigate to HKEY_CUR
From the Edit menu, select New and then DWORD (32-bit) Value, and type
NoTrayItemsDisplay for the value name. Double-click the new value, type 1 for
the value data, and click OK.
Either way you do it, you’ll have to log out and then log back in for this change
to take effect.
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Stretch Out on Multiple Monitors
Add another monitor to double your desktop space, easily view two documents side by side, or work on one screen while watching a movie on the other.
It’s a relatively cheap way to make your computer considerably more useful.
On most desktop PCs, you can add a second video card to
support a second monitor, or better yet, replace your current
video card with a high-end model that sports two DVI connectors. And nearly all laptops include a port for a second
monitor, although typically only more expensive models have
the necessary DVI or HDMI port for a digital connection. If
you have none of these luxuries, you can use a program like
MaxiVista to use that spare laptop as a second monitor.
While Windows has supported multiple monitors for years, it wasn’t until
Windows 7 that Microsoft started including some handy tools to make it easier
to live with a spanned desktop. For instance, you can hold the Shift and Windows logo keys while pressing the left or right arrow keys to move the active
window from one screen to the next. (See the section “Keyboard Is My
Friend” on page 76 for more shortcuts.) You can also drag a window to the
edge of the screen to dock it to the left or right side.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ground Microsoft still hasn’t covered: the taskbar and Alt-Tab window only appear on the primary screen, maximized applications can’t span more than one screen, full-screen games can’t use more
than one monitor, and support for multiscreen wallpaper and screensavers is
weak at best. These seem trivial enough until you spend a few hours with a
two-monitor PC, at which point you wonder why Windows 7’s multimonitor
support is so lousy.
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Problem is, hiding a tray icon doesn’t accomplish anything except dealing with
the clutter. Those programs are still running, eating up processor cycles and
memory. You can turn on the Always show all icons and notifications on
the taskbar option (Figure 2-11) to make sure there’s nothing hidden—with
the glaring exception of programs that want to be hidden—but a better approach is to simply stop loading programs automatically that you don’t really
need. See Chapter 6 for more on Startup programs and malware, and Chapter 5 for more on background processes.
Can’t get the colors to match on two otherwise identical monitors? See “Get More Accurate Color” on page 241 to make
things right.
In the following sections, learn how to improve your experience with multiple
monitors on Windows 7.
Make your background wallpaper span all your screens
This is actually something you can do without any third-party software, but
it’s not necessarily obvious. First, determine your total desktop resolution:
right-click an empty area of the desktop, select Screen resolution, and look
at the Resolution setting. If you have two 1920×1200 screens side-by-side,
then your total resolution is 3840×1200.
You’ll need a single image at least as big as your total resolution: this means a photo taken with a 12-megapixel camera
for a desktop 3840 pixels wide. If it’s too small, it won’t look
right. If it’s too big, you’ll need to crop or resize it with your
favorite image editor so that it doesn’t run off the screen.
Open the Personalization page in Control Panel and click Desktop Background. From the Picture location listbox, choose Pictures library to
browse all the photos in your Photos folder, or click Browse to pick another
folder. (Unfortunately, the Browse window only lets you select a folder; to look
through your non-Photos folders for a single image, open a separate Windows
Explorer window.) You can also manually copy your custom image to the
C:\Windows\Web\Wallpaper folder to make it easier to find (it’ll be under
Windows Desktop Backgrounds).
Highlight your custom wallpaper, and from the Picture position list, select
Tile. (None of the other options here—Fill, Fit, Stretch, and Center—work
on a desktop spanned across multiple monitors.)
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When you’re happy with the results, click Save changes.
Use different wallpaper on each screen
Windows lets you select more than one desktop wallpaper at a time, but not
for the purposes of filling multiple screens. Rather, Windows creates a slideshow with your selected images and changes your background at regular intervals. (Use the Change picture every and Shuffle controls at the bottom of
the “Choose your desktop background” page to customize this feature.)
The quick and dirty way to get a different background on each screen is to
piece together your different background images into a single large image, and
then use it to span your monitor array as described in the previous topic.
Several third-party tools can do this for you, including DisplayFusion and
Desktop Wallpaper Tool.
Make a screensaver multiscreen friendly
A screensaver is basically just an application that runs full screen and quits
when you move your mouse. Some screensavers work fine with multiple monitors, such as Bubbles (which comes with Windows 7). But a screensaver not
written to take advantage of multiple screens will only fill a single screen, forcing Windows to pitch in and replicate the screensaver on all your screens.
To make a screensaver span all your screens, even if it wasn’t designed to do
so, use Actual Tools Multiple Monitors.
To run a different screensaver on each screen, use Desktop Tools.
If you’re in the mood for change, get a new screensaver written specifically for
multiple monitors from
Put a taskbar on every screen
It can get awfully tiresome to instinctually move your mouse to the bottom of
the screen to switch windows, only to find no taskbar at all. Instead, you’ve
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With the Tile option, the upper lefthand corner of the image
is placed at the upper lefthand corner of the primary monitor.
This means that if your primary monitor—the one with your
Start menu and taskbar—is not at the upper left of your monitor array, the image tiles will be out of order. (Windows isn’t
smart enough to pick the correct display in a multimonitor
setup.) To get around this without choosing a new primary
display, you must open your photo in your favorite image editor, cut it into pieces, and then reconstitute accordingly.
got to sweep across two or three desktops to get to your taskbar on the primary
Several third-party tools attempt to solve this problem, but one of the best is
UltraMon 3.0 (free trial at
When you enable UltraMon’s Smart Taskbar feature, a taskbar appears on
every screen. What’s more, only those windows open on any particular screen
appear in that screen’s taskbar so you can further take advantage of your increased real estate and reduce taskbar clutter. Move an application from one
screen to another, and its taskbar button follows. (The downside is that you
may spend a little more time hunting for minimized applications.)
Any tool that adds a taskbar to your secondary and tertiary
monitors must recreate the additional taskbars from scratch.
This means that if you’re particularly detail-oriented, you may
notice some imperfections. For instance, you don’t get Jump
Lists on additional taskbars, nor can you pin programs or
drag-drop taskbar buttons to reorder them. What sets UltraMon apart is how close it gets: UltraMon automatically adopts
your primary taskbar’s settings, like Auto-Hide and
Locked, but lets you override them if you want.
Actual Tools Multiple Monitors (free trial available at http://www.actualtools
.com/multiplemonitors/) also gives you a taskbar on every screen, and adds an
optional Start button (and Start menu) and notification area (tray) on each
additional taskbar. You also get an Alt+Tab window on every screen, but not
the Flip3D task switcher (Winkey+Tab). The software comes with handy tools
to force new windows to appear on a particular monitor, and even extra keyboard shortcuts for added control.
Other taskbar replicators include MultiMonitor TaskBar and DisplayFusion.
Force applications to remember which screen to use
Windows has never taken much of an active role in choosing where new windows appear, instead leaving to the applications themselves the job of remembering their window positions. Problem is, many applications—including
some Windows components—do a poor job of remembering where they were
when they were last closed, and multiple screens just make matters worse.
There’s a little trick that’s been around for a few Windows versions, and it
works much of the time. Begin by starting an application and watch where it
opens its window. Drag the window to the screen you’d like to use from now
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on, and then while holding the Shift key, click the close [×] button. The next
time you open the program, it should appear on that same screen.
Buggy video drivers have also been known to cause this problem; check the website of your video card manufacturer for a
driver update, and try again.
Ultimately, though, it’s the application developer’s job to make sure a program
remembers on which screen it last appeared. If a program won’t behave on
your multimonitor setup, don’t be afraid to contact the developer and request
a fix.
Fill multiple screens with a single application or game
Probably the strangest limitation on a multi-monitor PC is that Windows
won’t maximize a window beyond the extents of a single screen. Sure, you can
manually stretch most application windows to span your entire desktop, but
that’s a lot of fuss for something that should only take a single click of a title
bar button.
DisplayFusion, mentioned earlier in this section, allows you to maximize windows to span the entire desktop, and adds hotkey support for convenience.
Ever run a full-screen, single monitor game, only to have
things go awry when you accidentally move the mouse past
the screen boundary? Use ComroeStudios Multi-Monitor
Tool (CSMMT), available at,
to solve this problem.
Where most folks run into trouble is with games and video playback software.
Any programs that use your video card’s 3D processor or video overlay might
not work properly when a single window spans more than one screen.
To test how well your PC handles video spanning, open a simple video clip
(.mpg, .avi, or .wmv) in Windows Media Player and then drag the (nonmaximized) window so that it’s split between monitors: half of the video plays
Download from Wow! eBook
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Shift-close not doing it for you? As long as there have been forgetful applications, there have also been utilities to force them to open in the same place
every time. For instance, Actual Tools Multiple Monitors, described in the
previous section, lets you choose whether new windows should open on a
specific screen, whichever screen has the mouse pointer, or the screen of the
parent window. You can also make specific rules for specific programs.
on one screen and half on the other. If it works, then your video hardware
should support something called Hybrid Span mode. If not, check with your
video card manufacturer for a driver update.
Obviously, the driver is a big factor in how well your PC handles multimonitor
3D. If both your displays are driven by the same video adapter—a setup called
“dual view”—or if you have two video cards with the same graphics chip that
can be controlled by a single driver—a setup called “Homogeneous Multiadapter”—then you’ll likely be able to span a 3D game across monitors. In
theory, though, Windows 7 also supports a “Heterogeneous Multi-adapter”
setup, in which you have two different video cards and two different video
drivers; for this to work, both drivers must play nicely.
Working with Files and Folders
What is Windows Explorer if not a file manager at heart? Sure, the Start menu
and taskbar form a homebase of sorts, but the desktop and your folders are
basically there to provide access to your data. When it comes to copying,
moving, renaming, deleting, and opening files, Explorer is where it’s at. The
rest of this chapter includes topics on tweaking Windows’ file management
features so you can work with your stuff without getting so annoyed.
The 17 File Context Menu Bug
For years, you’ve been able to select any number of files in Windows
Explorer—hundreds or even thousands—and right-click the lot of ’em. Up
pops a context menu with actions you can take on all the selected files and
The items that appear in the menu depend on the types of objects you’ve
selected: right-click a .jpg image file, and you’ll see a different menu than if
you right-clicked a .txt file or a folder. These menus are assembled on the fly
by various programs called context menu handlers—discussed at length in
Chapter 3—which is why there might be a slight delay before a menu opens,
particularly if you selected a lot of files.
But Microsoft made a change for Windows 7 that looks and feels like a bug.
Now, when you right-click 17 or more files, each of those context menu handlers only knows about the first 16 of them. The good news is that when you
select an item in the menu, the target program gets all the files you selected,
not just those 16. But since the handlers don’t have all the facts—like the fact
that you selected 43 .doc files, 71 .avi files, and 3 folders—you may not get
the context menu you’re supposed to. Instead, the handler thinks you’ve selected only 16 .doc files and builds its menu accordingly.
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Of course, Microsoft provides no warnings or explanations, and offers no
workaround or way to disable this limit. So you’re left with a context menu
system that sometimes seems broken.
Why It Takes So Long to Copy Files
Most people first realize that something is wrong with Windows when they
try to copy or move files, and they see the little green progress window shown
in Figure 2-12. It’d be understandable to see this window on screen for a minute
or two if you’re copying a lot of data, but should it really take three full minutes
to move one small file, or eight minutes to delete another?
Figure 2-12. Seen this window a lot lately? The tiny “Green Ribbon of Death” could be the
harbinger of a crashed Explorer window
This is one of two “Green Ribbons of Death” in Windows 7, the other being
the larger progress bar—the one dissected in Chapter 6—that appears at the
top of the Windows Explorer window in the address bar/path box. So, what’s
going on?
It turns out that several things can cause Windows Explorer to take a long time
copying, moving, or deleting files, and some of them are actually legitimate.
(This problem was much worse in Vista, but still remains in Windows 7.)
First, Windows Explorer takes time to examine the files and folders you’re
copying, moving, etc., and checks—ahead of time—to see whether there are
any conflicts, such as existing files in the destination folder or security issues
that need your attention. That’s why you’ll see Explorer’s nifty confirmation
window (Figure 2-13) just once for 34 conflicts, rather than the 34 individual
confirmations you’d have to endure in XP and earlier versions of Windows.
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So the next time you see an incorrect context menu, try again with 16 or fewer
files selected. You can also mitigate the problem by selecting files of only a
single type (e.g., only .txt files or only .xlsx files).
Figure 2-13. This handy confirmation window lets you deal with all the conflicts at once,
but it can lead to other problems
The confirmation window in Figure 2-13 is actually quite nice
because of all the choices you get. If you’re copying media files
(e.g., photos, videos, PDF documents), you’ll see thumbnail
previews to aid your decision; you can even right-click the
thumbnails directly in this window if you want to work with
the files without interrupting the file operation. What’s more,
you can choose to copy or move the file without replacing the
original, renaming it instead to avoid the conflict.
The downside is that Explorer must delay your file operation while it prepares
the confirmation window; depending on what it encounters along the way,
this can take forever.
One of the main reasons for the delay is a side effect of User Account Control, the same security “feature” that turns the screen black for a moment
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Likewise, if you’re copying files over a network, Windows has to do some
security reconnaissance, and depending on the speed of your network connection, this can take even longer.
But security checks alone aren’t responsible for poor performance in this area;
there’s also the matter of thumbnails. As described in “Green Ribbon of
Death” on page 380, there are a few common problems that can cause Windows Explorer to hang or even crash, and if one of these things hobbles the
instance of Explorer you’re using, the progress dialog (shown previously in
Figure 2-12) can just sit there for what seems like an eternity. Once you’ve
fixed the problems outlined in Chapter 6, the copying, moving, or deleting
should go much faster.
Turn off auto-tuning
One of the things that can slow file copying to a network folder is that Windows requests constant updates from the other side to keep its view up to date.
To turn this off, open a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode
(see Chapters 9 and 8, respectively), type this command:
netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=disabled
and press Enter. You’ll have to restart Windows for the change to take effect,
but thereafter, copying files over the network should be much faster. Of course,
you might have to press the F5 key more frequently to refresh the remote
folder, but you can do that when the file copying is done.
To undo the change (re-enable auto-tuning), type this command:
netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=normal
and press Enter.
Slicker Ways to Select Files
Why drag 17 files individually when you can select and drag them all at once?
For one, it’s tremendously aggravating to select the first 16 files, and then lose
the selection with an errant click in the wrong place.
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before asking your permission to make a change to your system. Naturally,
Explorer has to examine each file you’re copying to make sure you have permission to copy it, and then examine the destination to make sure you have
permission to put the file there. See the section “Control User Account Control” on page 569 for some ways to ease up the restrictions.
Selecting files is an art form, or at least it would be in a much more boring
world than ours. Here are some slick ways to select multiple files in Windows
Rubber bands
Need to select a cluster of files? Click in an empty area near the first file
and then draw a box around the others to select them all in a single swoop,
as shown in Figure 2-14.
Keyboard and mouse
As described in “Keyboard Is My Friend” on page 76, you can hold the
Ctrl key to select files one-by-one, or hold the Shift key to select a range
of files. Just be careful not to drag the files while holding Ctrl, lest you
inadvertently create copies of them all.
Keyboard alone
While holding the Ctrl key, move through a list of files with the up and
down arrow keys. When the dotted rectangle surrounds a file you want,
press the Space bar to select it.
Or, to select a range of files, use the arrow keys to find the first file; then,
hold Shift while you expand the selection with the arrow keys. Thereafter,
you can even use the Ctrl key to select and deselect individual items.
In the Search box in the top-right of the Explorer window, type a
filespec—a pattern you choose—to filter the list and show only the matching files. Filespecs typically contain ordinary characters (letters and numbers) along with wildcards, like the question mark (?) and the asterisk
(*), which represent any single character or any number of characters,
For instance, type *.txt to show only files with the .txt filename extension,
or v??.* to show files of any type that start with v and have only three
letters in the filename.
In a moment or two, Windows Explorer will show only the files that match
your filespec, at which point you can press Ctrl+A to select them all. Most
of the time, this is a whole lot faster—not to mention more accurate—
than trying to select the files by hand. See the section “Fix Windows
Search” on page 111, for more information.
You like clicking checkboxes? In Windows Explorer, click the Organize
drop-down, select Folder and Search Options, and then turn on the Use
check boxes to select items option. Click OK, and your folder now looks
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Figure 2-14. It’s dead simple, but rubber bands—or “selection rectangles,” as they like to
be called—allow you to select a cluster of files in one quick step
like Figure 2-15; then, click the checkbox next to any file to select it without holding down any keys or worrying about clicking in the wrong place.
Figure 2-15. Windows Explorer lets you use checkboxes to select items
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Take Charge of Drag-Drop
The “desktop metaphor” used as the basis for the interface in Windows 7
revolves around a handful of concepts, one of the most basic being that you
can drag an item with the mouse to move it from one place to another.
Depending on where the item currently lives and where you’re trying to put
it, a variety of things can happen. The good news is that with an understanding
of what’s happening, combined with the visual cues you get from Windows
Explorer, you can predict what will happen every single time you drag and
drop. What’s more, you can use some basic tricks to change what happens.
Here are the basic drag-drop rules by which Windows Explorer lives:
• If you drag an object from one place to another on the same physical drive
(C:\docs to C:\files), Windows moves the object.
• If you drag an object from one physical drive to another physical drive
(C:\docs to D:\files), Windows copies the object, resulting in two identical
files on your PC.
• If you drag an object from one place to another in the same folder, Windows does nothing.
• If you drag an object into the Recycle Bin, Windows moves the file into
the Recycle Bin folder, where it is eventually deleted.
• If you drag an object into a Zip folder anywhere, Windows copies the file.
(See “Zip It Up” on page 107.)
• If you drag certain system objects, such as Control Panel icons, anywhere
else, Windows makes shortcuts to those items.
• If you drag any file onto an application executable (.exe) file, Windows
opens the target application and then sends a signal to the application to
open the dropped document. See “File Type Associations” on page 166
for details.
It used to be that Windows did different things with different types of files,
such as creating a shortcut any time you dragged an .exe file, but thankfully,
those days are long over. Here’s how to override those rules:
Always copy.
To copy an object, hold the Ctrl key while dragging. If you press Ctrl
before you click, Windows assumes you’re still selecting files (covered in
the previous section), so make sure to press it only after you’ve started
dragging but before you let go of the mouse button. (The exceptions are
system objects, like Libraries, that can’t be copied.)
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Stop Copying Files When You’re Trying to Select
To fix the problem, you can make Windows a little less sensitive to dragging
with a quick Registry hack.
Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and expand the branches to HKEY_CUR
RENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. Double-click the DragWidth value, and in
the Value data field, replace the default value of 4 with a higher value, say
16, and click OK.
Then try selecting files as well as dragging. A higher value makes it so you
have to move your mouse further before Windows acknowledges you’re dragging; lower the value to say, 12, if it’s too hard to drag files, or raise it to 20 if
it’s still too easy. Experiment with different values until you strike a compromise with which you’re comfortable.
Duplicate an object.
Hold the Ctrl key while dragging an object from one part of a folder to
another part of the same folder.
Always move.
To move an object, hold the Shift key while dragging. Likewise, if you
press Shift before you click, Windows assumes you’re still selecting files,
so make sure to press it only after you’ve started dragging but before you
let go. (Of course, system objects and read-only files, like those on a CD,
cannot be moved.)
Always create a shortcut.
To create a shortcut to an object under any situation, hold the Alt key
while dragging.
Choose on the fly.
To choose what happens to dragged files each time without having to press
any keys, drag your files with the right mouse button, and a special menu
like the one in Figure 2-16 will appear when you drop the files. This context menu is especially helpful, because it will display only options appropriate to the type of object you’re dragging and the place where you’ve
dropped it.
To help you predict what will happen, even if you haven’t memorized the rules,
Windows changes the mouse cursor to indicate what it intends to do. While
dragging an item, press and release the Ctrl, Shift, and Alt keys and watch
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Ever accidentally make duplicate copies of 28 files when you were really only
trying to select the 29th? The problem is that the Ctrl key is used both to select
multiple files and copy files when dragging. And if your timing is a little off,
you’ll get a bunch of duplicate files that you then have to delete.
Figure 2-16. Drag files with the right mouse button for more control
Windows change the cursors in real time. As illustrated in Figure 2-17, you’ll
see a small plus sign whenever you’re copying, a straight arrow when moving,
or a curved arrow when creating a shortcut. This visual feedback is very important; it can eliminate a lot of stupid mistakes if you pay attention to it.
Figure 2-17. Windows Explorer provides visual feedback to let you know what’s going to
happen when you drop a file
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Make a mistake? Press Ctrl+Z to undo most types of file operations.
Not sure what you’re undoing? First, open Windows Explorer, press the Alt key to show the menu, and then select
View→Status bar to turn on the old-school Status bar. Next,
right-click an empty area of the righthand pane and hover your
mouse over the Undo context menu item. Right in the Status
bar, beneath the Details pane at the bottom of the window,
you’ll see something like Undo Rename of ‘My Pictures’ to
Copy or Move to a Specified Path
Dragging and dropping is generally the quickest and easiest way to copy or
move files and folders from one place to another. Typically, though, it helps
if the source and destination folders are both visible at the same time. (And if
you have a large enough screen, opening multiple Explorer windows is a must.)
But what if the target folder isn’t visible when you start dragging?
Solution 1: Drag patiently
In Windows Explorer, navigate to the source folder. Next, drag one or more
items over the tree pane on the left, then hover the mouse cursor over the visible
branch of the destination folder, and Explorer will automatically expand the
branch. You can also hover near the top or bottom of the Navigation pane to
scroll up or down, respectively.
If the destination folder you’re looking for is buried several layers deep, you’ll
have to wait for Explorer to expand each level. This requires a steady hand and
a lot of patience.
Solution 2: Use cut, copy, and paste
Select the file(s) you want to copy, right-click, and select Copy to copy the
items or Cut to move them. (Or, to use the keyboard, press Ctrl+C or
Ctrl+X, respectively, as described in “Keyboard Is My Friend” on page 76.)
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There’s no way to set the default action for dragging and therefore no way to
avoid using keystrokes or the right mouse button to achieve the desired results.
Even if there were a way to change the default behavior, you probably wouldn’t
want to do it; imagine if someone else sat down at your computer and started
dragging icons: oh, the horror.
When you cut a file, its icon appears faded (as though it were
a hidden file) until you paste it somewhere, or abandon the
operation. (Abandoning a cut operation does not delete the
file, by the way.) Explorer makes no visual distinction for files
you copy.
Next, open the destination folder, right-click an empty area of the righthand
pane, and select Paste (or press Ctrl+V).
Solution 3: Add some hidden entries to Explorer’s context menus
Windows 7 actually comes with a couple of handy context menu items—Copy
To Folder and Move To Folder—but they’re hidden by default. To show
them when you right-click any file or folder, follow these instructions.
Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and expand the folders to
Highlight the ContextMenuHandlers key, and then from the Edit menu, select
New and then Key. Type {C2FBB630-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D13} for the
name of the new key.
Next, create a second key and name it {C2FBB631-2971-11D1-A18C-00C04FD75D
13}. (Hint: this class ID is identical to the first, except for the 1 in the eighth
(The first key adds the Copy To Folder command, and the second adds Move
To Folder.)
Close the Registry Editor when you’re done, and then right-click any file,
folder, or drive. If you select either Copy To Folder and Move To Folder,
you should see a window that looks like the one in Figure 2-18.
More Ways to Rename Files
Renaming files is just as common as copying or moving, but it can end up being
a much more tedious task in Windows Explorer, particularly if you have 40
files to rename.
In its simplest form, Explorer’s rename feature works like this: highlight a file,
wait a fraction of a second to avoid double-clicking, then click the filename.
When the text field appears, type a new name and then press Enter to rename
the file. You can also right-click and select Rename, or highlight the object
and press the F2 key.
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Figure 2-18. A quick registry hack will add a hidden feature to Windows Explorer; you’ll
see this window when you right-click any file or folder and select Copy To Folder
Then, do it 39 more times to rename all 40 files. Fortunately, there are better
Solution 1: Select multiple files in Explorer
If you press F2 when more than one file is selected in Windows Explorer, only
one file—the active file—gets a text field for you to type in. Nothing will happen to the other selected files, at least not yet.
The active file is important, since its name is used as a template
to rename the other selected files. If the file marked as active
is not the one you want to use, hit Esc, and then hold the
Ctrl key while clicking another file. If the new file was highlighted, it will become deselected—in this case, just
Ctrl+click the file once more to reselect it. Then, press F2
again to show the text field.
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Rename the active file as desired, and press Enter when you’re done. The active
file keeps its new name, and then Explorer assigns the same name—plus a
number, in parentheses—to all the other files. Table 2-2 shows what happens
when you rename files this way.
Table 2-2. What happens when you try to rename multiple files in Explorer
Old filename
New filename
My file.doc (the active file)
The Penske File.rtf
The Penske File (1).jpg
The Penske File (2).1st
The Penske File (3).mdb
Chapter 2 (a folder)
The Penske File (4)
Although Explorer doesn’t show you a preview of your new filenames, you
can undo a multiple rename operation as easily as a single rename operation
by pressing Ctrl+Z once for each file that was renamed. Want to undo a single
rename of 17 files? You’ll need to press Ctrl+Z 17 times.
Solution 2: Use the Command Prompt
An alternative is to use the ren command (see Chapter 9), either directly from
the Command Prompt (cmd.exe), or from a batch file or PowerShell script.
First, use the cd command, also explained in Chapter 9, to change the working
directory to the folder containing the files you wish to rename. For example,
cd c:\stuff
to change to the C:\stuff folder. If the folder name contains a space, enclose it
in quotation marks, like this:
cd "c:\Progam Files\stuff"
Next, use the ren command to rename the file; the general syntax is:
ren source destination
where both source and destination can be any combination of permissible
characters and wildcards. Two wildcards are allowed: an asterisk (*), which is
used to match any number of characters, and a question mark (?), which is
used to match only a single character. For example:
Rename a single file
ren oldfile.txt newfile.txt
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Change the extension of all .txt files to .doc
ren *.txt *.doc
Rename the first part of a filename without changing the extension
Shell Tweaks
ren document.* documentation.*
Remove the extensions of all files in the folder
ren *.* *.
Change the first letter of all files in a folder to “b”
ren *.* b*.*
Add a zero in front of numbered Chapter files (note the quotation marks)
ren "Chapter ??.wpd" "chapter0??.wpd"
Rename all files with an “s” in the fourth position so that a “t” appears there
ren ???s*.* ???t*.*
Truncate the filenames of all files in the folder so that only the first four characters
are used
ren *.* ????.*
Now, using wildcards takes a bit of practice and patience. The more you do
it, the better intuitive sense you’ll have of how to phrase a rename operation.
To make things simpler, try issuing several successive ren commands instead
of trying to squeeze all your changes into a single step.
If a naming conflict occurs, the ren command never overwrites a file. For example, if you try to rename Lisa.txt to Bart.txt, and there’s already another file
called Bart.txt, ren just displays an error.
Solution 3: Use a third-party add-on
Got a lot of files to rename? Use Power Rename, part of Creative Element
Power Tools. To use the tool, open the Creative Element Power Tools Control
Panel, turn on the Rename files with ease option, and click Accept.
Then, highlight any number of files to rename, right-click, and select Power
Rename. Or, open the Power Rename utility (Figure 2-19) and drag-drop the
files onto the window.
Select the renaming criteria to your right. The first option, As Specified, allows
you to type a file specification with wildcards, as described previously, but the
real power lies in With Operation, and the operations that follow. For
instance, you can insert text anywhere, remove text (crop), search and replace
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Figure 2-19. Power Rename makes it much easier to rename many files at once
text, add numbering, and even fix numbered codes in files downloaded from
the Web.
Turn on the Show what files will look like option to see a live preview of the
filenames as you adjust the options. When you’re done, click Accept to rename
the files.
Delete In-Use Files
Sometimes Windows won’t let you delete a file, which is stupid because it’s
your PC and you should be able to delete anything you want. So there.
Of course, there are times when Windows does know something you don’t,
and prevents you from deleting files that are currently in use to avoid causing
crashes or data loss. An in-use file could be a document that’s currently open,
a program executable that’s currently running, or a folder locked by a running
application. See the sidebar “Copy In-Use Files” on page 106 for a related tip.
Most of the time, you can get around this by closing the application or restarting Windows, but it’s not always that easy.
For instance, if the program has crashed, you’ll need to use Task Manager to
end the process; see “What to Do When a Program Crashes” on page 371 for
details. Or, if the program is actually a Windows service, you’ll need to use the
Services window (services.msc) to stop the service before you’ll be allowed to
delete the file.
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But what if the file you’re trying to delete is a virus or other form of malware?
Or what if you’re certain the file isn’t open, but Windows still won’t let you
delete it?
Solution 1: Context menu add-on
Install Creative Element Power Tools and turn on the Delete in-use files tool.
Then, right-click the file you’d like to exterminate, and select Delete In-Use
File. The tool then prompts you to restart Windows, after which the file will
be gone.
Solution 2: Unlocker
Get free Unlocker tool from (or http://cedrick Right-click the file or folder to delete and select
Unlocker to show a list of all the processes that have claimed a lock on the file.
Click the Unlock All button, and you should be able to safely delete the file.
(Note that at the time of this writing, there was no native x64 version, which
means it will only work on 32-bit Windows.)
Solution 3: Wininit.ini
You can use this little-known trick that takes advantage of a feature used by
application installers to replace program files.
First, open Windows Explorer and navigate to your C:\Windows folder.
Double-click the Wininit.ini file to open it in Notepad (or any other standard
plain-text editor). If the file isn’t there, just create a new empty text file, name
it Wininit.ini, and type the following line at the top:
(In most cases, the Wininit.ini file will exist but will be empty, with the exception of the [rename] line; any other lines you see here would’ve been added by
a recent application installation.)
Under the [rename] section header, type the following line:
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There are times when Windows won’t let you delete a file, not
because it’s in use, but because you don’t have permission or
you’re not the owner of the file. See “Permissions and Security” on page 549 for help setting permission and taking ownership, steps you may need to take before you can delete that
stubborn file.
where c:\folder\filename.ext is the full path and filename of the file you wish
to delete. You can specify as many files here as you want, one on each line.
To replace a file rather than simply deleting it, the syntax is a little different:
where c:\folder\existing.ext is the full path and filename of the file you’re
trying to replace, and c:\folder\replacement.ext is the full path and filename
of the new file to take its place. If the file specified on the right side of the equals
sign doesn’t exist, then the existing.ext file will be moved/renamed to
When you’re done, save the file, close Notepad, and restart Windows. The
files will be deleted or replaced as you’ve specified during the startup
Solution 4: Safe Mode with Command Prompt
Windows 7 has a special way to get to the Command Prompt without loading
most of the rest of the operating system, not to mention any applications or
services (or viruses) that can come along for the ride. This method is the one
to use when none of the others work.
See “What to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355 for details on
getting to the Safe Mode with Command Prompt, one of the options in the
Windows F8 menu. Once you’re there, use the del command (see Chapter 9) to delete the file.
When that’s done, close the Command Prompt window, or type exit and press
Enter to restart your PC and load Windows.
Copy In-Use Files
Windows doesn’t let you delete locked and in-use files, nor does it let you
even copy them in most cases. But what if you need to back up an in-use file
without closing it, or perhaps copy an in-use file before deleting it?
For that, you’ll need the free HoboCopy tool, available at http://sourceforge
.net/projects/wangdera/files/HoboCopy/. (There are native 32-bit and 64-bit
versions of HoboCopy, both intended for Vista, but they work fine on Windows 7.) You’ll also need to make sure the Shadow Copies service is enabled,
as described in Chapter 6.
HoboCopy is a command-line tool, so you’ll need to open a Command
Prompt window in administrator mode (see Chapter 8) to use it. Then, use
cd to change to the folder containing HoboCopy.exe (see Chapter 9).
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To make a copy of, say, c:\windows\system32\nastyspyware.exe and place it in
the c:\archive folder, you’d type:
hobocopy c:\windows\system32\ c:\archive\ nastyspyware.exe
Zip It Up
The late Phil Katz conceived of the Zip file format at his mother’s kitchen table
in 1986, and soon thereafter wrote a little program called PKZip. Although his
program, capable of encapsulating and compressing any number of ordinary
files and folders into a single archive file, was not the first of its type, it quickly
became a standard and ended up revolutionizing the transfer and storage of
computer data.
Zip files work somewhat like folders in that they “contain” files, so it’s not
surprising that they’re represented as folders in Windows Explorer. But a Zip
file is typically smaller than the sum of its contents, thanks to the Zip compression scheme. Of course, other standards, like RAR, offer much better
compression, but Windows 7 doesn’t support .rar files without a third-party
utility like WinRAR or 7-Zip.
For example, a folder with 10 spreadsheet documents might consume 8 MB
of disk space, but when zipped, might only consume 2 MB (or even less). The
level of compression varies with the type of data being compressed; zipped
text documents can be as small as 4 or 5% of the size of the original source
files, but since movies and images are already compressed, they’ll only compress to 95 to 98% of their original size, if that.
This compression makes Zip files great for sending over the
Internet, since smaller files can be sent faster. The Zip archive
format also has built-in error checking, so if you find that certain files are getting corrupted when you email them or send
them through a website, try zipping them up to “protect”
To open a Zip file, just double-click it. You can extract files from Zip archives
by dragging them out of the Zip folder window. You can also right-click a Zip
file and select Extract All, but you’ll have to deal with a more cumbersome
wizard interface.
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Note that the folder containing the file to copy comes first, followed by the
destination folder, and then finally the filename, each separated by spaces.
Create a new Zip file by right-clicking on an empty portion of the desktop or
any open folder, and selecting New and then Compressed (zipped) Folder.
(The name here is actually misleading, since Zip archives are actually files and
not folders.) Then, add files or folders to the Zip by simply dragging them onto
the icon or the open Zip window.
Another way to do this is to right-click a folder or a group of files, select Send
To, and then select Compressed (zipped) Folder. This is especially convenient, as there’s no wizard or other interface to get in the way: if you send the
CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet folder to a Zip file, Windows compresses the
folder’s contents into a new file, stored
alongside the source folder.
All of this is possible because Windows 7 supports the Zip format right out of
the box. (For years, this wasn’t the case because Katz reportedly despised
Windows, which may explain why Windows XP, released a year after his
death, was the first version of Windows to support Zip files without a thirdparty program.)
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to Windows Explorer’s built-in support
for Zip files. For example, it can interfere with searches, as described in “Fix
Windows Search” on page 111. It’s also inferior to third-party Zip tools like
ZipGenius, WinZip , and the aforementioned (and free) 7-Zip, all of which
add more features and, ironically, better integration with Explorer’s own context menus. But the biggest problem is that, by default, Windows Explorer
displays each Zip file like a folder, which can make a big mess if you have a
folder full of ’em.
Turn off Zip support
Unfortunately, there’s no way to get Windows Explorer to treat Zip files like
files without disabling the Zip feature altogether. But if you want to do it, here’s
1. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3), and expand the branches to
2. Highlight the {E88DCCE0-B7B3-11d1-A9F0-00AA0060FA31} key and from the
File menu, select Export to create a registry patch backup (also described
in Chapter 3).
3. Take ownership of the {E88DCCE0-B7B3-11d1-A9F0-00AA0060FA31} key, as
described in Chapter 3 and Chapter 8, and then delete the key entirely.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the {0CD7A5C0-9F37-11CE-AE65-08002B2E1262} key
as well.
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5. When you’re done, close Registry Editor and then restart Windows for
the change to take effect.
Once you’ve disabled Windows built-in Zip file support, you’ll need to install
a third-party Zip tool, discussed previously.
Customize Drive and Folder Icons
There may come a time when you get a little sick of the generic icons used for
drives and folders in Windows Explorer. Now, you’ve probably figured out
that you can create a shortcut to any drive or folder, choose a pretty icon, and
place it on the desktop or in another convenient location. Unfortunately, the
icon you choose is just for the shortcut; the target object always looks the same.
Here are some ways to give your folders and drives a more custom look.
Solution 1: Choose an icon for a drive
Using the functionality built into Windows’ CD auto-insert notification feature—functionality that allows Windows to determine the name and icon of
a CD as soon as it’s inserted in the reader (see “Fix Windows
Search” on page 111)—there’s a simple way to customize the icons of all your
drives, including flash drives and USB hard disks (but not mapped network
1. Open a plain-text editor, such as Notepad.
2. Type the following:
icon=filename, number
where filename is the name of the file containing the icon, and number is
the index of the icon to use (leave number blank or specify 0 [zero] to use
the first icon in the file, 1 for the second, and so on).
3. Save the file as Autorun.inf and place it in the root directory of the hard
disk, flash drive, or CD/DVD you wish to customize.
4. This change will take effect the next time you view it in Windows Explorer;
press the F5 key to refresh the display and read the new icons.
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Shell Tweaks
If you lose the registry patches, or neglect to create the backups in the first
place, you can download the win7zip.reg file at
exec/download/win7zip.reg and then double-click it to restore built-in Zip support back to Windows Explorer. Again, restart Windows for the change to
take effect.
Solution 2: Chose an icon for a folder
You can customize the icon for an individual folder with this procedure:
1. Open a plain-text editor, such as Notepad.
2. Type the following:
where filename is the name of the file containing the icon, and number is
the index of the icon to use; leave the IconIndex line out or specify 0 (zero)
to use the first icon in the file, 1 for the second, and so on. Note the dot
(.) in [.ShellClassInfo].
3. Save the file as desktop.ini and place it directly in the folder you wish to
If there’s already a file by that name, you can replace it with
your version, but it’s better to open the existing file and add
the [.ShellClassInfo] text to it.
4. Next, open a Command Prompt window (cmd.exe), and type the following at the prompt:
attrib +s foldername
where foldername is the full path of the folder containing the desktop.ini
file (i.e., C:\docs). This command turns on the System attribute for the
folder (not the desktop.ini file), something you can’t do in Explorer; see
Chapter 9 for details.
5. Close the Command Prompt window when you’re done. You’ll have to
close and reopen the Explorer or single-folder window to see the change
(pressing F5 usually won’t do it).
Solution 3: Choose the default icon for all folders
The more global and far-reaching a change is, the more likely it is to be difficult
or impossible to accomplish without some serious tinkering in the Registry.
For example, the icons used by some of the seemingly hardcoded objects in
Windows, such as the icons used for ordinary, generic folders, can be changed
with this quick hack:
1. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3).
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The default icon for folders is %SystemRoot%\Sys
tem32\shell32.dll,3, and the default for drives is %Sys
4. When you’re done, close the Registry Editor. You may have to log out and
then log back in for this change to take effect.
Fix Windows Search
I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed,
briefed, debriefed or numbered.
—Number Six
Think you have a hard time finding your keys in the morning? Try finding a
paper you wrote seven years ago, buried somewhere on your terabyte hard
disk amid thousands of music files, photos, and shortcuts to YouTube videos
of cats falling off furniture.
Vista introduced the new search feature to Windows users, but it was somewhat of a failure. Although miles ahead of the Search tool in XP and earlier
versions, it was very slow and its search results were unreliable and incomplete.
The Libraries feature improves search speed somewhat in Windows 7, but
searches outside the libraries are still hopelessly slow. I suppose we can’t expect
Google speeds—5,120,000 results in 0.39 seconds—but given that Windows
uses your PC’s idle time to keep an index of all your personal files, it shouldn’t
take a half a minute to search through a few thousand files.
But if speed were the only problem, there would be no problem. Try changing
the sort order during or after a search, and Windows clears your search results
and starts over. Switch to a different folder momentarily and then back to the
search results, and again, the search starts over.
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Shell Tweaks
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Folder\DefaultIcon (you can
also choose a generic drive icon by going to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Drive
3. Double-click the (Default) value in the right pane. This value contains the
full path and filename of the file containing the icon, followed by a comma,
and then a number specifying the index of the icon to use (0 being the first
icon, 1 being the second, and so on). The file you use can be an icon file
(.ico), a bitmap (.bmp), a .dll file, an application executable (.exe), or any
other file containing a valid icon.
Unfortunately, many of these problems aren’t solvable without replacing Windows Search altogether, but there’s quite a bit you can do to make it a much
better tool than the one that comes out of the box.
Open search in a new window
One of the biggest search tool annoyances in Windows 7 has actually been
around in one form or another since Windows Me/2000. Type text into the
Search box in Windows Explorer, and all the files you were looking at disappear. Click the Back button on the toolbar (or press the Backspace key), and
you lose your search results.
If you want to keep your current view, you need to open a separate window
and search from there. To start a search from the current folder in a new window, press Ctrl+N to open a new Explorer window and then Ctrl+F to jump
to the Search field. (Ctrl+NF is also a good way to get a Search window from
the Desktop.)
Perform an advanced search
In the early days of Internet search, Google was praised for its minimalistic
approach to search: just a single text field and a Search button was all you
were supposed to need. Since then, many companies, Microsoft and Apple
included, have been playing the me-too game.
Problem is, Google never provided enough search options, and now, neither
does Windows. (It wasn’t until late 2009 that Google added the ability to filter
searches by date and, to some degree, by type…although you still can’t sort
search results.) Instead, there’s a lone Search box at the top-right of every
Windows Explorer window: just type something to look for, and press
Enter to begin.
Often this is enough. Windows looks at your filenames and—for some file
types—inside the files for the text you typed. But to search for files with certain
dates, certain sizes, or in certain locations takes patience.
At first, your only option is to add a search filter to narrow results. Click the
awkwardly-named Kind: filter to tell Windows only to look in certain types
of files (e.g., music, photos, e-mail) or Type: to look for specific filename extensions (e.g., .txt, .avi, .xlsx). Of course, Date modified, Size, and Name are
more self-explanatory.
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But usually it’s a whole lot easier to type the following filters directly into the
Search field rather than use those fiddly controls, and with Boolean tools at
your disposal, more powerful as well.
To accomplish this:
Type this in the Search box:
Find files containing multiple terms in any order
bottomless peanut bag
Find files containing an exact phrase
“bottomless peanut bag”
Find files with at least one of the search terms
peanuts OR pecans OR pistachios
Exclude a search term
peanuts NOT filberts
Combine operators
(peanuts OR pistachios) AND (almonds OR hazelnuts) NOT
Look only in filenames, not file contents
name: shiny
Search by filename extension
Show all files in all subfolders
Find files newer than a certain date
modified: >01/12/1997
Find files in a date range
(modified: >09/20/2002) AND (modified: <12/20/2002)
Find files matching a general date
modified: 2007
Find files of a certain size
(size: >10 MB) AND (size: <20 MB)
Search metadata
author: “Hoban Washburne”
Search music by tag
kind: music artist: (“Carbon Leaf” OR “Nerf Herder”)
Note that Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT must
appear in uppercase. Also, as you can see, the AND operator
is more or less optional; it’s used here mostly for clarity.
Now, if you’ve come from Windows Vista, you’ve probably noticed the clumsy
Advanced search pane is gone. In its place is the aforementioned filter
controls and the elusive Choose Search Location window shown in Figure 2-20. Only after you’ve conducted a search can you scroll all the way to
the bottom of the search results and click the tiny, almost-hidden Custom
icon (also shown in Figure 2-20).
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The filters that appear depend on the template being used by
the current folder. In the Pictures library (or any folder using
the Pictures template), for instance, you’ll see the Date
taken filter. And in the Music library, you’ll see Album, Artists, and Genre. See the section “Choose Folder View Defaults” on page 56 for more on folder templates.
Figure 2-20. Only after you’ve begun a search can you click the Custom icon to open the
Choose Search Location window
Strictly speaking, the easiest way to choose a search location is to navigate to
that folder in Windows Explorer before you search. But the handy Choose
Search Location window is the only way to select multiple, disparate folders
and drives simply by placing checkmarks next to them; too bad you have to
initiate a search before you can get to it.
Find the location of a folder
So once you’ve completed a search, what do you do with the search results?
Clearly the primary intent is to help you find a document or three to open. You
can also drag items out of the search window to copy or move them elsewhere,
or right-click them to perform other tasks.
But what if you’re after a file’s location rather then its contents? In the default
Content view, each object’s full path is shown below the filename.
In the more-useful Details view, however, the backward
Folder column appears, in which the object’s parent folder is
separated from the rest of the path: c:\Windows\winsxs\Backup
becomes Backup (c:\Windows\winsxs). To show the complete
path, right-click any column header and select More. Turn off
the Folder column, turn on the Folder path column, and
click OK.
If, among the files in your search results is a folder, you might be tempted to
open it to jump to that folder. But wait, it’s a trap!
Double-click a folder named Olive in search results, and all you’ll see in the
address bar is Search Results→Olive. Click in the address bar to reveal the
actual path:
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First, return to the search results by clicking the Back button on the toolbar;
you’ll probably have to wait while Windows rebuilds your search since Windows never remembers search results once you jump to a different folder. (One
wonders why Explorer bothers to keep the Search Results context if it doesn’t
cache the results.)
Right-click the folder in the search results and select Open file location to
open the folder’s parent folder for real. As a bonus, if you hold the Shift key
while clicking Open file location, Windows Explorer opens a new window
so you don’t lose your search results. (Too bad this isn’t the default.) When
the parent folder appears, just press Enter to open the target folder, and you’re
Improve search performance
As you work, Windows indexes your files in the background. In theory, this
should happen only when the computer is idle, but in practice, it’s not unusual
to hear the hard disk thrashing while seeing SearchIndexer.exe consuming
more than a trivial percentage of processor cycles in Task Manager (covered
in Chapter 5).
If you need to complete a processor-intensive task as quickly
as possible, or if you just want better performance in a game,
you can temporarily stop the search indexer task without
disabling the search index altogether. Just open the Services
window (services.msc), find Windows Search in the list,
right-click and select Stop. It will start up again automatically
the next time you load Windows, or you can start it manually
by right-clicking the service again and selecting Start.
But if the search indexer is doing all that work, why aren’t searches any faster?
The problem is a matter of expectations. When you do a search with Google
or Microsoft’s own Bing service, you expect the results to be a little out of date;
it would be impractical for a web search engine to query 53 billion live websites
each time you do a search. But in Windows, the search tool needs to show the
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Shell Tweaks
Useless. Even if you’ve turned on the Automatically expand to current
folder option in Folder Options (described at the beginning of this chapter),
the original search folder (here, c:\Snook) remains highlighted in the folder tree
rather than the folder you just opened. So how do you get to the actual folder
on your hard disk?
Figure 2-21. The Search tab of the Folder Options window controls how the Search tool
uses the index
letter you saved 90 seconds ago alongside the college paper you wrote 18 years
ago. The college paper is undoubtedly already indexed, but Windows doesn’t
necessarily index new documents the instant you write them to the hard disk
(although it could and probably should).
Realistically, the best way to improve searches is to be selective about what
you index, and careful where you search. The more focused your search, the
quicker you’ll get your search results. And while it may be tempting to index
the whole hard disk—and necessary if you’re writing a computer book—your
search results will appear faster if you just index a few subfolders of your My
Documents folder.
Inexplicably, there are three separate windows in Control Panel where you can
customize the Windows Search tool. The first, shown in Figure 2-21, is the
Search tab of the Folder Options window in Control Panel: here, you can
choose whether or not to search the contents of files in non-indexed folders,
search subfolders, and search system files and folders.
But if you want to choose which folders Windows includes in the search index,
you’ll need to open the Indexing Options window in Control Panel, shown in
Figure 2-22. This window is simple enough; just include those folders you’re
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Shell Tweaks
Figure 2-22. The Indexing Options window controls which folders on your hard disks are
indexed, and the Advanced Options window controls how the index is built
likely to search, and exclude those you’re not. Note that you should exclude
folders with sensitive data, folders on removable drives, and folders in which
you absolutely, positively never want to see out-of-date search results.
On the Indexing Options window, click Advanced to open the Advanced
Options window, also shown in Figure 2-22. Here, you choose how the index
gets built: whether to include encrypted files, where the index files are stored,
and when you throw away the index and start over.
But the real fun is in the File Types tab. Place a checkmark next to files you
want to index, or clear the checkmark for files to leave out. Keep in mind that
unchecking a file type won’t stop those files from appearing in search results,
only from appearing quickly.
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Want to search inside your files too? Highlight a file type and
then click the Index Properties and File Contents option
below to index the contents of the file. Of course, you can
instruct Windows to always search file contents—whether the
files are indexed or not—with the What to search option in
the Folder Options window (Figure 2-21). But beware, searching inside files only works if Windows understands the file
type and a PersistentHandler is associated with that file type
in the registry, explained in Chapter 3. (You can also choose
whether a given file type is indexed with File Type Doctor,
also covered in Chapter 3.) In some cases, you can add search
support for new file types by installing a free search add-in
from, or for media
files, by installing an appropriate codec as described in Chapter 4. But for file types without a PersistentHandler, Windows
can’t search inside; worse yet, it won’t tell you when this is
the case.
Ultimately, the key to faster searches is to realize that you don’t have to wait
for a search to be complete—for the green ribbon of death to make its way
across the address bar—before you can start working with your search results.
Whether you include more or fewer file types and folders in your index affects
only what shows up quickly and what shows up eventually during each search.
In other words, a larger index is a little slower, but increases the odds that what
you’re looking for appears faster.
Not happy with the Windows Search tool? Check out Copernic Desktop
Search, Google Desktop Search, and Locate32, all free.
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The Registry
The Windows registry is a bit like high school detention: nobody wants to go,
but most of us end up there for one reason or another. And a few outcasts even
prefer it.
The registry essentially does two things for Windows: it’s a database of settings
for most of your applications and Windows itself, and it’s a repository of technical data for installed hardware devices and software components.
For instance, all of your file type associations—the links between your documents and the applications that created them—are built from registry data.
Your network settings, your hardware settings, each of your applications’ customizable toolbars, and even Windows’ own Control Panel settings are all
stored in the registry. The checkboxes you check or uncheck in most Options
windows are saved in the registry. And the various software building blocks
used by nearly every programs—including those that come with Windows—
are “registered” in your registry.
But why is the storage mechanism for all these settings the least bit important?
Because software is imperfect. Windows 7 only lets you make the most basic
of customizations to your file types; for more control, you’ve got to edit the
registry. Not all application settings can be changed in the applications themselves; some changes can only be made in the registry. When something goes
wrong with software or hardware, sometimes the only remedy is to fix a registry
key. And if you want to hack Windows beyond Microsoft’s intentions—
whether to improve performance, reduce clutter, or eliminate annoyances—
the registry is the key.
Indeed, much of what seems hardcoded in Windows 7 is actually governed by
data in the registry: delete a certain key, and an icon disappears from the
Computer folder. Change a certain 0 to a 1, and you disable a user’s ability to
shut down Windows. Sometimes this is precisely what you’re after, but as you
can imagine, it’s also potentially a recipe for disaster, which brings us to the
obligatory warning. You can irreversibly disable certain components of Windows 7—or even prevent Windows from loading altogether—by changing
certain settings in the registry. Sure, most modern software is designed to repair
broken settings, but you can bet that very few software developers have taken
the time to anticipate all the stupid things you’ll undoubtedly do to your PC.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you cower in the corner, but rather that you
employ some of the safeguards described on these pages—such as backing
up—before you start hacking the registry to bits. Even taking a few moments
to create a registry patch (explained later in this chapter) before you change a
setting can save you hours of work later on.
The Registry Editor
Most of the changes to the registry are performed behind the scenes by the
applications that you run, as well as by Windows; settings and other information are read from and written to the registry constantly. But the primary
means of editing registry keys and values directly is the Registry Editor (open
the Start menu, type regedit, and then press Enter), included with all editions
of Windows 7.
Although the registry is stored in multiple files on your hard disk, it is represented by a single logical hierarchical structure, similar to the folders on your
hard disk. When you open the Registry Editor, you’ll see a window divided
into two panes (as shown in Figure 3-1). The left side shows a tree with folders,
and the right side shows the contents of the currently selected folder. Now,
these aren’t really folders—this is just a convenient and familiar method of
organizing and displaying the information stored in your registry.
Figure 3-1. The Registry Editor lets you view and change the contents of the registry
120 | Chapter 3: The Registry
Each folder-like object is called a key. Each key can contain other keys, as well
as values. Values contain the actual information stored in the registry, while
keys are used only to organize the values. Keys are shown only in the left pane
and values are shown only in the right pane (unlike Windows Explorer, where
folders are shown in both panes).
To display the contents of a key (folder), just click the key name on the left,
and the values contained therein are listed in alphabetical order on the right
side. To expand a certain branch to show its subkeys, click the tiny arrow to
the left of any key or double-click the key name.
points to the location of the Windows key, which you navigate to by expanding
the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch, then Software, then Microsoft, and then finally
clicking Windows to show its contents on the right.
If you find yourself returning to the same registry location over
and over, use the Favorites menu to bookmark the item. You
can also start a second instance of Registry Editor to view two
different registry locations simultaneously by typing
regedit /m in the Start menu Search box and pressing Enter.
Once the key is open, you can modify the contents of a value by double-clicking
it. See “The Meat of the Registry: Values” on page 125 for the skinny on editing
different types of values.
You can also rename any key or value just like you’d rename a file in Windows
Explorer: click twice slowly, right-click and select Rename, or highlight and
press F2. Likewise, you can delete a key or value by highlighting it and pressing
the Del key or by right-clicking it and selecting Delete. (Note that deleting a
key will also delete all the values and subkeys it contains.)
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The Registry
Editing the registry generally involves navigating down through branches to a
particular key and then modifying an existing value or creating a new key or
value. For instance, this registry path:
You can’t drag-drop values or keys here as you can with files
or folders in Windows Explorer. Of course, there’s very little
reason to move a key or value from one place to another in the
registry, as the settings are totally location-dependent. (A
value in one key will almost always have a different meaning
than the same value in a different key.) Thus, renaming or
moving a key is often tantamount to deleting it.
There are times, however, when you’ll want to duplicate a key
and all its contents (such as a file type key), which is something
you can do with registry patches, described later in this
To add a new key or value, select New from the Edit menu, select what type
of object you want to add (Figure 3-2), type a name, and press Enter.
Figure 3-2. Select New from the Edit menu to add a new key or value to any part of the
You can create a value (or key) almost anywhere in the registry
and by any name and type that suits your whim. However,
unless Windows or an application is specifically designed to
look for the value, it will be ignored, and your addition will
have absolutely no effect.
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So far, the Registry Editor should seem pretty straightforward. But you’ll find
that the trick isn’t so much how to change something in the registry as what
to change, and that’s what the rest of this chapter is about.
The Structure of the Registry
There are five primary, or “root,” branches, each containing a specific portion
of the information stored in the registry. These root keys can’t be deleted,
renamed, or moved, because they are the basis for the organization of the
registry. They are:
This branch contains the information that comprises your file type associations and the registered software components (called classes) used by
Windows and many of your applications.
This entire branch is a symbolic link, or “mirror,” of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
\SOFTWARE\Classes, but is displayed separately here for convenience and,
of course, to confuse you.
A symbolic link is different from a Windows shortcut
you’d find on your hard disk. Information in a linked
branch appears twice and can be accessed at two different
locations, even though it’s stored only once. This means
that the Find tool may stop in both places if they contain
something you’re looking for and, as you might expect,
changes in one place will be immediately reflected in the
mirrored location.
This branch simply points to a portion of the HKEY_USERS root key (later in
this section) representing the currently logged-in user. This way, any application can read and write settings for the current user without having
to know which user is currently logged in.
The Structure of the Registry | 123
The Registry
One way to locate settings is to use the Registry Editor’s Search feature
(Edit→Find or press Ctrl-F), but it won’t take you long to realize that this tool
pretty much sucks. See “Search the Registry” on page 132 for search tips, as
well as better search tools you can use. There’s also “Locate the Registry Key
For a Setting” on page 137, which is useful if you don’t know what to search
for. But since the stuff in the registry is largely location-dependent, you’ll need
to be acquainted with the structure of the registry before you know where to
go to make a specific change.
In each user’s branch are the settings for that user, such as Control Panel
settings and Explorer preferences. Most applications store user-specific
information here as well, such as toolbars, high scores for games, and other
personal settings.
The settings for the current user are divided into several categories, such
as AppEvents, Control Panel, Identities, Software, and System. The most
useful of these branches, Software, contains a branch for almost every
application installed on your computer, arranged by manufacturer. Here
and in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE (discussed later) can be found all of
your application settings. As though Windows was just another application on your system, you’ll find most user-specific Windows settings in
This branch contains information about all of the hardware and software
installed on your computer that isn’t specific to the currently logged-in
user. The settings in this branch are the same for all users on your system.
Just like HKEY_CURRENT_USER, the sub-branch of most interest here is the
SOFTWARE branch, which contains all of the information specific to the applications installed on your computer. Those settings that are specific to
each user (even if your computer has only one user), such as toolbar configurations, are stored in the aforementioned HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch;
those settings that are not user-dependent, such as installation folders and
lists of installed components, are stored in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branch.
You’ll want to look in both places if you’re trying to find a particular
application setting, because most manufacturers (even Microsoft) aren’t
especially careful about which branch is used for any given setting.
This branch contains a sub-branch for the currently logged-in user, the
name of which is a long string of numbers that looks something like this:
This number is the SID (security identifier), a unique ID for each user on
your system (yours will be different than this one), and is explored in
Chapter 8.
While it may sound like a good idea to edit the contents of this branch,
you should instead use the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch described earlier,
which is a symbolic link (mirror) of this branch:
No matter which user is logged in, HKEY_CURRENT_USER will point to the
appropriate portion of HKEY_USERS.
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Because Windows only loads the profile (this portion of
the registry) of the currently logged-in user, only one user
branch will ever be shown here. However, there will be
a few other branches here, such as .default (used when
nobody is logged in), and a few other branches that are
of little interest to most users.
In short, everything you’ll want to do with the registry can be done in either
The Meat of the Registry: Values
Values are where registry data is actually stored while keys are simply used to
organize values. The registry uses several types of values—eight in all—each
appropriate to the type of data it is meant to hold. Each type is known by at
least two different names, the common name and the symbolic name (shown
in parentheses in Table 3-1).
Table 3-1. Value types visible in the Registry Editor
Value type
Icon used in
Can be created in
String (REG_SZ)
Multi-String/string array (REG_MULTI_SZ)
Expandable string (REG_EXPAND_SZ)
Although the Registry Editor allows you to view and edit all eight types of
values, it is only capable of creating the six most common (and not surprisingly,
most useful) types. In practice, you’ll mostly only create string, binary, and
DWORD values.
The Structure of the Registry | 125
The Registry
This branch typically contains a small amount of information, most of
which is simply symbolic links (mirrors) of other keys in the registry.
There’s usually little reason to mess with this branch.
String values
String values contain strings of characters, more commonly known as plain
text. Most values of interest to you will end up being string values; they’re
the easiest to edit and are usually in plain English. To edit a string value,
just double-click, type a string of text into the text field (Figure 3-3), and
click OK when you’re done.
In addition to standard strings, there are two far less common string variants, used for special purposes:
• Multi-String/string array values contain several strings, concatenated
(glued) together and separated by null characters. Although the Registry Editor lets you create multistring values, it’s impossible to type null
characters (character #0 in the ASCII character set) from the keyboard.
The only way to place a null character into a registry value is either
through a programming environment (see Chapter 9) or via cut-andpaste from another application.
• Expandable string values contain special variables, into which Windows substitutes information before delivering to the owning
application. For example, an expandable string value intended to point
to a sound file may contain %SystemRoot%\Media\doh.wav. When Windows reads this value from the registry, it substitutes the full Windows
path for the variable, %SystemRoot%; the resulting data then becomes
(depending on where Windows is installed) c:\Windows\Media
\doh.wav. This way, the value data is correct regardless of the location
of the Windows folder.
Figure 3-3. Edit a string value by typing text into this box
If you were to type data intended for an expandable string
value into an ordinary string value, the variables wouldn’t
necessarily be expanded when read by an application. Make
sure you select the Multi-String value type when adding values
with localized variables (common in file type keys).
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The Registry
Figure 3-4. Binary values are entered differently from the common string values, but the
contents are sometimes nearly as readable
Binary values
Similar to string values, binary values hold strings of characters. The difference is the way the data is viewed and edited. Instead of a standard text
box, binary data is entered with hexadecimal codes in an interface commonly known as a hex editor. Double-click any binary value to use Registry
Editor’s standard binary editor, shown in Figure 3-4.
The purpose of binary values is to hold data that can’t be easily represented
by ordinary string values. As such, binary values are much less likely to
contain readable text (despite the example value in Figure 3-4), but rather
some form of raw data. Of course, the format and purpose of the data in
any given binary value depends entirely on the application that created it.
Each individual character is specified by a two-digit number in base-16,
also known as hexadecimal (e.g., 6E is 110 in good-ol’ base 10), which
allows you to enter characters not available on the keyboard. You can type
hex codes on the left side or normal ASCII characters on the right, depending on where you click with the mouse.
Registry Editor also offers an alternative binary viewer (Figure 3-5); just
select any value (binary or otherwise) and from the View menu, select View
Binary Data. Pity you can’t use this window to edit values, as it’s wider
than the standard binary value edit window and provides four different
viewing formats. It’s best-suited to investigate nonprintable characters
found in non-binary values.
The Structure of the Registry | 127
Figure 3-5. View any value in binary mode using the Binary Data window, useful only to
programmers and the geekiest of geeks
DWORD values
Essentially, a DWORD is a number. Often, the contents of a DWORD
value are easy to understand, such as 0 for no and 1 for yes, or 161 for the
number of seconds it took you to solve your best game of Sudoku. A
DWORD value is used where only numerical digits are allowed, whereas
a string or binary value can contain anything.
In the DWORD value editor (Figure 3-6), you can change the base of the
number displayed (think back to your grade-school math). For instance,
the number 64 in hexadecimal (also known as base 16) is equal to 100 in
decimal (base 10).
Type the number in the wrong base, and you’ll unwittingly be entering the wrong value, although the Base
option doesn’t matter for any value of 0 to 9.
In most cases, you’ll want to select Decimal (even though Microsoft didn’t
bother to make it the default), since decimal notation is what most humans
use for ordinary counting numbers. Note that if there’s already a number
in the Value data field, switching the Base converts the number in real
time, which incidentally is a good way to illustrate the difference between
the two settings. (You can also use the Windows Calculator, calc.exe, to
do hex-to-decimal conversions.)
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Windows also supports the QWORD value, which is nothing more than
a DWORD with a larger storage capacity. See the upcoming sidebar
“When Is a Number Not Just a Number?” for details.
The application that creates each value in the registry solely determines the
particular type and purpose of the value. In other words, no strict rules limit
which types are used in which circumstances or how values are named. A
programmer may choose to store, say, the high scores for some game in a binary
value called High Scores or in a string value called Lard Lad Donuts. All you
have to do in your role as registry hacker is provide the values in the format
expected by a given application.
An important thing to notice at this point is the string value named
(default) that appears at the top of every key, which is a holdover from early
versions of Windows where each key only had a single value. The (default)
value cannot be removed or renamed, although its contents can be changed;
an empty default value is signified by value not set. The (default) value
doesn’t necessarily have any special meaning that would differentiate it from
any other value, apart from what might have been assigned by the programmer
of the particular application that uses the key.
The Structure of the Registry | 129
The Registry
Figure 3-6. DWORD values are just numbers, but they can be represented in decimal or
hexadecimal notation
When Is a Number Not Just a Number?
Sometimes the number stored in a DWORD value is actually made up of
several components, all glued together with the binary arithmetic we were
supposed to have learned in the seventh grade.
The term “DWORD” is an abbreviation for “Double Word,” which means
that it can store two 16-bit values (known as words in geekspeak). A 16-bit
value is basically a whole number (integer) that can be stored in 16 bits, which
means it can be no larger than 216, or 65,536. So, a DWORD value can be
used to store two of these, or one 32-bit number (up to 232, or 4,294,967,296),
or even thirty-two 1-bit binary numbers (each of which can be 1 or 0).
Windows 7 also supports the 64-bit QWORD value, which is available even
if you’re using the 32-bit edition. A 64-bit QWORD—a Quadruple Word,
equivalent to two DWORDs—can hold sixty-four 1-bit values, four 16-bit
values, two 32-bit values, or one 64-bit value (which can be up to 264, or
So, the question that’s probably on your mind is, “Huh? How can this knowledge possibly help me with my love life?”
The answer is that it can’t. In fact, it’ll probably just make things worse. But
it’ll be invaluable when you come across a DWORD value that’s made up of
a bunch of smaller components. For instance, say you flip a switch in some
application and you witness a DWORD value change from 16 to 8. What
you’ve uncovered is that the aforementioned switch is stored as the fourth bit
(the first being 1, the second being 2, and the third being 4) in this value. (If
you’re confused, look up “Binary numeral system” in Wikipedia for help with
the concept.)
To make things more complicated, there’s also the BIGENDIAN variant of
the DWORD value (REG_DWORD_BIGENDIAN). This is basically the
same as an ordinary 32-bit DWORD, except that the two 16-bit words are
stored in the opposite order (the larger one coming first). These are rare, but
you might run into trouble if you replace one with an ordinary DWORD value.
The Registry on 64-bit Windows
Windows x64 isn’t a purely 64-bit operating system; like Vista x64 and XP
x64, it’s a transitional operating system that—while 64-bit at its core—also
includes a 32-bit WOW (Windows-on-Windows) layer that runs your 32-bit
applications. (See Chapter 1 for more on 64-bit Windows.)
Problem is, 64-bit applications and software components don’t easily mingle
with 32-bit ones, which means you’ve got to have two registries to keep these
130 | Chapter 3: The Registry
bits isolated from one another. Now since it would be impractical to have two
completely separate registries, only certain keys and branches are kept separate, while others are shared.
For instance, file type associations (covered later in this chapter) are shared
between the two layers,* so you can associate your .txt documents with your
favorite plain text editor just once, and it’ll work whether you double-click
readme.txt with the 32-bit edition of Windows Explorer or the 64-bit version.
This separation of registered software classes is why you need
to fire up the 32-bit version of Windows Explorer if you want
to use 32-bit context menu add-ons, or install only native 64bit context menu add-ons if you want to use the 64-bit version
of Windows Explorer exclusively.
The upshot is that most of the time this partially bifurcated design doesn’t
matter. Each of your 32-bit applications sees only the registry keys it’s supposed to, and for the most part, your 64-bit applications see only the 64-bit
When it does matter are those circumstances where this duality of the registry
gets in the way of day-to-day hacking and annoyances removal.
In places where there are two disparate registry branches, Registry Editor includes a special branch named Wow6432Node so you can access 32-bit entries
from the same window as the 64-bit ones. There are three such “nodes” by
default in Windows 7:
* This works much better than the system in Vista and earlier versions, where there were two sets
of file types that were reflected (synchronized). The biggest problem was that this reflection was
incomplete and unreliable; registry permissions, for instance, were not reflected, which led to
chaos and mass hysteria.
\Wow6432Node\Classes and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes\Wow6432Node. See “The
Structure of the Registry” on page 123 for more on symbolic links.
The Structure of the Registry | 131
The Registry
But at the same time, a 64-bit program can’t link with a 32-bit DLL without
some clumsy magic. So the portion of the registry that manages shared DLLs
and other components is different for each Windows layer. This way, for instance, the 64-bit editions of Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are
never exposed to 32-bit extensions (DLLs) you’ve installed, and vice versa.
So let’s say you wanted to change a registry setting for Adobe Photoshop. For
the 64-bit edition of Photoshop, you’d navigate to:
or for the 32-bit edition, you’d go to:
Since 32-bit and 64-bit classes (software components) aren’t cross-compatible,
64-bit classes are registered here:
while 32-bit classes can be found here:
Alternatively, you can use the 32-bit version of Registry Editor (%systemroot
%\syswow64\regedit.exe), although there’s not much to be gained by doing so.
Include the -m command-line parameter when launching regedit.exe to open
the 32-bit and 64-bit versions side-by-side.
Registry Tasks and Tools
So, that’s it for registry basics. The real fun begins with the various registry
tools you can use, and what you can do with them.
Search the Registry
The Registry Editor has a simple (to a fault) Search feature, allowing you to
search through all the keys and values for text. Just select Find from the Registry Editor’s Edit menu, type the desired text (Figure 3-7), and click Find
Figure 3-7. Use Registry Editor’s Search feature to find text in key names, value names, and
value data
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The Registry Editor’s Search feature is pretty terrible. For one, it’s hopelessly
slow, and doesn’t show a history of past searches. But its biggest drawback is
that it only shows one match at a time; you have to click Find Next repeatedly
to cycle through all the search results, one by one. And if you accidentally
double-click Find Next, there’s no going back. Finally, there’s no search-andreplace feature, but more on that later.
Press Ctrl-F or select Edit→Find to begin a search at the selected key. (Scroll
to the top and select Computer beforehand to search the entire registry.)
The Registry Editor stops once it finds the first match to your
search term; just press F3 to continue searching for the next
match. If you want to show all the matches at once, use registry
Agent, introduced in the next section.
You may need to employ some tricks to find certain types of things in the
registry, such as:
Context menu items
Context menu items are usually stored in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT branch
(see “File Type Associations” on page 166). When searching for any menu
items, keep in mind that most of them have underlined characters to signify keyboard shortcuts, even though, ironically, Windows 7 doesn’t display them by default. For instance, the Datasheet action associated with
Access Form Shortcuts in Microsoft Office 2007 is actually stored as
Data&sheet in the registry. This allows it to be displayed as Datasheet if
you manage to open the menu with the keyboard (an increasingly difficult
task in Windows 7). The & character in Data&sheet instructs Windows to
underline the character that follows it (the s in this case), and since it’s
present in the registry value, you’ll need to include the & character in your
searches; if you don’t, the Search tool won’t find it.
Text searches are not case-sensitive, so you don’t have to
worry about capitalization when typing your search terms.
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The Registry
In the Find window, make sure that all three options in the Look at section
are checked, unless you know specifically that what you’re looking for is solely
a Key, a Value (value name), or Data (value contents). You’ll also usually
want the Match whole string only option turned off, unless you’re searching
for text that commonly appears in other words; searching for handle might
otherwise trigger entries like PersistentHandler and TeachAndLearn.
File and folder names
Despite the fact that long filenames (those longer than the archaic 8-dot-3
standard left over from the early days of DOS) had been in wide use on
the PC platform for well over a decade before Windows 7 was released,
short filenames still have a role in modern Windows computing, particularly in the registry. Specifically, a folder path like C:\Program Files may
be occasionally represented in its short 8.3 form: C:\PROGRA~1. (See
“Advanced NTFS Settings” on page 320 for more information on short
filename generation.)
Why, even Microsoft still uses short filenames; a fresh installation of Office
2007 places a reference in the registry to C:\PROGRA~1\MICROS~2\Office12\1033\ACCESS12.ACC.
Unfortunately, this means you need to search for both the long and short
versions of a file or folder name if you want to find them all. For example,
say you want to move your Program Files folder from one drive to another.
When you install Windows, any settings pertaining to this folder may be
stored in the registry as C:\Program Files or C:\Progra~1. Make sure you
search for both.
Now, when searching the registry for both Program
Files and Progra~1, it may occur to you to just search for
progra, which will indeed catch both variations. Because
this will stumble upon other instances of the word
program, try limiting the results by placing a backslash
(\) in front of the text (e.g., \progra) to limit the search
to only directory names beginning with those letters.
DLLs, classes, components, extensions, and CLSIDs
Windows and all your applications are constructed from smaller building
blocks, sometimes referred to as classes, extensions, or objects. I’ll spare
you a tirade on COM components, .NET architecture, and a bunch of
other developer jargon (sorry). Suffice it to say, the majority of these
building blocks are registered in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID branch of
your registry, and are identified by a 32-digit (16-bit hex) code called a
Class ID, or CLSID. CLSIDs are formatted like this:
Why is this important? It means that you can track down where a class is
referenced (in other words, where in Windows it’s used) as well as where
it’s registered, all by searching the registry for the CLSID.
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For instance, configuration data for the aforementioned class is located in:
If a component isn’t working, odds are you can fix the problem, or at least
help diagnose it, by fussing with the values in this key. Or, delete the key
altogether to effectively unregister the class with Windows. For instance,
to turn off Windows’ support for “compressed folders” (ZIP files appearing as folders in Windows Explorer), you need to delete two such CLSID
branches, as described in Chapter 2.
Register and Unregister Components
Windows comes with a utility, regsvr32.exe, that you can use to register or
unregister DLL files manually. For instance, you can repair a CLSID branch
for a specific component by opening a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapter 8) and typing:
regsvr32 "c:\program files\my app\some file.dll"
and pressing Enter. Or, to remove all the entries used by a DLL, type:
regsvr32 /u "c:\program files\my app\some file.dll"
and press Enter.
Find yourself doing this often? Set up two new context-menu actions—one
to register and another to unregister—for your .dll, .ax, and .ocx file types.
See “File Type Associations” on page 166 for instructions.
See the section “Get Videos to Play” on page 195 for an example of
regsvr32.exe in action.
If a CLSID is found elsewhere (even within another key under
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID), it means that the program that owns the key is using the component. Delete the reference, and you break the link without disrupting the core component. See Chapters 6 and 8 for some examples.
Registry Tasks and Tools | 135
The Registry
Using 64-bit Windows? 64-bit classes are stored in a different location from 32-bit classes; see “The Registry on
64-bit Windows” on page 130 for details.
Search and Replace Registry Data
The Registry Editor has no search-and-replace feature, seemingly with good
reason: a single poorly chosen replace operation could make Windows inoperable. But there are times when you do need to replace all occurrences of, say,
a folder name like C:\Program Files\My Program with another folder name like
D:\My Folder. Depending on the number of occurrences, such an operation
could take hours.
registry Agent (part of Creative Element Power Tools, available at http://www not only gives you a better way to search the
registry (search results are shown in a list, instead of one at a time), but supports search-and-replace operations as well. Here’s how to move an application from one drive to another without having to reinstall it:
1. Open Creative Element Power Tools Control Panel, and click the Start
Registry Agent now link.
2. Type text to search (e.g., c:\program files\acme), and click Find Now.
Note that in order to search for text containing a backslash, you’ll need
to turn off the Keys option, since registry key names cannot contain
3. The results are shown in a list (Figure 3-8) with three columns. The left
column shows the location (key) where the text was found; you can click
it to open the Registry Editor at that location. The middle and righthand
columns show the value name and contents, respectively.
4. Choose the Replace tab.
Replacing a common word like Microsoft in your registry is a
really bad idea. Don’t try it at home. I mean it. Ordinary
searching with registry Agent is harmless, but the Replace
feature can be as dangerous as it is handy if you’re not careful.
5. Place a checkmark next to the found items you wish to replace. Use the
checkmark at the top of the list to check or uncheck all of them.
6. Type the new text—which will replace the old text in each selected item
in the search results—in the With field (e.g., d:\new acme).
You don’t have to replace the same text you used to conduct
the search. For instance, you can search for c:\program files
\acme, and then do a search-and-replace within these
results for anything you like, such as acme by itself, or even
136 | Chapter 3: The Registry
The Registry
Figure 3-8. Use registry Agent for a faster registry search, as well as for search-and-replace
7. Choose which types of text you’d like to replace by checking or unchecking the Keys, Values, and Data options. Note that the Keys checkbox is
grayed-out (disabled) by default for safety reasons; click Help for instructions to lift this restriction.
The Replace tool has no “undo” feature, which means that if
you screw up something here, the only way to recover is to
restore your registry from a backup. Want a shortcut? Use the
Export tab to create a registry patch (described later in this
chapter) containing the selected values, which can be used as
a quick and dirty backup.
8. Click the Replace button to perform the search and replace.
Even if you don’t use the search-and-replace feature, registry Agent is a pretty
slick searching tool, as it overcomes the annoying hunt-and-peck approach of
the Registry Editor’s Search feature and ends up being much faster, too.
Locate the Registry Key For a Setting
So now you know how to change an item in the registry, but how do you find
which item to change?
Sometimes it’s obvious. Say you want to reduce the time it takes to load your
favorite application, and it occurs to you that perhaps you could disable the
program’s splash screen (the friendly logo you stare at while the program loads,
Registry Tasks and Tools | 137
which takes time to load itself). Sure enough, there’s a value called Show
SplashScreen in the application’s registry key in HKEY_Current_User\Software.
Set it to 1 (one) to turn it on, or 0 (zero) to turn it off.
Zero and one, with regard to registry settings, typically mean
false and true (or off and on), respectively. However, sometimes the value name negates this—if the value in the example
were instead called DontShowSplashScreen, then a 1 (one)
would most likely turn off the feature.
Other times it’s not so easy. You might see a long, seemingly meaningless series
of numbers and letters, or perhaps nothing recognizable at all. Although there
are no strict rules as to how values and keys are named or how the data therein
is arranged, there’s a trick you can use to uncover how a particular setting—
any setting—is stored in the registry.
What’s the point? Once you find the registry value(s) responsible for a particular setting, you can:
Find hidden settings
Not all application settings have tidy little checkboxes in a Preferences
dialog window; some things can only be changed in the registry. By finding
out where an application saves its settings, you can uncover others nearby
and even learn how they work.
Reproduce settings
By finding the registry keys and values responsible for one or more settings,
you can consolidate them into a registry patch file (described later in this
chapter), and then apply them to any number of other PCs. This is particularly useful for network administrators and software developers.
Enter values not permitted by the software
For instance, say you’ve configured a virus scanner to scan your system
once a week. You’d rather have it perform a scan every 10 days, but the
program lets you choose only a multiple of 7. If you find the registry value
responsible, you may be able to enter any arbitrary number.
Fix bugs in software
If an application won’t save a particular setting properly in the registry,
you can fix it by hand if you know where it’s stored.
Prevent changes to certain settings
Some programs—including Windows 7 itself—have a habit of “forgetting” certain settings, reverting them to their default values for no apparent
reason. Once you know where the setting is stored, you can change the
138 | Chapter 3: The Registry
permissions (more on that later) to prevent further changes without your
The idea is to take “snapshots” of your entire registry before and after you
make a change in Windows. By comparing the two snapshots, you can easily
see which registry keys and values were affected. Here’s how you do it:
Although the registry has five main branches, the others are
simply “mirrors,” or symbolic links of portions of HKEY_CUR
RENT_USER and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. See “The Structure of the
Registry” on page 123 for details.
5. Now make the change you want to track.
For instance, say you want to find the value responsible for showing hidden files in Windows Explorer. In this case, you’d go to Control
Panel→Folder Options, choose the View tab, and in the Advanced Settings list, turn on the Show hidden file, folders, and drives option.
Click OK when you’re done.
6. Immediately—and before doing anything else—switch back to the
Registry Editor, and re-export the HKEY_CURRENT_USER and
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branches into new files named User2.reg and
Machine2.reg, respectively, as described earlier in steps 2 and 3.
What you now have is a snapshot of the entire registry taken before and
after the change was made. It’s important that the snapshots be taken
immediately before and after the change, so that other trivial settings, such
as changes in window positions, aren’t included with the changes you care
7. All that needs to be done now is to distill the changed information into a
useful format. Windows comes with the command-line utility File Compare (fc.exe), which quite handily highlights the differences between the
before and after files.
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The Registry
1. Close all applications except the one you wish to examine. Any unnecessary running applications—including those in the system tray/notification
area—could write to the registry at any time, adding unexpected changes.
2. Open the Registry Editor and select the HKEY_CURRENT_USER root branch.
3. Select Export from the registry menu. Type User1.reg for the filename,
select your desktop or another convenient location to put the file, and click
Save to export the entire branch to the file.
4. Next, select the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branch and repeat step 3, exporting
it instead to Machine1.reg.
There are several Windows-based third-party alternatives that are easier to use or offer more features than
fc.exe, such as UltraEdit (available at http://www.ultrae; even Microsoft Word can do text comparisons
(although you’ll need to remember to save the results as
plain text).
Open a Command Prompt window (type cmd in the Start menu Search
box and press Enter), and then at the Command Prompt, use the cd
command (Chapter 9) to change to the directory containing the registry
patches. For instance, if you saved them to your desktop, type:
cd %userprofile%\desktop
8. To perform the comparison, type the following two lines:
fc /u user1.reg user2.reg > user.txt
fc /u machine1.reg machine2.reg > machine.txt
At this point, the File Compare utility scans the two pairs of files and spits
out only the differences between them. The > character redirects the output, which normally would be displayed right in the Command Prompt
window, into new text files: user.txt for the changes in HKEY_CUR
RENT_USER and machine.txt for the changes in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE.
9. Examine the results. The user.txt file should look something like this:
Comparing files user1.reg and USER2.REG
***** user1.reg
***** USER2.REG
From this example listing, you can see that the only applicable change was
the Hidden value, located deep in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch. (There
may be some other entries, but if you inspect them, you’ll find that they
relate only to MRU lists from RegEdit and can be ignored.)
140 | Chapter 3: The Registry
MRU stands for Most Recently Used. Windows stores the
most recent filenames typed into file dialog boxes; from
this example, you’ll notice several references to the filenames you used to save the registry snapshots.
In this case, the value that changed was located in
\CurrentVersion\. If you take a peek in that key, you’ll
find that it contains other settings, some of which aren’t
included in the Folder Options dialog box. Experiment
with some of the more interesting-sounding values, such
as CascadePrinters and ShowSuperHidden. Or, search the
Web for the value names to see what others have discovered about them.
If you don’t see the line in square brackets, you’ll have to do a little more
reconnaissance. To find out where the value is located, open one of the
source files (User1.reg, User2.reg, Machine1.reg, or Machine2.reg) and use
your text editor’s Search tool to find the line highlighted in step 9. For this
example, you’d search User2.reg for "Hidden"=dword:00000002 and then
make note of the line enclosed in square brackets ([...]) most immediately above the changed line. This represents the key containing the
Hidden value.
Sometimes, changing a setting results in a registry value
(or key) being created or deleted, which could mean an
entire section may be present in only one of the two
snapshots. Depending on the change, you may have to
do a little digging, or perhaps try the document comparison feature in your favorite word processor for an easierto-use comparison summary.
Registry Tasks and Tools | 141
The Registry
Note that for the particular setting explained in step 5, no changes were
recorded in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branch, so machine.txt ends up with
only the message, "FC: No differences encountered". This means that the
changes were made only to keys in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch.
10. The lines immediately preceding and following the line that changed are
also included by FC as an aid in locating the lines in the source files. As
luck would have it, one of the surrounding lines in this example happens
to be the section header (in brackets), which specifies the full path of the
registry key in which the value is located.
11. This last step is optional. If you want to create a registry patch that activates the registry change, you can either convert FC’s output to the correct
format (described here), or return to Registry Editor and export the appropriate key, as described in “Export and Import Data with Registry
Patches” on page 149.
Because the FC output is originally derived from registry patches, it’s already close to the correct format. Start by removing all of the lines from
user.txt, except the second version of the changed line—this would be the
value in its after setting, which presumably is the goal. You’ll end up with
something like this:
Next, paste in the key (in brackets) immediately above the value. (In the
case of our example, it was part of the FC output and can simply be left
in.) You should end up with text that looks like this:
Finally, add the text Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 followed by
a blank line at the beginning of the file, like this:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
When you’re done, save this as a new file with the .reg filename extension
(e.g., My Neato Setting.reg).
If the settings you’ve changed also resulted in changes in the
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branch, simply repeat this step for the
machine.txt file as well. You can then consolidate both files
into one, making sure you have only one instance of the Win
dows Registry Editor Version 5.00 line.
For some settings (such as the one in this example), you may want to make
two patches: one to turn it on, and one to turn it off. Simply double-click the
patch corresponding to the setting you desire.
142 | Chapter 3: The Registry
There are some caveats to this approach, mostly in that the File Compare utility
will often pull out more differences than are relevant to the change you wish
to make. It’s important to look closely at each key in the resulting registry patch
to see whether it’s really applicable and necessary.
See Chapter 9 for a way to use Windows Script Host to automate changes to
the registry without using registry patches.
Create an Interface for a Registry Setting
Why would you want to do this? Perhaps there’s a registry setting you change
frequently, or maybe you administer a building full of PCs and there’s a feature
you want to expose to your users without having them mess around with the
registry themselves. (Or, conversely, perhaps there’s a setting you’d like to hide
from your users.)
Start by going to Control Panel→Folder Options→View tab. At first glance,
the Advanced settings list in this dialog box is presented in a somewhat
awkward format, apparently to accommodate the large number of options.
However, the less-than-ideal presentation is actually designed to allow customization, permitting Microsoft (or you) to easily add or remove items from
the list. See Figure 3-9 for an example of a customized version of this window.
You’ve probably guessed that Microsoft didn’t make this list of options customizable just so you can mess with it. Rather, it was designed to accommodate
different settings for different editions of Windows (the actual options present
on your PC, for instance, depend on your edition of 7). But that doesn’t mean
you can’t change it around to suit your needs.
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The Registry
The whole point of messing around in the registry is to view and modify settings that are otherwise inaccessible in Explorer, Control Panel, or the hundreds of dialog boxes scattered throughout the operating system. However,
there is a way to patch into the interface and add checkboxes and radio buttons
that are linked to whatever registry settings you want.
Figure 3-9. The Advanced Folder Options dialog box is a flexible, customizable list of
registry settings
The idea is that you link up a checkbox or radio button to a value—any value
you choose—in your registry. This would, for example, allow you to make
certain registry changes accessible to yourself or others (such as users of other
PCs you administer), reducing the need for them to mess around in the registry.
Or, if you’re a software developer, you can add your own program’s options
to this window. Or, maybe you just want easier access to a hidden Microsoft
setting you find yourself changing often.
The format is actually quite remarkable, because you don’t have to be a programmer to utilize this feature. You can add new options to a certain portion
of the registry and then tie those options to values you choose anywhere else
in the registry. The downside is that it’s a little cumbersome to type it all out,
and the options are rather limited. Here’s how you do it:
144 | Chapter 3: The Registry
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Expand the branches to
Some settings are divided into groups, such as Hidden files
and folders, which contains two radio buttons. A group is
merely a key, like the existing Hidden key in your registry, that
holds two or more subkeys. In the group key itself, specify a
caption and icon and set Type to group, as explained next. Then
put each entry in the group into a subkey of your new group
key. If you get lost, use the Hidden key as a template.
6. The values inside each key determine the properties of the corresponding
setting. Feel free to fish around the existing keys for examples.
Start by adding a new string value to your key named Text, and then double-click it to enter the caption of the new entry. When you’re done, add
another string value named Type, and type either group, checkbox, or
radio as the value’s contents. These two values, plus the others that determine how your new setting looks in the Folder Options window, are
explained in Table 3-2.
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The Registry
Take a look at the keys inside of the Folder key. The structure of the hierarchy in the Folder Options window is reproduced here in the registry,
although the list items will appear in a different order than their corresponding registry entries. This is because the captions in the Folder Options list aren’t necessarily the same as the names of the corresponding
registry keys here, yet both collections are sorted alphabetically. For example, the Remember each folder’s view settings option is represented
by the ClassicViewState key in the registry.
3. Take this opportunity to back up the entire branch by highlighting the
Folder key and selecting Export from the File menu. This way, you’ll be
able to easily restore the defaults without having to reinstall Windows.
4. At this point, you can remove any unwanted entries by deleting the corresponding keys from this branch; the Text value in each key should be
enough to explain what each key is for.
5. To add a new item, start by simply creating a new key inside the Folder
key. Name the key anything you want, as long as it doesn’t conflict with
an existing key name. Bonus points for a nice, descriptive key name.
Table 3-2. Visual properties of Folder Options items
Value name
Description of value contents
This can be set to either group, checkbox, or radio, representing a folder,
checkbox, or radio button, respectively. Checkboxes are square options and can be
either on or off. Radio buttons are round options that are linked to other radio buttons
in the same folder, in that only one at a time can be selected (you can have multiple
groups of radio buttons). And folders, of course, are used to organize the various
other options. This parameter is required by all items.
This is the actual caption of the option as it will appear in the dialog box. This can
be as long as you want (better too descriptive than too vague), but the paradigm
dictates that only the first word be capitalized and that there be no period. This
parameter is required by all items.
This specifies the icon, used for folder items only. If omitted, it’s a rather ugly bent
arrow. The syntaxa is filename, index, where filename is the full path and
filename of the file containing the icon, and index is the icon number (starting
with zero), if the file contains more than one icon. To specify the familiar yellow
folder, type %SystemRoot%\system32\Shell32.dll,4 here. This parameter is optional for all folders, and has no effect on checkboxes and radio buttons.
This is the filename and optionally the help context ID, pointing to the documentation
for this item. If the user selects the item and presses the F1 key, this specifies the
help note that will appear. The syntax is filename#id, where filename is the
name of a .hlp or .chm file, and id is the numeric help context id (commonly used
by programmers) of the topic you want to display. Omit id to simply show the index
page of the specified help file. This parameter is optional.
The Bitmap value uses the same syntax as the DefaultIcon property for file types, as documented in “File Type Associations” on page 166.
7. Next, add values—explained in Table 3-3—to your key to specify which
registry value Windows should change when you place a checkmark next
to your custom setting in the Folder Options window. For radio and
checkbox items, you’ll need the following values: HKey-Root, RegPath,
ValueName, and CheckedValue. (This step isn’t necessary if your item is a
146 | Chapter 3: The Registry
Table 3-3. registry-related properties of Folder Options items
Description of value contents
This is an eight-digit number representing the root of the registry
path containing the target registry setting. Use the hexadecimal number 80000000 for HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT,
80000001 for HKEY_CURRENT_USER, 80000002 for
80000005 for HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG. For some reason,
it must be separated from the rest of the registry path, specified
in RegPath, discussed next. This parameter is required for all
checkbox and radio items.
This is the path specifying the location of the target registry
setting, not including the root (see HKeyRoot, earlier). For
example, for HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Micro
soft\Windows\CurrentVersion, you would only enter
here. This parameter is required for all checkbox and radio items.
This is the name of the target registry value. This value is where
the setting data is stored when the option is turned on or off in
the Folder Options window. The key containing said value is
specified by the RegPath and HKeyRoot parameters, listed
earlier. This parameter is required by all checkbox and radio
Should match
target value
This holds the data to be stored in the target registry value
(specified by the RegPath and ValueName parameters earlier), when said option is turned on. If you’re configuring an
option to be used on both Windows 9x/Me and Windows 7/2000
systems, use both the CheckedValueW95 and Checked
ValueNT parameters instead of this value. This parameter is
otherwise required by all checkbox and radio items.
Should match
target value
Use this instead of CheckedValue, above, if you’re configuring an option to be used on both Windows 9x/Me and Windows
7/2000 systems. This value contains the data that will be applied
if the system is running Windows 9x/Me. Used in conjunction
with CheckedValueNT, discussed next.
Should match
target value
Use this instead of CheckedValue, discussed earlier, if you’re
configuring an option to be used on both Windows 9x/Me and
Windows 7/2000 systems. This value contains the data that will
be applied if the system is running Windows 7, 2000, or NT. Used
in conjunction with CheckedValueW95, later.
Should match
target value
This holds the data to be stored in the target registry value,
when said option is turned off. This value is optional; if omitted,
it is assumed to be 0.
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The Registry
Value name
Value name
Description of value contents
Should match
target value
This is the data Windows sets to your target value if the Restore
Defaults button is pressed in the Folder Options window. This
value is optional; if omitted, it is assumed to be 0.
The value type (String, Binary, DWORD) of the Checked
Value, UnCheckedValue, and DefaultValue parameters all
depends on what the target value requires. For example,
if the target value you’re changing is a DWORD value, then
all three of these parameters must also be DWORD values.
For instance, if placing a checkmark next to your custom entry is supposed
to change the data from 0 to 1 in the Tree value, located in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Annoyances, then you’d set HKey-Root to
80000001, RegPath to \Software\Annoyances, ValueName to Tree, Checked
Value to 1, and UnCheckedValue to 0.
8. After you’ve created keys and entered the appropriate property values,
your registry should look something like Figure 3-10, and the resulting
Folder Options dialog box should look like Figure 3-9, shown earlier. If
Folder Options is open, you’ll have to close it and reopen it for the changes
to take effect.
Figure 3-10. Settings that appear in the Advanced Folder Options list are configured in the
If you add a setting and it doesn’t show up in the Folder Options window (after closing and reopening it), most likely one
or more required values are missing.
148 | Chapter 3: The Registry
9. Close the Registry Editor when you’re finished.
The next time you open the Folder Options dialog window, the current data
stored in each target value is compared with the corresponding CheckedValue
and UnCheckedValue, and the option in the Advanced settings list is set accordingly. In other words, if you did everything right, each option in Advanced
settings should correctly reflect its own current state. Change a setting and
click OK, and the corresponding options are written to the registry.
Export and Import Data with Registry Patches
Typing in registry data gets awfully tedious, particularly if the N key is broken
on your keyboard. Thankfully, it’s not the only way to add keys and values to
the registry.
A registry patch is a plain-text file with the .reg filename extension that contains
one or more registry keys or values. Double-click on a .reg file, and Windows
runs the Registry Editor, which “applies” the patch to the registry, meaning
that its contents are merged with the contents of the registry.
Patch files are especially handy for backing up small portions of the registry,
distributing registry settings to other PCs, and duplicating keys.
For example, say you spend an hour or so customizing the toolbars in a particular application used by many employees in your office. Since most programs store their toolbar settings in the registry, you can use a registry patch
to not only back up the completed toolbar setup—and thus save an hour of
reconfiguring should your PC subsequently burst into flames—but to quickly
copy the toolbar to all the other PCs in your office.
Or, perhaps you’ve spent the last six months gradually customizing your file
types (covered later in this chapter), only to find that a newly installed application or a Windows upgrade erased all your hard work and reset all your
context menus. Provided you had made a registry patch containing all your
saved file types (a backup), all you need to do is apply it (restore the backup)
should the need arise.
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Registry Tasks and Tools | 149
The Registry
To reproduce a setting elsewhere in the Windows interface or the interface of
another application, you’ll first need to find the respective registry setting as
described in “Locate the Registry Key For a Setting” on page 137.
Create a registry patch
1. Open the Registry Editor, and select a branch you wish to export.
The branch can be anywhere from one of the top-level
branches to a branch a dozen layers deep. Registry patches
include not only the branch you select, but all of the values
and subkeys in the branch. Don’t select anything more than
what you absolutely need.
2. From the File menu, select Export, type a filename and choose a destination folder, and click OK. All of the values and subkeys in the selected
branch will then be stored in the patch file. Make sure the filename of the
new registry patch has the .reg extension.
Clearly, there’s not much to making registry patches with the Registry Editor.
But it gets a little more interesting when you modify them, or even create them
from scratch to automate registry changes.
Edit a registry patch
Since a registry patch is just a plain-text file, you can edit it with any decent
plain-text editor, or lacking that, Notepad (notepad.exe). The contents of the
registry patch will look something like the text shown in Example 3-1.
Example 3-1. Contents of a registry patch created from HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT \.txt
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
"Content Type"="text/plain"
The first line, Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00, tells Windows that this
file is a valid registry patch; don’t remove this line. The rest of the registry patch
is a series of key names and values.
150 | Chapter 3: The Registry
Backward Compatibility
Registry patches created in Windows 95, 98, or Me can be imported into the
Windows 7 registry without a problem (that is, not taking into account the
screwy settings contained therein).
However, the same is not true the other way around. Patch files made in Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2003, and 2000 are encoded with the Unicode character
set, and as you’ve seen, bear a header indicating the 5.0 version number that
will choke the older Registry Editor. To use a 7-created .reg file in Windows
9x/Me, you’ll need to deal with both of these issues.
Next, to convert the Unicode .reg file into an ASCII-encoded file those earlier
versions of Windows can understand, open the file in Notepad. Then, from
the Notepad’s File menu, select Save As and choose a new filename, and from
the little Encoding drop-down listbox at the bottom of the window, select
ANSI. Click Save, and your patch is now backward-compatible.
The key names appear in brackets ([...]) and specify the full path of the key,
thus indicating where the values that follow are to be stored. On each subsequent line until the next key section begins, the name of a value appears first
(in quotation marks), followed by an equals sign, and then the data stored in
the value (also in quotation marks). A value name of @ tells the Registry Editor
to place the value data in the (Default) value (as shown in the fourth line of
the example).
You can go ahead and make changes to anything in the registry patch file as
long as you keep the format intact. Of course, those changes won’t take effect
in the registry until the registry patch is merged back into the registry, a process
described in the next section.
So, why would you want to edit a registry patch file? Modifying a large number
of registry values often turns out to be much easier with a text editor than with
the Registry Editor, since you don’t have to open—and then close—each individual value.
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The Registry
First, replace the Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 header line with
REGEDIT4. Whew, that was hard.
It may be tempting to perform a quick search-and-replace in
the text editor, and then apply your changes back to the registry. But be careful, as the effect may not be what you expected. If you replace any text in the name of a value (to the left
of the equals sign) or even the name of a key (the lines in
brackets), Registry Editor will create new values and keys with
those names when you apply the patch, leaving the old values
and keys intact. A better choice is to use a tool like registry
Agent, described in the section “Search and Replace Registry
Data” on page 136.
There’s no requirement that the keys in a registry patch file need to have lived
next to one another in the registry, or that they be in any particular order. This
means you can combine several separate patch files into one, and use it to
restore any number of keys in one step. All it takes is a little copy and paste
between side-by-side Notepad windows. The only thing you need to do, besides making sure all the keys and values remain intact, is to remove any extraneous Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00 header lines.
If you’re creating a registry patch to be used on other PCs, make sure you fix
any references to absolute pathnames before you distribute the file. If, for example, your patch file references D:\Windows\notepad.exe, it’ll cause a problem on any PC where notepad.exe is located in C:\Windows\. The best solution
is to use expandable string values, as described earlier in this chapter, along
with the appropriate system variables, like this: %SystemRoot%\notepad.exe.
Now, since expandable string values are stored like binary values in registry
patch files, such an entry would look like this:
Now, you’ve probably worked out that it’s considerably easier to edit expandable string (and binary) values in the Registry Editor than in any text editor,
so you’ll probably want to make such corrections before you export the key to
a patch file. If you need to add a binary or expandable string value to a registry
patch file you’ve already started editing, though, all you have to do is return
to the Registry Editor, create a temporary key somewhere, and then create your
new value. When you’re done, just export the key to a new file, delete the key
from the registry, and then copy and paste the value to your other registry
patch file.
152 | Chapter 3: The Registry
Delete keys and values from a registry patch
Although the Registry Editor won’t ever create a patch that deletes registry keys
or values, it’s easy enough to make one by hand. To delete a key with a registry
Patch, place a minus sign before the key name, like this:
-[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\don't load]
This patch, when applied, deletes the specified key and all of its values, as well
as any subkeys. To delete a single value from a key, place a minus sign after
the equals sign, like this:
Of course, these tricks only work if you have sufficient permission to delete
those keys. See “Prevent Changes to a Registry Key” on page 154 for more
Apply a registry patch
To copy the stuff from a registry patch file back into your registry, you need
to apply it. The easiest way is to double-click the file (it doesn’t matter if the
Registry Editor is running or not).
If you see a UAC prompt at this point, click Continue. Then answer Yes when
asked whether you’re sure you want to add the information in the .reg file to
the registry, and finally, click OK when you see the “Information in MyPatch.reg has been successfully entered into the registry” message. (You can
also apply a patch from within the Registry Editor: from the File menu, select
Import, select the patch file to apply, and click OK.)
To apply a registry patch without any other warning
messages—except for the UAC prompt; see Chapter 8 to get
rid of that—you need to use the command line. Either from
an open Command Prompt window or from Start→Run, type
the following:
regedit /s c:\folder\mypatch.reg
where c:\folder\mypatch.reg is the full path and filename of
the patch file to import. Or, if you want to get rid of the confirmation messages any time you double-click a .reg file, add
the /s switch (as shown here) to the .reg file type, as described
later in this chapter.
Registry Tasks and Tools | 153
The Registry
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\don't load]
If the Registry Editor is already open and one of the keys modified by a patch
that was just applied is currently open, RegEdit should refresh the display
automatically to reflect the changes. If it doesn’t, press the F5 key or go to
When you apply a registry patch, you merge the keys and values stored in a
patch file with those in the registry. Any keys and values in the applied patch
that don’t already exist will be created. If a key or value already exists, only its
contents will be changed. It’s important to understand that if a key you’re
updating already contains one or more values, those values will be left intact if
they’re not explicitly modified or deleted by the patch.
See Chapter 9 for another way to automate changes to the
registry from files.
Prevent Changes to a Registry Key
Security has always been one of Microsoft’s favorite marketing buzzwords,
and never more so than when Windows 7 was introduced. But as it turns out,
Windows’ security features are quite a bit more useful for protecting your PC
from itself than from any alleged intruders.
The permissions system covered in Chapter 8 doesn’t just protect files and
folders, it restricts who can read and modify registry entries. This feature is
tremendously useful, yet most people don’t even know it’s there. It means you
can lock a registry key to prevent employees from installing software on a
company PC, or prevent kids from disabling parental controls on a family PC.
Permissions also let you lock file type associations (covered later in this chapter), preventing other applications from changing them. And by locking the
keys that list programs to load on startup, you can help protect your PC from
some kinds of malware.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Open the Registry Editor, and navigate to the key you want to protect.
You can’t protect individual values, but rather only the
keys that contain them. This means that if you lock a key
to protect one of its values, the lock applies to all values
in that key.
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2. Right-click the key, and select Permissions. For details on how to use this
window, see Chapter 8.
3. Click Advanced, and then click Add.
If the Add button is disabled (grayed out), you’ll have to
take ownership of the key, close the Permissions window,
and then reopen it before you can make any changes to
the permissions of this object. See Chapter 8 for details.
Figure 3-11. Lock a registry key to prevent applications or Windows from modifying it
6. When you’re done, click OK in each of the three open dialog windows.
The change will take effect immediately.
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4. In the Enter the object names to select field, type Everyone, and then
click OK. (The “Everyone” user encompasses all user accounts, including
those used by Windows processes and individual applications when they
access the registry.)
5. In the next window, “Permission Entry for...”, click the checkbox in the
Deny column, next to the actions you want to prohibit, as in Figure 3-11 (see upcoming examples).
Now, you may be tempted to remove Allow permissions for a particular user
(or even all users), rather than add the Deny entry shown here. The problem
is that doing so wouldn’t prevent an application or Windows from taking
ownership or adding the necessary permissions and breaking your lock. Furthermore, it would make it much more difficult to restore the old permissions
should you need to remove the lock; using this procedure, all you need to do
is remove the Deny rule and you’re done.
This works because Windows gives Deny rules priority over Allow rules, which
means you can lock a key with a single Deny entry even if there’s another Allow
rule that expressly gives a user permission to modify the item.
So, which keys do you lock, and which actions do you forbid? Here are some
Make a key read-only
To lock a value yet still allow applications and Windows to read it, place
a Deny checkbox next to Set Value, Delete, and Write Owner, as in
Figure 3-11.
Create a complete lock-out
To prevent all applications from reading, modifying, or deleting a value,
place a Deny checkbox next to Full Control.
Keep away ShellNew
To prevent applications from making new keys under the selected key,
place a Deny checkbox next to Create Subkey. For instance, you can do
this to file type keys to prevent applications from adding themselves to
Windows Explorer’s New list by creating the ubiquitous ShellNew subkey;
see “Customize Windows Explorer’s New Menu” on page 187 for instructions.
Enforce security policies on a multiple-user PC
To prevent another user from modifying a security policy (such as those
covered in Chapter 8), use the procedure in “Locate the Registry Key For
a Setting” on page 137, to locate the corresponding key in the registry.
Then, instead of adding a Deny rule to the key as described above, remove
any permissions that allow anyone other than an administrator to delete,
modify, or add subkeys to the key. Make sure that there’s still at least one
rule for the Administrators group (or at least your own administrator-level
account) that affords Full Control.
Lock individual file types
The File Type Doctor utility mentioned in the section “File Type Associations” on page 166 has a feature that uses permissions to lock file types,
thus preventing applications from “stealing” them.
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Protect file types from Windows’ UserChoice feature
As described in “The Evils of UserChoice Override” on page 178, Windows will ignore your custom file type settings if a certain key is present
in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion
\Explorer\FileExts key. To prevent this from happening ever again, place
a Deny checkbox next to Create Subkey. This will immediately protect
all your file types, but you’ll need to delete one or more existing entries in
the FileExts key to restore individual file types. See “File Type Associations” on page 166 for details.
In a way, the Windows registry is a weak link in the operating system’s stability
and robustness. It’s remarkably easy to damage, but very difficult to repair.
And unless you go to the trouble of making your own backup copy, it’s not
necessarily easy to replace it if it’s damaged (unlike, say, DLLs, which can be
pulled right off the Windows CD). A broken registry—either due to physical
corruption or errant data—might cause Windows to behave erratically (or
more so than usual) or it may prevent Windows from starting at all.
The System Protection feature (also known as System Restore, and discussed further in Chapter 6) is found in Control
Panel→System→System Protection. Windows automatically creates a restore point once a day, plus each time you
install an application, device driver, or any update from Windows Update. Restore points contain essential Windows system files and registry settings, although it’s not clear how
much of the registry is backed up, nor is it possible to restore
all or part of the registry alone.
So, what’s the big problem? Why not just zip up the registry files or copy them
to a CD? Problem is, the files that contain your registry data (called hives) are
constantly being read from and written to, so Windows locks them to ensure
they can’t be modified, deleted, or even read directly. (Although you can copy
a HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive file by logging out and then logging in as a different
This means you have to use a procedure like the following if you want a backup
you can create and restore at will. You may want to do this, for instance, just
before you install a new program or device driver:
1. Open Registry Editor, and collapse all the branches so only the five main
root keys are showing.
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Back Up the Registry
From the File menu, select Export.
From the Save as type list, choose registry Hive Files (*.*).
Type a filename, and give it the .hive filename extension (e.g., hkcu.hive).
RegEdit won’t do this for you, nor will Windows recognize the .hive extension by default, but it will make the files much easier for you to identify
than if they have no extension, which is the default. See “File Type Associations” on page 166 for how to properly register a new file type.
6. Choose a folder in which to save the backup, and click Save.
7. Next, comes HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. Although Registry Editor won’t let you
export this entire branch to a hive, you can export individual branches
contained therein. Just repeat steps 3–6 for these keys and respective target
• HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\HARDWARE → hklm_hardware.hive
• HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SAM → hklm_sam.hive
• HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SECURITY → hklm_security.hive
• HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE → hklm_software.hive
• HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM → hklm_system.hive
8. To restore either or both of these backups, and replace the current registry
with the data in your backup hive files, select Import from the Registry
Editor’s File menu. Select registry Hive Files (*.*) from the unlabeled
listbox next to the File name field, select the .hive file to import, and click
There are two things worth noting about this backup procedure. First, it makes
use of registry hive files, which are binary files, and the same type of file Windows uses to store the registry it uses day-to-day. If you were to instead export
ordinary registry patch files—which is what you’d get if Registration Files
(*.reg) was selected in step 4—then you’d end up with files that couldn’t be
easily restored back into the registry. This is because the Registry Editor only
merges patch files with existing registry data, which can leave errant data intact,
as described in the section “Export and Import Data with Registry
Patches” on page 149. When the Registry Editor imports hive files, however,
it deletes the existing keys from the registry before bringing in the new (backedup) data.
Registry patches can be handy for backing up individual keys,
as explained in “The Local Backup”, the next sidebar.
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The Local Backup
The easiest type of registry backup to make is the local backup, akin to the
local anesthetic. Rather than backing up the entire registry, you simply back
up the portion you’ll be working on. If you screw up, you can quickly and
easily restore the affected keys without touching anything else.
Make a mistake and want to restore the backup? Just delete the key you
changed, and double-click the registry patch to load it back in. (Deleting the
key before loading the patch ensures that no newly-added entries remain.)
Of course, registry patch files can be hard to keep track of, particularly if you
change a setting and only discover two weeks later that it’s caused a problem.
In this case, you can make an easy-to-find backup right in the registry.
Before you make any changes to the registry, make a patch file as just described. Then, rename the key in which you’ll be working by adding .backup to
the end of the key name. For instance, if you want to make a change to this key:
Highlight the Run key, press the F2 key (or right-click and select Rename),
and change the name to Run.backup.
Then, immediately re-import the registry patch you just made and delete
the .reg patch file. You’ll end up with two identical keys right next to each
At this point, you can go ahead and mess with the Run key to your heart’s
content, and even use the nearby Run.backup key as a handy reference. If you
ever need to restore your backup—either today or six months from now—
just delete the Run key and then rename Run.backup to Run.
See Chapter 2 for a quick way to make a local backup of files you’re working
Registry Tasks and Tools | 159
The Registry
Say you want to make some changes to the key, HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software
\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run, which happens to be responsible
for running programs when Windows starts. Just open the Registry Editor,
navigate to this key, and select File→Export. Type a filename and save the
registry patch file on your Desktop. (See “Export and Import Data with Registry Patches” on page 149 for more information on this feature.)
Second, notice that only HKEY_CURRENT_USER and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE are
FIG seemingly unprotected. This is done because the data in
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT and HKEY_USERS is duplicated in the first two root keys
(HKLM and HKCU, respectively) and HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG is dynamically generated and not stored on the hard disk at all. See “The Structure of the Registry” on page 123 for details.
Now, other than saving time by not exporting more than you have to, why is
it important to know how Windows stores the registry data? Because if you
use a slightly more advanced approach when you back up the registry, you’ll
have a backup you can restore even if Windows won’t start. Here’s how:
1. Open a plain-text editor (e.g., Notepad).
2. Type the following into a blank document:
C:\Backups\SAM.OLD del C:\Backups\SAM.OLD
C:\Backups\SYSTEM.OLD del C:\Backups\SYSTEM.OLD
C:\Backups\NTUSER.OLD del C:\Backups\NTUSER.OLD
C:\Backups\SAM SAM.OLD
3. Save the file somewhere convenient, such as your desktop, and give it
the .bat filename extension (e.g., back up registry.bat).
4. Open Windows Explorer, open the Computer branch, and select drive
C:. Create a new folder in C:\ named Backups. If you want to store the
backup hive files in a different location, replace all 24 instances of
C:\Backups in the listing in step 2 with the full path of your backup folder.
5. To run the backup, just right-click the back up registry.bat file and select
Run as administrator. (See Chapter 8 for an explanation of why you
can’t just double-click the file to run it.)
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To run this backup automatically every time you start Windows, create a shortcut to the back up registry.bat file in your
Startup folder in your Start menu. Or, if you typically hibernate your PC instead of shutting down, use the Scheduled
Tasks feature (Chapter 9) to schedule the backup to run at
regular intervals, say, once every three days.
6. At this point, you can be extra compulsive and copy the backed-up hive
files to a CD or network drive for safekeeping.
Most importantly, though, it creates five separate hive files from the
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE branch—one for each sub-branch except HARDWARE, which
is dynamically generated—instead of just one. As a result, the backup files
you’ll end up with are the same as those Windows normally uses to store the
registry on your hard disk.
Windows stores the active hive files—those for HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, at least—
in the \Windows\System32\Config folder. The exception is the HKEY_CUR
RENT_USER branch, stored in the NTUSER.DAT file located in the user’s home
directory (usually \Users\{username}). See Chapter 8 for more on user
In your snooping, you might discover the \Windows
\System32\config\RegBack folder. Check the dates of the files
in the RegBack folder, and sure enough, you’ll see that they’re
recent—perhaps with yesterday’s or today’s date—backups
of your HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE hive files.
Although Windows does regularly create these backups,
they’re neither complete (the HKEY_CURRENT_USER branch isn’t
included) nor as useful as a backup you make yourself. For
instance, a problem that prevents Windows from loading is
likely to have made its way to the automatic backups, but not
necessarily the manual backup you made three days ago, just
before you installed an application.
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The Registry
So, what’s different about this second procedure? For one, it’s automated,
using the little-known REG.exe command-line registry tool instead of the Registry Editor to create the hive files. (To learn more about REG.exe, open a
Command Prompt window, type reg /? and press Enter.) Also, it automatically archives the last backup, thus maintaining two sets of backup files at all
times, a feat accomplished by some simple batch-file commands (see Chapter 9 for more on batch files).
All of this means that you can restore your registry from the backup in a variety
of ways. Of course, you can always use File→Import in Registry Editor, as
described earlier in this section, but that only works if Windows is running.
If Windows won’t start, and you suspect a registry glitch, here’s how to restore
your registry from the six hive backups. (See Chapter 6 for general startup
1. Insert your Windows 7 setup disc in your drive, and start your PC.
See Chapter 1 if your PC doesn’t boot off your CD, or if
you only have a “recovery disc” provided by your PC
2. Click Next on the first Install Windows screen, and then click Repair
your computer on the second page.
3. On the System Recovery Options window, select Microsoft Windows
7 in the list and then click Next.
4. Click Command Prompt.
5. In the Command Prompt window that appears, take this opportunity to
back up the current state of the registry, as described earlier in this section.
Then, type the following commands to rebuild your registry from your
hive files:
You can omit one or more of these lines if you only want
to restore part of the registry.
6. When you’re done, pop out your 7 setup disc and restart your PC.
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With any luck, Windows should start normally. If it doesn’t, either your most
recent backup is defective, or the problem lies elsewhere. If you suspect that
an older backup may work where the newer one failed, add the .OLD filename
extension to each filename in step 5, like this:
If Windows still won’t start at this point, try reinstalling Windows (see Chapter 1).
1. Open the Command Prompt as instructed in steps 1–4 above.
2. Type these commands to copy the files:
C:\Backups\COMPONENTS C:\Windows\System32\Config
C:\Backups\SAM C:\Windows\System32\Config
C:\Backups\SECURITY C:\Windows\System32\Config
C:\Backups\SOFTWARE C:\Windows\System32\Config
C:\Backups\SYSTEM C:\Windows\System32\Config
C:\Backups\NTUSER.DAT C:\Users\your_user_folder
where your_user_folder (on the last line) is the name of your user folder,
which may or may not be the same as your user name. If you don’t know
the folder name, type dir c:\users to list all the user folders on your PC.
If your user folder name has spaces in it, add quotation marks, like this:
copy C:\Backups\NTUSER.DAT "C:\Users\Phillip J. Fry"
3. When you’re done, pop out your 7 setup disc and restart your PC.
See Chapter 6 for more information on backup software that copies your full
registry along with all of your system files. And check out the “Other Ways
Windows Backs Up the Registry” sidebar, next, for some other features in
Windows 7.
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The Registry
Now, there’s a chance that the REG.exe tool won’t work, which might happen
if your registry is sufficiently corrupted or if the REG.exe file itself is damaged.
In this case, try replacing the active hive files with your backups, like this:
Other Ways Windows Backs Up the Registry
The aforementioned automatic hive file backups stored in the \Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder represent just one of several fail-safe systems
built in to Windows 7.
There’s also a way to undo a bad hardware driver installation without backing
up or restoring the registry at all. Just open Device Manager, right-click the
cranky device, select Properties, choose the Driver tab, and click Roll Back
Driver. If that doesn’t work, right-click the device and select Uninstall.
When prompted, confirm that you want to delete the driver files. Then, disconnect and reconnect the device, or restart Windows if reconnecting isn’t
You can remove petulant software with the Programs and Features tool in
Control Panel, but only if the program’s uninstaller behaves itself. Otherwise,
search the Web for the program name and the word “uninstall” to see whether
there are any special removal tools or procedures for the program you’re trying
to remove.
Of course, neither of these tools will do you much good if Windows won’t
start. There’s also an entry called Last Known Good Configuration in the
7 startup menu (covered in Chapter 6), typically shown if Windows didn’t
shut down properly last time, or if you press the F8 key before Windows starts
loading. In theory, this feature starts Windows with an earlier collection of
hardware drivers and settings taken from the last successful boot. In practice,
however, Windows 7 seems to have a hard time defining “good” (with respect
to the Last Known Good moniker), and is usually unable to find an earlier
configuration that either solves the problem or works at all. It’s worth trying
if you don’t have a valid registry backup, but don’t expect miracles.
Edit Another PC’s Registry Remotely
You can use Registry Editor to browse the registry of a remote PC, much like
you can use Windows Explorer to browse a remote hard disk. Although intended for administering workstations and servers miles away, this feature also
particularly useful for affecting repairs on PCs infected with malware that prevent direct access to the registry.
Here’s how you do it:
1. On the remote PC—the one you want to connect to—open the Services
window; in the Start menu Search box, type services.msc and press
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2. Select the Remote Registry service in the list and click the green Start
arrow in the toolbar (or right-click the service and select Start).
If you’ll be remote-editing this PC’s registry often, rightclick the Remote Registry service, select Properties,
and from the Startup type list, select Automatic. That
way, it’ll start automatically each time Windows starts,
and it’ll be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Figure 3-12. Connect to a remote PC’s registry, and it’ll appear at the bottom of the tree in
Registry Editor
Note that only the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and HKEY_USERS
branches are shown from the remote registry. But since the
other root branches—HKEY_CURRENT_USER and HKEY_CLASSES_
ROOT—are only symbolic links of subkeys of the first two,
you’ll still be able to read the entire registry. For instance, to
access the remote HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT branch, navigate to
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The Registry
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the local PC as well.
4. Start Registry Editor on the local PC, and from the File menu, select
Connect Remote Registry.
5. When the Select Computer window appears, type the name of the remote
PC in the Enter the object name to select field and click OK.
6. When prompted, type the username and password of an administratorlevel account on the remote PC.
7. After a few moments, two branches of the remote registry will appear at
the bottom of the tree in Registry Editor, beneath the local registry, as
shown in Figure 3-12.
8. When you’re done, right-click the remote PC name in the tree in Registry
Editor and select Disconnect.
The most likely snag you’ll encounter when accessing a remote registry is an
“Access is denied” error, but this can mean different things at different times.
If you get the error while logging in, the username or password you typed in
step 6 is incorrect (obviously). But once you’re logged in, any such errors are
caused by restrictive permissions (see “Prevent Changes to a Registry
Key” on page 154).
First, the branch you’re trying to access must be readable—and writable as
well, if that’s what you’re trying to do—by the user account matching your
login (again, step 6).
Second, the specific key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Con
trol\SecurePipeServers\winreg must be readable by both the login account
(step 6) and by the user account under which the Remote Registry service
(step 2) is running. By default, the service uses the “Local Service” user account; check this by right-clicking the Remote Registry service in the Services
window, selecting Properties, and choosing the Log On tab.
You can restrict remote registry access for certain users by
denying them read access to the aforementioned WinReg key.
File Type Associations
File type associations are the links between your documents and the applications that use them. The most apparent use of this feature is that, for example,
Windows knows to open Notepad when you double-click a text document on
the desktop or show you an online order form for anatomical enhancement if
you click the link in a spam email message.
One might assume that the aforementioned text file somehow knows it’s a
Notepad document, but that isn’t the case. Instead, Windows determines how
to handle a file based solely on the filename extension. The extension is the
group of letters—usually three—that follow the period in most filenames. For
example, the extension of the file Readme.txt is .txt, signifying a plain-text file.
Likewise, the extension of Resume.docx is .docx, which tells Windows the file
is a word processor document in the Microsoft Word file format. See the
“Extension Exception Example” sidebar, next, for a little detail on this point.
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Extension Exception Example
It may seem that there are exceptions to the file extension rule: files that seem
to know what applications created them despite their filename extensions.
For instance, open Microsoft Excel and save a worksheet as a web page
(*.htm;*.html), and the resulting file will have an Excel icon in Windows
Explorer even though the rest of your .html files have a icon matching your
default web browser. Furthermore, right-click the file and select Edit, and the
file will open in Excel rather than your default HTML editor.
<meta name=ProgId content=Excel.Sheet>
<meta name=Generator content="Microsoft Excel 12">
If you were to open the file with Notepad and delete those two lines, you’d
break the link: the file would become an ordinary .html file, icon and all. Or
if you were to change the filename extension to, say, .txt, Windows would no
longer know to look inside the file; again, it would behave like any
other .txt file.
Some might argue that it isn’t fair for Microsoft to change the rules like this,
to create files that don’t behave like all the other files of their type. If you’re
one of them, you could also delete the registry keys pointing to the Office DLL
in the .html file type, which would not just break the link to Excel, but prevent
Windows or Excel from reestablishing it permanently. (See the discussion of
IconHandlers later in this section for details.) Although you’d be breaking
functionality (gasp!), you’d be restoring consistency, and—more
importantly—enforcing your own preferences when Microsoft otherwise
chooses to ignore them.
Now, it may seem silly that so much of Windows’ ability to open files rests on
something as easy to break as the filename, but the design does have its advantages. For instance, it’s trivially easy to change the program used to open
all your digital photos without having to modify every one of your .jpg files to
do it. And being able to easily predict what happens whenever you doubleclick a .tif file is certainly comforting.
But there are downsides, too. For one, it’s easy for a single application to assert
itself as the default for any file type on your PC, and instantly hijack a whole
group of files. Windows 7 does provide a mechanism to combat this—see
“The Evils of UserChoice Override” on page 178—but taking advantage of it
can break your custom file types and context menu items.
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The Registry
What’s happening isn’t an exception to the “extension determines type” rule,
but rather a consequence of it. When you install Microsoft Office, the file
msohevi.dll (among other things) is registered with some of your file types in
the registry. From then on, Windows is instructed to look inside each .html
file for header tags like these:
Another flaw in Windows’ file extension system is that Windows Explorer
hides filename extensions by default, which is why the file Invoice.xlsx appears
only as Invoice. Fortunately, this is easy enough to change; just open Folder
Options in Control Panel (or click Organize→Folder and Search Options
in Windows Explorer). In the Folder Options window, choose the View tab,
turn off the Hide extensions for known file types option, and click OK.
If you have Windows show filename extensions, it’s easier to determine what
kind of files you’re dealing with. Instead of merely a file named recipe, you
might see recipe.tif if it’s a scan of a recipe, recipe.pdf if it’s an Acrobat file with
a recipe inside, or recipe.exe if it’s a Trojan horse you just received via email.
Sure, you’ll have to open the file to see whether you’re making cookies or
explosives, but at least you can anticipate which application will appear, and
will know whether or not you’ll have to convert it to a different format before
posting it on your Chocolate Chip Anarchist blog.
Having extensions visible also means you can change Windows’ perception of the type of a file by merely renaming its
extension. (Note that changing a file’s extension doesn’t
actually change the contents or the format of the file, only how
Windows interacts with it.) Now, Microsoft started hiding
filename extensions back in Windows 95 (in a vain attempt to
make Windows easier to use), but it wasn’t until Windows
Vista that Microsoft made a subtle but important (and welcome) change. In Vista and now Windows 7, when you
rename a file, Windows Explorer selects the filename only up
to the dot, allowing you to easily type a new name without
inadvertently changing the extension.
Since only registered filename extensions are hidden by default, recipe.pdf appears as recipe.pdf until you install Adobe Acrobat Reader. Double-click
a .pdf file without a reader application, and Windows asks you what you want
to do, as shown in Figure 3-13. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get any useful
information after clicking Use the Web service to find the correct program in the window in Figure 3-13. Some of the better resources for identifying
unfamiliar file extensions include
mats and
So, once the Acrobat installer registers the .pdf file type, the .pdf extensions
vanish in Windows Explorer, and the file is shown merely as recipe…unless
you elect to make file extensions visible as described above. But what does it
mean to register a file type?
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The Registry
Figure 3-13. If you see this window, the selected file’s filename extension isn’t currently
registered on your PC
Anatomy of a File Type
A registered file type is constructed out of a handful of keys and values in the
registry that Windows Explorer reads in real time to handle your documents
appropriately. Register a new file type, and Explorer will know what to do with
files of that type right away.
Usually it’s an installer or an application that registers new file types, but anyone (or any program, for that matter) can add new ones or modify existing file
type associations. Customizing your PC’s file types is one of the most effective
ways to save time and reduce annoyances in Windows, but Windows 7 doesn’t
make it easy. So you’ve got to know what makes them tick if you’re going to
take matters into your own hands.
It starts with a single key in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, named for a filename extension
(including the dot). The (Default) value in that key contains the name of another key that has all the file type’s meat in it. For instance, open up the Registry
Editor and peer into these keys:
Each one has a (Default) value that contains the word txtfile. Thus, each
filename extension points to the txtfile file type, which is located in
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\txtfile. And it’s the txtfile key that has all the good stuff.
See the “Special File Type Keys” sidebar, next, for some catch-all file types.
File Type Associations | 169
Special File Type Keys
There are a few special file type keys in the registry, each of which work like
standard file types, despite having much greater scope. They are:
The asterisk (*) registry key, conveniently placed at the beginning of the
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT branch in the Registry Editor, defines actions and ex-
tensions for all files (but not folders or drives). If there’s a context menu
item you’d like to eliminate, odds are it’s in the Shell or ShellEx subkeys
of the * key.
By adding a new action key to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\Shell, you can add
a context menu item for all the files on your PC. For instance, you could
add a key named OpenInNotepad, type Open in Notepad into the key’s
(Default) value, and then add a command key that points to notepad.exe,
as described later in this section. When you’re done, right-click any
file and select Open in Notepad to view the file in a new Notepad window. See “Customize Context Menus for Files” on page 175 for details.
This branch works similarly to *, above, except that its entries apply to
all files, folders, and drives (not just files).
This key is used to define the behavior of all files with unregistered file
extensions. By default, there’s only one file type here, openas, which is
responsible for the dialog window shown in Figure 3-13. You can, of
course, add new actions or even change the default action here. For example, you may routinely work with a bunch of different types of documents Windows doesn’t recognize, and wish to open them all in your
favorite text editor by default without having to register them all first.
The system Windows uses to keep track of its file types has
been around for years and has survived a bunch of different
Windows versions. As a result, you’ll see a lot of inconsistencies. Although most file types do follow the structure laid out
on these pages, don’t be surprised if you see something that
doesn’t belong and still works.
A typical file type key (e.g., HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\txtfile) has a few values and
subkeys, most of which appear in Figure 3-14.
First, the (Default) value contains the display name of the type, the text that
appears in Windows Explorer’s Type column.
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If a value named AlwaysShowExt is present in this key, the extension for this file
type will be displayed in Explorer, even if you’ve elected to hide your filename
extensions (a setting explained at the beginning of this section). A related
value, NeverShowExt, appears in a few file type keys—such as those for Windows Shortcuts (.lnk files), Internet Shortcuts (.url files), and Explorer Commands (.scf files)—and instructs Explorer to always hide the extensions for
these files, regardless of your preferences.
You’ll also see some other values such as EditFlags, FriendlyTypeName, and
InfoTip that are fairly inconsequential, but it’s the stuff in the following three
subkeys that’s responsible for most of the magic:
The (Default) value in this key contains the full path and filename of the
file containing the icon used for all files of this type. See the next section
for details.
Each subkey of Shell corresponds to an item (called an action) in the file’s
context menu. See “Customize Context Menus for Files” on page 175 to
find out how this branch is structured.
The ShellEx branch lists Windows Explorer extensions, add-on programs
designed to interact with Explorer and add features. This branch is covered
in the sidebar “Fix Wonky Shell Extensions” on page 183.
Once you know where all the essential keys are, you can use Registry Editor
or one of the other tools mentioned in the upcoming sections to do just about
anything you want with 7’s file types system. When you have everything the
way you want it, don’t forget to take some steps to protect your customized
file types from overzealous application installers, as described in “Lock Your
File Types” on page 184.
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Figure 3-14. A file type key has values and subkeys that determine how associated files
behave in Windows Explorer
Change the Icon for All Files of a Type
Every file type has a default icon, the icon shown for all files with filename
extensions linked to that type. Yet Windows 7 offers no way to choose your
own icons—apart from editing the registry by hand—despite the fact that you
could do this right in Windows Explorer in all versions of Windows prior to
The (Default) value in the DefaultIcon key mentioned in the previous section
contains the full path and filename of the file containing the default icon. Often
it points right to the application executable that uses the file (e.g., excel.exe
for .xls files), but sometimes it references a .dll or .ico file containing a bunch
of icons. The filename is then followed by a comma and then a number (called
the index) that indicates which icon to use. For example:
C:\Program Files\Photoshop\Photoshop.exe,15
points to the file Photoshop.exe, located in the C:\Program Files\Photoshop
folder, and references the 16th icon in that file (0 or no number indicates the
first icon, 1 indicates the second, and so on).
Occasionally, you may see something like this in the DefaultIcon key:
Here, %SystemRoot% is a variable that represents the Windows folder (usually
C:\Windows). When the (Default) value in which this information is stored is
an expandable string value (described in “The Meat of the Registry: Values” on page 125), Windows converts the filename to C:\Windows\System32\wmploc.dll before retrieving the icon. You may also sometimes find a
negative value following the filename (−731, in this case) which represents the
resource ID of the icon to use—as opposed to a positive value indicating the
index (position) of the icon as described earlier.
A trick you can use for certain image files, like .ico icons, is to
set the (Default) value in DefaultIcon to simply "%1" (quotes
included). This self-referencing variable tells Explorer to use
each file’s own image as its icon. Although it also works for
several other image formats, this feature has mostly been supplanted by IconHandlers, described next.
In most cases, you can specify your own icon for a given file type by placing
the full path to an .exe, .dll, .ico, or .bmp file in the DefaultIcon key’s
(Default) value. (Hint: there are some nice “Windowsy” icons in \Windows
\System32\shell32.dll.) Include a number to indicate which icon to use, or
leave out the number to use the first icon in the file. In some cases, Windows
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Explorer will recognize the change right away, although due to the way Explorer caches icons, you may need to restart Windows for your change to fully
take effect.
The easiest way to change an icon for a file type is with a thirdparty tool like File Type Doctor, discussed in the next section.
Figure 3-15. If an IconHandler is defined for a file type, Windows generates icons
dynamically for each file instead of using the static icon referenced in the DefaultIcon key
An IconHandler is a program—typically a .dll file in the program folder of the
application with which the file is associated—that understands the file format.
For instance, Adobe Acrobat (version 7.0 and later) makes use of this feature
to facilitate thumbnail previews for .pdf files in Windows Explorer. For
the .pdf filename extension, Acrobat’s IconHandler might be referenced in any
of these registry keys:
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The only time when Windows won’t pay attention to the icon specified in the
DefaultIcon key is when an IconHandler is defined. IconHandlers generate
dynamic icons on the fly (Figure 3-15), typically showing thumbnails of the
files’ contents in lieu of static icons.
As it turns out, Adobe chose the fourth of these keys to register its IconHandler.
The (Default) value in that key contains a 38-digit class ID that points to an
entry in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID, which in turn contains details about
the .dll file.
If the reference to the IconHandler is contained in one of the
keys named IconHandler, the .dll is responsible for the dynamically generated icon. But newer programs will use the
{BB2E617C-0920-11d1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} key to reference the
IconHandler, which facilitates image previews for the Preview
pane in Windows Explorer as well as dynamic icons. See
“Expand the Scope of Your File Types” on page 186 for more
information on the SystemFileAssociations key.
Want to replace dynamic icons with static ones? Once you find the reference
to the IconHandler, you can delete the key—either the IconHandler key or the
{BB2E617C-0920-11d1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} key—to disable the IconHandler
and allow Windows Explorer to use the static icon defined in the
DefaultIcon key.
But what if you want to fix a broken file type for which icon previews have
stopped working? Often it’s easier to just reinstall the associated application
to repair the IconHandler keys, but if that application is Windows itself, you’ll
probably want to follow these steps to reinstate icon previews on your PC:
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the registry key for the filename extension you want to modify.
For instance, if you want to enable icon previews for TIFF files, go to
3. Look for a PerceivedType value inside the .tif key. If it’s not there, select
Edit→New→String Value, and type PerceivedType for its name.
4. Double-click the PerceivedType value, type image for its contents, and click
5. Next, navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\image. As
described in “Expand the Scope of Your File Types” on page 186, this key
provides common properties for all image files, such as .jpg, .bmp,
and .tif files.
6. Open the ShellEx key, and look for a key named {BB2E617C-0920-11d1-9A
0B-00C04FC2D6C1}. If it’s not there, select Edit→New→ Key, and type
{BB2E617C-0920-11d1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} for the name of the new key.
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7. Open the {BB2E617C-0920-11d1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} key, and double-click
the (Default) value. Type {3F30C968-480A-4C6C-862D-EFC0897BB84B} for
its contents, and click OK when you’re done.
Of the two Class IDs mentioned here, {BB2E617C-0920-1
1d1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} connects the file type to
Windows Explorer’s Preview pane, and {3F30C968-480A
-4C6C-862D-EFC0897BB84B} points to Windows’ own PhotoMetadataHandler.dll, the .dll file responsible for generating icon previews for all supported photo file formats.
IconHandlers are most likely to be broken by misbehaving installers for graphics applications, so if you don’t want to have to repeat these steps later on, use
the solution in “Lock Your File Types” on page 184.
Customize Context Menus for Files
A context menu (sometimes called a right-click menu or a shortcut menu) is the
little menu that appears when you use the right mouse button to click a file,
folder, application title bar, or nearly any other object on the screen. Most of
the time, this menu includes a list of actions appropriate to the object you’ve
clicked. In other words, the options available depend on the context.
The context menu for files, shown in Figure 3-16, is an assortment of standard
actions common to all files (e.g., Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename, and Properties) plus one or more custom actions depending upon the type of file. Each
of the custom actions is linked to an application: if you right-click a .txt file
and select Open, Windows launches Notepad (by default) and instructs Notepad to open the selected file. The default action—the action carried out when
you double-click the file—appears in bold text in the context menu, and the
rest of the actions are listed below. Among other things, this means you can
have more than one program associated with a single file type.
In the case of .html files, for example, you could add an Edit action to open
your favorite web page editor, a View with Firefox action, and a View with
Internet Explorer action—all in addition to the default Open action. To see
this in action, see the next sidebar, “Copy File Contents to the Clipboard”.
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8. The change should take effect immediately; if not, restart Windows to see
the new icons.
Figure 3-16. Right-click a file to show its context menu; Windows 7 doesn’t make it easy to
customize the items you see here
Copy File Contents to the Clipboard
Here’s a walk-through example showing how to add a custom context menu
to a file type, one that uses a little-known new toy in Windows 7 called
clip.exe. Clip is a command-line program that copies text to the clipboard,
and as luck would have it, it works nicely with text files.
Open Registry Editor and navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.txt. Look at the
(Default) value in the right pane to get the name of the file type key (it’s usually
Navigate to the file type key (e.g., HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\txtfile) and open the
shell subkey (HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\txtfile\shell). Create a new key inside
shell named copycontents. Open the new key, click the (Default) value, type
Copy Contents to Clipboard for the value data, and click OK.
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Next, create a key named command inside the copycontents key. Open the new
command key and set its (Default) value to cmd.exe /c clip < "%1". Click OK
and close Registry Editor when you’re done.
To test it out, right-click any .txt file in Windows Explorer and select Copy
Contents to Clipboard. (If the new entry isn’t there, you may’ve put your
keys in the wrong place in the registry.) Confirm the file’s contents have been
copied to the clipboard by pasting them into an empty Notepad window.
You can use the Clip utility to copy just about anything to the clipboard. For
instance, to copy the name of the selected file, use this for the (Default) value
data in the command key:
Or, say you’ve added the context menu item to the Folder file type; you can
copy the contents of any folder with this command:
cmd.exe /c dir "%1" /b /o:n | clip
Open a Command Prompt window (Chapter 9) and type clip /? for the usage
of this tool.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, the File Types window—the tool found in
earlier versions of Windows that lets you edit context menus from within
Windows Explorer—is completely absent in Windows 7. In its place is the
extremely dumbed-down Set Associations window shown in Figure 3-17.
Here, you can only choose default applications for your various file types, and
in doing so, obliterate your applications’ defaults or any custom context menus
you’ve built (more on that later).
So, you’re left with two options if you want to customize your context menus:
either hack the registry or use a third-party program. Given that this is the
registry chapter, let’s have some fun digging through keys and values.
As described in “Anatomy of a File Type” on page 169, there’s a registry key
named Shell inside the file type key where all the magic happens. Each subkey
of Shell corresponds to a single action in the file’s context menu. The text that
appears in the context menu is defined in the action key’s (Default) value; if
the (Default) value is empty, Windows Explorer just uses the name of the key
(e.g., Open). Unfortunately, Windows 7 has two competing systems that determine the default actions for your file types; for details, see the next sidebar,
“The Evils of UserChoice Override”.
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The Registry
cmd.exe /c echo %1 | clip
Figure 3-17. The Set Associations window—accessed through Control Panel→ Default
Programs→Associate a file type or protocol with a program—just plain sucks
The Evils of UserChoice Override
If you right-click a file, select Open With, and then select a default
application—or if you use the Set Associations window shown in Figure 3-17
—Windows doesn’t actually change the file type. Instead, Windows adds a
new key for the filename extension in HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft
\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts, and then in that new key, adds
a UserChoice key with the full path of the program you’ve chosen, like this:
The point of the UserChoice key is to prevent applications from changing your
defaults without your permission; as long as that UserChoice key exists,
Windows ignores all the actions defined in the ordinary file type key. Any
custom context menu actions disappear, and even the icon is replaced with
the icon of the newly-selected application.
Like so many other patchwork features in Windows, the UserChoice system
just doesn’t work that well. For one, the UserChoice-infected file types can’t
have custom context menus or custom icons. And the old trick of reinstalling
an application to restore its file types won’t work if the UserChoice key is
present (unless the installer is smart enough to deal with it, which is unlikely).
But the worst part is there’s no way to defeat the system without digging
through the registry.
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The solution is to open the Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER
\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\FileExts and delete
the extension you want to restore (or delete the FileExts key altogether to
restore all file extensions). Thereafter, refrain from using the Open With
menu or Control Panel to modify your file types, and your file associations
will continue to behave in their full capacity.
Want to prevent Windows from overriding your file types? See “Prevent
Changes to a Registry Key” on page 154 for instructions.
Say you right-click a Microsoft Excel document (.xlsx file), and at the top of
the menu that appears you see Open (in bold), New, and Print. If you open
the registry, you’ll see that HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.xlsx points to
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Excel.Sheet.12, so you proceed to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT
\Excel.Sheet.12\Shell. Inside the Shell key, you’ll see three subkeys named—
you guessed it—New, Open, and Print. Add a new subkey to Shell, followed by
the subkeys described shortly, and you’ll get a new entry in the context menu
for all files of the selected type.
See a context menu item you want to get rid of? Just delete the
corresponding action key (e.g., New, Open, Print), and it’ll disappear immediately. Better yet, add a string value named
LegacyDisable to the key to hide it in Windows Explorer without having to delete anything. If you don’t see the key here, it
may be listed in one of five other places:
• The ShellEx\ContextMenuHandlers branch, discussed
later in this section.
• The * key covered in the sidebar “Special File Type
Keys” on page 170.
• The SystemFileAssociations branch explained in “Expand the Scope of Your File Types” on page 186.
The action shown in bold (usually Open) is called the default, and is the one
carried out when you double-click the file. The (Default) value in the Shell
key determines which action is the default; if (Default) is empty and there’s
more than one action, Windows assumes it’s the one named Open. Otherwise,
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It’s worth noting a circumstance where the UserChoice system can actually
be of benefit. Traditional file types are stored in the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT key,
which is a subset of HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE; this means your file types are the
same for all users on your PC. But the UserChoice keys are buried in HKEY_CUR
RENT_USER branch, allowing each user to have his or her own set of overrides.
Windows just takes its best guess. You can, of course, choose a default by
setting the (Default) value to the name of any action key shown here.
Inside each action key is a subkey named command (and sometimes another
named ddeexec). Inside the command key is a (Default) value that specifies the
full path and filename of the program to run. Right-click an .xlsx file and select
Open, and Windows runs the program listed in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT
\Excel.Sheet.12\shell\Open\command. For example:
"C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12\EXCEL.EXE" /e
The quotes around the full path and filename of the application accommodate
the spaces, and tell Windows where the filename ends and the command-line
options (such as /e, here) begin. Most of the time, though, the command-line
contains a placeholder, %1, for the selected filename, like this:
"C:\Program Files\UltraEdit\UEDIT32.EXE" "%1"
When Windows opens this program, it passes the full path and filename of
the selected file to the program by putting it in place of %1, like this:
"C:\Program Files\UltraEdit\UEDIT32.EXE" "C:\Users\Asher\Desktop\readme.txt"
Now, that little option, %1, is the cause of a lot of problems in Windows’ file
types system, such as:
Application displays “not found” error
The quotation marks are missing around the "%1" and the document
you’re trying to open has a space in its file- or pathname. Just add the
quotes to the (Default) value and try again.
Older application displays a “bad command line” error or something similar
Not all programs respond well to the quotation marks around the "%1"
parameter. Try taking them out if this happens.
Application doesn’t open the file at all
The "%1" parameter is missing altogether, or the application requires a
different syntax. For instance, the Mozilla SeaMonkey web browser requires the -url parameter in front of %1, like this:
C:\Program Files\Mozilla SeaMonkey\seamonkey.exe -url "%1"
If you’re not sure what your application needs, check the documentation
or search Google for the application name and the words “command line.”
In a few cases, you can get help with a program’s
command-line parameters by running the application
from with the /? or -help command-line switches.
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If an application has stopped responding (in other words,
it crashed), it won’t respond to Windows’ DDE instructions to open your document, nor will Windows open a
second copy of the program. To find out if this is happening, right-click an empty portion of your taskbar,
select Start Task Manager, and click the Processes tab.
If the program you’re troubleshooting is there, highlight
it and click End Process, and then try opening your
document again.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “so, I have to type all these registry
keys by hand if I want the least bit of control over my file types?” If so, I laugh
at you.
File Type Doctor, part of Creative Element Power Tools (available at http:// and shown in Figure 3-18, lets you customize your context menus, change file type icons, and choose defaults.
In the File Type Doctor window, file types are organized by their names (shown
in the righthand column) and by their corresponding filename extensions
(shown in the lefthand column); click either column header to sort the list
accordingly. Select any file type to show its details on the right side of the
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The Registry
Application only opens a document if the application isn’t already running
This problem (and the next one) are caused by a background technology
called Dynamic Data Exchange, or DDE, that allows Windows programs
to communicate with one another. Windows sends a DDE signal to an
application that’s already running to instruct it to open the document. (If
the application isn’t already running, Windows launches it just like any
other.) The specific DDE commands that the application needs are stored
in the ddeexec registry key, alongside the aforementioned command key
(shown previously in Figure 3-14). If the ddeexec key is missing, Windows
won’t send the signal, and the program won’t open your document. You
can try rebuilding the ddeexec key if you can find documentation, but it’s
usually easier to just reinstall the application that owns the key. (Not all
programs use DDE; don’t bother creating the ddeexec key unless you are
having this specific problem.)
Application opens the document twice
The ddeexec key just described often causes more problems than it solves.
Sometimes Windows sends the aforementioned DDE message and
launches another copy of the program, which means you get two document windows. If this happens, rename the ddeexec key to ddeexec.backup.
Figure 3-18. File Type Doctor gives you the complete control over your file associations that
Windows 7 doesn’t
Once you’ve turned on the Edit file type associations option
in the Creative Element Power Tools Control Panel, you can
also right-click any file in Windows Explorer or on your desktop and select Edit File Type to customize the file’s context
menu in File Type Doctor on the fly.
Edit the name of the type—the text that appears in Windows Explorer’s
Type column and in the file’s Properties window—by typing it in the Name
textbox at the top-right of the window. Click the Change button to choose
an icon for all files of this type, or open any action from the list underneath
and turn on the Set file type icon to match this action option to use the icon
from that action’s application.
File Type Doctor saves changes automatically as you make
them. This makes it easy to test your context menus as you
go, but it also means that many changes cannot be easily
The Actions in right-click menu list on the right side shows all the context
menu items registered for the selected file type. Click Add to create a new item
or click Edit (or double-click the item in the list) to modify the associated
application and its options.
You can also remove unwanted context menu items by highlighting them here
and clicking Remove. The list shows everything registered for the selected file
type, as well as the perceived type, explained in “Expand the Scope of Your File
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Types” on page 186. Shell extensions (explained in the upcoming sidebar,
“Fix Wonky Shell Extensions”) are shown in italicized font; these can be removed but not modified in the traditional sense.
Fix Wonky Shell Extensions
The shell registry key dissected in the section “Customize Context Menus for
Files” on page 175, houses the keys responsible for the static items in a file’s
context menu. But context menu shell extensions—ones that can dyamically generate context menu items—are located in the shellex\ContextMenu
Handlers registry key. Each subkey of ContextMenuHandlers usually contains
nothing more than a cryptic, 38-character code that looks like this:
This 32-digit hex code (a.k.a. 16-bit number) is a Class ID (or CLSID for short)
that points to a subkey of the same name in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\
{class_id}. Class IDs are the means by which shell extensions—not to mention components used in all types of software—are registered in Windows
and connected to the programs that use them.
In addition to ContextMenuHandlers, you’ll find these other keys inside the
shellex key:
Extensions in this branch are activated when you drag files of this type
or drop other files onto files of this type.
This key points to a program that dynamically generates an icon—usually
a preview of the contents of the file—to be used instead of a static icon.
See “Change the Icon for All Files of a Type” on page 172 for details.
These extensions add extra pages (tabs) to the window that appears when
you right-click a file of this type and select Properties.
Of course, the keys in the shellex branch aren’t always so neatly organized;
sometimes you’ll find keys named for a Class ID, with another Class ID in its
(Default) value. See “Search the Registry” on page 132 for some tools you can
use to track down Class IDs.
File Type Doctor shows context menu shell extensions associated with the
selected file type in italicized font. Although you can’t edit them (you’ll need
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The Registry
Shell extensions are programs—usually .dll files—that add features to Windows Explorer. When they work, they’re great, but when they falter, they can
cause poor performance, crashes, and other problems. You can disable shell
extensions by unregistering them (deleting their registry keys) or by simply
disconnecting them from their associated file types, as described here.
their source code and development software like Visual Studio for that), you
can remove their context menus by selecting them and clicking Remove. This
won’t unregister the extension, it’ll just disconnect it from the selected file
type, and likely fix the problem you’re having. (Or, just do it to remove clutter.) You can also right-click a shell extension in File Type Doctor to search
the registry or the Web for its Class ID or other related information to learn
more about it.
To list all the shell extensions installed on your PC, use ShellExView, available
for free at
The only items not shown in the Actions in right-click
menu list are those actions registered for the * file type discussed in the sidebar “Special File Type Keys” on page 170. If
you’re trying to remove clutter from your context menus and
you don’t see an item you’re looking for, try selecting the *
(all files) entry at the very top of the list of file types.
One of the most useful features of File Type Doctor is the Lock feature, described next.
Lock Your File Types
Tech companies used to spend millions trying to get you to buy their products
(OK, they still do), but now the race is on to be “the default.” Microsoft positioned its own Bing web search (formerly Live Search, formerly MSN Search,
formerly a sack of bat guano) as the default search tool in Internet Explorer 8,
much to the chagrin of competitors like Google.‡ Companies pay PC manufacturers to preinstall trial versions of their software on all their machines so
their products appear first when customers unwittingly click their own files.
And when you install an application on your PC, the installer invariably makes
the new program the default for all the file types it supports.
Why is being the default so important? Because people don’t change the
‡ In 2007, Google even went to far as to sue Microsoft before Windows Vista shipped, to prevent
them from forcing their Live Search down the throats of Internet Explorer 7 users. This is why
you now have to answer a bunch of questions about your search preferences before you start IE
8 for the first time.
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As a result, software companies—Microsoft included—make a habit out of
steamrolling over your preferences to promote their own products. Luckily,
you have a defense, and it takes place in the registry.
There are basically two approaches to protecting your file types: you can back
them up so they can be restored in case they’re ever overwritten, and you can
“lock” them, preventing such changes in the first place.
The easiest way to back up your file types is to create registry patches as explained in “Export and Import Data with Registry Patches” on page 149. To
make the backup effective, you have to include all the keys laid out in “Anatomy of a File Type” on page 169. For instance, if you’re backing up the file
type for plain-text (.txt) files, your registry patch should include all of these
That last one—the one in the SystemFileAssociations branch—is described
in “Expand the Scope of Your File Types” on page 186. And if you want to
include other related filename extensions, such as .log, .ini, and .csv (to name
a few), you’ll want to include those keys as well.
So, if your file type associations for text files ever get wiped out, just doubleclick your registry patch backup to restore them.
But a slicker solution is to lock your file types by setting restrictive permissions
on the aforementioned keys as described in “Prevent Changes to a Registry
Key” on page 154. That way, no application, no installer, and not even Windows itself can change them unless you unlock them first.
If you want a shortcut, you can use File Type Doctor, introduced in the previous section. Just highlight the file type you want to lock and click the
Lock button. File Type Doctor will not only protect the selected filename
extension and associated file type with one click, but all linked filename extensions as well.
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The Registry
There’s actually a third way to protect your file types, by way
of 7’s UserChoice feature described in the sidebar “The Evils
of UserChoice Override” on page 178. It’s not without its
drawbacks, but it’s easy and convenient if you don’t use context menus.
Most programs and installers won’t have a problem with
locked file types; they’ll likely just ignore the error and move
on. But it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that an application may crash or refuse to continue until it has all the
registry access it needs. (For instance, the Adobe CS4 installer
won’t complete if any file types used by the included applications are locked.) In this case, you may need to unlock the
affected file types first, at which point you’ll want to back them
up as described previously.
To remove the lock, just select a locked file type (you can click the leftmost
column header to group all locked file types together) and click the Unlock
Expand the Scope of Your File Types
To every rule there’s an exception, and in Windows 7, doubly so. In “Anatomy
of a File Type” on page 169, the basic file types system is laid out, with a
collection of keys named for filename extensions (e.g., HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT
\.jpg) and the corresponding file type keys (such as HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\jpeg
file). As it turns out, there’s yet another connection in the registry that affects
your file types.
Many extension keys—like HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.jpg—contain values named
PerceivedType, which point to subkeys of
\SOFTWARE\Classes\SystemFileAssociations. The keys therein work like ordinary file type keys, but they’re much broader in scope. Instead of being linked
to one or two filename extensions, a perceived type key could be linked to
Say you just installed a new image-resizing utility that you’d like to use with a
variety of photo formats. But rather than make it the default for those file types,
you decide to add a context menu item for each supported file format
(e.g., .jpg, .bmp, .png, and so on). Sure, you can do this for each of the 10 or
so graphic formats it supports, but it turns out that all you need to do is add
it to this key to affect all your image files at once:
\image\shell\my_new_ program
By default, the image key shown here is linked to all filename extensions with
a PerceivedType set to image, namely .bmp, .dib, .emf, .gif, .ico, .jfif,
.jpe, .jpeg, .jpg, .png, .rle, .tif, .tiff, .wdp, and .wmf.
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Windows 7 comes with only five perceived type keys (audio, image, system,
text, and video) out of the box, but you can add your own to the
SystemFileAssociations branch at any time, provided you then link at least
one file extension to it by adding a PerceivedType value pointing to your new
key. The benefit is that you can use this key to add a custom context menu
item that affects a large number of different file types at once. The drawback
is that it’s one more place you’ll have to look to track down a misbehaving or
unwanted context menu item.
File Type Doctor (see “Customize Context Menus for Files” on page 175) also
supports perceived types through its “scope” and “affiliation” features. For
instance, if you try to delete a context menu action that’s connected through
a perceived type, File Type Doctor displays a confirmation box that lists the
other filename extensions that will be affected by the change. Likewise, when
creating a new action, you can choose the scope; click the Properties button
next to the Scope list to display all the extensions tied to the current selection.
While you’re digging around the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations
branch in the registry, you may find some file extension keys here as well, like
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\.png. These look and work just
like the extension keys and file type keys in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, discussed earlier in this chapter, but they’re used primarily to reference the Windows
Explorer extensions that were preinstalled with Windows. Why they’re here
instead of in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT with the rest of the extensions is not entirely
clear, but what is clear is that the SystemFileAssociations branch is yet another
place to look for registry keys that affect file types.
Customize Windows Explorer’s New Menu
If you right-click an empty area of the desktop or any open folder and select
New, you’ll see special list of registered file types that can be created on the
spot. Choose one, and Explorer will create a new (usually empty) file with the
appropriate filename extension right there. Not surprisingly, you can edit that
list, and even make it do more than just create empty files.
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The Registry
To break the connection between a filename extension and a perceived type,
just delete the PerceivedType value from the extension key. Or, to link up a file
type with an existing PerceivedType, create a new string value named
PerceivedType in the extension key (e.g., HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.jpg), and set its
contents to the name of the matching perceived type key in the SystemFileAs
sociations branch.
Here’s the easiest way to remove unwanted items from Explorer’s New menu:
1. Install Creative Element Power Tools (introduced earlier in “Customize
Context Menus for Files” on page 175), turn on the Edit file type
associations option in the Creative Elements Power Tools Control Panel,
and click Accept.
2. Right-click an empty area of your desktop, select New, and then select
one of the entries you’d like to remove.
3. Right-click the new file and select Edit File Type.
4. Remove the checkbox next to the Show in Explorer’s New menu option.
5. The change will take effect immediately; right-click the desktop again and
select New to check it out.
If you want to do it by hand, you’ll need to look in a few different places in the
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the key named for the filename extension you’d like to remove
from Windows Explorer’s New menu. For the .txt extension, you’d go to
3. If you see a subkey here named ShellNew, rename it to Shellnew- (Shell
new followed by a hyphen). You can also delete the ShellNew subkey, but
this method allows easy retrieval and is recognized by several third-party
4. Next, look at the (Default) value of the extension key, and then look for
a subkey therein that matches the contents of the (Default) value. Again,
for the .txt extension, you’d go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.txt\txtfile.
5. As in step 3, if you see a subkey here named ShellNew, rename it to Shell
new- (Shellnew followed by a hyphen).
6. The change will take effect immediately; right-click the desktop and select
New to check it out.
As you can see, it’s merely the presence of a ShellNew key that determines
whether a file type shows up in Windows Explorer’s New menu. (Actually,
it’s a little more complicated than that, but more on that subject later.)
To get a list of all the potential entries to appear in the New
menu, fire up registry Agent (see “Search and Replace Registry
Data” on page 136), and search the entire registry for Shell
New. (If you want to weed out erroneous matches, turn on the
Keys option, uncheck the Values and Data options, and then
turn on Match whole word.)
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Now, there are some nifty hacks you can use on the ShellNew keys you choose
to leave intact. A typical ShellNew key has only one value—NullFile, described
in the upcoming list—but if you add any of the other following values to the
ShellNew key, you’ll change how Windows Explorer behaves when you select
the corresponding item from the New menu. All values are string values unless
otherwise specified:
c:\windows\system32\notepad.exe "%1"
Consult your application’s documentation to see whether any other command-line parameters are needed to create the new document; otherwise,
the program may just open and complain that it can’t find the (as yet
nonexistent) file.
Any text stored in this binary value will be placed into the new file. For
instance, the Data value for .rtf files (in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.rtf\Shell
New) contains the text, {\rtf1}, which ensures that the new .rtf file is readable by whatever program you use to open it. Explorer ignores the Data
value if either FileName or NullFile is present. (Hint: the FileName value,
next, is a better way to create nonempty files.)
This is the full path and filename of a template file—a file to be copied
and used for each new document you create—in lieu of creating an empty
(zero-byte) file. If you don’t include the path, Windows looks in C:\Users\
as C:\Windows\ShellNew for the template file.
The Class ID (e.g., {CEEFEA1B-3E29-4EF1-B34C-FEC79C4F70AF}) of the shell
extension used to create the new file. For example, Windows Shortcuts
(.lnk files) use a handler. (See the sidebar “Fix Wonky Shell Extensions” on page 183 for the scoop on Windows Explorer extensions.)
The full path and filename (plus the icon index) of the icon that appears
next to the item in Windows Explorer’s New menu. If you leave this out,
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The Registry
If you include the full path and filename of an executable program (.exe
file), Explorer will launch the program instead of creating a new file. Make
sure to include the "%1" parameter (see “Customize Context Menus for
Files” on page 175) so the target program knows where to create the new
file, like this:
Explorer uses the file type’s default icon. See “Change the Icon for All Files
of a Type” on page 172 for the syntax.
By default, the name of the new file you create is the name of the file type,
preceded by the word “New” and followed by the appropriate filename
extension; for instance: New Text Document.txt. This value determines
the name of the new file, but like MenuText, described next, it can’t be plain
text but must rather point to a text resource in a .dll file.
Unfortunately, this is not what it looks like. Yes, it determines the text
that appears in Explorer’s New menu, but you can’t just type the text here.
Instead, it must be a reference to a text resource in a .dll file, such as
This instructs Explorer to create an empty (zero-byte) file. If none of these
other values are present, you need to include the NullFile value, or the
file type won’t show up in Explorer’s New menu.
So, how do you keep applications from recreating the ShellNew keys and continuously cluttering up Explorer’s New menu? Adobe Photoshop does this
every time it starts, but all it takes is a quick change to the registry to prevent
it from happening again:
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the extension key you want to permanently exclude from the
New menu. For Photoshop documents, you’d go to
3. Delete any ShellNew keys you find here; see the solution spelled out earlier
in this section for details.
4. Right-click the extension key (e.g., .psd), and select Permissions.
5. In the Permissions window, click the Advanced button, and then in the
Advanced Security Settings window, click Add.
6. Next, in the Select User or Group window, type everyone into the Enter
the object name to select field, and then click OK.
7. Finally, in the Permission Entry window, place a checkmark in the
Deny column for Create Subkey, and then click OK when you’re
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8. Click OK, then click Yes when asked whether you’re sure you want to set
a “deny permissions entry,” and then click OK to close the final window.
9. The change will take effect immediately. Test it out by starting the application; you can press F5 in the Registry Editor to refresh the view and
confirm that no new ShellNew subkey has been added.
Fix Internet Shortcuts
Customization is fun, but sometimes all you need to do to a file type is fix it
when it breaks. Most of the time you can just reinstall the application that
originally created it—unless a UserChoice key is in effect, explained in the
sidebar “The Evils of UserChoice Override” on page 178—but that doesn’t
always work.
One file type that’s always getting munged is the .url (Internet Shortcut) type,
and repairing it can be a little tricky. For one, .url files don’t launch your web
browser directly; instead, they activate a Windows .dll that does the launching.
In essence, it’s a two-step process that employs two different file types; the
following sequence of registry keys shows how it works.
The keys discussed in the steps below should all have been
locked when Windows 7 was installed, a fact that should’ve
prevented them from being corrupted in the first place. (Alas,
such things seem to happen anyway.) If Windows won’t let
you make changes to any of these keys, you’ll need to take
ownership of them first, as described in “Prevent Changes to
a Registry Key” on page 154, and in Chapter 8.
1. Go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.url, and confirm that the (Default) value is set
to InternetShortcut.
2. Next, go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\InternetShortcut\Shell\Open\Command,
and make sure the (Default) value here is set to:
rundll32.exe shdocvw.dll,OpenURL %l
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The Registry
You can accomplish pretty much the same thing with File Type Doctor’s
Lock feature (covered in “Lock Your File Types” on page 184), but that may
be overkill if all you want to do is keep unwanted items out of Explorer’s
New menu. See “Prevent Changes to a Registry Key” on page 154 for other
things you can do with registry permissions.
This command instructs Windows to crack open the selected Internet Shortcut file, read the URL stored inside
(which you can also do with Notepad, by the way), and
then launch the program appropriate to the variety of
URL. Notice that the default web browser (e.g., Internet
Explorer, Firefox, etc.) isn’t yet part of the equation.
3. Internet shortcuts also use an “icon handler” by default (explained in
“Change the Icon for All Files of a Type” on page 172), which chooses an
icon for each file depending on the type of URL inside. So, this key:
should be set to {FBF23B40-E3F0-101B-8488-00AA003E56F8}. Of course, if
you want to disable the icon handler and choose your own static icon
instead, just rename the IconHandler key to IconHandler.backup, and then
specify your icon file in the DefaultIcon key, as described earlier in this
4. Once Windows has determined what type of URL it’s dealing with, it
executes the Open command in the key named for the protocol being
used. For instance, the URL uses the
http:// protocol, so its’ default application is stored in this registry key:
There are similar keys for the other protocols, like
https://, file://, ftp://, news://, nntp://, snews://,
telnet://, and mailto:. (In File Type Doctor, the protocol file types are found at the bottom of the list.) These
keys aren’t just used for Internet Shortcuts; they control
Windows’ behavior whenever you try to open a web address by clicking a hyperlink in an email message, opening a web link from an installed application, or typing a
URL into the Start menu’s Search box.
5. The (Default) value of the protocol’s command key should be set to the full
path and filename of your default web browser. The Windows default is,
of course, Internet Explorer:
"C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe" -nohome
Or, if you’re using Mozilla Firefox:
C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe %1
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Or, if you want Mozilla SeaMonkey to be your default browser, you’d use:
C:\Program Files\Mozilla SeaMonkey\seamonkey.exe -url "%1"
See “Customize Context Menus for Files” on page 175 for details on the
command key, command-line parameters, and the sometimes necessary
ddeexec key.
6. The change takes effect immediately. Double-click any applicable Internet
Shortcut to try out your new settings.
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The Registry
As you can see, there are a lot of registry keys responsible for something as
seemingly simple as opening a web address, and all it takes is one missing key,
one misplaced quotation mark, or one mangled class ID to break the whole
system. And so it goes with the registry in Windows 7.
Video, Audio, and Media
Working with videos, photos, and music can be a frustrating experience on a
Windows machine. That’s really a shame seeing as how so many people buy
computers specifically for that purpose.
Windows 7 is finally caught up with where it should have been about 10 years
ago. It can display thumbnail previews of pictures and videos and it can put
to use the embedded EXIF information in photos and embedded tags in music
files in ways that XP never could. For years, Windows included Media Player,
but didn’t provide the necessary drivers to play DVD movies; now Windows
can play DVDs (but not many other types of videos). And it’s never been easy
to add or manage the software required to do so.
Thankfully, many of the buggy media features in Windows Vista—some of
which are responsible for the green ribbon of death—have been improved
enough to be useful in Windows 7. But Microsoft has a habit of taking a few
steps back every time it staggers forward. For instance, Movie Maker, the
Notepad of video editors included with Windows since XP, is absent in Windows 7, available now only as a download (free at
moviemaker). The fact that it’s not in the box (and that it’s no match for Apple’s
iMovie) is one of many cues that Microsoft still can’t grasp what people want
out of their computers.
Get Videos to Play
Windows 7 can handle full-screen, high-definition video streamed over the
Internet from websites like Hulu without any special software beyond a web
browser, the Adobe Flash plugin, and a suitable video driver. But try to play a
low-res video file sitting on your hard disk, and it gets complicated.
Unlike most other types of files, the filename extension alone doesn’t dictate
the encoding scheme of a video. All .jpg image files use standard JPEG
compression, but a given .avi movie file may employ any one of dozens of
available compression standards, called codecs. Without the proper codec for
a video file, you won’t be able to play the video or even convert it to a playable
A codec (which stands for compressor/decompressor) is software installed on
your PC, akin to a device driver, with most of the pitfalls and frustrations that
implies. Codecs are frequently buggy, and a bad one can cause video playback
problems and even application crashes.
Windows 7 only includes codecs for a few common (and aging) standards;
need anything else, and you’re on your own. And since Windows provides no
“Device Manager” or “Windows Update” tool for codecs, there’s no easy way
to list the codecs installed on your PC, get updates, or install missing ones. (At
least not without add-on software.) And don’t even get me started on the More
Information link in Windows Media Player, which doesn’t provide anything
one would recognize as useful information.
To play a particular video, you need to install the same codec that was used
to create (compress) the video in the first place, regardless of the player application you’re using. (In other words, a missing codec isn’t a deficiency of
Windows Media Player, per se, but rather of Windows.). To determine which
codec was used for a particular video, you’ll need a program like GSpot or
AVIcodec, both of which are free. Just drag-drop the video file onto GSpot
(Figure 4-1) or AVIcodec, and the program will display the file’s video codec,
audio codec, and other statistics.
The codec utility may indicate that the required codec is already installed. As comforting as that may be, you might still
need to download and install the latest version of the codec to
play the troublesome video. Otherwise, you may not have all
the latest bugs…er, fixes.
If one of these tools can’t identify the codec, the file might be corrupted or
encoded with a nonstandard scheme. This doesn’t necessarily mean the video
isn’t playable, but rather that it might be a bit of a chore to find out how to
make it playable.
Provided you’re not able to personally ask whoever created the video for details
about the software used, the easiest trick is to open the file in a standard text
editor and look for the four-digit 4CC code near the beginning. Figure 4-2
shows the code buried in a file, DIVX in this case, which indicates that the DivX
decompressor is needed to play this video.
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Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-1. Use GSpot to find the software necessary to play a given video clip
Figure 4-2. A hex editor or text editor will show you the 4CC code embedded in the beginning
of most movie files
Armed with the name (or 4CC code) of the codec, go to
fcccodec.htm, and download the codec installer from the list. If the 4CC code
isn’t there, a quick Google search (along with the word “codec”) should turn
up some useful leads. After a bit of searching, you’ll probably figure out how
widespread this video codec problem really is.
Get Videos to Play | 197
Once you’ve installed the codec, close any lingering Windows Media Player
windows, and then try playing the video again. Keep in mind that there are
often multiple versions of a single codec available—sometimes from different
vendors—so you may need to install several codecs before you find the one
that works.
Some of the more requested codecs include DivX, Xvid for MPEG-4,Apple
Quicktime, and and FLV/Flash Video (described in the next section, “Install
the FLV Flash Video Codec”). After installing the latest versions of these four
codecs, you should be able to play most of the videos you come across.
Some enterprising individuals have created codec packages,
large installers that include several, if not dozens, of the codecs
that people seem to need most. While these packages may
seem convenient, there are several problems with this approach. For one, you’re installing more software and drivers
than you really need. Second, these packages typically do away
with the standalone installers, which means updating or removing individual codecs can be a chore. And worst of all, if
one or of the installed programs or codecs causes a problem,
it’s nearly impossible to troubleshoot it. My advice: avoid the
packages and install codecs one-by-one as you need them.
If, after installing an individual codec or codec package, some of your videos
no longer play (or their thumbnails no longer show up), there’s a little trick
you can try before you uninstall and give up. The FFDShow Video Decoder
Configuration tool, included with many codec packages and shown in Figure 4-3, helps you troubleshoot specific codec problems.
For instance, on one occasion, Windows lost the ability to play back
some .avi files: Media Player crashed every time it tried to play one, and Windows Explorer displayed an error message whenever it attempted to render
thumbnails for the videos. To fix a problem like this, open the FFDShow Video
Decoder Configuration tool, select Codecs on the left, and in the right pane,
find the codec used by the video file that’s causing the problem. Then, in the
Decoder column, use the drop-down listbox to choose a different decoder
from the list. Click OK when you’re done; the change should take effect immediately.
Another way to manage codecs is with the free CodecInstaller utility (http:// Not only does it list all the codecs installed on your PC
—along with their version numbers and filenames—but it can analyze media
files to identify required codecs and even download common codec installers.
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Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-3. When more than one codec is installed for a specific video format, you can choose
which one to use with FFDShow Video Decoder Configuration Tool
Install the FLV Flash Video Codec
The FLV codec is the one used to create—and therefore play back—Adobe
Flash video, the format used to stream video on many websites (most notably,
YouTube). If you have the Adobe Flash authoring software installed, you can
play FLV files with Adobe Player; but if you don’t have the full Flash package,
or you want to play FLV files with Windows Media Player, you’ll need to install
the standalone codec. Unfortunately, Adobe doesn’t provide the codec by
itself, so you’ve got to obtain and register the files manually.
In an attempt to find the right codec to play a video, you might
come across a lone .ax codec file that doesn’t have its own
installer (sometimes referred to as a splitter). This procedure
is an example of how to install such a codec.
First, download the FLV DirectShow Filter (FLV Splitter), which you can get
from the Guliverkli2 project (
To install the codec, just copy the file to your \Windows\System32 folder.
Get Videos to Play | 199
Open a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapters 9
and 8, respectively) and type:
regsvr32 \Windows\System32\
to register the file. Or, to uninstall, type
regsvr32 /u \Windows\System32\
If you see a message like “DLLRegisterServer in C:\Windows\System32\ succeeded,” then the new codec is installed and ready
to use. Test it out by double-clicking any .flv video file.
Don’t want to hassle with the command prompt every time
you register an .ax or .dll file? Try EMSA Register DLL Tool
or DllRegSvr, both free, to do it with the Windows GUI.
To get thumbnail previews of FLV files in Windows Explorer, you’ll need to
make a connection manually in the registry:
1. Open Registry Editor (see Chapter 3), and navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT
2. Look at the (Default) value and then navigate to the key by that name
under HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. For instance, if (Default) is set to flvfile, then
you’d go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\flvfile.
3. Select the ShellEx key here (e.g., HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\flvfile\ShellEx),
and then from the Edit menu, select New and then Key.
4. Name the new key {BB2E617C-0920-11D1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1}.
5. Inside the new {BB2E617C-0920-11D1-9A0B-00C04FC2D6C1} key, doubleclick the (Default) value and type {c5a40261-cd64-4ccf-84cbc394da41d590} for its contents.
If you don’t want to do all this by hand, you can download a registry patch file
from Next, complete steps 1
and 2 above; if the (Default) value is not set to flvfile, edit the
flvthumbs.reg file with Notepad and replace flvfile with whatever
(Default) is set to. When you’re ready, just double-click the file and click
Yes to merge it with your registry. See “Export and Import Data with Registry
Patches” on page 149 for more on .reg files.
If you can’t get the codec to work, or you’d prefer not to undertake the messy
installation, you can get a dedicated .flv player like FLV Player (free at http://
200 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
Repair Broken and Incomplete Videos
There are reasons that Windows Media Player might have trouble playing a
video other than a missing or broken codec—namely, problems with the video
file itself. First, make sure your video file is complete; if you downloaded it
from the Web, try clearing your browser cache and downloading the file again.
If you’re unable to obtain an intact version of the video, you may be able to
repair it with the free MPEG Header Corrector, available at, although this typically only works on
true .mpg files. Need to repair an .avi file? Use DivFix (free, http://divfix.maxe instead.
Does It Have the Right Extension?
There’s always a chance someone gave your file the wrong filename extension;
before you attempt to repair that video, make sure it has the correct extension.
To check whether that .mpg file is really an .mpg file, open the file in a text or
hex editor. The header (before the aforementioned 4CC code) will read RIFF
if it’s an .avi file, RMF if it’s an .rm (Real Media) file, MOOV if it’s a .mov (Apple
Quicktime) file, FLV if it’s an .flv (Flash Video) file, or W.M.F.S.D.K if it’s a
Microsoft .asf or .wmv file. If you see no header (only junk), it’s likely
an .mpg file.
See Chapter 3 for more information on file types, and Chapter 2 to find out
how to show filename extensions in Windows Explorer. Once extensions are
visible, you can change a file’s extension merely by renaming the file and typing new letters beyond the final dot.
But what if you’re in the middle of downloading a video from the Web? Eventually, it’ll be intact and playable, but if you want to start playing it before the
download is complete, you’ll need to employ a few tricks.
First thing to know: Windows Media Player (and many other players) won’t
play most kinds of videos while they’re in use—that is, while they’re currently
being saved by another program (e.g., your browser). The big exception to this
rule is streaming video, commonly found in files with the .asf or .wmv extension (Quicktime .mov files, too); by design, these files can be played even while
in use by other applications.
Get Videos to Play | 201
Video, Audio,
and Media
OK, I know I just said that the filename extension doesn’t dictate the codec,
but it does determine how the video data is organized in the file. See the “Does
It Have the Right Extension?” sidebar if you suspect a video file has been misnamed.
To get around this limitation for non-streaming video formats, open the folder
containing the file, and create a duplicate of the partially downloaded file.
Using the right mouse button, drag the file to an empty area in the same folder,
and select Copy Here from the menu that appears. When that’s done, you
should be able to open the duplicate file with no problems.
You may have to change the filename extension when playing
videos that are in the midst of downloading. For instance, if
you’re downloading a video with certain types of peer-to-peer
clients named skiing.mpg, the intermediate filename will be
something like skiing.mpg.downloading, and thus the filename
of the duplicate you create will be skiing.mpg-Copy.downloading. Just rename the file to skiing.mpg-Copy.downloading.mpg (or simply skiing.mpg) and then double-click the file
to play it. Of course, some P2P programs download files out
of order, so your video will only play the first contiguous block
of complete data.
With some video formats, particularly .avi files, there’s a catch: the index,
essential information about the sequence of frames in the video, is located at
the end of the file instead of the beginning. Thus an incomplete .avi file won’t
have an index, and can’t be played at all. The solution is to use a rendexing
utility to rebuild this data and make the file playable. DivFix, shown in Figure 4-4, does this quite nicely, but only works on true .avi files (discussed earlier
in this section). If DivFix can’t repair your file, the Windows Media Encoder
fault.mspx) is capable of indexing video files, albeit requiring a bit more work
to navigate the complex interface.
Fix Other Playback Problems
So, what if your video plays, but not well? Problems like stretched or squashed
video (too wide or too tall), bad color, and choppy playback can all be caused
by buggy, misconfigured, or out-of-date video codecs. Just track down and
install the latest version of the codec required by the misbehaving video, as
described at the beginning of this chapter, and try again. If that doesn’t help,
there are some other fixes, as follows:
Change the aspect ratio
If all your videos seem squashed (too narrow) or stretched out (too wide),
you may have to correct your display’s aspect ratio setting. In Windows
Media Player, press the Alt key by itself to open the menu, and then from
202 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
the Tools menu, select Options. Choose the Devices tab, highlight Display in the list, and then click Properties. Move the slider until the oval
looks like as close to a true circle as possible, and then click OK.
On the other hand, if only a single video clip has an incorrect aspect ratio,
it may’ve been encoded that way. Sure, you can fix the file with a videoediting program like River Past Video Perspective, Open Video Con
verter, or Adobe Premiere, but that’s a lot of trouble for a video you might
only watch once. Instead, open the file in Windows Media Center and use
the Zoom feature, or watch the video with VLC Media Player (free from, which lets you change the aspect ratio on
the fly.
If you do decide to reencode the video, the hardest part is the math (and
it’s not that hard). Most video has a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means the
width is four-thirds the height. (HD television and some feature films typically have a 16:9 aspect ratio, while wider “anamorphic” feature films
have a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.) If your botched video clip has, say, a resolution
of 400×400 (giving you a 1:1 aspect ratio and a square video frame), you
can either increase the width to 600 (400×4/3) or decrease the height to
300 (400 divided by 4/3). Of the two choices, decreasing the height will
usually give you a sharper-looking video, since compressed pixels always
look better than stretched pixels.
Synchronize audio and video
If all your videos are out of sync, open the Sound page in Control Panel.
Choose the Playback tab, select your speakers in the list, and then click
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Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-4. Use DivFix to reindex incomplete videos so you can play what you’ve
downloaded so far
Properties. Choose the Enhancements tab, select Room Correction
from the list, and click the Settings button. (If Room Correction isn’t
there, your sound card driver doesn’t support the feature.) You’ll need a
microphone and a few minutes to complete the exercise.
If the Room Correction tool doesn’t help, or if it’s unavailable, open Windows Media Player and press the Alt key by itself to open the menu. From
the Tools menu, select Options, and then choose the Performance tab.
Turn on the Drop frames to keep audio and video synchronized option, and then click OK.
If the audio is out of sync while playing a DVD, try pausing playback, waiting a few seconds, and then starting up
again. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get a movie back
on track.
If settings alone don’t fix the problem, there may be a problem with your
hardware drivers. Go ahead and install the latest drivers for your video
card and sound card, and then run Windows Update to make sure you
have the latest video-related updates.
If the audio and video in only a single clip are out of sync, try watching
the video with VLC Media Player (free from
vlc/), which lets you fix the sync on the fly. But to repair the file, you’ll
need a timeline-based video-editing application like Adobe Premiere. (Unfortunately, Windows Live Movie Maker, which comes with Windows 7,
won’t let you manipulate video and audio streams separately.) Drag your
video to the timeline, then drag the audio portion of the clip slightly to the
left or right until it’s synced up with the video. (Naturally, this takes some
trial and error, so I hope it’s not a boring clip.)
The aforementioned dragging method works only if the
audio and video are out of sync consistently throughout
the video. If the movie starts out in sync but gradually
gets out of sync, a little more massaging of the audio track
is necessary. Either you have to insert delays or delete tiny
bits of silence here and there to straighten everything out,
or you have to stretch or shrink the entire audio track by
a small amount—a two-second lag on a two-hour movie
is just under 0.03%.
When you’re done, export the project into a new movie file. Consult the
documentation that comes with your video application for details.
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Speed it up or slow it down
Is a video playing too fast or too slow? In Windows Media Player, click
the Now Playing button, select Enhancements, and then select Play
Speed Settings (Figure 4-5). Adjust the slider until the video plays at the
correct speed.
Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-5. Play any video faster or slower with the Play Speed Settings panel in Windows
Media Player
Fix bad color
If some of your videos seem to have messed-up color, open Windows
Media Player, click the Now Playing button, select Enhancements, select Video Settings, and then click the Reset link. Next, click the little
arrows until you see Color Chooser, and click the Reset link here as well.
Now, play a video to try it out; if the colors are still off, you may have to
Get Videos to Play | 205
play with the Video Settings and Color Chooser sliders to fine-tune the
If that doesn’t do the trick, or if you see colored lines running through
your videos, you can usually correct the problem by updating your display
Shed light on blank videos
Ever feel like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes?* You might hear
something, but you definitely see nothing when you play most videos. This
is often caused by a missing video codec, but might instead point to a video
overlay problem.
When you play video, Windows usually paints a special rectangle on your
screen, and your video driver is responsible for superimposing the moving
video over it. This overlay scheme allows your display adapter (video card)
to handle the burden of playing the video rather than your CPU, which
affords better performance and smoother video. Unfortunately, it can also
be the source of problems in some cases, usually manifesting itself as only
the black rectangle where video should appear.
First, conduct a little test to see whether you indeed have an overlay problem. Try maximizing or resizing the Windows Media Player window, or
cover it with another window and then bring it to the front. If this makes
the video play, or if you see pieces of windows left behind in the black
rectangle, your video card driver may be to blame. Visit your video card
manufacturer’s website and download the latest driver. Also, pay a visit
to the company’s support website and look for recommended BIOS settings (see Appendix A).
Simplify Your Media Players
The Windows Media Player has lots of interesting features and gadgets, most
of which just get in the way when all you want to do is play a simple video. Of
course, it looks downright minimalistic compared with Real Networks’
cumbersome RealPlayer. Fortunately, you have a few choices.
To switch to the simpler Windows Media Player window, just press Ctrl-2 to
switch to Skin Mode. (Or, press Alt to show the normally hidden menu, and
then select View→Skin Mode.) The default skin is “Corporate,” but you can
choose another skin by clicking Alt and selecting View→Skin Chooser.
Alternatively, Media Player Classic - Home Cinema, available for free at http:
//, can take the place of Windows Media
* I would’ve also accepted Sergeant Schulz from Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953).
206 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-6. Media Player Classic is an alternative to the overblown Windows Media Player
and messy RealPlayer applications
Player, RealPlayer, and QuickTime Player. It has a slimmed-down interface
(shown in Figure 4-6), loads more quickly than Windows Media Player, and
doesn’t need to be installed (it’s just a standalone .exe file). Best part is that it
plays any video format that Windows Media Player can play. (Really, it’s just
replacement “shell” that ties into the playback engines that come with the
aforementioned media players.)
Aside from the streamlined interface and its ability to handle just about any
video format, Media Player Classic has several features that make it worth
using. For instance, you can play more than one video at once, something
Windows Media Player won’t let you do. And it’s kind enough to show detailed
error messages with enough information to solve the problem, such as listing
any missing codecs.
Also available is the free VLC Media Player, which, in addition to providing a
simple, clean interface, gives you superior control over playback speed, aspect
ratio, audio/video sync, color, subtitles, and volume.
Download from Wow! eBook
Get Videos to Play | 207
Rewind or Fast-Forward Stubborn Video
You’ve probably encountered a video on the Web that won’t let you jump back
(without starting over) or skip ahead. It’s not such a big deal with a 20-second
clip, but when you’re watching a half-hour broadcast mostly featuring a talking
head, it can be infuriating when you can’t just skip ahead to the car chase.
Usually, this is a limitation of the video file (or of the player), and not simply
an option that can be turned on or off. A lot of streaming video clips have this
problem, particularly .wmv and .asf videos. To jump to an arbitrary position
while watching these videos, they must be indexed, something you can only
do if the video file is stored on your hard disk. If there’s a web-based video you
want to index, you’ll need to download it to your hard disk first, as described
in “Download Online Video Clips” on page 209.
To index a .wmv file, download the free Windows Media Encoder at http://
(don’t worry about the “9 series” moniker; it’ll work fine with Windows 7 and
Media Player 12. Open the Windows Media File Editor, drag-drop the video
onto the Editor window, and from the File menu, select Save and Index.
Thereafter, you’ll never have to wait for the car chase again.
Control Video Buffering
Most online video clips are designed to stream, allowing you to start watching
before your PC has finished downloading. To keep the video playing smoothly,
video players often download a few seconds of video ahead of the playback, a
technique called buffering (or caching), and sometimes this means you have to
wait. The good news is that you can choose when to wait: now, or later.
The buffering settings discussed here have no effect on video
clips stored on your hard disk, nor on video handled by other
players (e.g., Flash, Quicktime, and RealOne). To eliminate
buffering messages altogether, see the next section, “Download Online Video Clips”.
In Windows Media Player, click the Now Playing button, select More Options, and then choose the Performance tab. Select Buffer [5] seconds of
content, the second option in the Network buffering section.
To shorten the lead time so that videos will start playing sooner, enter a small
number, say 3. Depending on the speed of your Internet connection and number of visitors the web server is currently juggling, those 3 seconds of content
208 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
could take anywhere from 2 seconds to 20 minutes to download. (Obviously,
upgrading to a faster Internet connection will minimize the waiting most of
the time.)
Unfortunately, entering a small number means that Media Player has to stop
playback more often to buffer more content. If you find that Media Player
frequently stops playing to buffer more data, raise the buffer number to 10 or
20 seconds. You’ll get smoother playback, but you’ll have to wait longer before
your online videos play.
Download Online Video Clips
What happens when the publisher takes down a video or moves it to a subscription-based archive before you have a chance to watch it? What if the server
is too busy, and your PC isn’t able to stream it smoothly? What if you want to
save the video so you can index it (as described earlier in this section)? What
if the video is long, and you want to watch it later on your mobile phone or
laptop on the road? What if you just want to needlessly fill up your hard drive?
Straighten Out Browser Video Plug-ins
Odds are you have the most popular video plug-ins already installed in your
browser, but if you can’t play one or more online videos, make sure you have
the latest versions of these four major plug-ins installed in each web browser
you use:
IE plugin(s): qtplugin.ocx
Firefox plugin(s): npqtplugin.dll, npqtpluginx.dll
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and Media
Most online video publishers don’t make it easy to download video files to
your hard disk, and for good reason. For one, if you’re forced to watch video
only on the originating website, the video provider can monetize your visit
with ads, cross-promotions, etc.. And of course, nobody wants you to take
copyrighted material and upload it to YouTube. That’s all well and good, but
who’s looking out for your needs?
IE plugin(s): oc3260.dll
Firefox plugin(s): nppl3260.dll, nprpjplug.dll
Shockwave Flash
IE plugin(s): flash9.ocx
Firefox plugin(s): npswf32.dll
Windows Media Player:
IE plugin(s): wmp.dll, msdxm.ocx
Firefox plugin(s): npdsplay.dll, npwmsdrm.dll
To see a list of plug-ins that are installed in Internet Explorer, open IE, click
the Tools drop-down, and select Internet Options. Choose the Programs
tab, click Manage add-ons, and then from the Show drop-down, select Addons that run without requiring permission. In the Settings box, you can
also disable any plug-in you suspect might be causing playback problems, or,
if you’re lucky, you may be able to go to Control Panel→Programs and
Features to uninstall the plug-in completely.
In Mozilla Firefox (and Mozilla SeaMonkey), just type about:plugins in the
address bar and press Enter to see a list of installed plug-ins. (Note that plugins, used to view embedded content, are indeed different from extensions,
which only add features to the browser interface.) Like IE, Mozilla plug-ins
can be uninstalled from Control Panel.
It’s often tricky to save online video for several reasons, not the least of which
is the variety of delivery protocols and anti-downloading mechanisms in use.
So before you start mucking around, look for the simplest solution. Some sites,
such as Google Video, include a download link right on the page. Or, if the
video is presented bare in the middle of the browser window (as opposed to
having been embedded in a page), and the URL ends with a filename extension
commonly associated with video files (e.g., .mpg, .mov, .wmv), then you can
often just save the file by pressing Ctrl-S. (Likewise, Page→Save As in IE or
File→Save Page As in Firefox.)
Otherwise, the first step is to find out what kind of video file you’re dealing
with, and the easiest way to do that is to right-click the center of the video
frame in the browser window. The context menu that appears should indicate
the plug-in being used: most notably, the About entry (if there is one). If you’re
having trouble playing an embedded video, see the sidebar “Straighten Out
Browser Video Plug-ins” on page 209.
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How you proceed depends on the plug-in.
Saving Video: Adobe Flash Player/Macromedia Flash Player
Flash-based videos typically come in two parts: the player module and the
video file. The Flash plug-in first loads the player module (an .swf file), which
then downloads and controls the video source (an .flv file); the .flv file is what
you want. (This isn’t always the case; sometimes there’s no separate .flv file,
and the video is likely embedded in the main .swf file.)
As soon as the player has finished downloading the entire .flv file, you can
usually find it in your web browser cache, as described in the sidebar “Pull
Files Out of Your Browser Cache” on page 212.
If you don’t feel like digging through your cache folder, you can use one of
these handy browser add-ons designed to provide direct links to .flv files on
the most popular Flash-based video websites:
Bookmarklet (JavaScript button on your Links toolbar):
If you’re using Firefox, SeaMonkey, or Opera, go to
marklets/video-bookmarklets.html and drag the “All-In-One Video Bookmarklet” link from the page onto your browser’s Links toolbar. Then,
navigate to a video page and click the bookmarklet to open a pop-up window with a download link.
Since Internet Explorer doesn’t support bookmarklets longer than 2,083
characters, you won’t be able to use the aforementioned “All-In-One” link
in IE. Instead, use the “old” bookmarklets listed at
marklets/video-bookmarklets.html; you’ll need to install a bookmarklet for
each website you use (e.g., YouTube, Google Video, etc.).
Greasemonkey User Script (Firefox/SeaMonkey only):
If you have the Greasemonkey extension (available from http://greasespot
.net), go to, click
the “All-In-One Video Script” link, and then click Install. Next, navigate
to a video page, and click the yellow bar that appears to display the download link.
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Video, Audio,
and Media
Windows Media Player can’t play .flv files unless you install
a special codec, as described in “Install the FLV Flash Video
Codec” on page 199.
There are also many Greasemonkey user scripts specialized for individual
websites, all available for free from For instance, the
excellent YousableTubeFix script not only provides convenient FLV and
MP4 download links on all YouTube pages, it enlarges the video and reorganizes the page to improve usability.
Firefox Extension (Firefox only):
First, install the VideoDownloader extension from http://videodownloader
.net/, and then restart Firefox. Next, navigate to a video page, and click
the VideoDownloader status bar icon to display a pop-up window with
the download link.
Pull Files Out of Your Browser Cache
Web browsers store copies of recently viewed pages and all associated media
(images, audio, and video) in a folder on your hard disk, called the cache. This
improves performance when you’re surfing, but also makes it easy to grab
copies of media files—such as Flash videos (.flv files)—for storage elsewhere.
Internet Explorer’s cache folder is \Users\{username}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Temporary Internet Files. (In IE, go to Tools→Internet Options, click Settings in the Browsing history section, and then click View
files.) Sort the list by file type to group all the .flv files together, and then drag
the file out of the folder or double-click it to play it.
Mozilla Firefox isn’t so friendly with its cache; cached files have obfuscated
filenames and no extensions, making it difficult to pull individual files its cache
(located in the Cache subfolder of \Users\{username}\AppData\Local\Mozilla
\Firefox\Profiles). The solution is to install the CacheViewer extension, available for free from
Also available is VideoCacheView, which is specifically designed to retrieve .flv files from the cache of both Internet Explorer and Firefox.
Unfortunately, not every Flash player caches video. In this case, follow the
instructions for Windows Media Player later in this section; just substitute
the .flv filename extension for the Windows Media extensions in the
Apple QuickTime
QuickTime files are typically the easiest videos to deal with. If the video file is
playing by itself in the center of the browser window, select Page→Save As in
Internet Explorer (or File→Save As in any other browser). If the video is playing in a standalone QuickTime window, you can select File→Save As and save
212 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
the file right on the spot, but only if you’re using QuickTime Pro (the extracost upgrade to the free QuickTime player).
If the video is embedded in a web page, you’ll need one of these add-ons to
yank it out:
Download Files Without Viewing Them
Type a URL into your browser’s address bar and hit Enter, and the browser
will attempt to display the file in its own window or launch the associated
player. Only if the file can’t be displayed (such as a .zip or .exe), will you get
a standard Save As dialog. But what if you want to save (download) a file the
browser wants to open, such as a video?
If you’re using Mozilla SeaMonkey, this is easy. Instead of pressing the Enter key in the address bar, press Shift-Enter to save the file instead of opening
it. This won’t work in Internet Explorer or Firefox, though, so you’ll need a
slightly trickier method for those browsers.
Open Notepad and paste the URL of the file you want to download. In front
of the URL, add this text:
<a href="
and then after the URL, add this:
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Video, Audio,
and Media
Bookmarklet (Internet Explorer, Firefox, SeaMonkey):
Go to and drag the “unembed”
link from the page onto your browser’s Links toolbar. Then, navigate to
a video page and click the bookmarklet to download the embedded video.
Greasemonkey User Script (Greasemonkey extension plus Firefox/SeaMonkey).
If you have the Greasemonkey extension (available at http://greasespot
.net), go to, and install the
“unembed” user script. This adds a download link next to any embedded
video; just click the link to download the video file.
Firefox/SeaMonkey Extension (Firefox or SeaMonkey).
Get the AdBlock Plus extension from, and then restart your browser. Open the Adblock Plus Preferences window, select
Options, and turn on the Show tabs on Flash and Java option. Thereafter, a small tab will appear just above embedded videos; click the tab to
view the URL, highlight the URL text and copy it to the clipboard, and
then click Cancel. Armed with the URL of the source video file, download
the file as described in the sidebar “Download Files Without Viewing
Save the file on your desktop as download.html, and then double-click the new
file to open it in your browser. Right-click the lone download link on the
page, and select Save Target As.
Alternatively, you can use Bulk Downloader, available at http://www.creati Just choose the List Manually tab, paste the URL
(or URLs) into the box, and then click Download.
Helper website (any browser)
Go to and paste the URL of the site containing the video
into the URL field. Check the “Terms of Service” checkbox, select the
Movies filter, and click Get Files.
Saving Video: Real Player
If the video is embedded in a web page (including a small pop-up web page),
try right-clicking the video itself. Select Play in RealPlayer to open the clip in
a standalone window, and then in Real Player, select File→Clip Properties→View Clip Info. Armed with the URL of the file, download it as described
in the sidebar above.
The file you download likely won’t be the video itself, but rather only a .ram
file, a playlist of sorts that points to one or more videos stored on a server
somewhere. Open Notepad and drag the .ram file into it to view the URL
inside. If the URL begins with http://, you can probably download it normally,
again following the routine in the sidebar “Download Files Without Viewing
Them”. On the other hand, if the URL begins with rtsp:// (which stands for
Real Time Streaming Protocol), you’ll need a special program capable of
downloading the stream to a file.
Copy the URL (highlight and press Ctrl-C) and paste it (Ctrl-V) into a program like CoCSoft Stream Down, shown in Figure 4-7, WMRecorder, or Web
VideoCap, and it will stream the file and save it to your hard disk.
Saving Video: Windows Media Player
Windows Media Player videos are a pain in the neck because of the wide variety
of tricks publishers must use to get the videos to appear in web pages. If you
encounter one of these beasts, first try the bookmarklets and extensions for
QuickTime videos, listed earlier in this section. If none of those work, you’ll
need to do some digging to get the URL of the source file.
If the video is playing in a standalone Windows Media Player window, getting
the URL is not too hard: from the File menu, select Properties, and it will be
shown in the Location field (see Figure 4-8).
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Figure 4-7. Use a program like CoCSoft Stream Down to download streaming video clips
to your hard disk
Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-8. Get the URL of an online Windows Media Player video clip
If the video is embedded in a web page, getting the URL is a little trickier. If
you’re using Firefox or SeaMonkey, right-click an empty area of the web page
and select View Page Info. Click the Media tab, and then scroll down the list
Get Videos to Play | 215
until you see the URL of the video, which is often the only entry that isn’t an
image file (.jpg, .gif, etc.).
Firefox and SeaMonkey users can also use the AdBlock Plus
extension, described in the Apple QuickTime portion of this
section, to get the URL of an embedded Media Player video
If you’re using Internet Explorer, right-click an empty area of the web page
and select View Source (this works in Firefox and SeaMonkey, too); some
familiarity with HTML will make this task much easier. Press Ctrl-F and
search the code for text that would likely appear in a video clip URL, such
as .asf, .asx, .wmv, or rstp:. Somewhere in the code, you’ll hopefully find a
full (or partial) URL for the source video clip that looks something like rstp://
www.some.server/videos/penguin.asx. If you’re lucky enough to find the URL,
you can proceed to download it by following the instructions for Real Player,
covered earlier in this section.
Saving Video: any source
As a last-ditch solution, you can try a screen recording program such as
CamStudio (free from, Jing (free from http://www.jing, Webinaria (free from,
Hypercam (free trial at, or Camtasia (free trial
at You won’t get the original video
files, but you will get something you can play back at your convenience.
The Trouble with Webcams
Historically, buying a webcam has been an exercise in compromise. Webcams
don’t have the universal appeal of, say, printers, and as such, don’t enjoy an
abundance of high-quality choices nor the comfort of well-established industry
For instance, most webcams are cheap and offer horrendous video quality. As
a result, many are quickly discontinued, making it extremely difficult to find
up-to-date drivers for older models. (A webcam designed for Windows XP isn’t
likely to work in Windows Vista or 7, and don’t even get me started on the
search for 64-bit drivers.)
If you’re lucky enough to find a webcam that works with Windows 7/Vista, it
probably won’t do everything you need it to. Of course, the most hyped
feature—resolution—is the least important: a 5-megapixel webcam isn’t nec-
216 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
essarily any better than a 1.3-megapixel model. (How often will you be taking
still photos with an eyeball-cam tethered to your laptop?) But the sexier features, like motorized face tracking (enabling video chat without having to sit
perfectly still), autofocus, network streaming (for surveillance, baby monitoring, and web publishing), and high frame rate (for smooth, blur-free video) are
often mutually exclusive, making compromise inevitable.
If you’d rather do without the compromise, you’ll have to narrow the field a
bit. Highest priority is UVC (USB Video device Class) compliance: you can
plug a UVC webcam into any Windows 7 machine, and it’ll work without any
special drivers. A UVC webcam won’t pose any problem for x64 Windows,
nor the next few successors to Windows 7 (not to mention XP, Mac OS X,
Linux, etc.).
Also important is the brand name. If you don’t want to buy yet another disposable webcam you’ll have to replace in six months, avoid the cheap,
no-name webcams and stick with Logitech, Creative Labs, or even Microsoft
(gasp) to ensure driver availability in the years to come.
Another way to avoid the “driver trap” is to use an IP camera,
one that connects directly to your network (either wirelessly
or with a Cat-5 cable). No USB connection means no USB
driver is needed. And since most IP cameras with special features like pan-tilt-zoom controls are web-based, all you need
is a browser to control it. (For this reason, avoid IP cameras
that require proprietary software.) See “Use an IP Webcam for
Videoconferencing” on page 218 for more on network
Finally, read online reviews—not surprisingly, they’re plentiful at YouTube—
to see how well a particular model actually renders an image. Look for a
webcam that performs well in low light and handles motion without blurring.
A widescreen aspect ratio (16×9) is a plus, as is a good mounting system (for
The Trouble with Webcams | 217
Video, Audio,
and Media
You may also run across IIDC (Instrumentation & Industrial
Digital Camera), which is an earlier counterpart of UVC, but
exclusively for Firewire (IEEE 1394) connections. For instance, the Apple iSight is a IIDC camera, and is automatically
recognized in Windows 7 as a “1394 Desktop Video Camera.”
Alas, Windows 7 has no universal driver for the microphone
in IIDC cameras, so it’s probably best to avoid IIDC unless
you already own one and use a separate audio source.
attaching to laptop and desktop screens, resting on a desktop, or perching on
a tripod) and a built-in microphone that reproduces voice clearly.
Once you’ve got a webcam that works, check out the following sections for
ways to use it in Windows 7.
Turn a USB Webcam into an IP Webcam
An IP camera can transmit a video stream over a network connection, allowing
you watch video from a remote location and even embed the video in a web
page. These are typically standalone devices that either plug into your router
or connect wirelessly over WiFi, but you can turn the ordinary USB webcam
you already own into an IP camera with a spare laptop and the right software.
webcamXP (which, despite the name, works just fine on Windows 7) is available free for personal use from Once you install
and start it up, right-click the video box and select your camera from the list
of video sources. Then, from any other computer on your network, type the
first PC’s IP address in the address field followed by :8080 (e.g., http:// to view the live video feed right in the browser.
Now, the “video” shown on the webcamXP web page is merely a constantly
updating still image, which works on any browser and any platform—it’ll even
give you live video on an iPhone via Safari. But if you need a true Windows
Media stream, fire up the webcamXP [Windows Media] link in the Start
menu instead. Then go to mms://, and Windows Media
Player will open and play your stream.
Don’t want to tether your camera to a laptop? You can turn
any composite video source into a wireless IP webcam by connecting it to a “Wireless IP Video Transmitter,” a small box
with a WiFi antenna. But if you don’t already have a camera,
you can get an all-in-one wireless webcam for about the same
amount of money, and do away with the clutter and fuss of all
those wires.
Use an IP Webcam for Videoconferencing
You can turn a common USB webcam into an IP camera (as described in the
previous section), so why not the other way around? To use a network camera
with programs like Windows Media Encoder, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Live, and Skype, you have several options.
218 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
For one, there’s Link2Cam (free from
link2cam/), which is a DirectShow filter that effectively tricks Windows into
thinking your remote camera is just another video source. Link2Cam works
with ASF video streams.
If the free software doesn’t cut it, there are commercial alternatives. The IP
Camera DirectShow Filter from supports MPEG,
H264, MJPEG, and JPEG streams, and is discussed in the previous section.
Also available is Willing Webcam, which also supports motion detection, live
video streaming, and time-lapse photography.
Want to record video from a remote camera? Try Debut Video Capture Software, which is free at
Sound and Music
As a result, manufacturers of sound cards simply discontinued their older
products rather than trying to make them compatible with Windows 7 and
Vista. This is why you have to throw out your old sound card, and why you
shouldn’t spend too much on a new one.
Get Sound Where There Is None
Sound in Windows 7 is quite a bit more complicated than it needs to be, so
troubleshooting sound problems is a real chore. The best way to fix a PC that
won’t play sound is with a systematic approach.
Start with the obvious. If you’re using external speakers, make sure they’re
plugged in, turned on, and turned up. Try plugging your speakers into an iPod,
home stereo, or other audio source to make sure they’re actually working.
Using a laptop with integrated speakers? Most laptops have their own independent volume controls, and some are unlucky enough to have two or three.
The first type is the old-school Walkman-esque dial, usually found near the
headphone/speaker jack (sometimes these dials only control external audio,
but not always). The second type is usually found on the keyboard, accessed
by holding the Fn key while pressing another key decorated with a speaker
Sound and Music | 219
Video, Audio,
and Media
Windows 7 has the same audio subsystem as its predecessor, Windows Vista.
Microsoft revamped Vista’s audio subsystem to solve a series of problems it
maintains caused stability and quality shortcomings in earlier versions. If you
skipped Vista and upgraded directly from XP, this is why your sound doesn’t
icon. The third type is found on newer laptops, in the group of media quickaccess buttons. Make your best effort to turn all these controls up.
Sometimes the push-button volume controls on laptops operate the system volume directly, and sometimes they merely
send signals to a Windows application that, in turn, controls
the volume. If your laptop’s volume controls don’t seem to be
working, the application with which they communicate may
not be installed or running. If there’s no Windows 7-compatible media access software on the PC manufacturer’s website,
then you probably won’t be able to use those keys to control
your PC’s volume.
If hardware volume controls are a dead end, open the Volume Mixer,
sndvol.exe—not sndvol32.exe, as it was on some earlier versions—and click
the little down arrow in the Device section. If there’s more than one device
listed, make sure the little dot is next to the one you want to use. Turn up the
Device volume control as high as it will go. Also check the subordinate volume
controls to the right, one for each open sound-enabled application and one for
Windows itself, and make sure they’re all turned up.
Next, go to Control Panel→ Sound, and choose the Playback tab (Figure 4-9). If, again, there’s more than one device listed here, highlight the one
you want to use and click the Set Default button; a green checkmark icon
marks the default playback device.
Note that a single hardware device, such as a sound card, may
be responsible for multiple sound devices shown in Control
Panel. For instance, most higher-end audio cards have both
analog (headphone jack) and digital (coax or optical/SPDIF)
outputs, so make sure the one you’re using is set as the default,
and is marked with the little green checkmark.
With the sound device you want to use highlighted in the Playback window,
click the Properties button, choose the Levels tab, and make sure all the
volume controls here are turned up, and none are muted. (Muted levels have
small red symbols on the blue speaker buttons).
Next, choose the Advanced tab. Click Test to play three tones in the left
channel, followed by three in the right (more if you have a 5.1 or 6.1 setup).
• If you don’t hear anything, and you don’t see an error message at this
point, there’s likely a problem with your speaker jack, cable, or speakers.
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and Media
Figure 4-9. More than one sound device on your PC? If so, you may have been setting the
volume on the wrong card all this time
• If you hear only one set of three tones, it means only one stereo channel
is working; either the left or right channel (or speaker) is out. The left
channel tones decrease in frequency (higher to lower), while the right
channel tones increase (lower to higher).
• If you have more than two speakers, but don’t hear sound out of all of
them, close the Properties window and click Configure to show the
Speaker Setup page. Follow the prompts to tell Windows how many
speakers you have.
• If you hear sound in some applications and not others, it could be the fault
of the Exclusive Mode options in the Properties window. Try turning off
one or both of the options here, click Apply, and try again.
• If you hear the tones, but you can’t hear music played from an audio CD,
the analog audio cable that typically connects CD drives in desktop PCs
to sound cards might be missing, or plugged into the wrong connector.
(Laptops and newer SATA drives don’t usually use these cables.) It’s a thin
cable with small, plastic, three- or four-conductor plugs, and is found inside your PC case. Unless you’re using an add-on sound card, this cable
should be plugged into your motherboard; if there’s more than one port,
try the others until you get sound.
Sound and Music | 221
• If you see the message, “Failed to play test tone,” it means there’s a problem with the driver. Either it’s the wrong driver for the device, or the driver
(or device) isn’t compatible with Windows 7.
Can’t find a Windows 7 driver for your sound card? Try
the Windows Vista driver. If there’s only a driver for XP,
it might be time for a new sound card.
• If you’re using your motherboard’s built-in sound outputs (all laptops and
most modern desktops), and they’re not working, check your BIOS settings and make sure the adapter is enabled, as described in Appendix A.
If Windows won’t support your built-in sound, try an add-on sound card.
• Likewise, if you’re using an add-on sound card that won’t work with
Windows 7, try taking it out and using the sound outputs built into your
Still no luck? Time to start digging around in Device Manager (Control
Panel→Device Manager or run devmgmt.msc). Expand the Sound, video
and game controllers branch; if your device isn’t listed, then Windows hasn’t
detected it, and hasn’t loaded a driver for it. If it’s listed, but its icon is covered
with a red X, then it’s just disabled; right-click the device and select Enable.
If the device icon is covered with a yellow exclamation point, then there’s
something wrong with the driver or the device. The first course of action is to
right-click the device and select Uninstall. Check the Delete the driver
software for this device option, and click OK. When the uninstallation is
complete, restart Windows, and it should redetect the device and install new
drivers by itself when it reboots. If this doesn’t work, visit the sound card
manufacturer’s website and download the latest drivers for your card. (Or, if
the problem appeared just after a recent driver update, try using the Roll Back
Driver feature in Device Manager; see Chapter 6 for more on troubleshooting
Get Windows to Listen
Want to transfer those old vinyl LPs to MP3s? Want to use voice dictation
software? Want to record video, and need to send the audio track through your
sound card? Want to use your PC as a makeshift karaoke machine? Because
modern sound devices often have multiple audio inputs, and Windows lets
you use only one at a time, you may have to jump through a few hoops to
record sound.
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and Media
Figure 4-10. Most recording problems are caused by incorrect settings on this Control Panel
Want an easy way to record sound? Check out HarddiskOgg,
free from, which lets you record any
audio your PC can receive (coming in from a microphone or
line-in device) or produce (going out from an application or
A single audio device may have two or three audio inputs: an analog (mono)
microphone input, an analog stereo “line-In” or auxiliary input, and sometimes a digital S/PDIF input. And special devices, like voice dictation headsets
and TV tuner cards, have their own inputs. All the inputs for all your audio
devices are listed in the Recording tab, on the Sound page in Control
Panel, shown in Figure 4-10. (Most desktop sound cards also have internal
inputs for CD audio, discussed in the previous section, but these almost never
show up in Control Panel.)
To choose the default audio source, highlight the device you want to use and
click Set Default. Most applications will automatically use the default device
to record sound, but some (particularly voice-dictation software) require that
you choose a source separately in the application itself.
Sound and Music | 223
If you have a USB audio device, such as a voice-dictation
headset, Windows may set it as the default recording and
playback device each time you plug it in. This will make it look
like your sound stops working each time you use the headset;
of course, all you have to do is change the default playback
device, as described in the previous section.
Next, you’ll need to set the recording level (volume) of the device; most of the
time, the default level is 0 (off), which won’t produce any sound at all. With
the device highlighted, click Properties, choose the Levels tab and move the
slider to the right until the level is at least 50. (You won’t see a Levels tab if
the status for the device reads “Not plugged in.”)
Next, choose the Listen tab, and select the Continue running when on battery power option. To confirm the microphone, line-in jack, etc. is working,
turn on the Listen to this device option, choose Default Playback Device
from the list below, and click Apply to start listening. If you hear something
through your speakers, the device works; turn off Listen to this device and
click OK.
If you’re setting up a voice-dictation microphone, you may have to complete
a separate wizard in the software itself to set the input source and its recording
level. For instance, if you’re using Windows’ built-in speech recognition feature, go to Control Panel→Ease of Access→Speech Recognition Options→Set up microphone (or with the device still highlighted in the Recording tab, click Configure).
For best results using voice-dictation software or recording
voice, use a USB microphone/headset instead of the conventional type that plugs directly into your sound card. Not only
will the quality and clarity improve, but you’ll effectively bypass the often troublesome sound card drivers in favor of a
more direct link.
Fix Garbled Music
Your music not sounding its best? The most likely candidate is an “enhancement” in your music player; sometimes these just don’t play nice with Windows’ audio drivers.
In Windows Media Player, press Ctrl-3 to switch to the Now Playing window.
Then right-click the center of the player and from the Enhancements menu,
select Graphic Equalizer. (Or, if you’re using Skin mode, press the Alt key
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to open the menu, and select View→Enhancements→Graphic Equalizer.)
In the Enhancements window that appears, click the Turn off link that appears
(if the link says Turn On, the equalizer is already turned off). Next, return to
the Enhancements menu, select SRS WOW Effects, and click the Turn
off link there as well.
If you’re having this problem in iTunes, select View→Show Equalizer, and
clear the checkbox next to the On option. Next, select Edit→Preferences,
choose the Playback tab, and turn off the Sound Enhancer option. Click OK
when you’re done.
Or, in WinAmp, select Options→ Equalizer, and if there’s a checkbox next
to EQ enabled, turn it off.
Whether or not this adjustment fixes the problem, this is not a problem a fully
functional sound card should have. Make sure you have the latest drivers, and
consider replacing the card if nothing else seems to work.
Crossfade Your Music
Crossfading is a feature present in Windows Media Player and other music
players that eliminates the gaps between songs by gradually overlapping adjacent tracks. (Radio DJs do this, but they undoubtedly have better equipment
than you do.)
In Windows Media Player, press Ctrl-3 to switch to the Now Playing window.
Then right-click the center of the player and from the Enhancements menu,
select Crossfading and Auto Volume Leveling. (Or, if you’re using Skin
mode, press the Alt key to open the menu, and select View→Enhancements→Crossfading and Auto Volume Leveling.) In the Enhancements
window that appears, click the Turn on Crossfading link (Figure 4-11), and
then adjust the amount of overlap to your liking.
Crossfading only works on data files (such as MP3 or WMA), and then only
when the two songs are encoded with the same sampling rate (e.g., 192 Kbps
or 256 Kbps). Crossfades won’t work if you are playing an ordinary audio CD,
or, for some reason, a data CD that was originally burned with Windows Media
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and Media
If this doesn’t fix the problem, open the Sound page in Control Panel and
choose the Playback tab. Select your speakers in the list, and then click Properties. Choose the Enhancements tab, turn on the Disable all enhancements option, and click OK.
Figure 4-11. Crossfading, which overlaps songs to reduce dead air, works only in certain
Now, it’s possible that crossfading is actually working, but
you can’t tell because your music files have more than a few
seconds of silence at the beginning or end. To test the feature,
try playing a few songs that don’t begin or end in a fade. And
try increasing the amount of overlap by moving the crossfade
slider to the right.
To enable crossfading in iTunes (which, ironically, is not something you can
do on an iPod), select Edit→Preferences, choose the Playback tab, and turn
on the Crossfade playback option.
Crossfading is really annoying when you’re listening to
spoken-word tracks or dialog from movie soundtracks. Try it;
you’ll see what I mean.
Extract Sound from Video
Want to listen to the literal video of Journey’s Separate Ways without having
to literally watch the video?
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The Windows Media Stream Editor, a component of the free Windows Media
Encoder (available at
pros/encoder/default.mspx), can extract the audio from a .wmv video file and
save it into a standalone Windows Media Audio (.wma) file:
1. First, open the Windows Media Stream Editor and click Add Source.
Locate a .wmv or .asf file, and click Open.
2. Expand the branches by highlighting the file in the list and pressing the
asterisk (*) key, place a checkmark next to the Audio entry, and then click
3. Then, click Create File, specify an output filename, and click Save.
4. When you’re ready, click Start to begin the extraction.
When the process is complete, you’ll have a standard .wma file; see the next
section for ways to convert it to MP3 or any other format.
Convert Audio Files
You’d think after all these years, the tech industry would learn its lesson. They
put us through the Beta versus VHS battle in the ’80s, the Netscape versus
Internet Explorer battle in the ’90s, and the HD DVD versus Blu-Ray battle in
the naughts. On the computer front, the battle of the formats is everywhere,
including digital music.
It wasn’t always this way. At the beginning of the digital music revolution, it
was the compact file size and passably good quality of the MP3 file format that
popularized portable digital players like the iPod (not to mention P2P filesharing and the like, but that’s a different story). But now we have Apple’s
M4A, M4P, and lossless AAC formats; Microsoft’s various versions of the
WMA format; OGG Vorbis; Sony’s bygone ATRAC; and so on. Granted, most
of these formats have risen from the need to copy-protect downloadable music,
as well as offer audiophiles better fidelity, but the lack of a single standard is
nothing more than a pain in the neck to music lovers everywhere.
Protected music purchased from Apple’s iTunes music store can only be played
by Apple iPods (and some Motorola phones). Very few players are compatible
with audio files from Microsoft’s URGE music store; even some of Microsoft’s
own Zune players can’t play URGE files! And there’s no music player that’ll
play all the commercially available protected formats.
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Video, Audio,
and Media
To yank out the audio track from non-Microsoft video formats, you’ll need a
different program. A full-blown video editing application like Adobe Pre
miere can do this handily, as can Blaze Media Pro, but if you want to do it for
free, try the AoA Audio Extractor.
So, in order to play all the music you have on any particular player, you may
have to convert some of it to the proper format, and that’s easier said than done.
For one, converting anything other than lossless audio to your desired format
will reduce the quality of the music. (Examples of lossless audio include WAV
files, Apple’s lossless AAC, and, of course, audio CD tracks.) Also, most music
purchased online is distributed in protected formats (like iTunes’ M4P and
Microsoft’s protected WMA), although many stores, including iTunes, are
selling more unprotected files. And converting protected media isn’t exactly
encouraged by these large companies.
Windows Media Player doesn’t convert audio files at all. But Apple’s iTunes
software (, which is free even if you don’t have
an iPod or any intention of buying music from the iTunes Music Store, can
convert songs easily and quickly. It supports MP3 (all bitrates), AAC
(.m4p, .m4a, and .m4b), AIFF, lossless AAC, WMA (read-only), and
even .wav files. Here’s how to do it:
1. Start iTunes, and select Music from the Library section on the left.
2. If all your music isn’t already in the iTunes library, drag-drop your music
files onto the iTunes window.
If you move the files into your iTunes music folder before dragging them into the iTunes application, iTunes
will, by default, organize them into folders based on their
embedded tag information. If the files are located elsewhere, they’ll be left in their current locations. Of course,
if the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding
to library option is turned on, and you drag files from
another location, you’ll end up with two copies of each
file…plus a third after you’ve converted.
3. Next, select Edit→ Preferences, choose the General tab, and then click
Import Settings. Select the file format you want to use from the Import
Using listbox (e.g., choose MP3 Encoder to convert to the MP3 format),
and then select a compression level from the Setting listbox. (If you don’t
know which settings to use, MP3 at 192kbps is a good compromise
among quality, flexibility, and resulting file size, and the files you create
can be played anywhere.) Click OK when you’re done.
4. Finally, highlight one or more songs in your music library, right-click, and
select Convert Selection to MP3 (or AAC, or whatever). Shortly thereafter, iTunes will place the newly converted file alongside the original—
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both in the library and in same folder on your hard disk—while leaving
the original file intact.
Of course, neither iTunes nor Windows Media Player will let you convert
protected files, but they’ll both let you burn protected music to an audio CD.
Then, all you have to do is rip the CD back into an unprotected format. In fact,
NoteBurner creates a virtual CD-RW drive on your system specifically for this
purpose, allowing you to burn and rip your protected songs without wasting
any discs. Unfortunately, the burn-rip process will completely obliterate the
embedded tags (meaning that you’ll have to retype the track names and other
information by hand).
To convert protected files and preserve your tags, you’ll need one of the dozens
of different DRM removal tools available, such as Tunebite or MyFairTunes.
Of course, no matter how you do it, there will always be a loss in quality when
you’re converting from one compressed format to another. The exception is
when you convert a protected file to an unprotected file of the same format,
such as .m4p to .m4a or protected .wma to unprotected .wma, provided the
software you use supports lossless conversion.
Fix Music Tags
Most music players, including both Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes,
pay no attention to the filenames of your music files, but rather read the information (called tags) embedded therein. Most audio formats support tags
for the artist, track, album, year, genre, and about a hundred other things. To
get your music player to display and organize your music properly, the tags in
your music files must be correct, and unless all your music came from the same
source, some tag cleaning is often in order.
Most music library programs allow you to edit the tags of your music files.
Windows Media Player (via the Advanced Tag Editor feature) as well as iTunes
(discussed earlier in this chapter) even let you modify the tags of several files
at once. You can also edit tags for individual files right in Windows Explorer
(see Chapter 2), or multiple files if you install the free AudioShell extension.
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Video, Audio,
and Media
By default, Windows Media Player adds DRM copy protection to all music files you rip from CDs. To turn this off, open
Windows Media Player, press the Alt key to open the menu,
select Tools→ Options, choose the Rip Music tab, and turn
off the Copy protect music option.
Figure 4-12. Use the Ultra Tag Editor to generate MP3 tags from filenames
Also available for free from is a plugin
for Windows Media Player that adds tag support for M4a,
Flac, Ogg, Ape, and Mpc files. To make use of it, you’ll also
need to install the appropriate DirectShow filters. To play M4a
files in Media Player, get the 3ivx filter from http://www.3ivx
.com/. To play Ogg Vorbis, Speex, Theora, and Flac files in
Media Player, use the Xiph filter from
dshow/. And to play Mpc files, use the Radlight filter from
But what if you have a lot of music files without any tags at all? Try to import
those files into a program like iTunes, and you’ll just end up with countless
tracks labeled “Unknown Artist.” The solution is to use the filenames to generate the tags, and for this, you can use Ultra Tag Editor:
1. Open Ultra Tag Editor, use the tree to navigate to the folder containing
your files, and place checkmarks next to the specific files you want to fix.
2. Below, choose the Ultra Tagger tab, and then, from the Action listbox,
select Generate Tag from Filename (Figure 4-12).
3. Now, Ultra Tag Editor needs you to tell it where in your songs’ filenames
to find the artist name, track title, track number, album name, and so on,
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so you’ll need to examine the filename of a typical music file on your hard
disk, which might look something like Artist-Album-Title.mp3.
Although programs like Ultra Tag Editor are flexible,
they do require that your filenames be uniform (e.g., all
using the “Artist-Track.mp3” format, for instance). Since
you likely have a mish-mash of different filenames, you’ll
need a program like Power Rename (part of Creative
Element Power Tools,
powertools/) to fix up your filenames with ease, without
resorting to manually renaming individual files.
Ultra Tag Editor can also go the other direction—that is, to generate filenames
based on tags. Better yet, both Windows Media Player and Apple iTunes can
organize your music into folders (e.g., \Music\Artist\Album) and rename the
files based on the embedded tag information.
Another tool that does the same thing as Ultra Tag Editor is Tag&Rename,
available at
Photos, Pictures, and Images
Linux-based netbooks have some pretty huge advantages over Windowsbased PCs: they’re cheaper, faster, lighter, less crash-prone, and safer (no
malware threats, yet). But there’s no place for your stuff. Aside from some
bewildering shortcomings, Windows 7 does a good job of giving you a home
for your tens of thousands of photos (not to mention music, video, etc.).
But things could be better. Photo sorting is harder in Windows 7 than in Vista.
Windows doesn’t support all the file formats it could. And getting decent color
takes some work. Here’s how to make Windows take better care of your
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Video, Audio,
and Media
First, determine the delimiter used to separate the information in your
filenames (a hyphen, −, in this case), and type it into the Delimiters field.
Next, type %1 into the field containing the first piece of information (e.g.,
Artist), %2 into the field containing the second (e.g., Album), %3 for the
third (e.g., Title), and so on. (Imagine your files look like %1-%2-%3%4...mp3).
4. When you’re done, click the Generate button to preview the new tags,
and click Write Tags to commit your changes.
Quickly Sort Photos
Windows Vista was a big leap in photo management over its predecessor, XP,
and Windows 7 offers a few additional enhancements…with one glaring omission. In Windows Vista, you could view a folder full of photos in the Large
Icons view, and retain the useful column headers from the Details view for
quick and easy sorting. Alas, the column headers are gone in Windows 7.
Stupid Microsoft.
Things get worse when you drag new photos into a sorted folder. Sometimes
the file stays where you put it, and sometimes Windows Explorer moves it
after a short delay…and not always to the correctly sorted place. If the column
headers were present, you could simply click, say, Date Modified (twice), to
quickly re-sort the listing. Even if you didn’t need to change the sorting of a
collection of photos, the column headers would show the current sort order
at a glance, something that isn’t available anywhere else on the surface of
Windows Explorer.
Instead, you’ve got to right-click an empty area of the folder (be careful not to
select a photo), select Sort By and then the sorting method you want; that’s
three clicks plus some careful mousing. To sort an unordered listing, that’s at
least six clicks.
Alas, there’s no quick fix for this one. But there are some workarounds:
Use the keyboard
Press Alt+V, then ON to sort by name, OT to sort by type, and OS to sort
by size. But since the letter D is used to sort descending (and A to sort
ascending), the only way to sort by date with a keyboard shortcut is to
press Alt+V, down arrow, and then Enter.
To do this with fewer keystrokes, use a Hotkeys tool (part of Creative
Element Power Tools, to assign the
command %(V)O{Down}{Enter} to a short keystroke like Alt-D. (See the
included help for details on building hotkey strings.)
Use a different program
Few applications provide quick image sorting. DxO Optics Pro, for instance, has a Sort drop-down above the file list, right where Windows
Explorer should have one. Picasa (free from offers basic sorting through a toolbar drop-down and the Album menu. And
Adobe Lightroom offers sorting through controls at the bottom of the
window. But none offer the simple pleasure of single-click sorting we got
for free in Windows Vista.
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Choose Where to Store Your Pictures
One way Windows helps you organize your files is to direct different kinds of
content to different locations. There’s a Music folder, a Videos folder, a Saved
Games folder, and a Pictures folder. Put all your digital pictures in your
Pictures folder, for example, and that’s where most photo applications will
prompt you to open and save your files.
This, of course, is separate from Windows 7’s Pictures library,
which is a database of photos stored in any number of different
locations. To change which photo folders are included, rightclick the Pictures library and select Properties. Although
some newer applications look in your Pictures library by
default, many programs still default to the Pictures folder
discussed in this solution.
1. Open the Registry Editor (described in Chapter 3).
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft
\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\User Shell Folders.
Also in the Explorer branch of the Registry is the Shell
Folders key. According to Microsoft, the key is no longer used
in Windows 7, although you should still update it for applications that still read it.
3. Double-click the My Pictures value in the right pane, and type (or paste)
the full path of the folder you want to use (e.g., d:\Photos). (The default
here is %USERPROFILE%\Pictures, which is an expandable string value that
points to the Pictures subfolder of your personal profile folder.)
4. Click OK and then close the Registry Editor when you’re done.
5. Next, open Windows Explorer, open your profile folder (the one matching
your user name at the top of the tree), and select the Pictures folder inside.
6. Right-click the desktop.ini file and select Copy. (This file is hidden; see
Chapter 2 for details on configuring Windows Explorer to show hidden
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Because the pictures folder can grow quite large, it’s not unusual to store your
photos on a second drive. And if you change the physical location of your
Pictures folder to that new location, applications will default to that folder
when you open and save files. Here’s how to tell Windows where your Pictures folder ought to be, a task that requires a quick Registry modification:
7. Navigate to your new pictures folder (e.g., d:\Photos), right-click an empty
area of the folder, and select Paste.
The change should take effect immediately, but you may have to restart any
open applications before they’ll recognize the new location. (Strictly speaking,
the copying of desktop.ini in steps 5–7 is optional, but it does help Windows
Explorer display the folders properly.) To test the change, open Paint
(mspaint.exe), and select File→Open. If the folder that appears is the folder
you chose, then you’re all done.
You can change the locations of other “special” folders with
the same technique. For instance, put the location of your
MP3 collection into the My Music value. Or, put the location
of your Media Center recordings into the My Video value.
Generate Thumbnails for RAW Photos
Windows understands a bunch of common image and movie formats out of
the box, and can produce thumbnails for your files in Medium, Large, and
Extra Large Icons views. To get Windows to recognize a new format, though,
you need to install the appropriate Windows Imaging Component (WIC)
If you’ve set up your digital SLR camera to produce “RAW” images (as opposed to the more common JPEG or TIFF formats), you can install one of these
codecs to get Windows to display thumbnails for your files:
Canon CR2
Nikon NEF
Olympus ORF
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Pentax PEF
Sony SRF
If your camera isn’t supported, or if the appropriate codec doesn’t work, try
the free ArcSoft RAW Thumbnail Viewer, available at
products/rawviewer/. It adds thumbnail support to Windows for RAW formats
from Canon, Hasselblad, Kodak, Leica, Mamiya, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax,
Ricoh, Samsung, Sigma, and Sony, and even works with Adobe Digital Negative (DNG) files.
The alternative is to use a separate picture viewer with its own thumbnail
display, like Google’s free Picasa manager (, or commercial products like Adobe Photoshop Elements and DxO Optics Pro.
Tweak the Thumbcache
The Green Ribbon of Death, covered in Chapter 2, is your sign that Windows
Explorer is either busy or broken. When it’s busy, it’s often busy building
thumbnail previews of your photos.
In theory, Explorer caches its thumbnails so you don’t have to wait so long
next time you view a folder. But if the thumbnail cache were seamless, the
Green Ribbon of Death would be nothing but folklore; it’s not uncommon to
be forced to wait while Explorer rebuilds the cache, even for a folder you’ve
viewed recently. What you may not know, however, is that the cache can also
be a security or privacy risk.
Windows stores the thumbnail cache in two different places. The main cache
is located in six separate .db files in this folder:
C:\Users\{your user name}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer
which have names like thumbcache_32.db, thumbcache_96.db, thumbcache_
256.db, and thumbcache_1024.db (each representing different thumbnail
sizes). But you might also find a file named thumbs.db, or perhaps several
thousand of them, stored in your individual photo folders.
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To add thumbnail support for new video formats, just install the latest video
codecs, covered earlier in this chapter, and Windows will do the rest.
The thumbs.db file was used in Windows XP and previous
versions as the sole means of caching thumbnails. So if you’ve
been a Windows user since before Vista, you likely have plenty
of these lying around. But Windows 7 uses thumbs.db too
when browsing network folders; if you’ve got any on your
hard disk, they were likely created by remote users browsing
your shared folders. If you don’t see them at all, Windows
Explorer is probably not set to show “protected operating
system files,” as described in the section “Customize Windows Explorer” on page 45.
Since most people won’t see the thumbs.db file, it’s hard to make the case that
it just adds clutter (although it does, dagnabbit). But since thumbs.db is usually
readable by anyone, it does mean that anyone rifling through your files may
be able to see the thumbnails of your images even if they can’t open the images
themselves. (See the sidebar “Extract Images From the Thumbnail
Cache” on page 239 for details.) What’s more, if you zip up a folder of files
to send to someone else, any thumbs.db files therein will go along for the ride,
and you may be sharing more than you meant to.
Disable thumbnail caching
Have the Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions of Windows 7? Open
the Local Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc) and expand the branches to User
Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Explorer. In the right pane, double-click the Turn off caching of thumbnail
pictures entry, select Enabled, and then click OK. In the same folder, also
double-click the Turn off the caching of thumbnails in hidden thumbs.db
files entry, select Enabled, and then click OK. (To re-enable thumbnail caching later on, set each of these options to Not Configured.)
If you have Windows 7 Home Premium edition, you won’t have access to the
Local Group Policy Editor. Instead, open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3)
and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVer
sion\Policies\Explorer. From the Edit menu, select New and then DWORD
(32-bit) Value, and then type NoThumbnailCache for the name of the new value
(or double-click the NoThumbnailCache value if it’s already there). Type 1 for
the value data, and click OK. Next, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software
\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer and create a DWORD (32-bit)
Value named DisableThumbsDBOnNetworkFolders. Likewise, set its value data
to 1, and close the Registry Editor when you’re finished.
The changes should take effect immediately; the next time you browse a folder
full of photos, you’ll notice that it takes considerably longer to display the
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thumbnails. However, any existing cache files will remain on your hard disk
indefinitely; read on if you want to delete the lingering cache as well.
Reset the thumbcache
As the thumbnail cache grows, it becomes less efficient. Years of navigating
folders—not to mention deleting and moving photos—causes bloat, which
slows down the index. As with any cache, all you need to do is delete the cache
files, and they’ll be recreated as needed (unless, of course, you’ve disabled the
Your Windows Explorer sluggish when you’re browsing
photo folders? Try disabling the cache and then reenabling it
as described previously; sometimes this is all it takes to speed
things up.
del /s /q /f /a:h c:\thumbs.db
where c: can be any valid drive letter containing drive containing thumbs.db
files to delete. In usually less time than it would take for Search to populate a
list of thumbs.db files, the del command can wipe them all out in a single shot.
The main cache files are a little trickier, though, since Windows Explorer locks
them while it’s running. The easiest way to clear them is with the Disk Cleanup
utility (cleanmgr.exe); just place a checkmark next to Thumbnails and click
If Disk Cleanup doesn’t do the trick, you can clear the main
cache from the Command Prompt window. First, fire up the
Windows Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc, choose
the Processes tab, and close all instances of explorer.exe.
Then, at the prompt, type del %userprofile%\AppData\Local
\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer\thumbcache*.* and press Enter. When that’s done, switch back to Task Manager, and
from the File menu, select New Task (Run). Type
explorer.exe in the box and click OK to get back your desktop
and Start menu.
Open an Explorer window and navigate back to C:\Users\{your user name}
\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer. Don’t worry that the .db files
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Although you can use the Search tool to find and delete all the thumbs.db files
on your drive, it’s quicker to open a Command Prompt window (see Chapter 9), and type this:
you just deleted are still there; Explorer recreated them when it started back
up; confirm this by checking their file sizes and times.
Stop Explorer from resetting the thumbcache
If left unchecked, the thumbnail cache could grow to a gargantuan size. It
would be nice if Windows Explorer kept the cache trim by routinely purging
infrequently-used thumbnails and checking for deleted photos, but that’s ultimately a poor use of system resources. That’s why Explorer takes the simple
(and dumb) approach of automatically deleting the entire cache once any single .db file reaches 500 Mb.
But the consequence of this rapidly revolving cache is that you frequently have
to wait while Explorer rebuilds the thumbnails for folders you visited as recently as yesterday.
The good news is that you can stop Explorer from deleting the thumbnail
cache, and you’ll see improved folder browsing performance as a result. The
bad news is that it will grow very quickly, particularly if you have a lot of
photos. Here’s how to do it:
1. Open
C:\Users\{your user name}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer.
2. Right-click the Explorer folder in the tree, select Properties, and then
choose the Security tab.
3. Click the Advanced button and then click Change Permissions.
4. Click Add, type Everyone into the Enter the object names to select field,
and then click OK.
5. With the new Everyone entry highlighted, click Edit.
6. In the Permissions list, place two checkmarks in the Deny column: one
next to Delete subfolders and files and one next to Delete.
7. Click OK in each of the four open windows to return to Explorer.
The change takes effect immediately. To restore the folder to its default permissions, return to the Advanced Security Settings for Explorer window (steps
1‒3), highlight the Everyone entry, and click Remove.
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Extract Images From the Thumbnail Cache
Want to see what’s in your Thumbnail cache? Open a PowerShell window
(see Chapter 9) and issue these five commands:
$sql = ("SELECT System.ItemURL, System.DateModified FROM SYSTEMINDEX
WHERE System.Kind = 'picture' ")
$adapter = new-object System.Data.OLEDB.OLEDBDataAdapter -ArgumentList $sql,
"Provider=Search.CollatorDSO;Extended Properties='Application-Windows';"
$dataset = new-object System.Data.Dataset
and you’ll see a list of every photo filename and its modified date in your cache.
(You can include any columns you like in place of ItemURL and DateModified
on line 1; for a list of properties, see
perties.txt.) You may even notice entries for files that have since been moved,
renamed, or deleted.
So, what can you do to prevent someone else from reading your thumbnails?
For one, you can encrypt your photo folders, as described in Chapter 8. If you
encrypt the folders (as opposed to the individual files), Windows will encrypt
newly created thumbs.db files as well. You can also encrypt the C:\Users\{your
user name}\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer folder, although its
contents won’t be encrypted until you reset the cache, as described in “Tweak
the Thumbcache” on page 235. Of course, encrypting won’t protect your data
from others who know your login.
You can also delete all the thumbs.db files from your hard disk, but that won’t
stop them from reappearing.
The only sure-fire way to ensure that someone can’t see your photo thumbnails is to disable and then reset your thumbcache, as explained in “Tweak
the Thumbcache” on page 235.
Get Rid of the Windows Photo Gallery
Care to use your own image viewer or editor to manage your photos? Unfortunately, the Windows Photo Gallery application is not easy to get rid of.
You can choose any application as the default for opening pictures, and the
Windows Photo Gallery will still appear when you double-click image files.
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To pull the actual thumbnail images from your cache, use Thumbnail Database Viewer (free from, dmThumbs (free trial at, or Thumbs.db Viewer (free trial at http://www
If you want to use another image viewer without making any
changes to your system, there are ways to open images other
than double-clicking. For instance, you can drag-drop an
image file onto the window of any viewer to open it, or even
right-click an image file and select Open With to choose another program.
To choose a different application as the default for photos, you may have to
disable the Windows Photo Gallery:
1. Open the Registry Editor (described in Chapter 3).
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\SystemFileAssociations\.ico
3. Highlight the ShellImagePreview key, select File→Export, type a filename,
and click Save to back up this Registry key. (See Chapter 3 for details.)
4. Delete the ShellImagePreview key and close the Registry Editor when
you’re done.
If you don’t want to mess around in the Registry, you can also do this with
File Type Doctor (free trial from
1. Open the Creative Element Power Tools Control Panel, turn on the Edit
file type associations option, click Accept, and then close the Control
2. Right-click any image file and select Edit File Type.
3. On the right side, highlight the Windows Photo Gallery Viewer Image
Verbs entry.
To back up this setting before you delete, click Export, type
a filename, and then click Save. To subsequently re-enable
the Windows Photo Gallery, just double-click the .reg file you
created here. See Chapter 3 for more information on registry
patch files.
4. Click the Remove button.
Note that in 2007, Microsoft created a new image file format to coincide with
the release of Windows Vista. JPEG XR—formerly known as Windows Media
Photo, formerly known as HD Photo—supports better compression and a
wider color gamut than the ordinary JPEG format. But since few applications
support this format, you may wish to re-enable the Windows Photo Gallery
for only files with the .hdp, .jxr, and .wdp filename extensions. To do this,
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you’ll need to manually edit the corresponding file type keys in the Registry
Editor, as described in Chapter 3, and add the ShellImagePreview key to its
ContextMenuHandlers key.
Get More Accurate Color
Ever notice that the colors in digital photos you view in Windows don’t quite
match the real thing, or even the colors on the little screen on the back of your
digital camera? Likewise, have you noticed that the colors your printer reproduces don’t match those on your monitor?
Before you proceed, make sure your display adapter (video
card) is set to the highest color depth it supports. Right-click
an empty portion of the desktop, select Screen resolution,
click the Advanced settings link, and then choose the Monitor tab. From the Colors drop-down list, select True Color
(32 bit) and then click OK. If the Resolution slider to the left
drops when you do this, see Chapter 5.
Calibration hardware
The best way to get accurate color is with dedicated color-calibration hardware. To calibrate your monitor, you place a mouse-like sensor (called a colorimeter) on your screen and then run a calibration program. One by one, the
software displays known colors on the screen, and the sensor reports back to
the software what it “sees.” Finally, the software generates a custom color
profile and installs it; the whole process takes about 5–10 minutes. Thereafter,
your monitor will display all colors more closely to their “true” values. Most
modern packages even configure reminders in Windows to recalibrate at
regular intervals to accommodate aging displays, changing ambient lighting,
and undo inadvertent monitor settings.
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This is a common problem, and one, unfortunately, without a clear-cut,
foolproof solution. The problem is that your monitor, printer, scanner, and
digital camera all handle color a little differently, and subtleties like ambient
light, paper color, and how much you’ve had to drink can all affect how an
image looks. It’s up to you to calibrate Windows so that all of these devices
know what adjustments they need to make to preserve your colors without
botching your photos too badly.
If you have two or more monitors, it’s not unusual for them
to display colors differently, even if they’re the same make and
model. Color calibration equipment is the only reliable way
to adjust your screens so they all display color consistently and
accurately. But beware; not all calibration devices support
multiple monitor setups. If yours doesn’t, you may be able to
calibrate your screens individually, changing the default display between each calibration. See Chapter 2 for more multimonitor tips.
Likewise, you can calibrate a flatbed scanner by scanning a special color key
and then having software analyze the scan and produce an appropriate scanner
profile. You can calibrate a printer by printing a color key and using a calibration sensor to read it. And you can calibrate your digital camera by shooting
photos of a camera-profiling chart and a neutral gray card, and have software
analyze the photos.
The Software-Only Approach
While the expense of calibration hardware might be justifiable for professional
designers and perfectionist photographers, there are ways of improving the
color reproduction of your hardware without spending any money.
If your screen has built-in gamma controls, the simplest method is to go to and adjust your screen by hand. Your goal
is to make the individual bars on the Black Point and White Point test strips
distinct and evenly-spaced. Also, the smooth gray patch in the center of the
gamma pattern should blend in evenly with the crosshatch pattern when you
stand back a few feet.
A better choice, however, is to install gamma-correcting software like QuickGamma (Figure 4-13), available for free at
.html. (A similar utility also comes with Adobe Photoshop, although the author
of QuickGamma claims that QuickGamma is more accurate.) The process
essentially involves adjusting a few controls until two different grayish regions
appear indistinguishable when you squint. If you have the patience to do so,
you can elect to adjust red, green, and blue values independently.
Next, open the Color Management page in Control Panel. Each imaging device
on your system should be accompanied by a matching International Color
Consortium (ICC) profile, and the Color Management window, shown in
Figure 4-14, is where you manage these files.
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Figure 4-13. Use QuickGamma to adjust your monitor so colors are displayed more
Start with your monitor; select it from the Device drop-down list, and then
click the Add button. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an appropriate profile (the file
having been installed with your driver); otherwise, you’ll have to dig up the
correct ICC profile from the manufacturer of your monitor and then install it
by clicking the Browse button.
If you have trouble finding ICC profiles from the manufacturers of your monitor, scanner, printer, or camera, try a site
like Chromix or IPhotoICC. Of course, you can also search
Google for your specific product and model, like this: Epson
1520 ICC.
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Figure 4-14. The Color Management window is a new, central interface for installing and
configuring ICC profiles in Windows 7
In some cases, you may find more than one ICC profile for your device, each
differentiated with a numeric code like D93 or 6500K. These numbers indicate
the color temperature, a number that describes the color of light emitted by the
light source, specifically a theoretical object called a blackbody radiator. (In
the real world, the closest analogy is the sun.) The K numbers indicate temperatures in degrees Kelvin (e.g., 5000K, 6500K, 9300K) while the D numbers
indicate standard illuminants (colors of light) corresponding to specific correlated color temperatures (CCT). If in doubt, choose 5000K or D50, both of
which correspond to “soft daylight.”
When the new ICC profile shows up in the Profiles associated with this
device list, highlight it and click Set as Default Profile.
When you’re done with your monitor, repeat the process for your printer(s)
and scanner(s). In most cases, you’ll want to use the same color temperature
(D or K value) for each ICC profile you use.
Now, your digital camera does things a little differently. If it’s like most cameras, it should store the appropriate ICC information in the EXIF data (discussed in the next section) embedded into each photo file you shoot. And most
high-end applications, such as modern versions of Adobe Photoshop, should
be capable of reading these tags and putting them to use. But in the unlikely
event that your camera is included in the Device list, and you have an ICC
profile provided by your camera’s manufacturer, then you can go ahead and
install it just like the others.
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Now, playing with gamma correction and color profiles will only take you so
far. Variations in ink or toner, as well as paper, can all affect color reproduction
on a printer, and the lighting in your room can affect how color looks on your
monitor, so you’ll have to employ a little trial and error to get the desired
results. If you can’t get satisfactory color with free tools, it’s time to move up
to a colorimeter.
Sort Photos Chronologically
Let me guess. You just had this big party (say, a wedding or commitment
ceremony), and you’ve gotten hundreds of photos from a dozen different people. But when you stick them all in the same folder and sort them by date,
they’re all out of order.
But aren’t you lucky you live in an enlightened age of obsessive photographers
and feature-laden gadgets? Embedded in each digital photo is a goldmine of
information stored by the camera as part of the EXIF (EXchangeable Image
File) format used in .jpg files, .tif files, and raw formats like Nikon’s .nef files.
EXIF data includes the date and time the photo was taken, the camera settings
used (f-stop, exposure, metering mode), the photographer’s name (sometimes), and the dimensions of the image. If the camera supports it, even GPS
data indicating the exact geographical location of the camera when the photo
was shot can be included.
To view EXIF data for a single photo, highlight the image file in Windows
Explorer, and then stretch the Details pane until it looks like Figure 4-15. If
you don’t see a Details pane, click the Organize drop-down and select Layout→Details Pane.
If you select more than one file, Explorer will only show the data the selected
files have in common in the Details pane. To view selective EXIF data for a
bunch of photos at once, right-click the column header bar in Windows Explorer and select More. Place a checkmark next to any new details you’d like
to display, and click OK. Unfortunately, the details aren’t organized at all here;
the EXIF data is mixed in with MP3 tags, and other things like Search ranking and Parental rating reason. But with a little digging, you should be able
to find the relevant bits, like Dimensions, Camera model, and, thankfully,
Date Picture Taken.
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The Date Modified column in Windows Explorer (go to View→ Details if
you don’t see it) probably won’t reliably sort your photos. If the photographer
did any post-processing (e.g., color correction, cropping, retouching) in a program like Photoshop, file dates will reflect the last time the files were saved,
not when the photos were originally shot.
Figure 4-15. Windows Explorer shows all the EXIF information embedded in your digital
photos, if you know where to look
Of course, you won’t find EXIF data in scans of film, nor in
digital photos that were modified by software that doesn’t
support the format. For the record, recent versions of Adobe
Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro, and even Windows’ measly
little Paint program, retain all EXIF data in most circumstances, but many older programs and image converters don’t. If
in doubt, run a test before you modify any precious photos:
open a photo in your program and save it to a new filename.
If the information shows up in Windows Explorer when you
highlight the new file, then your software is safe to use.
Now, sort the photos chronologically by clicking the Date Picture Taken
column header. Voilà!
But what if you want to make this sorting more permanent? Use the free Stamp
utility ( to rename your files with
their EXIF dates. After you do this, your photos will appear in chronological
order even when sorted alphabetically.
What Stamp doesn’t do, unfortunately, is allow you to compensate for the
differences among the various cameras’ internal clocks. The discrepancies
might be as small as three or four minutes among your local guests, or several
hours for the party guest who last set up his or her camera in a different time
zone. As a result, your photos won’t sort properly even after you use Stamp,
a problem requiring the following fix:
1. First, download the free trial of Creative Element Power Tools (available
at, and turn on the Change
file dates and Rename files with ease options.
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2. Highlight all the photos you want to fix, right-click, and select Change
3. Choose the Date/Time from file metadata option, select Date & time
photo taken by digital camera from the list, and then click Accept. This
will change all the file dates so they exactly match the dates and times the
photos were taken.
4. Next, you’ll need to determine the discrepancies among your photographers. Pick one photographer to use as the baseline, and then figure out
how far off every other photographer is from that baseline. To do this,
you’ll need to find common points of reference: one or two representative
photos of the same instant by each of your photographers. (The more
photos you have, the easier this will be.) After a minute or so of studying,
you might find that, say, Kathryn’s camera was about 3 hours faster than
the baseline, while Henry’s camera was 6 minutes, 11 seconds slower. (If
you’re not as compulsive as I am, you don’t necessarily need to get it down
to the exact second.)
5. To fix the dates, pick a photographer (other than the baseline you chose
in step 4), and highlight all of that person’s photos. Right-click the files
and select Change Date.
6. This time, choose the Relative Date/Time option and then make your
adjustments with the controls below, like the example in Figure 4-16.
Click Accept when you’re done.
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Figure 4-16. Use the Change Date tool to fix discrepancies among the times of different
photographers’ digital photos
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for everyone else’s photos. When you’re done, the
photos should be in perfect order when sorted by Modified Date (but not
Date Taken, at least not yet).
8. [Optional] To update the EXIF data with your new dates, use Attribute
Magic Pro. Select the recently modified files in the main window, use the
Change Dates feature, and instruct it to set date taken (exif) to modified (file system).
If you don’t feel comfortable messing with your photos’
valuable EXIF tags, you can alternatively change only the
filenames, as described next.
At this point, all your photos should appear in chronological order when sorted
by modified date or date taken, but depending on what you plan to do with
your pictures, this may not be enough.
Are you uploading your photos to an online photo sharing/printing service?
Or perhaps you’re handing them off to someone else to sift through and possibly modify them? If you want to make sure your careful date manipulations
remain intact, you may want to tag your filenames as well.
You can do this with Stamp, as described earlier, but only if you’ve updated
the EXIF dates as described in step 8. But if you want to rename your photos
without changing any EXIF data, you’ll need Power Rename (also part of
Creative Element Power Tools) to tag the filenames with their modified dates.
To do this, highlight all the photos, right-click, and select Power Rename.
If you’ve already renamed the photos with Stamp, place a
checkmark next to Power Rename’s Crop option, select from
beginning, and type a number representing the amount of
text to remove. This will get rid of Stamp’s addition to the
filename and make room for Power Rename’s own Add
stamp feature.
In Power Rename, place a checkmark next to the Add stamp option, select
file date & time, and then click the Format button. From the Choose a
format list, select Custom format and then use the date/time placeholders
from the list to assemble a date format conducive to sorting. Your best bet is
to start with the year (yy or yyyy), followed by the month, day, hour, minute,
and finally, the second, like this:
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For example, Power Rename would take a file with the date August 28, 2005
at 4:53:06 pm and add this to the beginning of the filename:
Click OK and then the Accept button to rename the files. With all your photos
date- and time-corrected and renamed accordingly, they’ll appear in chronological order in almost any circumstance.
Media Center Hacks
Windows Media Center, included with every edition of Windows 7, allows
you to use your PC and some sort of TV tuner card as a DVR (Digital Video
Recorder). Commonly known as a TiVo (just as a novelty flying disc is commonly known as a Frisbee), a DVR lets you pause, rewind, and record live
television broadcasts.
Of course, you don’t have to stick with the bundled Windows Media Center
(WMC) software. If you don’t like the program, if it crashes too often, or if it
doesn’t like your tuner card or remote control, there are many alternatives.
Free DVR software includes GB-PVR and MediaPortal. Commercial products,
while not necessarily better than their free counterparts, include SnapStream
BeyondTV and SageTV.
Watch TV on Your TV
Unless you enjoy watching television on your tiny laptop screen while Windows hassles you about updates waiting to be installed, you probably want to
hook up your Media Center PC to a real television set. Unfortunately, this is
not always as easy as it sounds.
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Want to watch your Media Center content remotely, say, on
your cell phone? All you need is DLNA-compliant software
(or hardware) to interface with Windows Media Player, which
is fully DLNA-compliant for the first time in Windows 7. Also
available is TVMOBiLi, which lets you share any media on
your network with other DLNA-equipped devices.
An alternative to hooking your PC directly up to a television
set is to use a Media Center Extender, a small box that streams
recorded video from your PC over your wireless network and
connects directly to your TV. Among other things, this means
you can put your PC in a different room, and along with it the
blinking lights and the whirr of your PC fan that can spoil a
good movie. See the section “Add DVDs to Your Movie Library” on page 253 for a way to create a virtual DVD library
and use extenders to bring it to every TV in the house.
When you connect a TV to your computer (or is it the other way around?),
you should see your entire desktop, Start menu, et al., on the big screen. If you
see nothing at all, your video card’s TV port may be disabled. If you’re using
a laptop, you may have to press a special keystroke combination to “activate”
the TV-out and external VGA ports. On some Dell laptops, for instance, hold
the Fn key while pressing F8 to switch between the internal display, the external display, and both; consult your computer’s documentation for details.
Press these keys repeatedly until you see a picture.
If you see everything except the video rectangle on the big
screen, then you have a video overlay problem. See “Fix Other
Playback Problems” on page 202 for details.
Next, make sure you’re using the right kind of cable, and with cabling, there’s
certainly no shortage of possibilities.
The first rule of mating a PC to a TV is to keep it all digital, if you can. If your
PC has a DVI or HDMI port (standard on all new desktop PCs and many new
laptops) and you have a high-definition television set, you can do precisely
If your computer doesn’t have a DVI port, you’ll need to replace your video
card with one that does. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll need a DVI-equipped
video card for your ExpressCard slot (or PC Card, if it’s an older model), and
these can be very spendy.
Now, any modern HD television set will either have a DVI or HDMI plug (tired
of acronyms yet?). Depending on what comes out of your PC, you might need
a DVI-to-HDMI converter, which sell for a couple of bucks online. (Hint: look
on eBay.)
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As you’re setting up your nifty, all-digital home theater PC
system, you may hit a roadblock in the form of HDCP (Highbandwith Digital Content Protection). HDCP is a nasty form
of copy protection imposed upon high-definition content,
such as that from an HD DVD or Blu-Ray drive, or HD cable
signal. If your television or video card is of the older variety,
it may be the reason you’re getting a black screen instead of
the movie you’re trying to play. To fix the problem without
replacing your equipment, you can either install a “HDCP
stripper” or downgrade to an analog signal.
If your TV has no digital video inputs—or if they’re already being used—your
next best option is to use a DVI-to-component adapter (a.k.a. YPbPr, or Green/
Blue/Red). Although your TV’s component inputs are analog (not digital), they
do support 16:9 wide format and progressive-scan video, which will still look
a lot better than S-Video or (gasp) RCA composite connectors.
If your TV is not high-def, or if for whatever reason digital just isn’t going to
work, then you’ve got to go analog.
If your PC has a TV-out port, it might accept a standard S-Video plug, or
barring that, an ordinary RCA plug. (If it has a proprietary connector, you may
need a special adapter from your PC manufacturer—at extra cost, of course.)
If your computer lacks a dedicated TV-out port, see whether your TV has a
15-pin analog VGA port, in which case you can simply use a VGA-to-VGA
cable and connect your TV like a monitor. Otherwise, your PC may support
TV-out directly through its VGA port (an admittedly uncommon feature), in
which case you can get a VGA-to-RCA or VGA-to-S-Video adapter pretty
cheaply online.
Media Center Hacks | 251
Video, Audio,
and Media
Many HDTVs have only a single digital (HDMI or DVI) input,
which may already be occupied (if you’re lucky) by a DVD
player with a digital output. If you don’t want to settle for an
analog connection between your PC and TV, you’ll need a
HDMI or DVI switch, the best examples of which can be found
in newer digital home theater receivers.
So, to sum up, here are the connection methods you can try, in order from best
to worst.
Computer side
Television side
16:9 supported?
Once you’ve got the cabling in order, the next step is to set the resolution on
your PC to optimize the picture quality. Set it too low, and it’ll look fuzzy and
pixelated; set it too high, and you might have overscanning problems (where
the video runs off the screen). If in doubt, try a few standard resolutions until
you have one that looks good. For a widescreen TV, use a widescreen resolution like 1280×768 (768p) or 1800×1080 (1080p); for old-style 4:3 screens,
1024×768 usually works pretty well. If you still have trouble, use PowerStrip
to find the optimal resolution and timing settings for your TV.
When you have a signal on your TV, open up Media Center and go to
Tasks→Settings→General→Windows Media Center Setup→Configure
Your TV or Monitor and follow the prompts.
Watch Hulu in Media Center
Media Center supports two kinds of streaming video right out of the box:
Internet TV and Netflix, in the TV and Movies sections, respectively. (Internet
TV is free, while Netflix requires a paid Netflix account.) But neither service
offers the breadth of current and classic television shows that you can watch
for free at
Although you can’t actually watch Hulu programming from within Media
Center, you can do the next best thing with the free Hulu Desktop Integration
utility. Once installed, a Hulu entry appears in Media Center’s main menu (see
Figure 4-17); select it with your remote control to close Media Center and open
Hulu Desktop (also free at You can
continue to navigate Hulu Desktop with the same remote control; exit Hulu,
and Media Center starts back up.
Of course, it’s not as ideal as watching other TV or movies in Media Center
(you can’t slip back to the Media Center menu while Hulu plays in the back-
252 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
ground), but it does allow quick switching between the two players without
putting down your remote.
Note that you don’t need the Hulu Desktop Integration utility
to watch Hulu outside of a browser; your Media Center remote will work with Hulu Desktop regardless. Another way
to watch Hulu is with Boxee (, which pulls
together your own music and video content, YouTube, and
many other online streaming media sources.
Hulu Desktop Integration only works if you install it to the default folder suggested by the installer, although this may be fixed by the time you read this.
Also, Hulu Desktop Integration won’t send Hulu content to Media Center
Add DVDs to Your Movie Library
Whether you’ve connected your PC directly to a TV or you’re using an Media
Center Extender, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to combine your multiterabyte hard disk and your vast DVD library. Why mess with a mechanical
DVD/Blu-Ray jukebox (or, gasp, have to walk across the room and put discs
in the tray by hand), when you can store all your movies on your hard disk
and access them with a few clicks of the remote?
Media Center Hacks | 253
Video, Audio,
and Media
Figure 4-17. Watch Hulu content from Windows Media Center
If you’re going to be storing a bunch of movies on your hard
disk, you might get to the point where you care about how
much free disk space you have. If you’re also recording live
TV with Media Center, you may want to limit the disk space
it uses by going to Tasks→Settings→TV→Recorder→Recorder Storage.
There are a few ways to add movies to your Media Center Library. The most
straightforward method involves creating ordinary video files
(e.g., .wmv, .mpg, .avi) from DVDs and then accessing them through Movies→movie library; unfortunately, movies encoded this way may not work
with your Media Center Extender.
A typical DVD rips to a video file of about 800 MB, which means you can store
more than 1,200 movies per terabyte of storage. Here’s how you do it:
1. Using DVD ripper software, like Handbrake or DVDx, save your movies
to a folder on your hard disk.
2. In the Media Center menu, select Tasks→Settings→Media Libraries.
3. Choose Movies and click Next.
4. Choose Add folders to the library and click Next.
5. Choose whether your videos are stored on the local PC or another PC on
the network, click Next, and then navigate the tree to locate the folder (or
folders) containing your videos. Place a checkmark next to each folder
you’d like to include, and then click Next.
6. Select Yes, use these locations and then click Finish.
Thereafter, your movies will appear under Movies→movie library. Any new
movies you add to the folders specified in step 4 will appear in your movie
library automatically.
Alternatively, you can use VideoReDo to convert VIDEO_TS
folders from ripped DVDs to .DVR-MS files that Media Center
recognizes as recorded TV. This offers many of the advantages
of the second solution, next, with the simplicity of the first
There are several drawbacks to compressing your movies into .avi or .mpg files.
For one, you lose the DVD menus, supplemental audio tracks, and special
features. Recompressing also takes a lot of time, and if you have a lot of DVDs,
that time adds up fast. Finally, most DVD rippers use video codecs not sup-
254 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
ported by Windows Media Extenders, so you may not be able to play your
movies on your TV after all. One way to get the full DVD experience with
WMC (admittedly at the expense of considerable amounts of disk space), is
to copy the VIDEO_TS folders from your DVDs to your hard disk, and then
use a transcoder .dll and a special plugin to connect them to Media Center.
Problem is, there’s no readily available transcoder that works with Windows
7 at the time of this writing. So, until one is released, try converting your video
to the .mkv format; you can use the Haali Media Splitter to add .mkv playback
support to Media Player and Media Center, although your Extender may unfortunately still not be able to play .mkv files.
Optical Storage Annoyances
And yet music is frequently less expensive when purchased on CD—
particularly used—and DVDs are ubiquitous. There’s no better choice right
now for archiving lots of data (like thousands of digital photos) for long-term
storage. It’s typically more convenient to send gigabytes of data on a disc
through postal mail than it is to struggle with online file-sharing services. And
let’s not forget Windows itself, which comes on DVD.
Burning Discs
The first CD burner I ever saw was the size of a small microwave oven. It took
68 minutes to fill a 68-minute CD, and it produced more coasters than Six
Flags. Suffice it to say, things have improved, although it’s a shame it’s taken
this long. Windows 7 is the first version of Windows to include disc-burning
features in Windows Explorer that actually work. (Show me a CD-R with
readable data created by Windows Vista or XP and I’ll eat my hat.)
Here’s how it works:
1. Open Windows Explorer.
2. Place a blank disc in your burner, and close the drawer.
3. Highlight your CD/DVD drive in the tree, and the Burn a Disc window
Optical Storage Annoyances | 255
Video, Audio,
and Media
By most reckoning, optical media is dead. Sales of online digital music is
growing while CDs are becoming scarce. Movies and TV shows are streamed
online, often for free, raising questions about the usefulness of DVD (not to
mention its late-to-the-game replacement, Blu-Ray). And why pay several dollars apiece for single-use 8.7GB dual-layer DVDs when you can get 32GB flash
memory drives that can be used again and again?
4. Name your new disc by typing up to 16 characters in the Disc title field
5. Select With a CD/DVD player.
The first option here, Like a USB flash drive, is misleading. This selection instructs Windows to format the
disc with the Live File System, Microsoft’s name for the
UDF (Universal Disk Format) “packet writing”
filesystem. UDF was invented to address the frustrations
of traditional CD burning programs that required you to
assemble a list of all the files on a disc before you commence burning. But in Windows 7, you can drag files at
your leisure, so it hardly makes a difference. Plus, despite
Microsoft’s description in this window, UDF discs are
not reliably readable in Windows XP without additional
software; you’ll need Vista or later if you want to count
on using this disc after you’re done with it here. To make
a disc readable anywhere, choose the second option,
With a CD/DVD player.
6. In the empty root folder of your new disc, you should see either “Files
Ready to Be Written to the Disc” or “Drag files to this folder to add them
to the disc.” In either case, you can treat this like any other drive: drag files
onto it, create folders, and even delete.
Windows doesn’t actually write any data to your disc
until you click Burn to disc in the next step. Instead, it
stores all dropped files in a temporary folder on your hard
disk. You can clear the temporary folder, thereby resetting the disc project, by clicking the Delete temporary
files button on the task ribbon at the top of Windows
Explorer. (You can choose where temporary files are
stored by right-clicking your optical drive and selecting
Properties and then choosing the Recording tab. For this
reason, you should never “move” files to a CD or DVD,
but rather only copy them. If needed, you can delete the
source files after you’ve burned the disc.
256 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
7. When you’re done, click the Burn to disc button on the task ribbon at
the top of Windows Explorer and follow the prompts to complete the
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a disc with your data on it. Eject it and then pop it
back in to confirm your data is there. (If it still says “Files Ready to Be Written
to the Disc” or “Drag files to this folder to add them to the disc,” click the
Delete temporary files button; if your data remains, it’s on the disc.)
No luck with Windows’ built-in burning? Here are some alternatives:
Don’t want to waste a disc? Try mounting an ISO as a
virtual drive instead, and access its files in Windows Explorer as though it were a physical disc. Programs that
can do this include Virtual CloneDrive (free, http://www and MagicISO (free, http://www.magiciso
With the proper disc burning software, now all that can go wrong is everything
Optical Storage Annoyances | 257
Video, Audio,
and Media
Basic data DVD/CD burning
Try Express Burn, Ashampoo Burning Studio, PowerISO, or Nero Lite.
Audio CD
Use Windows Media Player or Apple iTunes to create a custom playlist
and then burn the playlist to a disc.
DVD Movies
You can make DVD movies from your TV recordings within Windows
Media Center, or burn edited movies from within Windows Live Movie
Maker (the latter being a free download from within Windows Update).
ISO Image Files
Although not available through the Start menu, Windows 7 includes the
Windows Disc Image Burner (isoburn.exe). Right-click any .iso file, select
Open With, and then pick Windows Disc Image Burner from the list.
You can also use ISO Recorder (free;
or PowerISO to burn discs from ISO image files, as well as create ISO files
from discs.
Split Huge Files for Storage
So, you’ve got 11 GB of data you need to fit on a 4.7 GB DVD (or 1 GB to fit
on a 700 MB CD). The obvious solution is to zip up the data, but what if your
data isn’t compressible?
Zip only takes you so far. If you’ve got gigabytes worth of videos, pictures, or
music you want to put on a disc, zipping them up won’t help.
The solution is to use the RAR file format, for which you’ll need a program
like WinRAR. RAR works like zip, but it can provide better compression with
“solid archives” and can conveniently split large amounts of data into moremanageable chunks.
In WinRAR, navigate to the folder containing the files you want to archive.
Click Add and then choose an archive filename. Turn on the Create solid
archive option, and then from the Split to volumes list, select either CD700:
700 mb or DVD+R: 4481 mb. When you’re ready, click OK, and WinRAR
will get to work.
When it’s done, you’ll have one or more large files that will fit nicely on one
or more discs. Just include a copy of the WinRAR program on one of the discs
so you can extract your files easily when you need to.
Stop Windows 7 from Burning Discs
There’s no question that having CD/DVD burning built-in to Windows Explorer is convenient, at least when it works. But if you primarily use a thirdparty burning application, Windows’ offers to format a blank disc can be a
nuisance. Here’s how to disable CD Burning in Windows Explorer:
1. Open the Group Policy Editor (gpedit.msc); if you’re using Windows
Home Premium and you don’t have the Group Policy Editor, see below.
2. Expand the branches to User Configuration\Administrative Templates
\Windows Components\Windows Explorer.
3. In the right pane, double click the Remove CD Burning features entry.
4. Click Enabled and then click OK.
5. The change should take effect immediately. Open Windows Explorer,
right-click your CD/DVD burner, and select Properties. Confirm the
normally-present Recording tab is no longer there.
258 | Chapter 4: Video, Audio, and Media
To re-enable CD/DVD burning, return to the Remove CD Burning features window in Group Policy Editor, and select Not Configured.
If you don’t have Group Policy Editor, open Registry Editor (see Chapter 3)
and expand the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft
\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. Create a new DWORD (32-bit)
value named NoCDBurning and double-click it to set its value data to 1.
Video, Audio,
and Media
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Optical Storage Annoyances | 259
Windows 7 is, shockingly, the first version of Windows to actually outperform
its predecessor. Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?
7 starts faster, opens applications faster, and shuts down faster than Vista ever
did. It even outperforms XP on the same hardware.
Traditionally, Microsoft adds more features (and more bloat) to each successive Windows release, betting that the hardware—processors, memory,
chipsets—will always improve quickly enough to catch up. But at best, this
means that performance is more likely to plateau rather than improve, and
that’s only if we consumers buy the latest high-end machines each time a new
version of Windows comes out.
Perhaps the long delay between the releases of XP and Vista made us all so
complacent as to assume that Vista wouldn’t be any slower than XP. Perhaps
that’s why Windows 7 seems so fast by comparison. But try loading Windows
95 on a Windows 7-class PC, and it will make 7 seem like a lumbering ox.
Better yet, consider the Google Chrome OS, which is said to boot in under
seven seconds.
Some of Windows 7’s magic performance reversal is simply sleight of hand.
Windows Explorer in 7 loads up more quickly only because it no longer sorts
the active folder right away, whereas Vista waited to sort the files before showing you anything. Either way, you’re waiting.
But why the wait at all?
The short answer is that Windows 7 has been given more to do. On the surface,
there’s the Glass interface, covered later, which certainly sucks up a lot of
processor cycles. And then there’s the improved file copy confirmation windows (covered in Chapter 2) and UAC to review permissions, both of which
add to the overhead and bog down file copying in 7. Add to that more robust
indexing service, also discussed in Chapter 2, which keeps your hard disk busy
much of the time, and all those convenient auto-updaters running in memory
checking for big fixes to download.
The solution is to give Windows less to do, and in places where you’re not
willing to compromise features, give Windows the edge it needs to handle
those tasks more quickly. That’s what this chapter is about.
Trim the Fat
Surprise: Windows 7 is not configured for optimal performance right out of
the box. Rather, it was built to showcase all the features Microsoft included
with the product to help sell it.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of things you can do right now to speed things
up without spending a dime.
Tame Mindless Animation and Display Effects
Windows 7 animates almost every visual component that makes up its sparkling interface. While these affectations may impress the kids, they create two
performance problems. For one, they slow down the motion of visual elements, causing windows, menus, and listboxes to take longer to open and
close, all of which makes your PC feel sluggish even when it isn’t. Second, they
consume CPU cycles that would otherwise be used to open applications, generate icon previews in Windows Explorer, load complex web pages, and handle processor-intensive tasks.
There are settings that affect performance scattered throughout Windows, but
the ones that control display effects are the easiest to change, and go the furthest to make Windows feel faster and more responsive.
In Control Panel, open System, and click the Advanced system settings link
on the left side (or run SystemPropertiesAdvanced.exe). In the Performance
section, click Settings. The Visual Effects tab, shown in Figure 5-1, contains
20 settings, all explained later.
Unfortunately, the four selections above the list are a bit misleading. For
example, the Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer option
262 | Chapter 5: Performance
Figure 5-1. The Performance Options window is a good place to start looking for fat to trim
reverts all settings to the defaults chosen by a marketing committee at Microsoft to best showcase Windows’ features. The Adjust for best appearance
option simply enables all features in the list, while the Adjust for best performance option just disables them.
Now, depending on the prowess of your video hardware, some of these settings
may make more of a difference than others.
Animate controls and elements inside windows
Turn this off to nix the slow-fade effect on buttons and tabs in dialog
boxes, the cyclic pulsating effect on the default button, and the fading
scrollbar arrows. Buttons will still glow blue as you roll over them with
the mouse, but they’ll do it sans the delay.
Trim the Fat | 263
Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing
This controls the squeezing and stretching that happens to windows when
you minimize, restore, and maximize them. Leave it on to see where a
window went when you minimize it, or turn it off to make windows pop
into position when you minimize, maximize, and restore.
This option also affects the disappearing/reappearing
taskbar if you have both the Auto-hide the taskbar setting in Taskbar and Start Menu Properties and the Show
window contents while dragging option (described
later) enabled.
Animations in the taskbar and Start Menu
This controls the animated jump lists (see Chapter 2), fading task thumbnail previews, and the sliding taskbar buttons. Turn it off to speed up the
taskbar. This setting was named Slide taskbar buttons in earlier versions
of Windows.
Enable Aero Peek
When you hover your mouse over a taskbar button for a running application, a small preview of the window appears just above the taskbar. If
you then hover the mouse over the preview, all the visible windows become translucent except for the one you’re previewing. The same thing
happens if you press Alt-Tab repeatedly and then hesitate on one window.
This also enables or disables the Preview desktop with Aero Peek option
in the Taskbar tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window,
which makes all windows translucent when you hover your mouse over
the (blank) show desktop button at the far end of the taskbar so you can
see the desktop.
Since this feature is only used when you hover in certain places, leaving it
enabled shouldn’t give you a noticeable performance hit unless you have
older video hardware. Turn it off if Windows seems to stumble whenever
you use Aero Peek, or if you just find it annoying.
Enable desktop composition
This vaguely named option is one of the more substantial performance
drains you can adjust here, but it’s required if you want the glass effect
(see “Get Glass” on page 286). Desktop composition is the behind-thescenes scheme—run by the Desktop Window Manager (DWM)—that
keeps a snapshot of each open window in memory. Turn it off, and Windows draws each window directly to the screen just like XP and earlier
versions did. Without it, you can’t have the Glass interface or the
264 | Chapter 5: Performance
thumbnail previews on the taskbar and Alt-Tab window, but the Windows interface will feel snappier and more responsive.
Enable transparent glass
One of the few self-explanatory options here, this option is covered in
“Get Glass” on page 286.
Fade or slide menus into view / Fade or slide ToolTips into view
Turn these options off to have menus and tooltips “snap” open; leave it
on if you prefer to wait for menus to open. See the sidebar “Fade or
Slide” if you leave this option enabled and wish to choose whether menus
fade or slide into view.
By default, there is a short delay between the instant you
click a menu and the moment the menu actually opens;
see “Make Menus More Mindful” on page 269 to
adjust this.
Fade or Slide
To choose how menus are animated, open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop. Doubleclick the UserPreferencesMask value, and you’ll see a series of eight two-digit
numbers. The second number controls this setting:
• Enter 28 for the slide effect
• Enter 3E for the fade effect
• Enter 32 to disable sliding and fading altogether
Since UserPreferencesMask is a binary value, you’ll have to be careful to replace
the existing number with the new value rather than insert it, shifting all the
subsequent values to the right.
When you’re done, you’ll need to log out and then log back in for this change
to take effect.
Fade out menu items after clicking
This imposes less of a performance drain than its companion setting, Fade
or slide menus into view, but it can slow down windows nonetheless if
left enabled.
Trim the Fat | 265
In previous versions of Windows, you could choose whether animated menus
faded or slid open when you clicked them. In Windows 7, the setting is absent
from the GUI, with only the Fade or slide menus into view and Fade or
slide ToolTips into view options to turn on or off animation in general.
Show taskbar thumbnail previews
This affects the small previews that appear when you hover your mouse
over taskbar buttons for running applications; see Enable Aero Peek,
earlier, for a related setting.
Show shadows under mouse pointer / Show shadows under windows
These two settings have negligible effect on the performance of most Windows 7-class PCs.
Show thumbnails instead of icons
This one affects performance in Windows Explorer more than any other.
It takes a lot of processor power to open all the media files in a folder and
generate thumbnail images, so if you turn it off, you’ll be able to open
folder windows much more quickly. Among other things, thumbnail generation is usually responsible for the slowly moving green progress bar in
Windows Explorer’s address bar, so you should definitely turn this off if
you don’t care about thumbnails for your images, videos, and PDF files.
If an installer window appears briefly or if Windows Explorer crashes each time you view a folder full of video
files, it means that one of your video codecs is damaged.
Turn off the Show thumbnails instead of icons option
to bypass the problem, or see the section “Get Videos to
Play” on page 195, to fix it.
Show translucent selection rectangle
The translucent selection rectangle—referred to as a “rubber band” in
Chapter 2—is what you see when you drag the mouse and make a box to
select multiple files in Windows Explorer and on your desktop. It should
have no discernable effect on performance, but since it uses alpha channels
(an advanced function provided by your display driver), you may want to
turn this off if you have an older video card or suspect a buggy display
Show window contents while dragging
Turn off this option to show gray window outlines when moving and resizing windows; consider it a throwback to the early days of Windows.
You probably won’t notice much of a performance hit with this feature
turned on, unless you’re using the Glass interface on a PC with a weak
graphics engine (display card). In fact, Windows may seem more responsive with this feature enabled, since it allows the interface to respond immediately to dragging and resizing.
266 | Chapter 5: Performance
Slide open combo boxes
This option controls the animation of drop-down listboxes, similar to the
Fade or slide menus option described earlier. Turn it off to have listboxes
pop open.
Smooth edges of screen fonts
Using a process called anti-aliasing, Windows fills in the jagged edges of
larger text on the screen with gray pixels, making the edges appear smooth.
Turn off this option to slightly improve the speed at which larger fonts are
drawn on the screen, although the speed difference shouldn’t be noticeable on any modern PC.
If you’re using a flat-panel display (laptop or otherwise),
you may find text slightly more difficult to read if font
smoothing is turned on. But before you simply turn it off,
try the alternate anti-aliasing method. Open the Display
page in Control Panel and click the Adjust ClearType
text link on the left to open the ClearType Text Tuner.
Place a checkmark next to Turn on ClearType, and then
click Next to find the settings that make text most readable on your display.
There’s a nearly identical option in Internet Explorer that
makes web pages scroll more slowly. In IE, click the
Tools drop-down, select Internet Options, and then
choose the Advanced tab. At the end of the Browsing
section, turn off the Use smooth scrolling option and
click OK.
Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
This setting affects more than just the shadows behind icon captions; it
makes the text background transparent. If you’re using desktop wallpaper
(as opposed to a solid color background), and you turn off this option,
small swaths of the current solid background color will show through the
captions of your desktop icons.
Trim the Fat | 267
Smooth-scroll list boxes
Despite the fact that they don’t open or close, ordinary listboxes are animated, too. If you’ve ever noticed a listbox that scrolls slowly, this option
is the reason; turn it off to make listboxes scroll faster.
Use visual styles on windows and buttons
Turn off this setting to make Windows 7’s interface look more or less like
Windows 98/2000. Another way to accomplish this is to open the Personalization page in Control Panel and choose the Windows Classic
That’s it for this window; click Apply to test your changes, and then OK when
you’re done.
Shrink desktop icons
Next, if you’ve noticed that Windows has been slow to update desktop icons,
and you have a lot of them, there is a setting that may help. Right-click an
empty area of the desktop, select View, and then select Small icons. Your
desktop icons will shrink somewhat, returned to the standard 32×32 pixel size
used in earlier versions of Windows. When Windows draws larger icons—
Medium Icons, the default in 7—it has to stretch most application icons to
the new size, and this can take a little time on slower PCs. Of course, the icons
included with Windows 7 all come in larger sizes and don’t need stretching,
but that doesn’t apply to Internet Shortcuts and the icons for many programs
and documents.
Fine-tune video settings
If you’re interested in tinkering further with display settings that can affect
performance, right-click an empty area of your desktop, select Screen resolution and then click the Advanced settings link.
On older PCs, the speed at which a video card can draw to
your screen is somewhat dependent on the current color mode
and resolution. If your games, or Windows itself, for that
matter, are running slowly, try reducing the color depth and
resolution. Newer high end video cards will not show any
performance hit when run at higher resolutions or color
In the Advanced settings window, choose the Troubleshoot tab and click the
Change settings button to fine tune some of the performance features of your
display driver, all of which vary with the make, model, and driver version. If
the Change settings button is grayed-out, look for extra tabs in this window;
any tab to the right of Color Management is a special feature of your display
driver, and can be used to change video settings.
268 | Chapter 5: Performance
Now, most high-end video cards allow you to modify or disable certain 3D
features, such as 8-bit palletized textures, gamma adjustment, zbuffer, and
bilinear filter. In most cases, these settings won’t have any effect on Windows
outside 3D games, with the possible exception of the Flip 3D application
(Winkey+Tab). But look for other features you can turn off, such as custom
shortcut menus, special effects for your windows, or a virtual desktop feature,
all of which may slow down your PC when enabled.
Make Menus More Mindful
Ever noticed the half-second or so delay between the instant you move the
mouse over a menu item and the moment the menu is opened? By default,
Windows waits 400 milliseconds (just under a half-second) before opening
menus, but if you eliminate the delay, menus will open instantaneously, and
your PC will feel a little more alert.
If you ever have trouble holding your mouse perfectly
still, you’ve probably found it frustrating to navigate menus—particularly those in the Start menu—in Windows
7. Try typing a very large value (65534 is the maximum)
here to stop menus from automatically opening altogether, which should make them easier to use.
5. Click OK and close the Registry Editor when you’re finished. Log off and
then log back in or restart Windows for this change to take effect.
Note that another way to navigate touchy menus is to use the keyboard. In
any application, press the Alt key by itself to jump to the menu bar—or
press Ctrl-Esc or the Windows logo key to open the Start menu—and then
use the arrow keys to navigate. (Or skip navigation altogether and type the
first few letters of a program to launch it.)
Trim the Fat | 269
1. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3).
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop.
3. Double-click the MenuShowDelay value. If it’s not there, go to
Edit→New→String Value, and type MenuShowDelay for the name of the
new value.
4. The numeric value you enter here is the number of milliseconds (thousandths of a second) Windows will wait before opening a menu. Enter 0
(zero) here to eliminate the delay completely.
To make menus open even more quickly, turn off the Fade or slide menus
into view and Fade out menu items after clicking options covered earlier
in this chapter.
Start Windows in Less Time
One of the sure signs of a PC that’s been used for more than a few weeks is
that it takes a lot longer to start up than when it was new. The longer load time
isn’t fatigue, nor is it a sign that the PC needs a faster processor; it’s a casualty
of all the junk that Windows accumulates on a day-to-day basis.
One of the best ways to shorten startup times is to not shut
down. Rather, if you put your PC to sleep, as described in
“Start Windows Instantly (Almost)” on page 274, you can
power it back up in just a few seconds.
Several factors can impact the amount of time it takes for your computer to
load Windows and display the desktop so you can start working, not the least
of which is anything left over from the previous version of Windows. Since
Windows 7 can’t be installed over any operating system other than Vista—
and then only in certain configurations outlined in Chapter 1—this is much
less of an issue than with any of its predecessors. That said, even the accumulation of drivers and applications on a one-virgin Windows 7 installation can
eventually slow it down.
If you did install Windows 7 as an in-place upgrade from Vista,
some of the old operating system files may’ve been left behind.
While they’re isolated and shouldn’t cause any problems, they
may be consuming several gigabytes of disk space. Run the
Disk Cleanup tool (cleanmgr.exe) and place a checkmark next
to Files discarded by Windows upgrade to delete them.
Naturally, wiping your hard disk and reinstalling Windows from scratch is a
whole lot easier said than done, so here are some other things you can do to
reduce Windows’ boot time.
Eliminate unnecessary auto-start programs
Probably the most common thing that slows down Windows’ loading time is
all of the programs that are configured to load at boot time. Not only do they
take a while to load, but they commonly eat up processor cycles while they’re
running, which in turn causes other programs to load more slowly.
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Open the Performance Information and Tools page in Control Panel, and click
the Advanced tools link on the left. If you see an alert that reads, “Startup
programs are causing Windows to start slowly,” click the link to view details.
The entry corresponds to a single incident in the event log, in which a particular
program took longer to boot than usual. But despite the lone alert here, and
its Date reported indicating that the incident happened months ago, there
may be many similar entries in the log, some more recent than others.
Click the View details in the event log link to fire up Event Viewer
(eventvwr.msc), and then click the Date and Time column header to sort the
list chronologically. Since delays that happened weeks ago aren’t of much
concern, focus on those from the last few days. If one program stands out as
a repeat offender, try the Level column header to group the events by severity.
There’s more running on your PC than the handful of icons in the notification
area (tray) suggests, and there are several places where startup programs are
specified in addition to the Startup folder in your Start menu. Check out
“Manage Startup Programs” on page 362 for all the places to look.
Make more free disk space
The easiest way to create more free disk space is to delete the files on your hard
disk that you no longer need; see “If in Doubt, Throw It Out” on page 309
for a safe way to do this.
See also “Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache Settings” on page 312 and “A Defragmentation Crash
Course” on page 304, for other things you can do to speed
up your hard drive and help Windows load more quickly.
Lastly, a new hard disk—particularly an SATA 3.0 drive with NCQ (Native
Command Queuing) and at least a 32 MB cache—will give you dramatically
more disk space and can improve boot time considerably. If you’re on the fence
about replacing that older drive, consider the performance boost as well as the
free space you’d get.
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You may not have enough free disk space for your virtual memory (swap file)
to operate comfortably. Windows uses part of your hard disk to store portions
of memory; the more disk space you devote to your swap file, the easier it will
be for Windows to store data there. See “Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache
Settings” on page 312 for more information.
Interested in testing the speed of your hard disk? Check out
HD Tune, available for free from For
help interpreting the results, see
Clean out your Temp folder
Sometimes having too many files in Windows’ Temp folder can not only slow
Windows startup, but in extreme cases, can prevent Windows from loading
at all. Windows and your applications use this folder to temporarily store data
while you’re working with documents. When those applications and documents are closed (or when the applications just crash), they often leave the
temporary files behind, and they accumulate quickly.
Out of the box, Windows 7 uses up to four Temp folders:
although Windows and your applications primarily use only the first one. To
clear out your old temporary files, open Windows Explorer, navigate to the
Temp folder, and delete anything more than a day old. (Windows won’t let
you delete any files that are still in use.)
Another way to clear out the Temp folder is to use the Disk Cleanup tool
(cleanmgr.exe); after selecting your Windows drive from the Drives list (usually C:), select Temporary files in the Files to delete list, and click OK. Or,
if you want your Temp folder cleaned automatically, use the Clear out the
Temp folder tool in Creative Element Power Tools.
You can change the location of your Temp folder, making it
easier to locate and clean out by hand. In Control Panel, open
System, click the Advanced system settings link, and under
the Advanced tab, click Environment Variables. Underneath the upper box, click New. Type TEMP for the Variable
name, put the full path of the folder you’d like to use in the
Variable value field, and click OK. Do the same thing for the
TMP variable (no “E” this time), and then click OK when you’re
done. Restart Windows for the change to take effect.
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Tame antivirus software
Antivirus programs (see Chapter 6) are typically set up to not only load automatically whenever you start Windows, but to check for updates, too. For
instance, the otherwise excellent (and free) Avast! Home Edition can completely halt a Windows system for 15–20 seconds while it downloads and installs necessary updates.
While you may not want to stop loading your antivirus software automatically,
you can delay it by writing a simple startup script (see Chapter 9) that loads
the software after waiting, say, 45 seconds. Or, to delay background services,
open the Services window (services.msc), double-click a service in the list, and
set the Startup type to Automatic (Delayed Start). This way, you can start
working while your antivirus program loads in the background.
Add more memory
Windows 7 needs at least a gigabyte of memory to run, but 3 GB is better for
32-bit Windows, or 4 GB if you have the 64-bit edition.
Windows polls each active wired network connection on your system while it
boots your system, and then polls your wireless adapter (if you have one) for
any networks in range. Each of these steps takes time, so if there are any network adapters on your PC you don’t use, you can disable them to speed things
up. In the Network and Sharing Center in Control Panel, click Manage network connections, and then right-click on each network connection you’re
not using and select Disable.
Next, if you have any permanent mapped network drives (see “Access a Shared
Folder Remotely” on page 597) you’re not using, open Windows Explorer,
right-click any unneeded mapped drives, and select Disconnect.
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Memory prices are always dropping, typically making it remarkably inexpensive to add more RAM to your system, and doing so will significantly improve
performance across the board. See the section “Make Your Hardware Perform” on page 286 for details.
Start Windows Instantly (Almost)
You can optimize Windows all you want, possibly shaving 15 or 20 seconds
off your boot time (see the previous topic), or you can approach the problem
from a different angle.
All modern PCs support a Standby mode that allows you to shut down Windows quickly, and more importantly, start it back up in only a few seconds.
Standby is a power-saving mode (known as the S3 sleep state) that maintains
power to your system memory and a few other components, while cutting
power to your hard disk, monitor, network adapters, and most of the rest of
the devices in your PC.
While it looks like it’s turned off, a PC in Standby mode still uses some electricity. If you remove the battery from your laptop or unplug your desktop PC
while it’s in S3 Standby mode, the power to your system memory will be cut,
and you will likely lose data (just as though you unplugged it while it was still
The Hibernate mode (the S4 sleep state) solves the power-off problem by storing an image of your RAM on your hard disk and then shutting down completely. This means you can cut power to your desktop PC with a separate
power strip or remove the battery from your laptop, and still resume your last
Windows session in a fraction of the time it would take to start Windows
normally. The downside is that Hibernate takes a little longer to shut down
and start up than Standby, and you need a lot more free disk space (at least as
much as the amount of RAM in your PC). And then there’s the small matter
of the Hibernate feature being conspicuously absent (or at least hidden) in
Windows 7.
There’s potentially a drawback to using any of these sleep
states exclusively, as opposed to shutting down formally.
Namely, Windows gets cranky when it has had too much
sleep: performance worsens, some features stop working
properly, and applications are more prone to crashes. (To be
fair, this is less of an issue with Windows 7 than previous versions.) The remedy is to shut down and restart Windows
periodically, at least once or twice a week (more for heavy use),
which, of course, somewhat negates the overall time saved by
employing sleep features in the first place. Alternatively, you
may choose to avoid sleeping your PC altogether; you’ll enjoy
a more stable environment, but you’ll lose the convenience of
the “instant on” feature.
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The solicitude of Sleep
Instead, Windows 7 provides only a hybrid of Standby and Hibernate (discussed next) which Microsoft calls Sleep mode. Basically, Sleep puts your PC
in the S3 power-saving mode just like Standby, but only after saving the stuff
in your PC’s memory to disk—somewhat like Hibernate—so you won’t lose
data if you cut power to your PC.
So, Sleep is the best of both worlds, right?
Not so fast. First of all, Sleep doesn’t work that well with some older PCs; cut
power to your computer, and Windows may lose the saved state from the last
session after all, making it no better than Standby. Second, Sleep doesn’t completely power off your PC, which means that it’s still using more electricity
than it would if it were truly powered off. (Although on laptops, Sleep should
eventually put the machine in full-fledged hibernate mode, which uses no
Conversely, if you’d prefer the quickest possible startup and shutdown, and
you’re willing to give up the benefits of hibernation, set the Allow hybrid
sleep option to Off. This effectively gives Windows a bare Standby feature;
just don’t be surprised when Windows can’t resume your previous session
because your PC lost power while it was asleep.
Hibernate, for real this time
If you’re not happy with 7’s Sleep mode, you can instead use the true Hibernate feature that’s hidden by default in Windows 7.
Laptop PCs often employ Hibernation to save your state when
the battery gets dangerously low (and you’re not using AC
power); if this applies to you, Hibernation may already be enabled. On the other hand, if your PC crashes when the battery
runs out of juice, or simply can’t resume once you plug it back
in, you’ll need to enable Hibernation to fix the problem.
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If your Windows session doesn’t survive a Sleep, you might not have the hybrid
sleep feature enabled. Open the Power Options page in Control Panel, click
the Change plan settings link next to the currently selected plan, and then
click the Change advanced power settings link. If necessary, click the
Change settings that are currently unavailable link. Expand the Sleep
branch, set the Allow hybrid sleep option to On, and click OK.
Open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode: open the Start
menu, type command in the Search box, right-click the Command Prompt icon
that appears, and select Run as administrator. Then, type:
powercfg /hibernate on
at the prompt and press Enter. If the command returns you to the prompt
with no message, the change was successful, and you can type exit or close
the Command Prompt window. The change takes effect right away (see the
next sidebar “What Is hiberfil.sys?” for evidence), but you’ll need to close and
reopen any Power Options windows (next) to see the new options.
What Is hiberfil.sys?
To avoid some of the drawbacks of Windows’ Sleep power-saving mode, you
can hibernate your PC. As described in “Start Windows Instantly (Almost)” on page 274, Hibernate saves a copy of everything in your PC’s memory (RAM) onto your hard disk before it shuts down.
Windows uses the file hiberfil.sys, stored in the root folder of your hard disk,
to hold your hibernation data. Because it must hold everything in memory,
its size is the same as the amount of installed system memory. Have 2 GB of
RAM? You’ll see a 2 GB hiberfil.sys file on your hard disk that Windows won’t
let you delete.
Windows creates the hiberfil.sys file automatically when you turn on the Hibernate feature; the only way to delete the file is to turn off Hibernate.
To do this, open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode (see
“The solicitude of Sleep” on page 275 for details) and type this command at
the prompt:
powercfg /hibernate off
Then press Enter. If the command returns you to the prompt with no message,
the change was successful, and hiberfil.sys should be gone.
If hiberfil.sys is still there, hibernation may’ve already been turned off, and the
file may be left over from an older version of Windows. Another way to delete
the file is to use the Disk Cleanup tool (cleanmgr.exe); just select the drive
containing the file, place a checkmark next to Hibernation File Cleaner in
the Files to delete list, and click OK.
Put your PC to sleep
The key to using Sleep or Hibernate is to set one of them up as the default
action to take when your PC would otherwise be shut down.
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Figure 5-2. Open the Start menu and then click the little arrow to choose how to shut down
Now, regardless of your settings, you can choose to sleep your PC—or for that
matter, shut down, restart, or log off—at any time by clicking the tiny arrow
next to the Shut down button in your Start menu, as shown in Figure 5-2.
But why stop there? You can also change what happens when you press the
physical power button on your PC or close the lid. Open the Power Options
page in Control Panel, and click the Change plan settings link next to the
currently selected plan. Next, click the Change advanced power settings
link to open the Advanced Settings window, and then expand the Power buttons and lid branch (Figure 5-3). If necessary, click the Change settings that
are currently unavailable link (see “Control User Account Control” on page 569 to get rid of this last step).
The options and choices vary depending on your PC’s capabilities, but in most
cases, you should see at least Power button action, which refers to your PC’s
physical power switch, and Sleep button action (whether or not your keyboard or PC has a formal Sleep button, which looks like a crescent moon),
and Lid close action if you’re using a laptop.
At most, you’ll see four choices under each option: Do nothing, Sleep, Hibernate, and Shut down. The Hibernate option only appears if hibernation
is turned on, as described in the previous section. And if you don’t see the
Sleep option, your BIOS or video driver may not support it. Finally, the Do
nothing option is particularly useful for those with a tower case on the floor
that is frequently visited by a puppy or toddler.
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You can also change the function of the Shut down button itself by rightclicking the button and selecting Properties. From the Power button action
list, choose either Switch user, Log off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, or Shut down.
Figure 5-3. Power Options’ Advanced settings window lets you choose whether your PC
goes to sleep or shuts down when you press the power button or close the lid
Next, scroll up just a bit and expand the Sleep branch. Here, you can use the
Sleep after and Hibernate after options to have your PC automatically put
itself to sleep after a certain period of inactivity. Think of these settings as a
more ecologically friendly—but less entertaining—alternative to the screen
Want to temporarily override the Sleep setting? Use the Caffeine tool, available at, to
keep your PC awake by simulating a keypress every 59
See “Improve Battery Life” on page 296 for a way to automatically change
your power button and lid settings when you switch between AC and battery
278 | Chapter 5: Performance
Time to wake up
While in Standby, Sleep, or Hibernate mode, your PC waits for you to hit the
power button—or optionally press a key or move the mouse—at which point
it powers up and resumes your previous Windows session.
All sorts of devices can be used to wake your PC when it’s asleep, such as your
keyboard, some kinds of mice, network adapters, and modems. But first, you
need to turn on a setting in Windows. Open Device Manager, and expand the
branch containing the device (e.g., Keyboards). Double-click your device,
choose the Power Management tab, turn on the Allow this device to wake
the computer option, and click OK.
Next, put your PC to sleep and test it out. If you’ve just enabled wake-up for
your keyboard, press the Space bar. Or, if you want to wake up the PC with
your mouse, give it a nudge.
If that doesn’t do it, you’ll need to dive into your BIOS setup screen, discussed
in Appendix A. Look for a Power or APM Configuration category, in which
you’ll find settings like these:
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Power Button Mode
This option lets you choose whether your power switch shuts down your
PC or puts it to sleep. Depending on your BIOS, the setting you choose
here may or may not be overridden by the similar setting in the Windows
Control Panel.
Power On By External Modems
This is also known as “Wake On Ring” (WOR); if you have an internal
modem in a PCI or PCIE slot, you can use this feature to call your PC with
a telephone to wake it up. (Despite the name, this feature won’t work with
serial port or USB modems.)
Power On By PCI/PCIE Devices
Turn on this option to use the “Wake On LAN” (WOL) feature, which
lets you send a wake-up signal to your PC from another PC on your local
network. Some motherboards also require that you install a jumper or use
a specific type of network card, so check your PC’s documentation for
Power On By PS/2 Keyboard or Mouse
Turn this on if you have an old-style keyboard or mouse that has a round
connector. Most PCs should wake up from newer USB keyboards or mice
regardless of this setting.
Restore on AC Power Loss
This option lets you decide what happens after you’ve cut power to your
PC. Set this option to Always On if you want to turn on your PC with a
switch on an external power strip.
As you might’ve expected, some experimentation may be required at this stage.
When you wake up your PC, Windows may require a password before it resumes your previous session. To turn this off, return to the Advanced Settings
window (Figure 5-3), expand the Additional settings branch, and set the
Require a password on wakeup option to No.
Sleep and Hibernate troubleshooting
For the Standby, Sleep, or Hibernate modes to work properly in Windows 7,
your PC has to cooperate. If it doesn’t, you might experience a problem such as:
No sleep
Windows won’t go to sleep at all; either nothing happens when you try to
stand by, or the system just crashes in the middle of the process.
No wake up
Windows won’t wake up after going to sleep, or Windows simply boots
normally instead of resuming your previous session.
No more sleep
Windows goes to sleep or hibernates once, but once it wakes up, it won’t
go back to sleep until you restart it.
Features are unavailable
Some or all of the power management features and settings discussed earlier are grayed-out (disabled) or missing.
Stuff stops working
Some features, like your wireless network, your cordless mouse, or your
scanner stop working after waking up, at least until you restart Windows.
(Hint: look for new drivers or a firmware update for your device.)
Unfortunately, all of these problems are quite common, mostly because of the
inconsistent support for Advanced Configuration and Power Interface
(ACPI) in the computer industry. The good news is that there are a few things
you can do to help improve your computer’s support for APM and ACPI,
should you be experiencing any of these problems:
Update your PC’s BIOS
Check with the manufacturer of your computer system or motherboard
for a BIOS update. 7 requires that your BIOS comply with the ACPI 2.0
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Keep in mind that you may never get your system to reliably go to sleep and
wake up; but if you are able to get this feature working, it can be very
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Enter your BIOS setup screen, as described in Appendix A, and make sure
the ACPI APIC support setting is set to On or Enabled. If you see a
setting referring to ACPI 2.0 or some later version, try turning it on if it’s
off, or vice versa. Reboot your PC when you’re done. Depending on how
ACPI-compliant your PC is, it may take some trial and error to get 7 to
sleep properly.
Fix or disable Hybrid sleep
The second most common cause of sleep and hibernation problems, behind an out-of-date BIOS, is a video card (display adapter) driver that
doesn’t support Window’ Hybrid Sleep feature. Check with the manufacturer of your video card for a newer driver, or try turning off Hybrid Sleep,
as described in “The solicitude of Sleep” on page 275.
Disable power saving for your wireless adapter
As with the video card, make sure you have the latest driver and firmware
for your wireless adapter. Also, try changing the device’s power settings:
in Device Manager, double-click your wireless network adapter. Choose
the Power Management tab, and turn off the Allow the computer to
turn off this device to save power option.
Free up some disk space
As explained earlier, the Hibernate feature creates an image file on your
hard disk equal in size to the amount of installed memory. If you have 2
GB of RAM, then Windows will need 2,147,483,648 bytes of free disk
space for the hiberfil.sys file. If hibernation doesn’t work, or if it’s exceedingly slow to initiate or recover, try deleting the hibernation file as described in the sidebar “What Is hiberfil.sys?” on page 276. Then, defragment
your hard disk, and re-enable hibernation.
Perform a Sleep test
Go to and download the
free PassMark Sleeper tool to help test your computer’s ability to enter
and recover from Sleep, Standby, and Hibernate modes.
Shut Down Windows Quickly
Theoretically, when you shut down Windows, your computer should be powered down in less than 15 seconds. The problem is that all of the cleanup
Windows tries to do before it considers it “safe” to power the system down
can sometimes cause delays. This includes shutting down your open applications, stopping any running services, and writing any pending cache data to
the disk.
During the course of using your computer, Windows sometimes postpones writing data to the disk to improve performance. This is called write caching, and as a consequence, Windows must take a few seconds before you shut down to make
sure all data queued to be written is actually, physically written to the disk before power is lost. See “A Quick Performance
Hack” on page 303 for a way to disable this feature.
Of course, the most effective way to speed up shutdown is to not shut down
at all. Rather, put your PC to sleep, as described in “Start Windows Instantly
(Almost)” on page 274. That way, you won’t have to close your documents,
bookmark open web pages, or even quit your games; they’ll all still be where
you left them when you wake up and resume your previous session.
Of course, it’s good for Windows to shut down completely from time to time.
If you sleep your PC exclusively, it may mean you’ll be operating under the
same Windows session for weeks or even months, and that can cause Windows
to slow down and become even more unreliable.
When shutting down, Windows attempts to stop all running tasks. If a task—
an application, service, or background program—doesn’t respond or refuses
to shut down, there’s a built-in delay before Windows will force the task to
end. This delay is called the timeout, and it can be shortened if you’re experiencing problems or unreasonable delays every time you shut down your
1. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3).
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop.
3. Double-click the WaitToKillAppTimeout value. (If it’s not there, select
Edit→New→DWORD Value (32-bit) and type WaitToKillAppTimeout for
the name of the new value.) This number controls the time to wait, in
milliseconds, before unresponsive applications are forced to close. The
default is 20000 (20 seconds), but you can type any value here; the
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minimum is 1 millisecond, although it’s impractical to use any value
smaller than about 2000 (2 seconds) here.
Also in this key is the HungAppTimeout value, which does pretty much the
same thing as WaitToKillAppTimeout; just enter the same number for both
Next, you can configure 7 to end hung applications automatically and
without asking. Select Edit→New→DWORD Value (32-bit) and type
AutoEndTasks for the name of the new value. Then, double-click AutoEnd
Tasks and enter 1 (one) to automatically end tasks or 0 (zero) to prompt
before ending tasks (the default).
Expand the branches to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\
Double-click the WaitToKillServiceTimeout value. This works the same as
the WaitToKillAppTimeout value described above, except that it applies to
services (managed in services.msc) instead of applications.
Close the Registry Editor when you’re done. You’ll have to restart Windows for the change to take effect.
Start Applications Faster
One of the things we spend most of our time doing at a PC is waiting for
applications to start. Larger applications, particularly, can take what seems
like an eternity—OK, 5 to 10 seconds on a fast PC—before they’re ready to
use. And small programs, even though they load quickly, don’t always “pop”
on screen as quickly as one would like.
Windows has a lot to do when it loads a program. It has to suck the program
file data off your hard disk, something that a clean, optimized drive will handle
more quickly (discussed later in this chapter). It also has to make room in your
PC’s system memory (RAM) for the program, which means your virtual memory settings (see the section “Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache Settings” on page 312) play a significant part, and, of course, more RAM definitely helps.
And then there’s the program itself, which must read through all your fonts
(the fewer the better), load its own add-on components (DLLs, plug-ins, etc.),
and allocate its own section of your hard disk to store temporary files.
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These values also affect the timeouts at times other than just shutting down,
such as when you click End Process or End Task in Task Manager. In most
cases, however, these values won’t affect applications that delay shut down
merely because they’re waiting for you to save an open document.
But there’s also something else at work here, something that isn’t strictly necessary. Windows 7 includes an “Application Compatibility” system that
checks each program you run against a database of known issues, and warns
you if there’s a potential problem. This takes time and resources, and is really
only useful when you’re installing or running older programs not specifically
designed for Windows 7.
Once you’ve set up your PC and tested it with most of the software you’ll be
using on a daily basis, you really don’t need the Application Compatibility
system any more. Turn it off, and that’s one less thing Windows needs to do
each and every time you start a program.
If you’re using the Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate edition of Windows
7, open the Start menu, type gpedit.msc into the Search box, and press
Enter to open the Group Policy Object Editor (gpedit.msc isn’t available in
Home Premium). Expand the branches to Local Computer Policy→Computer Configuration→Administrative Templates→ Windows Components→Application Compatibility. In the Application Compatibility
section, double-click the following settings to configure them:
Turn Off Program Compatibility Engine.
Set this to Enabled to turn off the system that checks each program you
run, and allow programs to start more quickly.
The downside is that some of the User Account Control (UAC) features
I’ll discuss in Chapter 8 may stop working with pre-Windows 7 applications, which may cause those older programs to stop working.
Turn Off Program Compatibility Assistant.
The Assistant is the window that pops up after you install a program or
use it for the first time to inform you that it may not have run correctly.
Obviously, this is something you’re probably able to determine for yourself, so set this option to Enabled to get rid of these prompts.
Remove Program Compatibility Property Page.
This gets rid of the Compatibility tab in a program’s Properties window.
If you’re setting the other options here to Enabled, you might as well set
this to Enabled, too.
When you’re done, close the Group Policy Object Editor and restart Windows
for the change to take effect. If one of your programs stops working, you’ll
need to come back here to re-enable the Application Compatibility engine.
See the sidebar “Keeping an Eye on Prefetch” on page 309 for another feature
that can affect application startup times.
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ReadyBoost: Why Not?
Got an extra USB flash drive or digital camera memory card laying around? If
you have a slower hard disk, you may be able to improve startup time and
overall disk performance by letting Windows use your card to cache its Prefetch files (see the sidebar “Keeping an Eye on Prefetch” on page 309).
Setup is easy. Just right-click the drive in Windows Explorer, select Properties, and then choose the ReadyBoost tab. Select Dedicate this device to
ReadyBoost to use the entire drive, or Use this device to use only part of the
drive. (If selecting the former option, make sure there’s nothing on the drive
you care about.) Click OK when you’re done; the change takes effect
Now, it’s true that a typical flash drive is significantly slower than a hard disk,
so how can ReadyBoost help? The idea is to give Windows a place off-disk to
store a few cache files so it doesn’t have to interrupt your hard disk during
heavy activity to access them. Although you probably won’t notice any difference with a fast hard disk on a desktop PC, laptop hard disks are notoriously
slow, and have the most to gain from ReadyBoost.
Want to keep ReadyBoost, but don’t like Windows Explorer showing a drive
you can’t use? If you assign a drive letter to your ReadyBoost drive, and it isn’t
used by any other removable device, you can hide the drive in Explorer with
a simple registry hack. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and expand
the branches to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVer
sion\Policies\Explorer. Double-click the NoDrives value, or if it’s not there,
open the Edit menu, select New and then DWORD (32-bit) Value to create
a value by that name. Select the Decimal option, and in the Value data field,
type a binary value representing the drive you want to hide, where A: is 1, B:
is 2, C: is 4, D: is 8, and so on. For instance, to hide drive U:, you’d type
1048576 here. (To hide more than one drive, just add up the numbers and type
the sum into the Value data field.) The change takes effect when you log out
and log back in.
Trim the Fat | 285
The long and the short of it is that ReadyBoost is free, and super-easy to test.
And if you need the USB port or memory card slot, you can pull out the flash
drive at any time with no ill-effects.
Make Your Hardware Perform
There’s no end to the tricks you can employ to squeeze more speed out of your
PC, but few—apart from the ones in this chapter, hopefully—will end up
making that much of a difference. Probably the most effective steps you can
take involve your hard disk, discussed later in this chapter.
Paradoxically, this section’s first topic involves the Glass interface, a new feature that indeed makes Windows run more slowly. But making Windows perform isn’t always about making it perform faster, but rather making it perform
Boilerplate disclaimer: Keep in mind that there’s a certain point beyond which
your computer is going to turn into a money and time pit. The older your
system is, the less time and energy you’ll want to invest in making it run well,
and the more you should start looking to replace it. It’s easy to calculate the
point of diminishing returns: just compare the estimated cost of an upgrade—
both the monetary cost and the amount of time you’ll have to commit—with
the cost of a new system (minus what you might get for selling or donating
your old system). I stress this point a great deal, because I’ve seen it happen
time and time again: people end up spending too much and getting too little
in return. A simple hardware upgrade ends up taking days of troubleshooting
and configuring, only to result in the discovery that yet something else needs
to be replaced as well. Taking into account that whatever you end up with will
still eventually need to be further upgraded to remain current, it is often more
cost effective to replace the entire system and either sell or donate the old parts.
That said, the following sections detail some things you can do to make Windows run faster and/or better.
Get Glass
An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full;
the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer
will tell you the glass is twice the size
it needs to be.
We’re all suckers for a pretty face. You may or may not think Aero Glass, the
translucent interface introduced in Vista and refined in Windows 7, is actually
pretty, but you can’t deny that it’s a welcome change from the homely, cartoonish look of XP, and a convenient way to see what’s behind the window
on top, shown in Figure 5-4.
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Figure 5-4. Glass—the shiny, translucent interface included with every edition of 7 except
Home Basic—is nice to look at, but may be hard to come by on older PCs
If you got Windows 7 preinstalled on a new PC, you’re probably already using
the Glass interface. But what if you’re using an older PC and you can’t get
Glass to work?
The problems with 7’s Glass feature are twofold. First, Glass has somewhat
hefty technical requirements, not the least of which is a fast video card with at
least 32 Mb of video memory (or more for higher resolutions), a Vista/Windows 7-compatible WDDM video driver, and a 3D gaming feature called Pixel
Shader 2.0 in hardware. And because Aero Glass guzzles CPU cycles, you’ll
want a fast processor and a fast video card to enjoy it.
Second, it can be a little tricky to get all the pieces in place so that 7 will even
give you the option of enabling the Glass interface.
So, without further ado, here’s a fairly foolproof procedure to get Glass on
your PC.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 287
Glass also includes some flashy goodies, such as buttons that glow a cool blue
when you roll over them with the mouse, live thumbnail previews of running
tasks in the taskbar and the Alt-Tab window, the Aero Peek window and
desktop preview feature, and the silly Flip3D Rolodex-style task switcher
Part 1: Hardware
The number-one ingredient in a good Glass experience is a fast graphics card
with sufficient video memory onboard.
A faster card, which you can only get by spending money on a replacement
and installing it in your PC, will help offload the burden of the Glass interface,
so your CPU is free to handle other tasks. (Or, if you have a video card with a
graphics chip that can be overclocked, akin to “Overclock Your Processor” on page 300, you can improve performance without spending a dime.)
The card must also support a 3D feature called Pixel Shader 2.0 in its hardware
(not software), and must be compatible with DirectX 9.
Modern desktop PCs take PCI-Express (PCIE) cards, and
while Glass-capable PCIE cards are common, it can be difficult to find a sufficiently powerful card designed for the AGP
slot in an older PC. But if you’re not adverse to scrounging on
eBay for a used or discontinued card, nVidia’s 6800 series of
AGP cards are up to the task, and are well-supported by nVidia’s frequently updated drivers. If you’re looking for topnotch AGP performance, look for a card with the nVidia
6800Ultra chip and 256 Mb of onboard memory.
Video memory may be a different matter. In most cases, video memory is permanently installed on your video card; unlike your PC’s system memory, it
can’t be upgraded unless you replace your card. But if you have a laptop or
low-end desktop, your video is likely built into your motherboard, and its video
memory is merely a portion of your PC’s system memory (which is upgradable). This means that it may be possible to allocate more system memory for
your video (at the expense of memory Windows can use) by changing a setting
or two in your system BIOS. See Appendix A for the appropriate BIOS settings.
So, how much video memory do you need? It depends on your screen’s resolution, but a basic rule of thumb is that you need a minimum of about 48 bytes
of video memory for each pixel on your screen, as shown in Table 5-1.
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Table 5-1. The amount of video memory required to use Glass at common screen resolutions
Aspect ratio
# of pixels
Video memory required
32 MB
32 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
64 MB
128 MB
128 MB
128 MB
128 MB
256 MB
256 MB
256 MB
As you can see, it may be possible to get Glass with as little as 32 MB of video
memory on some lower resolutions—and there are those who have achieved
this—but depending on your card and its driver, your mileage may vary. Also,
it’s worth pointing out that memory requirements are doubled on a dualmonitor setup: a single video card must have at least 256 MB to drive two
screens that would otherwise need 128 MB each.
As for your PC, it’s a good idea to have at least 2–3 gigabytes of system memory
(RAM). Although you can get away with less—and you may have to if your
video memory is being shared with your system memory as described earlier—
you may not find the performance acceptable on a PC with merely 1 GB. See
the next section, “Maximize the Windows Performance Rating” on page 292, for ways to measure whether your processor and hard disk
are also up to running Glass.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 289
Part 2: Software
With the hardware elements in place, the next thing to worry about is your
video driver. Although Windows 7 comes with drivers for most common display adapters, the best driver you’re likely to get is the one provided by the
maker of the chip on your video card.
The most common video chips are nVidia GeForce and ATI Radeon; if you’re
not sure who makes the video card in your PC, open Device Manager in Control Panel and expand the Display adapters branch. Just make sure the driver
supports the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM); in most cases, the
driver must be expressly written for Windows 7 or Vista.
Once you’re certain you have the latest video driver, follow these steps to enable Glass:
1. Update your Windows Experience Index, as described in “Maximize the
Windows Performance Rating” on page 292, so that Windows can reassess your video subsystem’s capabilities. You may need to restart Windows if the Performance Information and Tools window doesn’t update
your score after a reasonable wait. You must have a video score of at least
3.0 to run Glass.
2. In Control Panel, go to the Display page, and click the Adjust resolution link.
3. Click the Advanced settings link, choose the Monitor tab, and from the
Colors list, select True Color (32-bit).
If you know how much video memory is installed on your
video card, refer to Table 5-1, earlier in this section, to
determine the highest screen resolution you can use with
Glass. If needed, return to the Screen Resolution page and
select a lower set of values from the Resolution list.
4. Click OK to return to Control Panel and then switch to the System page.
5. Click the Advanced system settings link on the left side (or run SystemPropertiesAdvanced.exe), and in the Performance section, click the Settings button.
6. Turn on the Enable desktop composition and Enable transparent
glass options, and then click OK and then OK again to close the two
290 | Chapter 5: Performance
7. Back in Control Panel, go to the Personalization page, and select one of
the themes in the Aero Themes section. After a brief delay, the Glass
interface should now be active.
8. If you don’t get transparent Glass at this stage, click the Window Color
link at the bottom of the window, and turn on the Enable transparency option. Adjust the Color intensity slider to change the transparency
level of the window borders: move it further to the right to make windows
more opaque. Click Save changes when you’re done.
9. If Glass still isn’t working, open your Start menu, and in the Search box,
type Aero. In a moment, several search results will appear; click Find and
fix problems with transparency and other visual effects and follow
the prompts.
If you still don’t have Glass at this point, either your video card or your video
driver is to blame. See if your video card maker has made a display BIOS
upgrade available; for laptops, a system BIOS update should accomplish the
same thing.
Part 3: Tweaks
If you find the aforementioned title bar buttons—minimize, maximize, and
close—too big (or not big enough), you can resize them. Open the Personalization page in Control Panel, click the Window Color link at the bottom and
then click the Advanced appearance settings link. From the Item list, select
Active Title Bar (or just click the little titlebar in the preview pane), and then
use the Size control to the right to shrink or grow the title bar. (The minimum
value is 17 pixels and the maximum is 100.) The preview shows the classic
interface only, so take your best guess, and click OK to see how it looks.
See “Improve Battery Life” on page 296 for another tool you can use with
Make Your Hardware Perform | 291
It doesn’t take a degree from Art Center to notice that Microsoft took some
design cues from the Aqua interface in Mac OS X (not that Apple didn’t borrow
some of its ideas, too). While Microsoft actually managed to outdo Apple in
a few areas—the minimize, maximize, and close buttons spring to mind—the
Flip 3D task switcher is no match for Exposé, the Mac’s all-at-once task
switcher. Luckily, you can mimic Exposé with Switcher, free from http://insen, and shown in Figure 5-5.
Figure 5-5. Switcher mimics the Exposé all-at-once task switcher from Mac OS X
Maximize the Windows Performance Rating
Ever since the introduction of the Glass interface in Windows Vista (covered
in the previous section), Microsoft has started to take display performance
seriously in a non-gaming context.
Enter the Windows Experience Index, a numeric score that supposedly indicates the baseline performance level of your PC’s hardware. To view your PC’s
current score, open the Performance Information and Tools page in Control
Panel (shown in Figure 5-6).
If you seriously want to benchmark your PC, disregard the
Windows Experience Index and instead use a tool like PC
Wizard (free,, HD Tach (free, http://, or HD Tune (free, http://www Among other things, real benchmarking software can compare the speeds of two hard disks, provide
accurate results on overclocking, and even help with memory
Here, you’ll see the five performance indexes that Windows calculates:
This measures your CPU’s number-crunching prowess; specifically, how
quickly it can compress and decompress data, encrypt and decrypt data,
compute a hash, and encode a video stream. For perspective, here are
benchmarks from a handful of Processor scores culled from the Web.
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Dual Intel Xeon 5160 @3.0Ghz
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ @2.2Ghz
Intel Core2 Duo 6600 @2.40GHz
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ @2GHz
Intel Core2 Duo 6400 @2.13GHz
Intel T2500 Core Duo @2GHz
Intel Core2 Duo T7600 @2.33GHz
AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile @1.6Ghz
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ @2.6Ghz
Intel Pentium 4 @ 2.80GHz
Want to raise your Processor score without spending any money? Check
out “Overclock Your Processor” on page 300, later in this chapter.
Figure 5-6. The Windows Experience Index is a performance score based on the weakest
performer in your PC
If you’re running on battery power, your Processor score may
be lower than it would if it were plugged in to AC power. You
can change how Windows uses your processor on battery
power through the Power Options page in Control Panel.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 293
Memory (RAM)
This measures partly how fast your memory is, but also how much of it
your PC has (not including any shared as video memory). Windows actually limits the maximum memory benchmark you can attain, regardless
of how fast your RAM is.
Amount of RAM
Max. subscore
Amount of RAM
Max. subscore
Less than 256 MB
513–704 MB
257–500 MB
705–960 MB
501–512 MB
961 MB–1.5 GB
Beyond 1.5 GB, the score is purely speed-based. Want a higher Memory score? Add more RAM. (It’ll have the meager side effect of making
your PC faster, too.)
This value is the one most closely tied to your PC’s ability to render the
Glass interface (see “Get Glass” on page 286), and also indicates your PC’s
ability to play back video. The score is based on the video bandwidth (the
speed at which your video card can move data) as well as the amount of
video memory you have.
A video card that doesn’t support DirectX 9 automatically earns a score no higher than 1.0. One for which you
don’t have a Windows 7/Vista Display Driver Model
(WDDM) driver can’t receive a score higher than 1.9. To
use the Glass interface, you must have a Graphics score
of at least 2.0. Glass should run beautifully on a system
ranked at 5.0 or higher. An updated driver will usually
raise your Graphics score.
Gaming graphics
This measures your video card’s 3D prowess, specifically the frames per
second it can attain in certain situations.
Like the preceding Graphics benchmark, there are minimum
requirements for certain scores. If your video card doesn’t
support Direct3D v9, it earns a score no higher than 1.0. If
support for Pixel Shader 3.0 is absent, then you won’t see a
score higher than 4.9, regardless of other factors. If you believe
your card is capable of these things, yet your score seems unfairly low, your pesky driver is once again likely to blame.
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Primary hard disk
This measures the transfer rate, the speed at which your PC can read and
write information to the drive on which Windows is installed. See “Hard
Disk” on page 303 for things you can do to increase this score.
Off to the right, you’ll see a Base score emblazoned on a Windows logo. This
score isn’t an average of the subscores to the left, but rather an indication of
the lowest score—the weakest link in the chain, so to speak.
Don’t panic if your Processor score is a hair lower than your neighbor’s down
the street, even though you have a faster CPU. (Because your neighbor is
probably worried about your slightly better Graphics score, even though her
video card cost $40 more than yours.)
Rather, use these scores only to provide quantitative feedback for the upgrades
or tweaks you’re doing. And keep in mind that these scores, although based
on calculations, aren’t quite as rigid as they seem. For instance, refresh the
index right after booting Windows, and you may see a 0.1 variance from a PC
that has been scored after being active all day. Install a new graphics driver,
and your Graphics subscore may go up a few tenths while Gaming graphics dives slightly.
Update my score
Click the Re-run the assessment link at the bottom of the page to rescan your
system and perform the benchmarks again. But don’t be surprised when you
don’t see any progress bar or other indication that Windows is testing your
system; other than periodic sluggishness in the mouse, occasional screen
flashes, or increased hard disk activity, you shouldn’t notice much of anything
But don’t let that fool you: to maximize your scores, make sure you close any
running applications (including background tasks like antivirus programs and
anything that uses your network), let go of your mouse, and then go get a cup
of tea so you avoid doing anything that may interfere with the scoring. It’s not
unusual for scoring to take 10–30 minutes, even on a fast PC.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 295
Click the View and print details link to shed some more light
on exactly how 7 is calculating your PC’s score. You can print
the results here or, better yet, highlight everything (Ctrl-A),
copy the text to the clipboard (Ctrl-C), and then paste into
Notepad (Ctrl-V) to save the results to a file.
If the reassessment fails, you might be low on free disk space; see “If in Doubt,
Throw It Out” on page 309, for some tips. If you see this error or something
Cannot complete the requested operation.
An unknown error has caused WinSAT to fail in an unexpected way.
it either means you clicked the Re-run the assessment link while Windows
was already reexamining your system, or there’s a problem with your video
driver that’s causing the benchmark system to crash. Update your driver, restart Windows, and try again.
Improve Battery Life
Priorities shift when you’re not tethered to an AC outlet. Suddenly, processor
speed and the glitzy Glass interface just aren’t that important when your laptop
battery is going to die in 12 minutes. Now, there are things you can do to
reduce your laptop’s hunger for power, but the best power-saving features are
the ones that engage automatically when you’re using the battery, but revert
to their high-performance settings whenever you plug in.
Start with the obvious: the Power Options page in Control Panel. Here, you’ll
find at least three plans: Balanced (the default), High performance, and
Power saver (which may be hidden under the Show additional plans label).
It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, because each can be configured
any way you like.
Click the Change plan settings link next to the currently selected plan and
then click the Change advanced power settings link to open the Advanced
Settings window. If it’s there, click the Change settings that are currently
unavailable link; see “Control User Account Control” on page 569, to get
rid of this last step.
The settings here that will have the most bearing on your battery life are:
Hard disk
Being a mechanical device, your hard disk eats up a lot of power (those
with solid-state devices have my permission to rejoice at this point). Set
the Turn off hard disk after option too low, and you’ll spend a lot of
time waiting for Windows to wake up your hard disk; set it too high, and
you’re just wasting power. A setting of 10 or 20 minutes is usually a good
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Processor power management
Your processor uses a lot more power than you think. Since it can run at
different speeds, it runs fast when needed, but drops down to a slower
speed when your PC is idle to save power. The two settings here let you
choose the upper and lower bounds of your processor’s speed. Unlike with
your hard disk, you never have to wait for your processor to be woken up,
so there’s very little to lose by keeping the Minimum processor state
setting as low as possible.
It’s worth noting that the Maximum processor state is
set to only 50% in the Power saver plan by default; this
means that when this plan is active, your CPU will never
run faster than about half its rated speed. Of course, this
does save power, but as long as the Minimum processor
state is set to, say, 5%, it probably doesn’t make much
sense to limit your CPU in this way. Of course, processors
vary, so experiment with this setting to see how well
yours manages its own power consumption.
This setting isn’t just for laptops. Microsoft reports that
as much as 43% of the total power consumed by a desktop PC is used for the monitor (and that’s for a modern,
power-sipping LCD display). Choosing an appropriately
small value for Turn off display after can save you
money and help the environment.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 297
It’s also worth noting the System cooling policy, which lets you choose
what happens when your processor overheats. Set this to Passive to slow
your processor before increasing fan speed; both a slower CPU and a
slower fan will prolong your battery. On AC power, choose Active to
prioritize speed and activate the fan before slowing the processor to keep
things cool.
Use the Turn off display after setting as a battery-friendly alternative to
a screensaver. Since it takes very little time to wake up modern laptop
displays, set this to a small value like 5 minutes. Next, if your screen has
an ambient light sensor, turn on the Enable adaptive brightness option
to have Windows automatically adjust your screens brightness as needed.
(If you know your screen is equipped with a light sensor and you don’t
see this option, try updating your monitor driver.)
Multimedia settings
In the Multimedia settings branch, the When playing video setting affects how Windows Media Player renders movies when on battery power.
Since this is something you’re likely to do, say, while on an airplane, you
should select the lowest setting you can get away with and still get acceptable video playback.
Click OK when you’re done; the changes take effect immediately.
In Windows Vista, you could also choose how aggressively
the search indexing service ran while on battery power. (Indexing causes heavy disk and processor usage.) Although this
setting is absent in the Power Options window in Windows
7, it never provided the option to disable indexing entirely, so
it was of limited value. Thus you may want to stop the indexing service manually while using a battery to save as much
power as possible.
To switch between power plans, click the battery status icon in your notification area (tray) and then click the one you want. Or, press Winkey+X to show
the Windows Mobility Center, where you can also choose the plan you want.
Switch plans automatically
On a laptop, you’ll see two versions of many settings in the Power Options
window: one for running on battery power and one for AC. For instance, you
can have Windows hibernate after 20 minutes of inactivity on battery, or after
3 hours when plugged in. But what if you want more control?
Programs like Aerofoil (free from and Vista
Battery Saver (free, can switch power
plans automatically based on the power source, as well as turn off the powerhungry Glass interface when you switch to battery power.
Find out if your power-saving measures are paying off
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get a quantitative report on how much power your
PC is using. That way, you can determine if a particular performance downgrade is getting you any real gains in battery life.
One such tool that will show your battery usage is BatTrack, written by the
author of the aforementioned Vista Battery Saver (and also available free at
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But Windows 7 also has a little-known analysis tool of its own, accessible only
from the command prompt (see Chapter 9). To use the tool, open a Command
Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapters 9 and 8, respectively)
and then type the following:
powercfg -energy -output %userprofile%\desktop\output.html
The analysis will take 60 seconds (which you can change with the optional duration switch), after which powercfg will save its report as an HTML file on
your desktop. Just double-click output.html to view the report.
Anything in red is an issue that could be wasting power: For instance, you’ll
find out if any of your USB devices refuse to go to sleep (i.e., “USB Device not
Entering Suspend”). Below the red sections are warnings (in yellow), which
highlight programs using more than their fair share of CPU cycles (i.e., “Individual process with significant processor utilization”). It’s not the friendliest
report, but odds are you’ll discover something that’s causing your PC to use
more power than it should.
Disable devices, stop services
Don’t need that Ethernet port right now? Not using your DVD drive? Turn ’em
off and save some more power.
Next, open the Services window (services.msc), and stop any unnecessary
services (don’t touch the ones you don’t understand). For instance, if you’ve
installed Apple’s iTunes on your PC, you’ll see at least two related services
here: Apple Mobile Device and iPod Service. If you have no plans to connect
an iPod for the next few hours, right-click each service and select Stop to give
your PC one less thing to do while you’re running on precious battery power.
Cooler or hotter to save power
One of the most significant things you can do to increase battery life is to take
your laptop off your lap. Put it on a book, magazine, airline tray table, tennis
racket, pasta strainer, or any hard—and preferably ventilated—surface. If the
bottom of your laptop is allowed to breathe, it won’t get so hot, and the fan
won’t have to work so hard to keep the processor cool. The harder your fan
Make Your Hardware Perform | 299
Open Device Manager, expand the branches to show your “expendable” devices, and then right-click each one and select Properties. Choose the Power
Management tab, turn on the Allow the computer to turn off this device
to save power option, and click OK. Then, assuming the option was available,
right-click the device and select Disable (if the option wasn’t available, disabling the device won’t save any power).
works—and for that matter, the hotter your CPU gets—the more power is
drained from your battery.
If your laptop never seems to get that hot, even when it’s on your lap, you may
be able to experiment with some more lenient cooling settings. Using your
PC’s BIOS setup page (see Appendix A) or, optionally, a fan control program
like I8kfanGUI (free at, try increasing the allowed
temperature of your CPU by a degree or two, and see what happens. With
luck, your fan should come on less often and your battery should last a little
longer, all without (hopefully) frying your processor.
Manage IRQ Priority
Most components directly attached to your motherboard—including PCI
slots, IDE controllers, serial ports, the keyboard port, and even your motherboard’s CMOS—have individual IRQs assigned to them. An interrupt request
line, or IRQ, is a numbered hardware line over which a device can interrupt
the normal flow of data to the processor, allowing the device to function.
Windows lets you prioritize one or more IRQs (which translate to one or more
hardware devices), potentially improving the performance of those devices:
1. Start by opening the System Information utility (msinfo32.exe), and navigating to System Summary\Hardware Resources\IRQs to view the IRQs in
use on your system, and the devices using them.
2. Next, open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3), and navigate to HKEY_
3. Create a new DWORD value in this key, and call it IRQ#Priority, where
# is the IRQ of the device you wish to prioritize (e.g., IRQ13Priority for
IRQ 13, which is your numeric processor).
4. Double-click the new value, and enter a number for its priority. Enter 1
for top priority, 2 for second, and so on. Make sure not to enter the same
priority number for two entries, and keep it simple by experimenting with
only one or two values at first.
5. Close the Registry Editor and reboot your computer when you’re done.
Some users have gotten good results prioritizing IRQ 8 (for the system CMOS)
and the IRQ corresponding to the video card (found in the first step).
Overclock Your Processor
The processor (CPU) is the highest-profile component in your PC, and indeed,
it does a lot of the heavy lifting. But processors also become obsolete the fastest,
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and given how expensive they can be, it’s not always a wise place to put your
money. That’s where overclocking comes in; rather than spending money on
a slightly faster chip, you can simply change settings in your PC to squeeze a
little extra speed out of the one you currently have. (For a little perspective,
see the upcoming sidebar, “How Much the CPU Matters”.)
How Much the CPU Matters
A common misconception is that—with all else being equal—a computer
with a processor running at, say, 2.8 GHz, will naturally be faster than a 2.2
GHz system—and the company that just sold you that 2.8 GHz PC wouldn’t
have it any other way. Sure, that new system you’re drooling over does seem
a whole lot faster than your one-year-old machine when you play with it in
the gizmo store, but how much is due merely to the processor’s clock speed,
and how much is determined by other factors?
Naturally, the increased processor speed is an obvious benefit in some specific
circumstances, such as when you’re applying lens corrections to a few hundred digital photos, creating a PDF from a 200-page document, or playing a
particularly processor-intensive game. But in most cases, a faster processor
alone won’t get you your email any faster, load a website any sooner, or get
your book to the publisher when it’s actually due.
Probably the biggest drag on an older PC’s performance, and the main reason
it may seem so much slower than a new system—not to mention slower than
it might’ve been only last year—is the glut of applications and drivers that
have been installed. Any computer that has been around for a year or more
will likely suffer a slowdown, a problem that can either be remedied by some
of the tricks in the section “Hard Disk” on page 303, or by a thorough cleansing and complete reinstallation of the operating system (see “Reinstall Windows 7” on page 19).
So, if you’re wondering how much faster your PC will be if you replace your
2.2 Ghz chip with a 2.4 Ghz chip, the answer is: don’t even bother unless
someone else is paying for it.
Make Your Hardware Perform | 301
If you think about it, your qualitative assessment of your PC’s speed is based
on its ability to respond immediately to mouse clicks and keystrokes, start
applications quickly, open menus and dialog boxes without a delay, start up
and shut down Windows quickly, and display graphics and animations
smoothly. (After all, your computer spends most of its time waiting for you
to do something.) These things mostly depend on the amount of system
memory (RAM) your PC has, the speed of your hard drive, and the prowess
of your video card as much as—if not more than—the speed of your CPU.
Overclocking is the process of instructing your processor to run at a higher
clock speed (MHz) than its rated speed. For example, you may be able to
modestly overclock a 2.40 GHz chip to run at 2.48 GHz, or your motherboard
may offer overclocking at up to 30% of the rated speed, which would give you
more than 3 GHz on that same old chip.
Supposedly, Intel and other chip makers have taken steps to prevent overclocking (theoretically prompting purchases of faster CPUs instead), but some
motherboard manufacturers have found ways to do it anyway.
To overclock your processor (assuming your motherboard supports it), go to
your BIOS setup page, as described in Appendix A, and use the controls in the
Overclock Options category. Make sure you consult the documentation that
came with your motherboard or PC for some of the restrictions; for instance,
overclocking on your motherboard may be limited by the speed of the installed
system memory (RAM).
When you’re done, load up Windows and update your Windows Experience
Index, as described in the section “Maximize the Windows Performance Rating” on page 292. Obviously, the Processor score should go up as you dial up
the overclocking.
Now, over-overclocking a CPU—overclocking past the point where it’s
stable—can cause it to overheat and crash frequently, and at the extreme,
damage the chip beyond repair. Thus, the most important aspect of overclocking your system involves cooling, so make sure you beef up your
computer’s internal cooling system before you start messing around with
overclocking. (Obviously, your options will be limited here if you’re using a
Increase your CPU’s speed in stages, if possible; don’t start off
with the fastest setting, or you may end up with a fried processor and lightly singed eyebrows.
If you feel that your system isn’t adequately cooled, don’t be afraid to add more
fans, but beware: do it wrong, and you could actually make things worse. For
instance, you need to consider airflow when installing and orienting fans; if
the power supply, for instance, exhausts air through the vent in the back of
your PC, it must pull it in through the vent near your processor’s heatsink. So,
make sure you orient the CPU fan so the airflow is as smooth as possible.
Most fans in modern PCs connect directly to special plugs on your motherboard, and are activated when internal thermometers (thermocouples) detect
too high a temperature; these typically do a good job of moderating their cooling duties so that they don’t produce too much noise. But you may have to
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tinker with your BIOS settings to make your PC cooler (which can, by itself,
improve performance), even if it means a little more noise from your box.
If you’re serious about cooling, there are a number of liquid cooling systems
that promise to keep hot systems cool. But they’re expensive, they work in
large desktop PCs only, and they don’t necessarily reduce noise.
Hard Disk
Your hard disk is more than just a storage device; it’s a friend. It holds your
operating system, keeps your personal data intact, and supplements your system’s memory. The speed and health of your hard disk is one of the most
important factors in your computer’s performance, not to mention its reliability and security. Yet it’s also the one component that requires the most
attention and often is the most neglected. Awww.
The following topics all deal with different aspects of your hard disk and how
you can get Windows to use it most effectively. Later in this section, you’ll find
tips on upgrading and repartitioning your hard disk, to allow you to keep your
disk and its data in tip-top shape.
There’s a nearly hidden option that’s turned off by default in Windows 7. It
can increase hard disk performance, but in doing so, may also increase the
odds of data loss.
Open Device Manager (devmgmt.msc) and expand the Disk drives branch.
Right-click your hard disk, select Properties, and choose the Policies tab.
By default, the Enable write caching on the device option is turned on. But
the other option, Turn off Windows write-cache buffer flushing on the
device, is unchecked. Why?
Both options here allow Windows to wait until a period of low activity before
writing unsaved data to the drive, which improves drive performance considerably. In either case, you can lose data if the power is cut to the drive before
that data is written. To help quell data loss, Windows periodically instructs
the drive to save queued data whether there’s a lull in the activity or not; this
is called “write-cache buffer flushing.” The second option disables this feature,
which can further improve performance, but clearly at some risk.
Microsoft recommends using the Turn off Windows write-cache buffer
flushing on the device feature only for drives that have separate power supplies. But since separate power supplies will lose power just like the one in
Hard Disk | 303
A Quick Performance Hack
Figure 5-7. File fragmentation on your hard disk can hurt performance and decrease
your PC, that recommendation makes little sense. Instead, you probably
should only use the second option if your PC is protected by an uninterruptable
power supply (UPS), which can supply power to your PC even after the power
goes out or your laptop battery dies.
See the discussion of RAID in Chapter 6 for a way to further protect your data
from hard drive outages.
A Defragmentation Crash Course
The best way to ensure maximum performance from your drive is to
regularly—weekly or biweekly—defragment it (also called optimizing). Figure 5-7 shows how frequent use can cause files to become fragmented (broken
up), which can slow access and retrieval of data on the drive, as well as increase
the likelihood of lost data. And the fuller the drive, the more serious defragmentation becomes.
Windows 7 is supposed to defragment your drives automatically; by default, it’s scheduled to run at 1:00 a.m. every Wednesday morning from now until the end of time. (Your PC off
in the middle of the night? Missed tasks are deferred until the
next boot; see Chapter 9 for more on the Task Manager.) Unfortunately, this may never happen until you run the program
yourself at least once.
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To start Disk Defragmenter, open Windows Explorer, right-click your hard
disk, select Properties, choose the Tools tab, and click Defragment Now (or
run dfrgui.exe). Click Defragment disk (Figure 5-8) to begin the process.
Disk Defragmenter does its job by rearranging the files on your hard disk to
make them contiguous (not broken into pieces). It also defragments the free
space by consolidating your files as much as it can. When run automatically,
it has no interface to speak of, but rather runs invisibly in the background.
Now for the bad news.
From Windows 95 all the way to Vista, Microsoft had a habit of further burying
Disk Defragmenter in each successive version. But Windows 7 takes a step in
the right direction and actually shows the percentage complete of each drive
it’s queued to defragment (see Figure 5-8). Unfortunately, the severely minimalist design prevents most advanced defragmenting tasks.
For instance, there’s no way to defragment the swap file (virtual memory), the
hibernation file (hiberfil.sys), the registry, or any other unmovable files. There’s
no disk map, so there’s no visual feedback to tell if there’s a large file that won’t
Hard Disk | 305
Figure 5-8. Disk Defragmenter should run automatically, but a manual checkup every now
and then will make sure it never misses a beat
Figure 5-9. PerfectDisk provides the advanced features missing in 7’s own Disk
defragment. If you have more than one hard disk (or partition), there’s no way
to automatically defragment each of your drives in succession; you either do
them all at once, or one at a time by hand. And the scheduler is flaky; don’t
be surprised if it says “Never run” in the Last Run column, despite the assurance that “Scheduled defragmentation is turned on” at the top of the window.
Now, to be fair, these are some pretty niche features. If you miss the map,
advanced settings, reliable scheduling, or detailed reporting of the old-school
defragmenters, check out PerfectDisk, shown in Figure 5-9). It’s not free, but
there’s a time-limited demo on the website.
There’s not a whole lot in the way of free defragmenters, but Auslogics Registry
Defrag promises to improve Windows performance by shrinking and optimizing your Registry.
Command-line defragmenter
As it turns out, Windows 7’s Disk Defragmenter isn’t quite as feeble as it first
appears. Although it doesn’t offer anything close to the usability of PerfectDisk, there is a little-known command-line version (defrag.exe) that gives you
a little more freedom than the one you access through Windows Explorer.
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Figure 5-10. Defrag.exe lets you view reports and schedule more thorough defragmenting
than the Windows version
Open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode (right-click the
Command Prompt icon in the Start menu and select Run as administrator), and then type the following at the prompt:
defrag c: /a /v
and press Enter to generate a report like the one in Figure 5-10.
To perform a full defragmentation on a single drive, type:
defrag c: /u
or to defragment all volumes, type:
defrag /c /u
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The engine used by defrag.exe is the same as that used by the
GUI version (dfrgui.exe). This means that if you start defrag
from the command prompt and then press Ctrl-C, it’ll stop
the operation.
For a quick and dirty defragmentation of a drive (wherein it just groups together all the free space), type:
defrag c: /x
For more options, type defrag -? at the prompt and press Enter. See the next
section for an undocumented defrag option.
Enable automatic boot defragments
Here’s a funny little setting in the Registry that seems as though it’s supposed
to instruct Windows to defragment your hard disk automatically each time it
1. Open the Registry Editor (described in Chapter 3).
2. Expand the branches to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Dfrg
3. Double-click the Enable value, and type Y for its data (or type N to disable
The funny part is that this setting is probably already enabled on your system
(it’s enabled by default on most Windows 7 systems). Now, have you ever seen
Windows run Disk Defragmenter at startup?
The reason you don’t see it is because it isn’t a full defragment. Instead, it’s
only a boot defragment, which affects only the files registered with Windows’
Prefetch feature (see the upcoming sidebar “Keeping an Eye on Prefetch”) and
listed in the Layout.ini file (not a standard .ini file).
You can perform this boot defragment at any time by running the commandline Defrag tool with the undocumented /b option, like this: defrag c: /b.
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Keeping an Eye on Prefetch
Prefetch is a feature (first introduced in Vista) that stores specific data about
the applications you run in order to help them start faster. Prefetch is an algorithm that helps anticipate cache misses (times when Windows requests
data that isn’t stored in the disk cache), and stores that data on the hard disk
for easy retrieval.
This data is located in \Windows\Prefetch, and, as the theory goes, periodically
clearing out the data in this folder (say, once a month) will improve performance. As new applications are subsequently started, new Prefetch data will be
created, which may mean slightly reduced performance at first. But with older
entries gone, there will be less data to parse, and Windows should be able to
locate the data it needs more quickly. Any performance gains you may see will
be minor (if you see any at all), but those users wishing to squeeze every last
CPU cycle out of their computers will want to try this one.
Note that deleting Prefetch data may increase boot time slightly, but only the
next time you boot Windows. Each subsequent boot should proceed normally
since the Prefetch data will already be present for the programs Windows
loads when it boots.
See the sidebar “ReadyBoost: Why Not?” on page 285 for a way to cache your
Prefetch files and improve performance.
If in Doubt, Throw It Out
Parkinson’s law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its
completion. Along the same lines, it’s safe to say that files will quickly expand
to fill the amount of available space on your hard drive.
Low disk space doesn’t just make it harder to store files; without ample room
for virtual memory (discussed later) and temporary files, Windows will slow
to a crawl. Less free disk space also increases file fragmentation as Windows
scrambles to find places to put data; this in turn lowers performance. Keeping
a healthy amount of free disk space is vital to a well-performing system.
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If you want to disable Prefetch, open your Registry Editor (Chapter 3), navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Man
ager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters, and change the EnablePre
fetcher value to 0. (Other supported values: 1 to Prefetch applications only,
2 to Prefetch boot processes, and 3 to Prefetch both.)
Additionally, removing drivers and applications that are no longer used clears
more memory and processor cycles for your other applications, which can
substantially improve overall system performance.
If your PC is low on disk space, try NTFS compression. Rightclick any folder, select Properties, click Advanced, and turn
on the Compress contents to save disk space option. On
slower PCs, compression may slightly degrade performance,
but on a fast PC with a slow hard disk—your typical laptop—
you might actually see performance gains due to the reduced
I/O. However, compression has been known to increase fragmentation, so you’d be wise to use it only for data that you
don’t access or modify often. If you use NTFS compression,
you can view the properties of any folder to see how much
space it’s using, but NTFSRatio (free, http://www.jam-soft can show you how much space you’re saving
Note that compression is only available on NTFS-formatted
drives; see “Choose the Right Filesystem” on page 317 for
details. It’s also mutually exclusive of the Encrypt contents
to secure data option discussed in Chapter 8.
Even before you install your first application, your hard disk is littered with
files from the Windows installation that you most likely don’t need. The
standard installation of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition places more than 39,000
files, consuming more than two gigabytes of disk space, on your PC.
Whether you need a particular file can be subjective; some might consider the
24 MB of .wav files that 7 puts in your C:\Windows\Media folder to be excessive, while others may scoff at the notion of worrying about such a piddly
quantity. (To put things in perspective, this is about the same size as three
photos from a 10-megapixel digital camera. It’s also more than twice the total
capacity of my first hard disk back in 1983.)
Naturally, it makes sense to be cautious when removing any files from your
system. The removal of certain files can cause some applications, or even
Windows itself, to stop functioning. It’s always good practice to move any
questionable files to a metaphorical purgatory folder before committing to
their disposal. And I don’t have to tell you that backing up your entire hard
disk (Chapter 6) before you clean house is very important and not all that
The easiest way to delete the stuff Windows considers expendable is to run
the super-simple Disk Cleanup tool (cleanmgr.exe), and place checkmarks
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next to all the categories of expendable data. For instance, if you upgraded
from Vista, there’s likely more than 2 GB of leftover files sitting on your hard
disk under the label, Files discarded by Windows upgrade. See the sidebar
“Disable the Disk Cleanup Nag” if you want Windows to stop bothering you
when your disk space gets low.
Disable the Disk Cleanup Nag
When your PC starts running out of disk space, Windows will prompt you to
run the Disk Cleanup Wizard, which presents a list of some of the files you
can delete to recover free disk space (the solutions in this book are much more
To disable this annoying warning, open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3)
\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer. If it’s not already
there, create a new DWORD value (go to Edit→New→DWORD value) called
NoLowDiskSpaceChecks. Double-click the new value and type 1 for its data.
Close the Registry Editor when you’re done; the change will take effect
Windows’ System Restore feature can consume up to 15% of
the total capacity of your hard disk for restore points and
shadow copies. To reduce its usage or turn it off entirely, see
“Go Back in Time with Restore Points and Shadow Copies” on page 408.
An alternative—or perhaps a supplement—to the Disk Cleanup tool is
CCleaner, freely available from CCleaner not only
deletes unneeded files, but can also clear your browser cache (IE, Firefox,
Chrome, Opera, and Safari), get rid of superfluous registry entries, and wipe
out history MRU lists from many popular programs.
Another useful tool is DriveSpacio (free,,
which can help you track down the files using the most disk space.
Unneeded programs
Next, fire up the Programs and Features tool in Control Panel and say bye-bye
to the programs you don’t need.
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Note that this change only disables the warning; the Disk Cleanup tool will
work just fine without it.
While you’re there, click the Turn Windows features on or off link on the
left side, and uncheck any features you don’t want. For instance, the Indexing
Service entry is obsolete (it’s not the same one used by Windows 7’s Search
tool) and Internet Information Services (IIS) is only for web servers. Click
OK when you’re done.
If in doubt
Before you delete any questionable file, there are several things you can do to
get a better idea of what the file contains:
Right-click the file, and select Properties. If the file has a Version tab, it’s
likely an application, driver, DLL, or other support file. Choose the Version tab to view the manufacturer, copyright date, and possibly the application it accompanies.
Check the date
Check the file’s Last Accessed date (right-click it and select Properties). The more recent the date, the more likely it’s still being used. For
information on removing a particular application, contact the manufacturer of that application or refer to the application’s documentation.
Hide it first
If you’re not sure if something should be deleted but want to try anyway,
move it to another directory first to see whether everything works without
it for a week or so. If all is clear, toss it.
Why not open it?
Probably the last thing you should do with a suspicious file is to doubleclick it. Instead, drag it into an open Notepad window to see what’s inside
without activating any potentially harmful code that might be lurking
within. See Chapter 6 for more on malware detectors.
Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache Settings
One of the most frustrating and irritating things about Windows is the way
that it can seize up for several seconds with seemingly random, pointless disk
activity. One of the causes of this behavior is the way Windows handles disk
virtual memory by default.
Normally, Windows loads drivers and applications into memory until it’s full,
and then starts to use part of your hard disk to “swap” out information, freeing
up more memory for higher-priority tasks. The file that Windows uses for this
type of “virtual memory” is the paging file (a.k.a. swap file), pagefile.sys, and
it is stored in the root folder of your Windows drive.
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Because your hard disk is so much slower than your physical memory, the
more swapping Windows has to do, the slower your computer gets. This is
why adding more memory speeds up your PC: it reduces Windows’ appetite
for virtual memory. But regardless of the amount of installed physical memory
in your system, there are always things you can do to improve virtual memory
Windows’ defaults here are rather conservative and can fortunately be modified for better performance. It’s important to realize, though, that some experimentation may be required to achieve the best configuration for your
setup. Different hardware, software, and work habits require different settings;
those with ample hard disks, for instance, can afford to devote more disk space
to virtual memory, while others may simply wish to use this procedure to place
a cap on the disk space Windows is allowed to consume.
Part 1: Virtual memory settings
One of the reasons the default settings yield such poor performance is that the
swap file grows and shrinks with use, quickly becoming very fragmented (as
illustrated by Figure 5-7, earlier in this chapter). The first step is to eliminate
this problem by setting a constant swap-file size.
1. In Control Panel, open the System page and click the Advanced system
settings link (or run SystemPropertiesAdvanced.exe).
2. Under the Advanced tab, click the Settings button in the Performance
3. On the Performance Options page, choose the Advanced tab, and then
click Change to open the Virtual Memory window shown in Figure 5-11.
4. Turn off the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives
option to enable the rest of the controls in this window.
5. The virtual memory settings are set for each drive in your system independently. If you have only one drive, virtual memory will already be
enabled for that drive. If you have more than one drive or partition, virtual
memory will be enabled only on the Windows drive by default. Start by
selecting the drive that currently holds your paging file (shown in the
righthand column) from the Paging file size for each drive list.
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Note that making the swap file constant will also result in a more constant
amount of free disk space. If your hard disk is getting full, consider this solution
to restrict Windows from using up every last bit of free space. (Or better yet,
upgrade your hard disk.)
Figure 5-11. Change the way Windows handles virtual memory to improve overall system
Another way to stop Windows from using the hard disk so
heavily is to disable virtual memory altogether, but the consequence of short-changing Windows of this resource will
easily outweigh any performance gains. A better choice is to
move the swap file to a different physical drive than the one
on which Windows resides; that way, when Windows accesses virtual memory, it won’t suck the life out of your primary drive.
6. To set a constant size for your virtual memory, select Custom size, and
then type the same value for both Initial size and Maximum size.
The size, specified in megabytes, is up to you. If you have the space, it’s
usually a good idea to allocate two to three times the amount of installed
RAM (e.g., 4,096–6,144 MB of virtual memory for 2 GB of physical memory), but you may wish to experiment with different sizes for the one that
works best for you.
7. Important: after you’ve made a change for any drive, click Set to commit
the change before moving on to another drive or clicking OK.
8. Press OK on each of the three open dialogs.
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If you have only resized your swap file, the change will take effect immediately.
But if you’ve added (or removed) a swap file on any drive, you’ll need to restart
Windows before it uses your new settings.
Part 2: Defragment the paging file
The steps in the previous section eliminate the possibility of your swap file
becoming fragmented, but they won’t cure an already fragmented one. You’ll
need to defragment your virtual memory for the best performance, but the
good news is that you need to do it only once if you have a constant-size paging
There are several ways to defragment your swap file:
defrag c: /x
to defragment the free space on the drive. See “A Defragmentation Crash
Course” on page 304, for more on this tool.
When it’s done, move the swap file to its new home, where it will rest
nicely in the newly-allocated contiguous block of free space.
Turn off virtual memory temporarily
If you don’t have a second drive, your other choice is to disable virtual
memory altogether by clicking No paging file and then Set in the Virtual
Memory window (see Figure 5-11). After restarting Windows, run Disk
Defragmenter as described above to set aside a large chunk of contiguous
free space. When you’re done, go back to the Virtual Memory window,
and re-enable the paging file, making sure to set a constant size.
Clear the paging file automatically
See “Part 3: Clear the paging file on shutdown”, next, for another way to
reduce fragmentation in your paging file.
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Use PerfectDisk
Use an advanced defragmenter like PerfectDisk, discussed in “A Defragmentation Crash Course” on page 304. Just instruct it to defragment your
system files, and it will schedule a defragmentation for the next time you
start Windows.
Use another drive temporarily
If you have more than one partition or hard disk in your system, start by
moving your swap file to a different drive letter, as described in the previous section. Then, open a Command Prompt window (cmd.exe) and
Part 3: Clear the paging file on shutdown
It’s possible to have Windows delete your paging file each time you shut down
Windows. You may want to do this if you have a multiboot system (see Chapter 1), wherein each operating system on your PC has its own virtual memory
settings. If the paging file from one OS is present while the other is running, it
may cause a conflict and will certainly waste a lot of disk space.
If your paging file becomes corrupted or highly fragmented, Windows may
load more slowly (or not at all). Deleting the paging file automatically forces
Windows to recreate it each time it starts, which may alleviate this problem.
(Naturally, if you’ve gone to the steps to defragment your paging file, as described earlier in this topic, you probably won’t want to use this feature, lest
it become fragmented again when it’s recreated.)
1. Open the Local Security Policy console (secpol.msc); see Chapter 8 for
more information on the settings in this window.
2. Expand the Local Policies branch and click the Security Options folder.
3. In the right pane, double-click the Shutdown: Clear virtual memory
4. Select Enabled and then click OK. You’ll need to restart Windows for the
change to take effect.
Part 4: Advanced settings for the adventurous
Like virtual memory settings, disk cache settings in Windows 7 aren’t necessarily optimized for the best performance, but rather for the best compromise
between performance and compatibility with older PCs.
You’ll probably need to experiment with different values until
you find the ones that work best for your system. Since it’s
possible to render Windows inoperable with incorrect settings
here, you’ll want to back up your PC before you begin.
Start by opening the Registry Editor (described in Chapter 3), and expanding
the branches to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Ses
sion Manager\Memory Management. Some of the more interesting values in this
key include the following:
Values: 0 = disabled (default), 1 = enabled.
Enabling this setting will prevent Windows from paging certain system
processes to disk, which effectively will keep more of the operating system
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in the faster physical memory, in turn making Windows much more responsive.
Values: 0 = standard (default), 1 = large.
By default, Windows uses only 8 MB of memory for the filesystem cache.
Enabling this option will allow Windows to use all but 4 MB of your computer’s memory for the filesystem cache. This will improve Windows’
performance, but potentially at the expense of the performance of some
of your more memory-intensive applications.
Other values in this key include PagingFiles, which is more easily set in the
Virtual Memory window described in “Part 1: Virtual memory settings” on page 313 and ClearPageFileAtShutdown, more easily set in the Local
Security Settings console, as described in “Part 3: Clear the paging file on
shutdown” on page 316.
Choose the Right Filesystem
FAT (File Allocation Table, 16-bit)
FAT is used for all drives under 512 MB, such as small flash memory cards
and floppy disks. The largest drive supported by the FAT filesystem is
2 GB.
FAT32 (File Allocation Table, 32-bit)
Designed to overcome the 2 GB partition limit with the FAT system,
FAT32 is supported by every version of Windows since Windows 95
OSR2. Today, it’s used mostly for flash memory cards larger than 2 GB,
and on older PCs running Windows 98 and Windows Me. In addition to
the support for larger drives, it also supports smaller file clusters (see the
upcoming sidebar “Understanding Cluster Sizes” on page 318), so it
stores information more efficiently than FAT.
exFAT (a.k.a. FAT64)
The “Extended File Allocation Table” was designed to resolve many of
the shortcomings of FAT32 and to be used on drives where NTFS isn’t
practical, such as flash drives. exFAT is supported in Windows 7, Windows Vista SP1, and earlier versions with a free update.
Hard Disk | 317
The filesystem is the invisible mechanism on your hard disk that is responsible
for keeping track of all the data stored on the drive. Think of it as a massive
table of contents, matching up each filename with its corresponding data
stored somewhere on the disk surface. Windows 7 supports four hard disk
filesystem types:
NTFS (NT Filesystem)
NTFS, designed from the ground up to completely replace FAT/FAT32,
is the default filesystem on all Windows 7 PCs. (Specifically, Windows 7,
Vista, and XP all support NTFS version 3.1.) It offers security features like
encryption and permissions (see Chapter 8), compression, and quotas. It’s
typically faster and more reliable than FAT/FAT32, and theoretically supports drives up to about 15 exbibytes (264 bytes) in size.
Windows 7 can only be installed on an NTFS drive, but it can read partitions
formatted with FAT or FAT32. And you can add support for other filesystems
with add-on software; for instance, you can read Mac OS X HFS+ drives with
If Windows 7 is the only operating system on your computer, all your drives
should be formatted with NTFS. The only compelling reason to use another
filesystem is if you have a dual-boot setup with a very old version of Windows,
in which case you’d need to choose a filesystem recognized by all operating
systems on your computer. Table 5-2 shows which filesystems are supported
by all recent versions of Microsoft Windows.
Table 5-2. Filesystems supported by recent versions of Windows
Windows 7
✓ (data only)
✓ (data only)
✓ (v3.1)
Windows Vista
✓ (data only)
✓ (data only)
✓ (v3.1)
Windows XP
✓ (v3.1)
Windows Me, 98, and 95 ORS2
Windows NT 4.0
Windows 95
✓ (v1.2)
Understanding Cluster Sizes
Clusters are the smallest units into which a hard disk’s space can be divided.
A hard disk formatted with the traditional FAT system, found in Windows
95 and an ancient operating system called “DOS,” can have no more than
65,536 clusters on each drive or partition. This means that the larger the hard
disk, the larger the size of each cluster.
The problem with large clusters is that they result in a lot of wasted disk space.
Each cluster can store no more than a single file (or a part of a single file); if a
file does not consume an entire cluster, the remaining space is wasted. For
example, a 2 GB FAT drive would have a cluster size of 32 KB; a 1 KB file on
a disk with a 32 KB cluster size will consume 32 KB of disk space; a 33 KB file
on the same drive will consume 64 KB of space, and so on. The extra 31 KB
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left over from the 33 KB file is called slack space, and it can’t be used by any
other files. With thousands of files (especially those tiny shortcuts littered
throughout a Windows installation), the amount of wasted slack space on a
sizeable hard disk can add up to hundreds of megabytes of wasted space.
You can see how much space is wasted by any given file by right-clicking on
the file icon, selecting Properties, and comparing the Size value with the Size
on disk value. The same works for multiple selected files and folders; highlight
all the objects in your root directory to see the total amount of wasted space
on your drive. To find the current cluster size of your drive, just open the
properties sheet for a small file you know will only consume a single cluster
(such as a Windows Shortcut); its Size on disk will be equal to the size of one
If you want to reduce the cluster size of a drive, you’ll need to reformat it.
Right-click a drive in Windows Explorer or Disk Management, select Format, and choose the cluster size you want from the Allocation unit size list.
The smaller Allocation unit size you specify, the less space will be wasted.
For instance, the NTFS filesystem can handle more than four billion clusters.
This means you could choose a cluster size of only 4 kilobytes, and still format
a partition of up to 14.9 terabytes (15,259 GB) in total size.
To find out which filesystem is currently being used by a particular drive on
your PC, just right-click the drive in Windows Explorer and select Properties. Or, open the Disk Management utility (diskmgmt.msc) to see an overview
of all of your drives.
Convert your drives to NTFS
The easiest way to choose a filesystem for a drive is to format it. But if you need
to convert a drive without wiping its data, use the FAT to NTFS Conversion
Utility (convert.exe). To convert drive J:, for example, just open a Command
Prompt window (cmd.exe) and type:
convert j: /fs:ntfs
Include the /v option to run in “verbose” mode, which provides more information as it does its job. Type convert /? for other, more esoteric options.
Note that this is a one-way conversion, at least when using the software included with Windows 7. If you need to convert an NTFS drive to FAT32 for
some reason, you’ll need a third-party utility such as Disk Director.
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Note that for performance reasons, it’s best to stick with the default cluster
size unless the slack space turns out to be a significant issue.
Advanced NTFS Settings
The extra features of the NTFS filesystem discussed in the previous section
come at a price, namely a small amount of disk space and performance overhead. The following settings allow you to fine-tune NTFS to squeeze the most
performance out of your NTFS drive; experiment with these settings to find
the configuration that works best for you.
Start by opening the Registry Editor (Chapter 3) and expanding the branches
to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Filesystem.
Double-click any one of the following values to change its data. If the value is
missing, create it by going to Edit→New→DWORD Value, and then typing
the name exactly as shown.
Values: 0 = enabled (default), 1 = disabled, 2 = enable 8.3 naming on a pervolume basis (via fsutil.exe), 3 = disabled on all volumes except system
Early versions of Windows and DOS didn’t support so-called long filenames, but rather allowed only eight-character filenames followed by
three-letter filename extensions. Although Windows 95 and all subsequent versions of Windows more or less eliminated this restriction, an
eight-dot-three version of a filename is generated with each file you create
to maintain compatibility with older applications. For example, the file A
letter to Mom.wpd could also be referenced as alette~1.wpd. If you don’t
use older 16-bit programs, you can disable Windows’ creation of these 8.3
aliases by changing this value to 1 (the default is zero).
Values: 0 = enabled (default), 1 = disabled.
Windows keeps a record of the time and date every file and folder on your
hard disk was created, as well as when it was last modified and last accessed. You can stop Windows from updating the “last accessed” date for
folders every time they’re opened by changing the value to 1 (the default
is zero), which may improve drive performance. This setting has no effect
on files.
Values: 1 = small (default), 2 = medium, 3 = large, 4 = maximum.
The core of the NTFS filesystem is the master file table (MFT), a comprehensive index of every file on the disk (including the MFT itself). Since
disk defragmenters can’t defragment the MFT (also known as $mft), Windows reserves a certain amount of extra space for it to grow, in an effort
320 | Chapter 5: Performance
to reduce its eventual fragmentation. The more fragmented the MFT gets,
the more it will hamper overall disk performance.
You can determine the current size and fragmentation level of the MFT
on any drive by using the command-line Disk Defragmenter tool
(defrag.exe) along with the -a parameter, as described in “A Defragmentation Crash Course” on page 304. The numbers relating to the MFT are
shown at the end of the Volume Information report. Probably the most
interesting statistic here, though, is Percent MFT in use. The higher the
number, the less space the MFT has to grow (and it will).
The NtfsMftZoneReservation setting allows you to increase the space reserved for the MFT. Although the default is 1, values of 2 or 3 are probably better for most
systems with large hard disks; the maximum value of 4 is
good for very large drives with a lot of small files. Specify
too small of a value here, and the MFT will become fragmented more quickly as it grows; too large of a value, and
it will consume (waste) too much disk space.
You’ll need to restart Windows for any of these changes to take effect.
Transfer Windows to Another Hard Disk
Each new version of Windows consumes something like four times that of its
predecessor. (OK, to be fair, Windows 7 doesn’t take up that much more room
than Vista, but Vista’s footprint was many times that of XP.) That kind of bloat
would cause an uproar if the sizes of commercially available hard disks weren’t
growing at an even faster rate.
Luckily, a new drive is an inexpensive way to improve performance as well as
get more space for your stuff. And there are basically two approaches:
Add a second drive.
Hard drive manufacturers sell a lot of external USB drives for this purpose.
It’s the easiest approach, taking only a few minutes to hook up, but it does
very little to improve performance. Why run Windows on an aging 60 GB
Hard Disk | 321
The problem is that changing this setting will not have any effect on your
drive’s current MFT, but rather only influence its future growth. For this
reason, the earlier this value is increased in the life of a disk, the better. To
defragment or rebuild the MFT on your Windows drive, you’ll need to
transfer your operating system to a new drive, as described in the next
Figure 5-12. Use a handy external USB adapter like this one to hook up your new drive to
your PC
drive, while basically static data like photos and music sit happily on a
much faster 750 GB drive?
Replace the primary drive.
Use this approach if you want to throw away that old 60 GB drive, and
use only the 750 GB drive for Windows and all your data. Not only will
this give you better performance, you’ll have a lot less to worry about if
you’re running Windows on a new drive rather than one that’s seen thousands of hours of use. The downside is that it’s more work to completely
replace your old drive, and that’s what this section is about.
Thanks to improvements in technology, rapidly dropping prices of new hard
disks, and a nifty tool in Windows 7, it’s easier than ever to replace your old
hard disk.
The procedure goes like this: first, connect your new drive to your PC alongside
your old drive. Then, create an image of your old hard disk—a snapshot of
every byte of data on the entire drive—and write the image to your new hard
disk. Finally, disconnect the old drive and put the new one in its place.
Start by purchasing an SATA/IDE to USB 2.0 Adapter, like the $20 unit shown
in Figure 5-12. Alternatively, you can use an external hard drive enclosure,
although a unit like this may be a better investment, as it supports SATA, 3.5
desktop IDE, and 2.5 notebook IDE drives all from the same cable.
Next, plug the drive into the adapter, plug the power supply into the drive,
and then plug the adapter into a free USB port on your PC.
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Now, I know what you’re thinking: why don’t I just plug the drive directly into
my SATA or IDE controller? While it’s true that you can connect your new
drive to your motherboard’s controller, there are several reasons to use a USB
adapter like this one instead. First, it’s quick and easy; you don’t need to take
your PC apart (yet) and you don’t have to leave the new drive dangling from
the side of your box while you transfer your data. Second, it’s great for laptops
that may not have a way to connect two drives at once. Third, it avoids the
nasty problems you’d encounter if your PC tried to boot to the wrong drive in
the middle of the procedure. And last but not least, when you’re done, you
can use the adapter to clear off the old drive. A device like this makes things
so much easier.
When Windows detects and installs the new drive, it’ll show up in Disk
Drives branch in Device Manager (devmgmt.msc). (If it doesn’t, see Chapter 6.) As soon as Windows finishes installing the necessary drivers, open Disk
Management (diskmgmt.msc), right-click the new drive in the lower pane, and
select New Simple Volume, as shown in Figure 5-13.
On the first page of the New Simple Volume Wizard, click Next, and then
specify the size of the new partition.
Hard Disk | 323
Figure 5-13. Use the Disk Management tool to prepare the new drive
You’ll need to make two partitions on the new drive: the primary partition to
become your new boot drive, and a secondary partition to temporarily hold
the backup of your existing data. The second partition needs to be no larger
than the capacity of your old hard disk, so set the primary partition to the total
size of the new drive minus the total size of the old drive.
This is where your third-grade math comes in handy, but be
prepared for things not to add up. If you’re replacing a 60 GB
hard disk with a 750 GB hard disk, you’d expect to set the first
partition to 690 GB and use the remaining 60 GB for the second partition. But since drive manufacturers exaggerate—
read, lie—about the capacities of their products, you’ll have
to determine the actual usable space first. For instance, a typical 750 GB hard disk has roughly 698 GB of actual storage
capacity, which means you’d set 638 GB for the size of the first
partition to leave 60 GB for the second. (Of course, if the old
drive isn’t completely full, you can get away with a little less
on the second partition.)
So, at the prompt, type a value, in megabytes, for the size of the primary partition (i.e., 690000 for 690 GB) and then click Next. Follow the prompts to
complete the wizard; make sure to format the drive with the NTFS filesystem,
but don’t assign a drive letter at this time.
Now, create the second partition in the remaining unused space, and have it
consume the rest of the drive. Again, format it as NTFS, but this time, assign
a drive letter (your choice).
It’s now time to copy your data to the new drive. Luckily, all commercial editions of Windows 7 come with the full version of the Backup and Restore
tool. (This is an improvement over Vista, which stingily provided full hard disk
backup in only the Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise editions.) Start the Backup
and Restore tool either from Control Panel or by running sdclt.exe.
On the left side of the window, click the Create a system image link. On the
first page of the wizard, shown in Figure 5-14, select On a hard disk, pick the
second partition you just created, and click Next. Next, select the drives to
image; notice your active Windows drive is already checked and grayed out.
Click Next and then Start backup to begin.
When the backup is complete, power down your PC, remove your old drive,
connect the new one to your primary controller, and then boot your PC. Follow
the instructions in “Recover Your System After a Crash” on page 423 to restore
your backup to the primary partition on the new drive.
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Figure 5-14. The Backup and Restore tool can create disk images on every edition of
Windows 7
Obviously, this solution requires that you boot off your original Windows disc to initiate the system recovery feature. To
do away with this step, use third-party software to image your
drive, such as DriveImage XML (free, http://www.runtime
.org), HDClone Free Edition (free,, or
Acronis True Image Home (commercial, http://www.acronis
.com). All you do is create an image of your old hard disk and
save it to the secondary partition of the new drive. Then use
the same software to restore the image to the new drive’s primary partition. When that’s done, delete the secondary partition and extend the primary partition so that it consumes the
whole drive, as described in the section “Work with Partitions” on page 328. Then, right-click the sole remaining partition and select Mark Partition as Active. Shut down Windows and then unplug both drives. Set the old drive aside and
connect the new drive in its place.
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When that’s done, and you’re able to boot Windows with the new drive, use
the Disk Management tool to delete the secondary partition and extend the
primary partition so that it consumes the whole drive, as described in “Work
with Partitions” on page 328.
Turn on your PC, and Windows should boot to the new drive. If it doesn’t,
see “What to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355.
What to look for in a new hard disk
The speed of your hard disk is a major factor of your system’s overall performance, at least as much as its capacity. After all, the faster it’s able to find
data and transfer it, the quicker Windows will load, the faster your virtual
memory will be, and the less time it will take to start applications and copy files.
Money is usually the deciding factor when choosing a drive, but with more
money, people usually just opt for more gigabytes. If you want the best performance, though, consider these factors to be at least as important:
RPM (revolutions per minute)
This is the speed at which the disk spins; higher numbers are faster. Cheap
drives spin at 5,400 RPM, but you shouldn’t settle for anything less than
7,200 RPM. 10,000 RPM (10k) drives are faster, but more expensive and
harder to find. It’s also worth noting that a larger-capacity drive can be
faster than a smaller drive of the same RPM rating due to the higher data
Buffer (measured in megabytes)
The buffer is memory (RAM) installed in the drive’s circuitry that allows
it to accept data from your computer faster than it is able to physically
write to the disk surface, and to read data from the disk surface faster when
your PC isn’t necessarily ready for it. A larger buffer is better; don’t settle
for less than 16–32 megabytes.
MTBF (measured in hours)
It doesn’t matter how fast a drive is if it dies on you. The higher the
MTBF—Mean Time Between Failures—the more reliable the drive is supposed to be. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, but rather merely an indicator of the market for which the drive was designed. Hard disks designed
for servers tend to have much higher MTBF ratings than the low-end disks
available on most computer store shelves.
If you’re buying a drive for use in a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) or HTPC (Home Theater PC), it’s also wise to seek
out the quietest drive you can find. Some drives offer AAM
(Automatic Acoustic Management) features, which let you
quiet a drive at the expense of some performance. Although
manufacturers typically offer very little in the way of useful,
reliable noise data, you can usually cull pretty good feedback
from HTPC discussion groups on the Web.
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If you’re buying an external drive—which is great for
backups, as explained in Chapter 6—you may be tempted to get a USB drive or enclosure. While USB 2.0 is
reasonably fast at 480 mbps, and Firewire 800 is slightly
faster at 800 mbps, both of these standards will restrict
the speed of your drive, and neither can be used to host
a primary boot drive. For faster backups and less time
spent transferring files, you’d be hard-pressed to beat
eSATA (external SATA), which supports speeds up to
2,400 mbps. Most desktop PCs and some higher-end
laptops include eSATA ports for this purpose, but if your
PC doesn’t have one, you can get an internal-to-external
(SATA-to-eSATA) adapter cable for just a few dollars, or
a standalone eSATA controller for not much more.
Hard Disk | 327
If you want to set up RAID as explained in Chapter 6, you’ll need two or
more identical drives. In theory, there are no special requirements, but in
practice, it’s smart to stick with drives made for this purpose. For instance,
Seagate makes two versions of most of their drives: the AS series (consumer
grade) and the NS series (server grade). The latter of the two is more expensive, but is designed to cope better with the increased vibrations generated by a RAID array, and typically has a much higher MTBF than the
lesser model. Plus, the firmware on these drives is more likely to play nicely
with your RAID controller.
There’s rarely any reason to buy anything but a SATA drive these days; if
you can, get a drive with SATA3 and NCQ (Native Command Queuing).
PATA (a.k.a. ATA or IDE) is now totally obsolete. Even if your desktop
PC has only IDE controllers, it’s best to get a SATA drive and a cheap
SATA PCI-E/PCI controller to go with it. The only time when you should
consider an IDE is if you have an older laptop and you can’t upgrade the
Some weirdos may still prefer SCSI or SAS drives, but there are very few
cases when that’s preferable over SATA anymore. SCSI controllers are
unreasonably expensive, as are SCSI drives; consider this option only if
you absolutely need a 15k RPM drive.
Work with Partitions
Most hard disks are known by a single drive letter, usually C:. However, any
drive can be divided into several partitions, each with its own drive letter.
Most PC manufacturers these days ship partitioned hard disks. In fact, your
drive may have one primary partition with all your data, plus another, smaller
partition containing your PC’s recovery data (to restore your hard disk to the
state it was in when you bought it), and sometimes a third EISA Configuration partition (discussed later in this chapter, and in “Protect Your Data with
RAID” on page 420). If you decide to nix the other two partitions, you can
combine them and finally start using all the space on your drive.
But you also may want to chop up your drive into smaller partitions. For example, if you have a 500 GB hard disk, you may choose to divide it up into
four 125 GB partitions, or perhaps a 300 GB partition and two 100 GB partitions. There are a bunch of reasons why you might want to do this:
Use multiple partitions to further organize your files and make your stuff
easier to find. For example, put Windows on one drive, work documents
on another, games on another, and music and other media on yet another.
Isolation of system and data
You can use partitions to isolate your programs from your data. For example, place Windows on drive C:, your personal documents on drive
D:, and your virtual memory (swap file) and temporary files on drive E:.
This setup gives you the distinct advantage of being able to format your
operating system partition and reinstall Windows without touching your
personal data, and also makes it easier to back up just your data.
As illustrated in “A Defragmentation Crash Course” on page 304, the data
on your hard drive can become badly fragmented with use, which hurts
performance and increases the chances of data corruption. Because files
cannot become fragmented across partition boundaries, you can dramatically reduce fragmentation by separating frequently accessed files, like
those in the Windows and Program Files folders, from frequently updated
files, like your virtual memory (swap file) and temporary files, as well as
infrequently updated files like photos and music. But because fragmentation increases as free space decreases, you’d only get these performance
gains with a drive large enough to guarantee sufficient free space on every
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To set up a dual-boot partition, described in Chapter 1, you’ll need to
create a separate partition for each operating system you install. (The same
is not true for virtual installations, also covered in Chapter 1.)
If you’re setting up a web server (or other type of network file server) or if
you’re participating in peer-to-peer file sharing, it’s a good practice to put
the publicly accessible folders on their own partition. This not only helps
to secure the operating system from unauthorized access, but allows the
OS to be upgraded or replaced without disrupting the shared folders and
Naturally, there’s a downside to having multiple partitions. For one, since you
have to assign portions of your drive to different tasks ahead of time, multiple
partitions use your space less efficiently than one big partition. Next, if you’re
the indecisive type and find yourself frequently rearranging your files, moving
files between partitions takes much longer than moving files between folders
on the same partition.
The Disk Management nickel tour
The main Disk Management window is divided into two panes, each of which
shows the same information in different ways. (You can change the arrangement of the panes by going to View→Top or View →Bottom, but Disk Management won’t remember any of your settings for next time.)
The Graphical View, shown in the lower pane by default, is easily the most
useful, and is the subject of most of the rest of this section. The Volume
List, shown in the upper pane by default, shows only your hard disk drive
letters, and is a subset of the drive list in Windows Explorer. And the Disk
List is merely a list of the physical disk devices in your PC, somewhat like the
Disk Drives branch in Device Manager.
Hard Disk | 329
Windows 7 comes with several disk partitioning tools, but the most useful is
Disk Management, shown in Figure 5-15. You can use Disk Management to
view the partitions of any drive on your system, as well as create, delete, and
resize partitions, and even change the drive letters for any drives or partitions
on your PC. Open the Start menu, and in the Search box, type diskmgmt.msc
and press Enter.
Figure 5-15. Open the Disk Management utility to add or remove partitions, shuffle drive
letters, and even change the way volumes are mounted
By default, the boxes in the Graphical View representing
multiple partitions (volumes) are not displayed proportionally
to their size; a 20 GB partition will appear to be roughly the
same size as a 100 GB partition. To fix this, go to View→Settings, choose the Scaling tab, and select the According to
capacity, using linear scaling option in both sections. You
can also customize the program’s colors with the Appearance tab, but unless you follow the steps in “Save Settings in
Disk Management” (the upcoming sidebar), your changes will
be lost as soon as you close the window.
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Save Settings in Disk Management
The Disk Management tool is actually what Microsoft calls a “snap-in” for
the Microsoft Management Console (mmc.exe). Other snap-ins include Device Manager, the Services window, and the Group Policy Object Editor.
The .msc file you launch to open the Disk Management tool is not actually
the program, but rather just a small console file, which contains only the settings for the current view. Although you can’t save your customizations to
diskmgmt.msc, you can create a new console file with the snap-ins you need,
and customize it to your heart’s content:
1. Open the Microsoft Management Console (mmc.exe). A new, blank
Console Root window will appear in the MMC window.
2. Go to File→Add/Remove Snap-in, and then click Add.
3. Select Disk Management from the Available Standalone Snap-ins list,
and then click Add.
4. From the window that appears, select This Computer and then click
5. You can add other snap-ins at this point, or just click OK when you’re
7. Now, you can customize Disk Management as you see fit. For instance,
to show only the Graphical View, select View→Top→Graphical View
and then View→Bottom→ Hidden.
8. When you’re finished customizing, go to File→Save to save your custom
console view into a new .msc file such as Disk Management.msc.
The next time you use Disk Management, just open your custom .msc file
instead of diskmgmt.msc to use your customized tool.
Disk Management takes an active role in making drives available in Windows
Explorer. Most of the time, as soon as you insert a flash memory card into your
card reader or pop in a CD or DVD, the new volume appears in Disk Management and Explorer. But sometimes, Disk Management may fail to acknowledge that you’ve connected a device (say, an external hard disk), and as
a result, its drive letter won’t appear in Explorer. To force Windows to recognize your drive changes, press the F5 key or go to Action→Rescan Disks, and
in a few seconds, the newly connected drive should appear in all windows.
Hard Disk | 331
6. If Disk Management is the only snap-in you selected, highlight the Disk
Management entry in the tree on the left to show the tool in the center
pane. Then go to View→Customize, turn off the Console tree and Action pane options, and click OK.
If it doesn’t, open up Device Manager, and from the Action menu there, select
Scan for hardware changes.
In the Graphical View, you’ll see different kinds of partitions; here are the
most common:
Primary partition
Most partitions are of this type. If you have more than one partition, the
first usable partition (one that can hold data) is almost always a primary.
Primary partitions are marked with a dark blue stripe by default.
The old school approach is to have only one primary partition, followed
by an extended partition (discussed next). This is no longer needed for
NTFS volumes; in fact, if you’re setting up a dual-boot system, each OS
must have its own primary partition.
Extended partition
The extended partition is a holdover from earlier days, and was used when
a drive had two or more partitions. It doesn’t actually hold data, it merely
serves as a container for one or more logical drives (discussed next). Extended partitions and logical drives are more or less obsolete today (Disk
Management can’t even create them), but you may see them on older partitioned drives. The extended partition is, by default, shown as a dark
green outline surrounding any logical drives.
Logical drive
If you have a drive with an extended partition, each volume inside is called
a logical drive. See the notes for primary and extended partitions, earlier,
for details. By default, logical drives are identified in light blue.
EISA Configuration
This is a tiny partition that holds configuration data for the rest of the
drive, and it is typically placed at the beginning of the disk. You’ll see this
on most RAID drives (see Chapter 6) and often on drives installed in massproduced PCs. Disk Management can’t delete EISA Configuration partitions, but Acronis Disk Director (see the section “Resize and move partitions” on page 333) can.
System Reserved
Windows 7 setup creates a 100 MB “System Reserved” partition when you
install on a blank hard disk (Professional edition or better). To keep this
from happening and use your entire hard disk for the Windows installation, see “Prevent extra partitions during setup” on page 14.
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Create and delete partitions
Every hard disk must be partitioned before it can be used, even if that disk only
gets a single partition. Here’s how to prepare a brand-new hard disk.
First, open Disk Management (diskmgmt.msc). If you see the Initialize Disk
window at this or any point, select MBR (Master Boot Record) and click
OK. Next, make sure the Graphical View, shown by default in the lower pane,
is completely visible. Enlarge the pane and the window if necessary to see all
your drives.
To create a new partition, right-click a region of your new disk marked Unallocated, and select New Simple Volume. The steps in the New Simple
Volume Wizard are pretty self-explanatory, and basically involve dialing in a
size for the new partition (use the maximum if you want to use the whole drive),
choosing a drive letter, and picking a filesystem (choose NTFS, as described
in “Choose the Right Filesystem” on page 317).
Or, to delete an existing partition, right-click the partition and select Delete
In most cases, newly created or deleted partitions will appear (or disappear)
in Windows Explorer immediately.
Resize and move partitions
Say you just bought a laptop with an 80 GB hard disk and then discover that
Windows Explorer only sees about 70 GB of it. You open Disk Management
and discover that there’s an extra partition, labeled “Recovery,” consuming
about 8 GB. How do you get rid of the extra partition and reclaim all that space
for your data?
Or, perhaps you’ve decided to divide a 320 GB hard disk—one that’s currently
holding an active Windows installation—into two 160 GB partitions. How do
you make space for the second partition without deleting the single partition
that’s currently using the whole disk?
Hard Disk | 333
If you delete a partition, all the data on that volume will be
permanently lost. This happens immediately, and there is no
undo. Data on other partitions of the same physical drive
won’t be affected. If you wish to make a partition smaller or
larger without erasing the data, see the next section “Resize
and move partitions”.
The solution is to resize the partition, which—thanks to some improvements
in Disk Manager since Windows XP—is not all that hard to do. And you don’t
even have to take the data off first. (Of course, despite this confident prose,
it’s still wise to back up your entire drive before messing with partitions.)
To begin, open Disk Management and expand the Graphical View pane so
you can see all your drives.
In the case of the unwanted “Recovery” partition, start by right-clicking it in
Disk Management and selecting Delete Volume.
You can’t undo Delete Volume, so make sure you can live
without the “Recovery” partition before you proceed. In most
cases, it isn’t necessary to keep this volume unless you plan
on wiping your hard disk and reinstalling 7 without the original installation DVD. If you don’t have a disc, check with your
PC’s manufacturer to see whether they can provide you with
one before you proceed.
Once the “Recovery” partition is gone, you’ll have a swath of empty space
marked Unallocated at the end of your drive. (If it’s at the beginning, you’ll
need a tool like Disk Director, discussed in the next section.) Now all you have
to do is right-click your primary partition and select Extend Volume to resize
the remaining partition so that it consumes the unused space.
If you get an error that says “The operation failed to complete because the Disk
Management console view is not up-to-date,” use DiskPart, described in the
sidebar “The DiskPart Command-Line Tool” on page 336, instead.
If you want to do the opposite—that is, make room at the end of the disk for
a new partition—just right-click the primary partition and select Shrink Volume. After a bit of pondering, Disk Management will show the Shrink dialog
(Figure 5-16), which will probably show you less “available shrink space” than
you thought you had coming.
Say you have about 150 GB of data on your 500 GB drive, but the Shrink
window says you can only reclaim about 75 GB (7,500 MB) of free space. Why
so stingy?
It turns out that Windows doesn’t necessarily store all your data at the beginning of a partition, but rather scatters it around to help reduce fragmentation.
As a result, there may be some data toward the end, serving as a barrier to
prevent Disk Management from shrinking your drive past that point.
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Figure 5-16. Use the Shrink Volume window to make space on your drive for new partitions
The solution is to use the command-line Disk Defragmenter tool (defrag.exe)
with the /x parameter, as described in “A Defragmentation Crash
Course” on page 304. When that’s done, return to Disk Management and try
Shrink Volume once more.
Alternatives to Disk Management
The Disk Management utility is not your only choice when it comes to repartitioning drives, but as far as the tools included with Windows 7 are concerned,
it’s the best one.
The other usable alternative is 7’s DiskPart utility (diskpart.exe), a way of
viewing, adding, and removing partitions from the Command Prompt; see the
upcoming sidebar “The DiskPart Command-Line Tool” for a walkthrough.
In the good old days—also known simply as the old days—the only way to
resize partitions without deleting the data on them was to use a program called
PartitionMagic. But since Symantec bought PartitionMagic and ruined it, the
best choice now is Acronis Disk Director, available at http://www.acronis
.com/. If you want a free partition editor, try EASEUS Partition Master Home
Edition, available at, but keep in mind that it
only supports 32-bit Windows (the Professional edition, which costs money,
supports x64).
Hard Disk | 335
If the Shrink Volume feature in Disk Management still won’t give you as much
space as you need, you’ll need a more capable program like Disk Director,
covered next.
Figure 5-17. To move partitions, delete EISA Configuration volumes, and more, use a
partition editor like Acronis Disk Director
The DiskPart Command-Line Tool
DiskPart is essentially the command-line equivalent to the Disk Management
tool, and can be useful in certain situations (such as when Windows won’t
You’ll need to run DiskPart in administrator mode (see Chapter 8); one way
to do this is to open your Start menu, type diskpart in the Search box, and
then when diskpart.exe appears in the search results, right-click it and select
Run as administrator.
Once it’s running, type help at any time to see a list of commands. To get
started, here’s how to extend a volume in DiskPart:
1. At the DISKPART> prompt, type:
list disk
to display all the drives on your computer. Each drive will have a disk
number, starting with 0 (zero).
2. Unless you have only one drive, you’ll have to tell DiskPart which drive
to use, like this:
select disk n
where n represents the number of the disk to modify.
336 | Chapter 5: Performance
3. Next, at the DISKPART> prompt, type:
list volume
to display all the volumes on the selected disk. Likewise, each volume has
a volume number, starting with 0 (zero).
4. Regardless of the number of volumes on the drive, you’ll have to tell
DiskPart which one to use, like this:
select volume 2
5. Now that you’ve selected the partition to expand, go ahead and issue this
to extend the volume. The extend command takes no options and displays no warning message or confirmation. The process begins immediately after you press the Enter key, and should take only a few seconds.
6. When it’s done, type exit to quit the DiskPart utility.
See Chapter 9 for more information on the Command Prompt.
If you’re using 64-bit Windows and want a free partition editor, you can use
QTParted, the partition editor that comes with Linux. Now, you don’t have
to install Linux, but rather only boot off a Linux Live CD like the one available
at It supports NTFS as well as FAT32, and
lets you freely resize partitions without destroying data. Alternatively, Gparted (free from comes with its own dedicated
Linux Live CD.
Any way you do it, it’s always wise to back up before messing with your
Different ways to mount a volume
As explained earlier in this section, a hard disk can have one partition or many.
Other types of storage devices, such as CD and DVD drives, can only have a
single partition. These partitions, regardless of the nature of the physical device
on which they’re located, are all recognized as volumes by the Disk Management tool and by Windows Explorer.
Hard Disk | 337
Among other things, partition editors like Disk Director and Partition Master let you move partitions, resize from the left (beginning) or right (end), and
delete otherwise undeletable partitions, such as the EISA Configuration volumes discussed earlier in this section.
Mounting is the method by which a volume is made accessible to Windows
Explorer and all your applications. In most cases, each volume has its own
drive letter, such as C: or D:. But a volume can also be accessed through a
folder on any other volume, called a mount point (available on NTFS drives
only). Finally, there can be volumes on your system that aren’t mounted at all,
such as those with filesystems Windows doesn’t support and those you don’t
want to show up in Windows Explorer.
You can change how any volume is mounted, except for the system volume
(the one containing your boot files) and the boot volume (the one on which
Windows is installed)—these are usually one and the same.
To change the drive letter of a hard disk volume, right-click the partition itself
in the right side of the Graphical View pane in Disk Management, and select
Change Drive Letter and Paths.
Or, to change the drive letter of a non-fixed disk, such as your DVD drive or
flash card reader, right-click the disk in the narrow lefthand column, and select
Change Drive Letter and Paths.
Figure 5-18. You can change the drive letter for any device, as well as mount the volume as
a folder on another drive, using the Change Drive Letter and Paths dialog
338 | Chapter 5: Performance
In either case, you can choose a new drive letter (e.g., H:) by clicking the
Change button, shown in Figure 5-18. Click Remove if you don’t want the
drive to show up in Windows Explorer at all. Or, click Add to choose an empty
folder as a mount point (or pick a drive letter where there is none).
If you select Mount in the following empty NTFS folder,
click Browse to point to an existing, empty folder on a hard
disk that already has a drive letter. If you were to mount the
volume in the folder C:\backdoor, then the contents of the
newly mounted drive would be accessible in C:\backdoor. A
folder named some folder on the new drive would then appear
as D:\backdoor\some folder. You can view all of the drives
mounted in folders by going to View→Drive Paths.
Click OK when you’re done. For another way to hook up drives and folders,
see the sidebar “Force a Login Box for a Remote Folder” on page 602.
Hard Disk | 339
What’s wrong with your PC? I know, stupid question: it’s like asking, “how
long is a piece of string?” But it’s even a harder one to answer than it used to
be. While Windows 7 is a big improvement over its predecessor, the list of
things that can go wrong grows even longer.
An application won’t install? Perhaps the installer is buggy. Or maybe your
registry permissions are munged. Or it could be a native 32-bit program that
isn’t compatible with your 64-bit OS. And then there’s User Access Control,
which always seems to muck things up.
Does it sometimes seem like your hardware or software “gets tired”? For instance, a device that works normally most of the time may malfunction only
when it’s used more aggressively, which could point to overheating or a bug
in its power saving features. Or Windows works fine until you open multiple
applications or use it for more than 20 minutes, which could suggest a faulty
power supply or defective RAM.
A message appears to break the bad news: you have a virus. But wait, is that
just a browser pop-up? It could be a false-positive from your legit antivirus
software…or maybe it’s spyware in the guise of an anti-spyware tool.
Your Internet not working? Maybe you flubbed your WiFi passphrase. Or your
router has crashed…again. Or the storm knocked out your DSL. Is that smoke
coming from your modem?
Of course, this entire book is devoted to problem solving, but this chapter is
where you’ll want to look when Windows won’t start (or shut down), when
you have a malware infestation, when you’re having trouble with hardware…
or when you just want to prevent these things from happening. But if you
remember only two pearls of wisdom from this chapter, let them be these:
• 99% of all computer problems are solved by rebooting. (Restart Windows,
turn it off and then back on, press your PC’s reset button, whatever.)
• Insanity can be defined as repeating the same actions over and over again,
expecting different results. (Or, worse: repeating the same actions over
and over again, knowing that you’ll never get different results.)
Naturally, a corollary to these principles is that rebooting repeatedly will get
you nowhere. Herein lies the rub: what do you do during that remaining 1%
of the time when rebooting the first time doesn’t help?
One of the first things you need to do to solve a problem is to find the right
words to describe the problem, and those words rarely contain “doesn’t” and
“work.” Instead, consult this short checklist of questions to ask yourself to get
you—or rather, your PC—on the road to recovery:
When did the problem start happening?
Sudden changes in your computer’s behavior are almost never spontaneous; if something suddenly stops working, you can bet that there’s a culprit
in a recent change to your system. If the problem surfaced the same day
you updated an application, installed a new driver, or added a new toolbar
to Internet Explorer, you’ve got yourself a prime suspect.
Is this an isolated incident, or does this problem occur every time?
Windows 7 may be less crash-prone as a platform than earlier operating
systems, but the same can’t necessarily be said for Windows Explorer,
Microsoft Word, or any other application running on top of it. An isolated
incident is often just that, and, if nothing else, is a good reminder to save
your work often. On the other hand, if a problem occurs with some regularity and you can manage to connect this incident with other issues, it’ll
take you a long way towards a fix.
Is the problem with a specific application or hardware device, or is it a conflict?
Don’t forget that software products are a lot like pharmaceuticals: interactions can cause problems while the products by themselves are harmless. Got two firewalls running at the same time, and all of a sudden you
can’t use the Web? Or maybe you’ve uninstalled one program and now
another program from the same publisher won’t auto-update?
342 | Chapter 6: Troubleshooting
Thus endeth the Q&A portion of this evening’s programming. Stay tuned for
the feature presentation…
Troubleshooting | 343
Conflicts are resolved by the process of elimination. You can rule out a
specific application if the problem occurs across several applications. You
can rule out individual devices by unplugging them or disabling their
drivers in Device Manager. And if you’re really motivated, you can install
a separate or virtual copy of Windows (see Chapter 1) to rule out your
specific Windows installation or try a specific application in an isolated/
clean environment.
What’s the latest version?
Software and hardware manufacturers frequently release updates and
fixes, so it’s often desirable to check their respective websites for the latest
versions of all applications and drivers. See “Dealing with Drivers and
Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting” on page 387 for details.
How likely is it that someone else has encountered the same problem?
This is often the most useful question to ask yourself, because the odds
are that someone else not only has encountered the same problem (anything from an annoying software quirk to a deafening application crash),
but has already discovered a solution and written about it in some online
forum. For example, there’s a Windows 7 discussion forum at http://www for this specific purpose!
Am I asking the right people?
If you’re having trouble connecting to the wireless Internet at the airport,
don’t call your plumber. On the other hand, the computer store won’t be
much help with a jammed pressure-balance valve. Again, it comes down
to isolating the source of a problem, and this is one of the hardest things
to do, particularly when tech support insists that your problem is not
their problem.
How much is my time worth?
This last tidbit of wisdom comes from years of experience. Some problems
require hours and hours of fruitless troubleshooting and needless headaches. In some cases, it makes more sense to replace the product that’s
giving you trouble than to try to fix it. Keep that in mind when it’s four
o’clock in the morning and Windows refuses to recognize your $8 flash
memory card reader.
Crashes and Error Messages
Once you start peeking under Windows’ hood, you’ll notice some of the tools
that have been included to help the system run smoothly. Some of these tools
actually work, but it’s important to know which ones to use and which ones
are simply gimmicks.
Viruses, Malware, and Spyware
Malware, or malicious software, is a class of software designed specifically to
wreak havoc on a computer—your computer. Malware includes such nasty
entities as viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware. There are actually
people who stay up late trying to dream up new ways of screwing up your PC,
and apparently, not one of them can spell.
If you’re experiencing frequent crashing, nonsensical error messages, pop-up
advertisements (other than when surfing the Web), or slower than normal
performance, the culprit may be one of the following types of malware (as
opposed to a feature authored by Microsoft):
A virus is a program or piece of code that “infects” other software by
embedding a copy of itself in one or more executable files. When the software runs, so does the embedded virus, thus propagating the infection.
Viruses can replicate themselves, and some (known as polymorphic viruses) can even change their virus signatures each time to avoid detection
by antivirus software. Unlike worms, next, viruses can’t infect other computers without assistance from people (a.k.a. you), a topic discussed in
detail in the next section.
A worm* is a special type of virus that can infect a computer without any
help from its user, typically through a network or Internet connection.
Worms can replicate themselves like ordinary viruses, but do not spread
by infecting programs or documents. A classic example is the
W32.Blaster.Worm, which exploited a bug in Windows XP, causing it to
restart repeatedly or simply seize up.
* The term worm is said to have its roots in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, who described dragons
in Middle Earth that were powerful enough to lay waste to entire regions. Two such dragons
(Scatha and Glaurung) were known as “the Great Worms.” The Great Worm, a virus written by
Robert T. Morris in 1988, was particularly devastating, mostly because of a bug in its own code.
(Source: Jargon File 4.2.0.)
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Zombies and Botnets
Why do people create malware? To turn your PC into a zombie, of course.
Classically, a zombie is a mindless (often deceased) human controlled by a
“bokor,” or sorcerer. More recently, zombies have been portrayed as autonomous reanimated corpses that feast on the living, but it’s the classical definition that’s more accurately applied to your computer.
A zombie PC is one infected with malware so that it carries out instructions
from a remote server (in essence, a virtual bokor). The goal is usually to send
out spam and bypass the IP-blocklist measures in place to stop spam email
Crashes and Error Messages | 345
Trojan horses
A Trojan horse spreads itself by masquerading as a benign application (as
opposed to infecting an otherwise valid file), such as a screensaver or even,
ironically, a virus removal tool. See the upcoming sidebar “Zombies and
Botnets” for one reason people create Trojan horses in the first place, and
“How malware spreads” on page 346, for an example.
A rootkit is a form of malware designed to conceal the fact that your computer has been infected. By their very nature, rootkits are particularly
difficult to remove, let alone find. To hide its presence, a rootkit must be
in memory, so the best means of detection and removal is to access the
compromised drive from a different operating system, either using a dualboot setup (see Chapter 1) or by removing the drive from the PC and
plugging it into another PC (see Chapter 5). GMER (free from http://www can also be used to detect and remove rootkits.
Spyware and adware
Spyware is a little different than the aforementioned viruses and worms,
in that its purpose is not necessarily to hobble a computer or destroy data,
but rather something much more insidious. Spyware is designed to install
itself transparently on your system, spy on you or your employer, and then
send the data it collects back to an Internet server. This is sometimes done
to collect information about unsuspecting users (automated identity
theft), but also can serve as a conduit for pop-up advertisements (a.k.a.
Aside from the ethical implications, spyware can be particularly troublesome because it’s so often very poorly written, and as a result, ends up
causing error messages, performance slowdowns, and seemingly random
crashing. Plus, it uses your computer’s CPU cycles and Internet connection bandwidth to accomplish its goals, leaving fewer resources available
for the applications you actually want to use.
from known sources, which it does invisibly in the background. Create thousands of zombies around the globe, and you’ve got a botnet.
If your machine is a zombie, you’re paying—with your Internet bandwidth
and CPU cycles—to deliver someone else’s spam. If that’s not enough, this
practice can also lead to getting your IP address and email accounts blacklisted
so you can’t even send legitimate mail.
The best defense is to use the anti-malware software listed in “How to protect
and clean your PC” on page 349, but there are other remedies.
For instance, some malware hijacks your email program and uses your preconfigured SMTP server to send infected files to everyone in your address
book. In nearly all cases, such malware is designed to work with the email
software most people have on their systems, namely Microsoft Outlook and
Windows Mail (formerly Outlook Express). If you want to significantly abate
your computer’s susceptibility to this type of attack, you’d be wise to use any
other email software, such as Mozilla Thunderbird or stick with web-based
email like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail.
Also, take time to reconfigure User Account Control (UAC), as described in
“Control User Account Control” on page 569, so that unwanted software
can’t install itself without your permission.
Now, it’s often difficult to tell one type of malicious program from another,
and in some ways, it doesn’t matter. But if you understand how these programs
work—how they get into your computer, and what they do once they’ve taken
root—you can eliminate them and keep them from coming back.
How malware spreads
Once they’ve infected a system, viruses and the like can be very difficult to
remove. For that reason, your best defense against them is to prevent them
from infecting your computer in the first place.
The most useful tool you can use to keep malware off your computer is your
cerebral cortex. Just as malware is written to exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems, the distribution of malware exploits the stupidity and carelessness of users.
Malware is typically spread in the following ways:
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Crashes and Error Messages | 347
Email attachments
One of the most common ways viruses make their way into computers is
through spam. Attachments are embedded in these junk email messages
and sent by the millions to every email address in existence, for unsuspecting recipients to click, open, and execute. But how can people be that
dumb, you may ask? Well, consider the filename of a typical Trojan horse:
kittens playing with yarn.jpg .scr
Since Windows 7 has its filename extensions hidden by default (see
Chapter 2), this is how the file looks to most PC users:
kittens playing with yarn.jpg
In other words, most people wouldn’t recognize that this is an .scr
(screensaver) file and not a photo of kittens. (The long space in the
filename ensures that it won’t be easy to spot in the Large Icons view,
even if extensions are visible.) And since many spam filters and antivirus programs block .exe files, but not .scr files—which just happen
to be renamed .exe files—this innocuous-looking file is more than
likely to spawn a nasty virus on someone’s computer with nothing
more than an innocent double-click.
So, how do you protect yourself from these? First, don’t open email
attachments you weren’t expecting and manually scan everything else
with an up-to-date virus scanner (discussed later in this section). Next,
employ a good spam filter (see “Stop Spam” on page 537), and employ your ISP to filter out viruses on the server side.
Infected files
Viruses don’t just invade your computer and wreak havoc, they replicate
themselves and bury copies of themselves in other files. This means that
once your computer has been infected, the virus is likely sitting dormant
in any of the applications and even personal documents stored on your
hard disk. This not only means that you may be spreading the virus each
time you email documents to others, but that others may be unwittingly
sharing viruses with you.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing
Napster started the P2P file-sharing craze years ago, but modern file sharing goes far beyond the trading of harmless music files. It’s estimated that
some 40% of the files available on these P2P networks contain viruses,
Trojan horses, and other unwelcome guests. For instance, it’s not unusual
to find DRM-protected media that prompts Windows Media Player to
download malware in the guise of a codec or DRM license.
To protect yourself from malware-infected movies and
music, open Windows Media Player. From the Tools
menu, select Options and then choose the Privacy tab.
Turn off the Download usage rights automatically
when I play or sync a file option. Next, choose the
Security tab and turn off all the options in the Content section, and click OK when you’re done. See also
“Lock Down Internet Explorer” on page 514 for more
on the security zone settings that can affect Windows
Media Player’s ability to connect to online content.
But the files you download over P2P aren’t necessarily the biggest cause
of concern. To facilitate the exchange of files, these P2P programs open
network ports (Chapter 7) and create holes in your computer’s firewall,
any of which can be exploited by a variety of worms and intruders. And
since people typically leave these programs running all the time (whether
they intend to or not), these security holes are constantly open for
But wait…there’s more! If the constant threat of viruses and Trojan horses
isn’t enough, many P2P programs themselves come with a broad assortment of spyware and adware, intentionally installed on your system along
with the applications themselves. Make sure to do a little research before
installing any particular P2P client
Websites and socially engineered malware
It may sound like the rantings of a conspiracy theorist, but even the act of
visiting some websites can infect your PC with spyware and adware. Not
that it can happen transparently, but many people just don’t recognize the
red flags even when they’re staring them in the face.
For example, the “add-ins” employed by some websites that provide custom cursors, interactive menus, or other eye candy, can be effective Trojan
horses. While loading a web page, you may see a message asking if it’s OK
to install some ActiveX gadget “necessary” to view the page (e.g., Comet
Cursor); here, the answer is simple: no.
You may also encounter pop-up browser windows masquerading as legitimate anti-malware tools, presenting messages like “Your computer is
infected” (a.k.a., “scareware”). While Internet Explorer has the built-in
SmartScreen Filter that’s supposed to block content like this, new sites
can pop up faster than Microsoft can track them.
348 | Chapter 6: Troubleshooting
Just as many viruses are written to exploit Microsoft
Outlook, most spyware and adware targets Microsoft
Internet Explorer. By using IE in Protected Mode only,
or by switching to browsers incapable of installing system-level software, such as Firefox or Chrome, you can
eliminate the threat posed by many of these nasty programs. See the section “Lock Down Internet Explorer” on page 514, for the full story.
How to protect and clean your PC
The most popular and typically the most effective way to rid your computer
of malware is to use dedicated antivirus, antispyware, and antimalware software. These programs rely on their own internal databases of known viruses,
worms, Trojans, spyware, and adware and, as such, must be updated regularly
(daily or weekly) to be able to detect and eliminate the latest threats.
Windows 7 includes an antimalware tool, Windows Defender (found in Control Panel and shown in Figure 6-1). It won’t catch everything, but left to its
own devices, Windows Defender will regularly scan your system and even keep
its spyware definitions up to date.
Crashes and Error Messages | 349
Network and Internet connections
Your network connection (both to your LAN and to the Internet) can serve
as a conduit for a worm, the special kind of virus that doesn’t need your
help to infect your system. Obviously, the most effective way to protect
your system is to unplug it from the network, but a slightly more realistic
solution is to use a firewall. Windows comes with a built-in firewall, although a router provides much better protection. See Chapter 7 for details
on both solutions.
USB flash drives
Any storage medium can be a source of malware, and not just because it
might contain an unwitting coworker’s infected files. There’s a scam, for
instance, in which a flash drive, adorned with the company logo, is left in
that institution’s lobby, elevator, or parking lot. An unsuspecting employee grabs the drive and plugs it into a PC to see what’s on it, only to
have Windows’ AutoPlay feature install the malware contained therein in
a flash. In no time, the entire company’s security has been compromised.
At least Windows 7 now prompts before running software on a removable
drive, a courtesy Microsoft never gave us in Windows XP and earlier
Figure 6-1. Windows Defender is included with Windows 7 to scan for malware, but you
should augment it with other tools to fully protect your PC
But after all these years, Windows still doesn’t come with an antivirus tool,
mostly to appease the companies that make money selling aftermarket
antivirus software (which is ironic, since the best tools are free). Microsoft even
offers a free Antivirus tool (see below), but you have to download and install
it separately. The following is a list of the more popular antivirus products.
Avast Home Edition
Freeware, with a slick interface and excellent detection rates.
Avira AntiVir
Freeware, with frequent updates, but only average detection rates.
AVG Anti-Virus
Freeware, a popular yet poor-performing antivirus solution.
A free tool specifically for removing rootkits.
Kaspersky Antivirus Personal
Very highly regarded solution with an excellent detection record.
McAfee VirusScan
Trusted and well-established all-around virus scanner with an intuitive
interface and few limitations.
Microsoft Security Essentials
A new tool, and completely free at that, that is not preinstalled in Windows
for all the wrong reasons.
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Panda Anti-Virus Titanium & Platinum
Lesser-known but capable antivirus software.
Symantec Norton AntiVirus
Mediocre, slow antivirus software with a well-known name—beware of
its expensive subscription plan to keep virus definitions updated.
Antispyware/antimalware software is a more complex field, and as a result,
you’ll have the best luck using multiple tools in addition to Windows Defender. The top antispyware products include:
Ad-Aware Personal Edition
Ad-Aware is one of the oldest antispyware tools around, but its definitions
are still updated frequently. The personal edition is free and very slick,
although it sometimes isn’t as effective at removing infestations as Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware or Spy Sweeper, both discussed next.
When using Ad-Aware, make sure you click Check for
updates now before running a scan. Also, to turn off the
awful, jarring sound Ad-Aware plays when it has found
spyware, click the gear icon to open the Settings window,
click the Tweak button, open the Misc Settings category, and turn off the Play sound if scan produced a
result option.
Once the top of its field, Spybot: Search and Destroy, has fallen
far behind its competition. Recently, I’ve seen many PCs riddled with spyware that were supposedly protected by Spybot;
these days, other tools (just mentioned) do a better job.
Crashes and Error Messages | 351
Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
A relatively new player to the field, MBAM can often eliminate malware
that other tools miss (Figure 6-2.) If Windows Defender identifies a threat
but can’t wipe it from your system, don’t be surprised if MBAM cleans
your system in minutes. The basic version is free; the paid edition adds
real-time protection.
Spy Sweeper
This highly regarded antispyware tool, while not free like the first two, is
still a welcome addition to any spyware-fighter’s toolbox, and can often
remove malware that the others miss.
Figure 6-2. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware is one of several antispyware tools that can be
used in conjunction with Windows Defender to help keep your PC malware-free
So, armed with proper antivirus and antispyware software, there are four
things you should do to protect your computer from malware:
• Place a router between your computer and your Internet connection, as
described in Chapter 7.
• Scan your system for viruses regularly, and don’t rely entirely on your
antivirus program’s auto-protect feature (see the next section). Run a full
system scan at least every two weeks.
• Scan your system for spyware regularly, at least once or twice a month.
Do it more often if you download and install a lot of software.
• Use your head! See the previous section for ways that malware spreads,
and the next section for some of the things you can do to reduce your
exposure to viruses, spyware, adware, and other malware.
The perils of auto-protect
Antivirus software is a double-edged sword. Sure, viruses can be a genuine
threat, and for many of us, antivirus software is an essential safeguard. But
antivirus software can also be a real pain in the neck.
352 | Chapter 6: Troubleshooting
The most basic, innocuous function of an antivirus program is to scan files on
demand. When you start a virus scanner and tell it to scan a file or a disk full
of files, you’re performing a useful task. The problem is that most of us don’t
remember or want to take the time to routinely perform scans, so we rely on
the so-called “auto-protect” feature, where the virus scanner runs all the time.
This can cause several problems:
Now, if you take the proper precautions, your exposure to viruses will be minimal, if not nil, and you’ll have very little need for the auto-protect feature of
your antivirus software. Naturally, whether you disable your antivirus software’s auto-protect feature is up to you. But if you keep the following practices
Crashes and Error Messages | 353
Performance hit
Loading the auto-protect software at Windows startup can increase boot
time; also, because each and every application (and document) you open
must first be scanned, load times can increase. Plus, a virus scanner that’s
always running consumes memory and processor cycles, even though
you’re not likely to spend most of your time downloading new, potentially
hazardous files for it to scan.
Browser and email monitoring
Some antivirus auto-protect features include web browser and email plugins, which scan all files downloaded and received as attachments, respectively. In addition to the performance hit, these plug-ins sometimes don’t
work properly, inadvertently causing all sorts of problems with the applications you use to open these files.
Annoying and obtrusive messages
The constant barrage of virus warning messages can be annoying, to say
the least. For instance, if your antivirus software automatically scans your
incoming email, you may be forced to click through a dozen or so messages
warning you of virus-laden attachments, even though your spam filter will
likely delete them before you ever see them. And nearly every antivirus
program makes a big show each time it receives definition updates; while
it’s nice to know the software is doing its job, it would also be nice to have
it do so quietly.
False sense of security
Most importantly, having the auto-protect feature installed can give you
a false sense of security (“Sure, I’ll open it—I have antivirus software!”),
reducing the chances that you’ll take the precautions listed elsewhere in
this section and increasing the likelihood that your computer will become
infected. Even if you are diligent about scanning files manually, no antivirus program is foolproof, and software is certainly no substitute for
common sense.
in mind, you should be able to effectively eliminate your computer’s susceptibility to viruses and not need the protection in the first place.
If you don’t download any documents or applications from the Internet, if
you’re not connected to a local network, if you have a firewalled connection
to the Internet, and the only type of software you install is off-the-shelf commercial products, your odds of getting a virus are pretty much zero.
Viruses can only reside in certain types of files, including application (.exe
and .scr) files, document files made in applications that use macros (such as
Microsoft Word), and some types of application support files
(.dll, .vbx, .vxd, etc.). And because ZIP files (described in Chapter 2) can contain any of the aforementioned files, they’re also susceptible.
Conventional wisdom holds that plain-text email messages,
text files (.txt), image files (.jpg, .gif, .bmp, etc.), video clips
(.mpg, .avi, etc.), and most other types of data files are benign
in that they simply are not capable of carrying a virus. However, things aren’t always as they seem. Case in point: the
Bloodhound.Exploit.13 Trojan horse (discovered in 2004) involved certain .jpg files and a flaw in Internet Explorer (and
most other Microsoft products). The bug has since been fixed,
but it’s not likely to be the last. Likewise, a given script file
(.vbs, discussed in Chapter 9), being merely a plain text file, is
unlikely to contain any virus code. But that doesn’t mean it
can’t download and execute malware, which is why it’s considered just as hazardous.
You’ve heard it before, and here it is again: don’t open email attachments sent
to you from people you don’t know, especially if they are Word documents
or .exe files. If someone sends you an attachment and you’re tempted to open
it, scan it manually beforehand, and then refrain from opening it. Most antivirus software adds a context-menu item to all files, allowing you to scan any
given file by right-clicking on it and selecting Scan (or something similar).
If you’re on a network, your PC is only as secure as the least-secure PC on the
network. If it’s a home network, make sure everyone who uses machines on
that network understands the concepts outlined here. If it’s a corporate network, there’s no accounting for the stupidity of your coworkers, so you may
have no choice but to leave the auto-protect antivirus software in place.
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What to Do When Windows Won’t Start
Unfortunately, Windows’ inability to boot is a common problem, usually occurring without an error message or any obvious way to resolve it. Sometimes
you’ll just get a black screen after the startup logo, or your computer may even
restart itself instead of—or even after—displaying the desktop.
Common causes include incorrect hardware drivers, registry glitches, file corruption, and malware, all of which are discussed elsewhere in this chapter.
But when Windows won’t start, how do you implement a fix? There’s no
Windows Explorer to delete files, no Internet to research solutions, no Device
Manager to check and uncheck boxes, and no Solitaire to while away the time
while you wait for antimalware downloads to complete. You have only this
book and the sound of your breath wafting over your keyboard like an evening
breeze over a dead mongoose.
Thankfully, Microsoft has done away with the frustratingly limited Recovery
Console found in Windows 2000 and XP, replacing it with a full automated
(and mostly useless) repair tool, explained next, and a full-featured commandprompt, covered later.
Startup Repair
When assembling the Startup Repair tool for Windows 7, Microsoft employed
the Apple Computer approach: dead simple to use, but not quite enough options to make it work in the real world.
If F8 doesn’t work, you’ll need to dig out your Windows 7 setup disc, the
location of which has probably escaped your mind. (If Windows 7 came preinstalled on your PC and you never got a physical disc, contact your PC manufacturer and request the original Windows setup DVD; after all, you paid for
it when you bought the machine.)
Pop the Windows disc in the drive and turn on your computer. (If your PC
won’t boot off the disc, see the section “Install Windows on an Empty Hard
Disk” on page 10.) When you see the “Install Now” page, click the Repair
your computer link at the bottom. When prompted, select the Use recovery
tools... option, choose your OS from the list, and click Next.
Crashes and Error Messages | 355
By default, Startup Repair is installed in its own partition by Windows 7 setup
(described in “Prevent extra partitions during setup” on page 14), but depending on the level of damage, you may not be able to get to it. See “Use the
F8 menu” on page 358 for instructions.
Figure 6-3. The fully-automated Startup Repair tool is bereft of options and utility
The other option here, Restore your computer using a system image... is useful only if you used the Create a system
image tool on the Backup and Restore page in Control Panel,
as described in the section “Recover Your System After a
Crash” on page 423. Beware of this tool; you will almost certainly lose data if you choose this option.
The good news is that you can kick back in your chair and watch the pulsating
indicator shown in Figure 6-3 for up to 20 minutes. The bad news is that you
have no other choice.
You may’ve grown accustomed to the interactive menu of five useful recovery
tools found in Vista; don’t worry, these are still present in Windows 7, but
you’ve got to wait for them. Windows pretends to investigate the problem
without your help for several minutes, only to present you with the option to
restore your Windows installation from a backup. (Although some folks have
reported success with this tool, it often took several attempts to make Windows bootable again.) Click Cancel to continue watching the dancing black
stripe; you’ll have better restoration options later.
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Figure 6-4. When you finally arrive at the System Recovery Options page, you’ll have the
tools you need to fix a PC that won’t boot.
Here’s how these options work:
Startup Repair
This takes you back to the previous step; if you got this far, it means this
option has already proven itself to be worthless.
System Restore
This reverts your Windows installation to an earlier incarnation, which is
useful if a recent driver installation has prevented Windows from booting.
Depending on the age of the most recent restore point, this may do nothing, or may go back too far. It’s usually worth a try, but don’t be surprised
if it breaks a recently installed application or driver. See “Go Back in Time
with Restore Points and Shadow Copies” on page 408 for details.
Crashes and Error Messages | 357
If setup is actually able to fix your problem, consider yourself lucky. Otherwise,
you may see the message, “Startup Repair cannot repair this computer automatically,” with an option to send a report of the problem to Microsoft; of
course, since Windows isn’t running, your network connection is likely not
active, and such a report will end up in the circular file. Click Cancel to display
the long-awaited System Recovery Options page shown in Figure 6-4.
System Image Recovery
Use this option to wipe your hard disk clean and restore a backup you
made with the Create a system image tool on the Backup and Restore
page in Control Panel, covered in “Recover Your System After a
Crash” on page 423.
The fact that the Windows Complete PC Restore feature
wipes your hard disk clean is a strong case for having your
personal data on a separate partition from Windows, as
explained in “Work with Partitions” on page 328. That
way, a System Image Recovery operation would only
overwrite the Windows partition, leaving alone any files
modified since your last backup.
Windows Memory Diagnostic
This examines your PC’s system memory (RAM) for errors; see “Test for
Bad Memory (RAM)” on page 398. Unlike the other tools here, this one
makes no changes to your hard disk, so it’s safe to use at any time.
Command Prompt
Of all the tools on this page, this is likely to be the one that will save your
day. Use this tool to open a Command Prompt window, from which you
can copy, delete, or rename files that may be preventing Windows from
loading. Also available is the Safe Mode with Command Prompt, discussed later in this section. See Chapter 9 for details on the Command
Prompt, including an overview of the commands you can type at the
This command prompt is a great tool for making repairs
to Windows, particularly if you can’t even get to the F8
menu. But the Safe Mode with Command Prompt tool
described in the next section provides access to Windows
tools—like Device Manager and Registry Editor—that
aren’t accessible from the System Recovery Options
Command Prompt.
Use the F8 menu
Just after you power up your PC (and after it displays its own logo or POST
screen), but before you see the Windows logo, press the F8 key on your keyboard to invoke the Advanced Boot Options menu shown in Figure 6-5.
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Figure 6-5. Press F8 just before you see the Windows logo to display this menu, from which
you have access to several tools to help you get into Windows when it won’t load normally
From the F8 menu, you’ll have these choices:
Repair your computer
Choose this option to jump directly to the System Recovery Options page
shown in Figure 6-4 and covered in the previous section.
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If you can’t get to the F8 menu, then your PC may not be
recognizing your Windows installation, and the problem may
be bad enough to require the Startup Repair tool on the Windows setup disc, described in the previous section. If those
tools don’t work, or if you don’t have the original 7 disc, then
your best bet is to remove your hard disk from your PC and
hook it up to another computer using the special USB tool
extolled in the section “Transfer Windows to Another Hard
Disk” on page 321. There, you should be able to determine
the problem, or—worst case scenario—try to recover whatever data you can, as described in “Recover Your System After
a Crash” on page 423.
If you don’t see the Repair your computer option, your
hard disk doesn’t have the hidden 100 mb “System Reserved” partition described in “Prevent extra partitions
during setup” on page 14. Without this partition, you’ll
need a true Windows 7 setup disc to access these tools.
Safe Mode
This forces Windows to start up in a hobbled, semi-functional mode, useful for troubleshooting or removing software or hardware drivers that
otherwise prevent Windows from booting normally. Use the next option,
Safe Mode with Networking, instead of Safe Mode, unless it turns out
that your network drivers are the ones responsible for breaking Windows.
Safe Mode with Networking
This is the same as Safe Mode, except that Windows loads your network
drivers. This is vitally important if you need Internet access for researching
solutions, downloading antimalware tools, or transferring files to or from
other PCs on your network.
Safe Mode with Command Prompt
Instead of loading Windows and your desktop, all you’ll see is a Command
Prompt window, sort of like the one you can get to from the System Recovery Options window (Figure 6-4, earlier).
The Safe Mode with Command Prompt option is a
good choice if you suspect that a recent driver installation
is to blame for Windows’ inability to start. Once the
Command Prompt appears, type devmgt.msc at the
prompt and press Enter to start Device Manager. Then,
find the driver in the Device Manager window, right-click
the entry, and select Disable. Close Device Manager and
restart Windows when you’re done.
To get out of the Command Prompt cleanly and restart Windows, type
exit at the prompt and press Enter. If typing exit closes the Command
Prompt window but leaves Windows running, press Ctrl-Alt-Del and
then click the tiny arrow next to the red button at the bottom of the screen.
See Chapter 9 for help with the Command Prompt. To fix file errors on
your hard disk from the Command Prompt, see “Check Your Drive for
Errors” on page 366.
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Enable Boot Logging
This starts Windows normally, except that a log of every step is recorded
into the ntbtlog.txt file, located in your \Windows folder. If Windows won’t
start, all you need to do is attempt to start Windows with the Enable Boot
Logging option at least once. Then, reboot your PC, press F8 again, and
choose one of the Safe Mode tools above (preferably, Safe Mode with
Networking). When you’re back in Windows, read the log with Notepad;
the last entry in the log is most likely the cause of the problem.
Enable low-resolution video (640×480)
This starts Windows normally, but in VGA mode (640×480 resolution at
16 colors). This helps you troubleshoot bad video drivers or incorrect
video settings by allowing you to boot Windows with the most compatible
(and ugliest) display mode there is.
Last Known Good Configuration (advanced)
This starts Windows with the last set of drivers and Registry settings
known to work. Use this if a recent Registry change or hardware installation has caused a problem that prevents Windows from starting. See “Go
Back in Time with Restore Points and Shadow Copies” on page 408 for
Directory Services Restore Mode
If your PC is a Windows Domain Controller—which, strictly speaking, is
not possible in Windows 7—this option takes the Active Directory offline.
In other words, you’ll never use this entry.
Debugging Mode
This option, typically of no use to end-users, sends debug information to
your serial port to be recorded by another computer. Does your PC even
have a serial port?
Disable automatic restart on system failure
Unlike the previous eight entries here, this option merely changes a setting
so you can determine why Windows won’t start. By default, if Windows
crashes while it’s loading (see “Blue Screen of Death” on page 382), it
reboots your PC so fast, you can’t read the error message on that infamous
blue screen. Choose Disable automatic restart on system failure if you
want to read the message and then reboot by hand.
Disable Driver Signature Enforcement
By default, the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 won’t allow you to install any
device drivers that haven’t been digitally signed. (Digital signatures are
largely a bureaucratic requirement to get the Microsoft certification logo
on a product’s packaging, but also a means to detect whether or not a file
has been compromised.)
In theory, you should be able to choose Disable Driver Signature Enforcement to allow your PC to install unsigned drivers, but in practice,
this never works. Instead, boot Windows normally, open a Command
Prompt window (in administrator mode; see Chapter 8), and type the
bcdedit.exe -set loadoptions DDISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS
Press Enter and then close the Command Prompt and restart Windows
for the change to take effect. If that doesn’t help, you may have to forgo
supporting a specific device until the manufacturer makes a signed, native
(64-bit) driver available.
Start Windows Normally
Use this self-explanatory option to continue booting Windows normally,
as though you’d never invoked the F8 menu.
With these tools and the referenced sections in this book, you should have
everything you need to get Windows running again. At the point you discover
the grim fact that your repair mission has turned into a recovery mission, see
“Recover Your System After a Crash” on page 423.
Manage Startup Programs
The Startup folder in the Start menu is where most people go if they want
Windows to start an application automatically when it boots. Just drag a
shortcut to the program into the folder, and Windows will do the rest. Or,
delete an existing shortcut to stop a program from loading at boot time.
Trouble is, there are many ways apart from the Startup folder to configure
startup programs, and if you’re trying to solve a problem or just reduce boot
times, you need to look at them all. To see them all in one place, open the
System Configuration tool (msconfig.exe) and choose the Startup tab. Uncheck any programs you’d rather not have running, and click Apply. Also
available is the free Autoruns tool (
nals/bb963902.aspx), which, among other things, has a command-line tool
you can use to make changes when Windows won’t start.
Here are all the places Windows looks for startup items:
Startup folders
There are actually two of these on your hard disk, but shortcuts in both
places show up in the Startup menu (under All Programs in your Start
menu). If you have a lot of cleanup to do, you’ll find it’s easier to open
Windows Explorer than to repeatedly open the Start menu. First, your
personal Startup folder is located here:
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and programs listed therein will load automatically when you first log in
to your user account. Next, the “All Users” Startup folder here:
C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
lists the programs to load automatically when anyone logs into your PC.
There are several places in the registry (see Chapter 3) in which startup
programs are specified. Installers add their programs to these keys for
several reasons: to prevent tinkering, for more flexibility, or—in the case
of viruses, Trojan horses, and spyware—to hide from plain view.
These keys contain startup programs for the current user (er, you):
These keys contain startup programs for all users:
And if you’re using 64-bit Windows, there also may be entries here:
Session Manager\BootExecute
Terminal Server\Wds\rdpwd\StartupPrograms
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The naming of the keys should be self-explanatory. Programs referenced
in either of the Run keys listed previously are run every time Windows
starts, and are where you’ll find most of your startup programs. An entry
referenced in one of the RunOnce keys is run only once and then removed
from the key.
Other, less common places for startup programs to hide in your registry
The Services window (services.msc) lists dozens of programs especially
designed to run in the background. The advantage that services have over
the other startup methods here is that they remain active even when no
user is currently logged in. That way, for example, your web server can
continue to serve web pages when the Welcome/Login screen is displayed.
By default, some services are configured to start automatically with Windows and others are not, and this distinction is made in the Startup
Type column. Double-click any service and change the Startup type option to Automatic to have it start with Windows, or Disabled if you never
want it to start automatically. You can even group all the automatic services together by clicking the Startup Type column to sort the list.
Changing the Startup type for a service won’t load (start)
or unload (stop) the service. Use the Start and Stop
buttons on the toolbar of the Services window, or doubleclick a service and click Start or Stop. Unfortunately,
there’s no way to delete a service from the Services window; for that, see the sidebar “Delete a Service” on page 366.
Scheduled Tasks
A program doesn’t have to be launched at boot time to be run automatically. The Scheduled Tasks tool can launch programs at any time. See
Chapter 9 for more on Scheduled Tasks, and check out the aforementioned Autoruns tool to see a concise list of all the programs Scheduled
Tasks may launch.
An oft-neglected category of programs run when Windows starts, device
drivers can become infected with viruses just like any other executable.
While it’s true that the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 won’t allow unsigned
drivers, and altered code breaks digital signatures, it’s also true that an
intact driver can launch a separate unsigned, infected program at any time.
Drivers that load with Windows can be found in Device Manager, as well
as the Drivers tab of aforementioned Autoruns tool.
So, you’ve decided to scour your system for superfluous or dangerous startup
programs, and you’ve encountered one you don’t recognize. Before you pull
the plug on a particular entry, follow a few simple steps to find out what it’s for.
First, determine the executable file involved. For Startup folder items, rightclick the shortcut icon and select Properties to uncover the program filename.
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On the Shortcut tab, click Open File Location to reveal the location of the
If it’s a Registry entry, the filename (and usually the full path) is shown in the
Data column in the Run/RunOnce key. If there’s no folder path included, type
the filename into Explorer’s Search box to find the containing folder, and be
sure to look beyond the index, as described in Chapter 2.
Or if it’s a service, double-click the service and look at the Path to executable line under the General tab. Once you have the program filename, open
Windows Explorer and navigate to the file’s location.
Trying to track down a running program, but don’t know
where it’s loaded? Open Windows Task Manager, choose the
Processes tab, and click the Show processes from all running users button at the bottom. To show file and path names
for running processes, open the View menu, click Select Columns, and turn on the Image Path Name option. Note that
if the filename is svchost.exe, the entry represents a service, as
described in the sidebar “What Is Svchost?” on page 376.
Right-click the program executable, select Properties, and choose the Details tab to see the manufacturer name, product name, version number, etc.
If there’s no Details tab, it means the file has no version information; although
this situation is more common with viruses and malware than legitimate applications, it doesn’t necessarily point to malware.
To disable a Startup folder shortcut without deleting it for good, just move it
to a different folder. To disable a registry entry, create a Registry patch (see
Chapter 3) to back up the key, and then simply delete the offending entry. Or,
use the aforementioned System Configuration tool (msconfig.exe), which
backs up deactivated startup programs for easy reactivation later.
Reboot Windows to test your changes.
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If you’re still not sure what the program is for, yet antimalware and antivirus
scans have declared it clean, fire up a web browser and search Google for the
filename. In nearly all cases, you’ll find several references to the file’s purpose,
and in the case of malware, how to remove it. Of course, many types of
malware—particularly rootkits—mask their identities by adopting randomly
generated filenames, so don’t expect helpful results for AJJDG91.EXE.
Delete a Service
Since a service can be turned off, Microsoft hasn’t felt the need to let users
delete services outright from the Services window. But services can cause all
sorts of problems, whether they’re unwanted add-ons to otherwise useful
software, left behind by buggy uninstallers, or inserted surreptitiously by malware. So here’s how to remove a service once and for all.
Open the Services window (services.msc) and double-click the service you
want to remove. Highlight the text next to Service name (the first entry under
the General tab) and press Ctrl-C to copy the name to the clipboard.
Next, open a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapters 9 and 8, respectively), and type the following at the prompt:
sc delete "Rogue Service"
where Rogue Service (in quotes) is the name of the service you just copied.
Press Enter, and if the removal was successful, you should see this message:
[SC] DeleteService SUCCESS
Return to the Services window and press F5 to refresh the list, and confirm
the service is now gone.
Check Your Drive for Errors
The Chkdsk utility—chkdsk.exe, pronounced “check disk” for those who enjoy pronouncing program executable filenames out loud—scans your hard
disk for errors and optionally fixes any it finds. To run Chkdsk, open a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapters 9 and 8, respectively), type chkdsk at the prompt, and press Enter.
File errors—one of the problems Chkdsk can detect and fix—
are also capable of preventing Windows from booting. If Windows won’t start, fire up the Safe Mode with Command
Prompt startup option discussed in “What to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355, and run Chkdsk from there.
When you run Chkdsk without any options, you’ll get a report that looks
something like this:
The type of the file system is NTFS.
Volume label is SHOEBOX.
WARNING! F parameter not specified.
Running CHKDSK in read-only mode.
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CHKDSK is verifying files (stage 1 of 3)...
156352 file records processed.
File verification completed.
433 large file records processed.
0 bad file records processed.
2 EA records processed.
54 reparse records processed.
CHKDSK is verifying indexes (stage 2 of 3)...
586626 index entries processed.
Index verification completed.
5 unindexed files processed.
CHKDSK is verifying security descriptors (stage 3 of 3)...
156352 security descriptors processed.
Security descriptor verification completed.
18159 data files processed.
CHKDSK is verifying Usn Journal...
36020056 USN bytes processed.
Usn Journal verification completed.
Windows has checked the file system and found no problems.
total disk space.
in 134061 files.
in 18160 indexes.
in bad sectors.
in use by the system.
occupied by the log file.
available on disk.
4096 bytes in each allocation unit.
26380037 total allocation units on disk.
11616300 allocation units available on disk.
If Chkdsk finds any errors, it’ll say so in its report. However, as suggested by
the WARNING! F parameter message in the report, it won’t fix any problems it
finds unless you specifically instruct it to do so with the /f parameter, like this:
chkdsk /f
The following terms describe most of the different types of problems that
Chkdsk might report:
Lost clusters
These are pieces of data that are no longer associated with any existing
files. They just need to be cleaned up.
Bad sectors
Bad sectors are actually physical flaws on the disk surface. Use the /r
option, explained shortly, to attempt to recover data stored on bad sectors.
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You can interrupt Chkdsk at any time by pressing Ctrl-C.
Note that recovery of such data is not guaranteed unless you have a backup
You may have one or more bad sectors if you see gibberish when you view the contents of a directory (with the
dir command), or if Windows crashes or freezes every
time you attempt to access a certain file. Of course, this
may also be the work of the “Green Ribbon of Death,”
covered later in this chapter.
Cross-linked files
If a single piece of data has been claimed by two or more files, those files
are said to be cross-linked.
Invalid file dates or times
Chkdsk also scans for file dates and times that it considers “invalid,” such
as missing dates or those before January 1, 1980.
By default, Chkdsk will only scan the current drive
(shown in the prompt—C:> for drive C:). To scan a different drive, include the drive letter as one of the command-line options, like this: chkdsk d: /f.
The other important options available to Chkdsk are the following:
The /r parameter is essentially the same as /f, except that it also scans
for—and recovers data from—bad sectors, as described earlier. This just
takes longer, and probably isn’t necessary unless /f is insufficient.
When Chkdsk finds a bad sector (as the result of an /r scan), it effectively
“fences off” the region so Windows can never store data there again. Use
the /b parameter to recheck those regions in the hopes that they can be
used once again. For obvious reasons, this is usually not a good idea, and
is pretty much a big waste of time.
Include this option to force Windows to dismount the volume before
scanning the drive, a useful step for drives with shared folders (see Chapter 8). If you don’t include /x, and the drive is in use, Chkdsk usually has
to schedule a scan during the next boot. The /x parameter implies the /f
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There are also the /i and /c options, which are used only to skip certain checks
in order to complete the scan more quickly; there’s usually no reason to use
them. And the /l option only shows the current size of the NTFS log file, and
optionally changes it (e.g., chkdsk /l:128 to make the log file 131,072 bytes in
To run Chkdsk from Windows Explorer, right-click any drive, select Properties, choose the Tools tab, and click Check Now. Here, the Automatically
fix file system errors option corresponds to the /f parameter, and the Scan
for and attempt recovery of bad sectors option corresponds to the /r parameter. When the scan is complete, you’ll get a report akin to the commandline version (in a nice departure from previous versions). Of course, when
Windows won’t start, the Command Prompt interface to Chkdsk is basically
your only choice.
To see the results of any recent Chkdsk scan, open the Event Viewer
(eventvwr.exe). In the tree on the left, open the Windows Logs branch and
select Application. Click the Date and Time column header to sort the list
chronologically or the Source column header to sort the list by program, and
then find the most recent Information event with Chkdsk in the Source
Dirty drives and automatic scans
You can use the Fsutil (Fsutil.exe) utility to manage dirty drives. Open a Command Prompt window and type fsutil (without any arguments) to display a
list of commands that can be used with the tool. As you might have expected,
the dirty command is the one that’s most relevant here. Here’s how it works:
To see whether drive G: is currently marked as dirty, type:
fsutil dirty query g:
To mark drive H: as dirty, so it will be scanned by Chkdsk the next time Windows starts, type:
fsutil dirty set h:
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When a volume is marked “dirty,” Windows scans it with Chkdsk automatically during the boot process. A drive can become dirty if it’s in use when
Windows crashes, or Chkdsk schedules a scan when you attempt to check a
disk that is in use. Not surprisingly, a drive not considered dirty is marked
Fsutil has been found to be unreliable when used on FAT or
FAT32 drives, so you may wish to use it only on more modern
NTFS volumes. (See the section “Choose the Right Filesystem” on page 317.)
Another utility, Chkntfs, is used to choose whether or not Windows runs
Chkdsk automatically at Windows startup, regardless of the so-called cleanliness of the drive. (It is not used to check NTFS drives as its name implies,
however.) Here’s how it works:
To display a dirty/clean report about any drive (say, drive G:), type:
chkntfs g:
To exclude drive H: from being checked when Windows starts (which is not
the default), type:
chkntfs /x h:
To include (un-exclude) drive H: in the drives to be checked when Windows
starts, type:
chkntfs /c h:
To force Windows to check drive H: the next time Windows starts, type:
chkntfs /c h:
fsutil dirty set h:
To include all drives on your system, thereby restoring Windows’ defaults,
chkntfs /d
Finally, when Windows detects a dirty drive, it starts a timed countdown (10
seconds by default), allowing you to skip Chkdsk by pressing a key. To change
the duration of this countdown to, say, five seconds, type:
chkntfs /t:5
The Registry location of the timeout setting is stored in the
AutoChkTimeOut value in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Cur
rentControlSet\Control\Session Manager key.
You’ll have to restart Windows for any of these changes to take effect.
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What to Do When a Program Crashes
Error messages are passé. When a program crashes, Windows doesn’t necessarily tell you that it has crashed. Rather, the program simply “stops responding.” This means that you can’t click any of the controls in its interface, save
your open document, nor (most importantly) close and reopen it easily. Sure,
Windows usually lets you move it around the screen, and sometimes even click
the Close button to end the task, but that’s about it. But these are also symptoms of an application that’s simply busy, caught up in the last task you asked
it to perform.
Annoyed that Windows insists on “searching for a solution”
after you close a crashed program? Although it’s true that
Windows finds solutions to some problems you report—if not
now, then eventually—it’s unlikely that Microsoft will come
up with a solution faster than the developer of the crashed
application will release an update. To turn off the “searching...” box, making it so you have only one window to close
instead of two, open the Action Center in Control Panel. Click
the Change Action Center settings link on the left and then
click the Problem reporting settings link below. Select the
Never check for solutions option and click OK.
So, how do you tell the difference between a crashed program and a busy one?
Well, Windows can’t even do that reliably, instead showing you a window
that looks like the one in Figure 6-6 when you try to close it. The solution is
to be patient and use your best instincts.
But patience only gets you so far. After waiting an intolerable length of time,
say, three to four seconds, one has to wonder whether the program will ever
start responding. If you’re through waiting, you can go ahead and elect to close
the program, a strategy that works some of the time.
Crashes and Error Messages | 371
Either way, triggered by your first attempt to use a crashed or busy program,
Windows turns the whole window pale while trying to communicate with it.
If you want to know whether a program has reached this state without triggering it with a click, just try moving the mouse over the edges of the window;
if the mouse cursor doesn’t change to the familiar “resize” arrows (and given
that it’s a resizable window), the program has probably stopped responding.
Figure 6-6. When you see this message, it means that Windows doesn’t know whether the
program you’re trying to use has crashed, or is simply busy
If an application window is visible, it’s easy enough to click
the small × button on the application title bar to close it. But
if it’s minimized, or if the main window isn’t responding at
all, right-click the program’s button on the taskbar and select
If closing doesn’t help, or if, after closing a window, you can’t open another
one, then it’s time to pay a visit to Task Manager, shown in Figure 6-7.
There are three ways to start Task Manager:
Right-click an empty area of the taskbar (or the clock) and select Start
Task Manager.
Press the Shift-Ctrl-Esc keys together.
Three-finger salute
If the taskbar and keyboard methods don’t work, then Windows itself is
crashed or busy. In this case, press Ctrl-Alt-Del to blank the screen and
show a special administrative menu, at which point you can click Start
Task Manager to launch it.
Although the Applications tab is inviting and easy to understand, it’s not too
helpful for this purpose. Choose the Processes tab, click the Show processes
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Figure 6-7. Choose the Processes tab in Task Manager to list all the programs running on
your PC, a necessary step if one of them has crashed and you need to close it (the hard way)
from all users button at the bottom (present only if UAC is in effect), and
then locate the crashed program in the list.
To find the program to close, sort the list. You can sort the list alphabetically
by filename (e.g., explorer.exe for Windows Explorer) by clicking the Image
Name column header. Or, sort by application title by clicking the
Description header. To show the full path and filenames for each running
process, open the View menu, click Select Columns, and turn on the Image
Path Name option.
Crashes and Error Messages | 373
There’s a funky bug in Windows 7’s Task Manager, but fortunately, it’s one that’s easy to fix. If your Task Manager appears with no title bar, menu, or tabs, just double-click the
thin gray border around the main list to bring them back. If
that doesn’t help, or if your mouse is unavailable, open the
Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Mic
rosoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\TaskManager and delete
the TaskManager key.
But for most hung applications—also known as “frozen” or “locked up”—it’ll
be most entertaining to sort by exactly how busy the program is. Click the
CPU column header twice (so its little arrow is pointing down) to sort by
processor usage (a percentage from 0 to 99), and the crashed program will
usually leap to the top of the list. For instance, if Windows Explorer has
crashed—unfortunately, such a common occurrence in Windows 7 and Vista
that a new term was invented for it, explained in “Green Ribbon of
Death” on page 380—its CPU usage will usually be in the high 80s! (Or, if
you have a dual-core processor, the CPU usage for a crashed program will be
closer to 50.)
Just highlight the program in the list and click End Process. Only after you
do this will you be able to reopen the application.
Windows Vista came with a nifty tool called the Windows
Defender Software Explorer, which was unfortunately removed for Windows 7. In its absence, you can use Task Manager to list processes in memory, or System Configuration
(msconfig.exe) and the free Autoruns tool to list programs that
start with Windows, all of which are covered in “Manage
Startup Programs” on page 362.
See “Shut Down Windows Quickly” on page 282 to configure how long Windows waits for a busy application to respond before it considers it crashed.
Programs commonly running in the background
Windows is basically just a collection of components, and at any given time,
some of those components may be loaded into memory and listed as running
processes in Task Manager. In fact, you’ll probably see more programs running
than you expected, especially after you click the Show processes from all
users button.
If you see a program you don’t recognize, don’t panic; it’s not necessarily malware, but then again, it’s not necessary legitimate. See Table 6-1 for a list of
those items commonly found on most Windows 7 systems.
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Table 6-1. Processes you should expect to find running on your system
Called the Client Server Runtime Process, csrss.exe is an essential Windows component, as it
handles the user-mode portion of the Win32 subsystem. It is also a common target for viruses,
so if this process appears to be consuming a lot of CPU cycles on your system, you should update
and run your antivirus software.
This is simply Windows Explorer, which is responsible for your desktop and Start menu. If this
program crashes or is closed, Windows will usually start it again automatically. If you see more
than one instance of explorer.exe, it means that folder windows are being launched as a separate
process, as explained in Chapter 2. If Windows Explorer crashes and you have to end the
process in Task Manager, select New Task from the File menu, type explorer, and click OK
to get your desktop and Start menu back.
This is the Local Security Authority subsystem, responsible for authenticating users on your
This program, the purpose of which is to launch a function in a DLL as though it were a separate
program, is used for about a million different things in Windows. Since it’s simply a loader for
other programs, it’s neither necessarily harmful nor benign.
This is the Windows NT Service Control Manager, and works similarly to svchost.exe, described
shortly. The difference is that services.exe runs services that are standalone processes while
svchost.exe runs services from DLLs.
Called the Windows NT Session Manager, smss.exe is an essential Windows component. Among
other things, it runs programs listed in the HKEY_ LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Current
ControlSet\Control\Session Manager key in the Registry.
This handles printing and print spooling (queuing).
This is the application responsible for launching most services (listed in services.msc). See the
upcoming sidebar “What Is Svchost?” on page 376 for details. See also services.exe.
This is the System process (ntoskrnl.exe), an essential Windows component.
System Idle
The “idle” process is a 16k loop, used to occupy all CPU cycles not consumed by other running
processes. The higher the number in the CPU column (99% being the maximum), the less your
processor is being used by the currently running programs.
This process manages security-related user interactions, such as logon and logoff requests,
locking or unlocking the machine, changing the password, and the remote Registry service.
This is responsible for WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) support in Windows 7,
also known as WBEM. Like csrss.exe, above, wmiprvse.exe is a common target for viruses, so if
this process appears to be consuming a lot of CPU cycles on your system, you should update
and run your antivirus software.
Crashes and Error Messages | 375
Naturally, you shouldn’t interfere with the components
Windows requires to operate while you’re looking for errant
programs or programs you can get along without. And just
because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean it isn’t required by your system, so use caution when ending a process
with which you’re unfamiliar.
What Is Svchost?
Svchost.exe and services.exe are responsible for launching the processes associated with the behind-the-scenes programs controlled by the Services
window (services.msc).
A single instance of svchost.exe may be responsible for a single service or
several. You should never interfere with any instances of svchost.exe or
services.exe you might see listed in Task Manager. Instead, use the Services
window to start or stop a service or choose whether or not a service is started
automatically when Windows starts.
Want to know what a specific instance of Svchost.exe or services.exe is doing?
In Task Manager, right-click the entry and select Go to Services(s) to jump
to the Services tab and automatically highlight the related running services.
If you’re using the Professional edition of Windows 7 or better, you can also
use the TaskList utility (tasklist.exe) to see which services are handled by any
given instance of svchost.exe. Just open a Command Prompt window
(cmd.exe), and type:
tasklist /svc
Then, match up the numbers in the PID column of TaskList’s output with
those in the PID column of Task Manager’s Processes tab.
See “Manage Startup Programs” on page 362 for tips on researching and identifying processes and programs you don’t recognize.
What to Do When a Program Won’t Start
Ever double-click an icon on your desktop, only to see the mouse cursor momentarily turn into the little spinning circle before it reverts to the arrow
pointer, with no newly opened application in sight? This is typically what
happens when a program won’t start, and this is not necessarily Windows’
One of these four things is usually responsible for preventing a program (or
software installer) from loading in Windows 7:
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User Account Control (UAC)
As explained in Chapter 8, Windows’ UAC feature is designed to prevent
malicious or poorly written applications from harming your PC.
Unfortunately, a program not specifically written for Vista or 7 won’t be
UAC-aware, and as a result, may close when UAC prevents it from doing
something like writing to its own folder in Program Files. Assuming there’s
no update available, you can usually run the program in administrator
mode to get it to start; see the section “Control User Account Control” on page 569 for details.
Written for an older version of Windows
Some programs—particularly those that interact with the operating system or rely on features only available in certain versions of Windows—
won’t load if your version of Windows isn’t on their preapproved list.
(This also applies to setup programs.) To get around this, right-click
any .exe file (or a shortcut to any .exe file), select Properties, and choose
the Compatibility tab. Turn on the Run this program in compatibility
mode for option, and from the list immediately underneath, choose a
Windows version you know to be supported by your software. Click OK
and then try running the program again.
Missing file or setting
Most applications require a laundry list of different support files—not to
mention a few dozen Registry settings to be in place—for them to function.
If the program worked at one point, but no longer does, it might need
nothing more than to be reinstalled. (This is particularly true of programs
that were installed on a previous version of Windows, and were simply
left intact when you upgraded to Windows 7.)
Software codecs, hardware drivers
Does the application interact with a hardware device? If so, you may need
a native Windows 7 or Vista driver before the support application will
work. Likewise, if you’re having trouble starting a video editing program
or movie player, one of your installed codecs (see Chapter 4) may be corrupt or incompatible with Windows 7.
Crashes and Error Messages | 377
Just because the program now thinks it’s running under,
say, Windows XP with Service Pack 2, doesn’t mean the
program will actually function correctly in Windows 7.
But much of the time, a little spoofing is all it takes. If
your app only functions properly in Windows XP, you
can use the special Windows XP Mode edition of Virtual
PC, covered in Chapter 1.
It’s a piece of junk
OK, maybe this is too harsh, but don’t discount the possibility that there’s
simply a bug in the software that is preventing it from running. Check the
software publisher’s website for an update, patch, or other workaround.
Software is an ever-evolving landscape, so don’t be surprised if you have to
eventually retire an old favorite because it just won’t run anymore. Of course,
your favorite is likely someone else’s, too, so it’s worth a quick web search to
see whether anyone else has come up with a trick to get your program running.
What to Do When an Application Won’t Uninstall
It’s not exactly fun when an application won’t uninstall, and yet can’t be reinstalled because remnants of a previous installation remain on your PC.
The most common problem is a broken link in the Programs and Features page
of Control Panel. Each entry here corresponds to a registry subkey of
So if all you want to do is remove an entry from the Programs and Features
page, just delete the respective subkey in the registry; see Chapter 3 for more
on deleting registry keys. But don’t delete the key if you actually want to run
the uninstaller and remove the software from your PC.
You’ll notice a bunch of subkeys at the top of the Uninstall key that have
names like class IDs (e.g., {50A0F899-A8B3-42B3-8494-BFD8276C785B}). If one of
these represents the program you want to uninstall, open the Start menu and
type this command into the Search box:
msiexec /x {50A0F899-A8B3-42B3-8494-BFD8276C785B} /q
where {50A0F899-A8B3-42B3-8494-BFD8276C785B} is the ID of the program to
If running msiexec.exe manually like this doesn’t work, the culprit may be a
corrupt installation. This is a common enough problem with Microsoft’s troublesome Windows Installer service—employed by many application developers including Microsoft—that Microsoft released a tool to fix it.
Start by downloading the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility, which you can
download from Run the program
(msicuu2.exe), select the application to remove from the list, and click the
Remove button.
378 | Chapter 6: Troubleshooting
Download from Wow! eBook
Removing an entry with the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility won’t actually remove the software from your PC, but
rather only erase the installer data from your registry. To subsequently complete removal of all the unwanted software,
you’ll need to install it fresh, and then uninstall it immediately
If your application doesn’t show up in the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility,
and its registry key isn’t of the form exemplified above, then it uses a thirdparty or proprietary installer. In this case, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer for removal instructions.
Quick Fixes for App Hiccups
Sometimes—and I know it’s hard to believe—it’s not Microsoft’s fault when
something goes wrong. It’s at those times programs like Enabler and Dud are
most useful.
Got an application with a disabled (grayed out) menu item or button that
shouldn’t be? Just run the free Windows Enabler utility, and then left-click its
icon in the notification area (taskbar tray). Thereafter, disabled controls in the
active window will become re-enabled, allowing you to click with abandon.
Of course, this doesn’t always work; some programs are smart (or dumb)
enough to forbid the action anyway, but it’s often worth a try.
Along these lines, it’s also worth mentioning ShutDownGuard, which can
prevent Windows from shutting down; it’s free, and available from http://code A similar app, Shut It (free from http://www, adds monitoring features that can automatically disrupt a
shutdown request if a particular program is running. With these apps, you
don’t have to worry about a rogue auto-updater or even malware rebooting
your PC without your approval.
Crashes and Error Messages | 379
Sometimes, an application insists on running a program even when it doesn’t
need to. A classic example is the software that comes with Canon flatbed
scanners: the program won’t let you scan an image into a file unless you specify
an application to open it with. The solution is Dud, free from http://www3, which does absolutely nothing. Just specify dud.exe as the
target app, and you’ll have trouble-free scanning. You should also be able to
replace any existing .exe or .dll file with dud.exe, and it’ll run (and exit) instead
of the offending program. Note that the author of Dud also has a companion
program, Replacer, which lets you replace an in-use file with dud.exe.
Figure 6-8. The Green Ribbon of Death, the harbinger of a Windows Explorer window that
has crashed (or is about to)
Green Ribbon of Death
Don’t you just love it when something is so notorious for a particular shortcoming that a new term is invented to describe it? It happened with the Blue
Screen of Death, described in the next section. It happened with the Spinning
Beach Ball of Death in Mac OS X. And it happened with the odd-number
curse, referring to every other Star Trek film.
It also happened with the Green Ribbon of Death (Figure 6-8), which debuted
in Vista and lives on in Windows 7.
The green ribbon is basically a progress bar, a screen element Microsoft has
otherwise gone to great pains to excise from Windows 7. But this particular
progress bar may be the harbinger of death for the active Windows Explorer
window, which, unfortunately, is not that uncommon.
The green progress bar inches across Windows Explorer’s address bar as Windows attempts to assemble a list of files to show for the current folder. Most
of the time, it’s only visible for a few seconds, if it shows up at all. The problem
occurs when it doesn’t go away, at which point Windows Explorer stops cooperating when you try to view another folder or cancel the progress by clicking
the little red × button next to the address bar.
What’s worse, if you try to open another Windows Explorer window, that one
is likely to malfunction, too, even if you closed the first one! The solution, temporary as it may be, is to close the seized explorer.exe process in Task Manager,
as described in “What to Do When a Program Crashes” on page 371. But if
you want to stop the Green Ribbon of Death from visiting you again, you’ll
have to take matters into your own hands.
There are basically four things that cause this problem:
Broken thumbnails
This is the most common cause of this problem, and also the easiest to
fix. Each time you view a folder containing photos (JPG, TIF files) or
movies (AVI, MPG, WMV files), Windows Explorer opens each one to
extract and build thumbnail previews for the file icons. If even one file in
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the folder is corrupted, or if one of the files makes use of a corrupted
codec on your system, Windows Explorer crashes.
To fix this problem, you need to do two things. First, figure out which file
is crashing Explorer. Of course, since you can’t view the folder in Explorer
without it crashing, you’ll have to turn off the thumbnails feature first. On
the System page in Control Panel, click Advanced system settings, and
then in the Performance box, click Settings. Turn off the Show thumbnails instead of icons option, and click OK.
By default, Windows Explorer caches your thumbnail
icons; if this cache is defective, Explorer may crash. To
fix the problem, see “Disable thumbnail caching” on page 236, delete the thumbs.db file, and then try
Crashes and Error Messages | 381
Next, open the folder and then test each of your media files. The video
that won’t play or the photo that won’t display is the likely culprit. Now
it’s just a matter of figuring out whether the file is corrupt, or the codec
needs to be fixed, as described in the beginning of Chapter 4. Either way,
move the file to a different folder and try re-enabling the Show thumbnails instead of icons option to see if Explorer can now read the folder.
Slow network access
When you open the Network folder to view other PCs on your LAN,
Windows Explorer sometimes takes a long time to show them all. See
Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 for help troubleshooting network connections
and shared folders.
Searching when files are changing
If you’re searching a folder, especially if you’re using the Include nonindexed option as described in Chapter 2, and another program is writing
files to that folder, the search results may repeatedly appear and disappear
while you stare at the green progress bar. To solve this problem, close the
Search window (or select a real folder in the tree) while programs are
saving files to your hard disk.
Copying files
Windows 7 is hopelessly slow at copying files in certain situations, two in
fact. (More on this in Chapter 2.)
First, the UAC feature forces Windows Explorer to evaluate the security
impact of each file you copy, and this has far-reaching consequences, particularly when you’re copying files over a network. See “Control User Account Control” on page 569 for more information.
And second, Windows 7 notoriously has trouble copying files to and
from USB devices. So, if you copy a folder full of images from your USB
card reader directly to your external USB hard disk, or move document
files from a USB flash drive to a shared network folder, Windows Explorer
may crash. There’s no easy fix to this one, but you can work around it by
copying files to your desktop first.
As explained above, you need to use Task Manager to close a crashed Windows
Explorer window. But if you want to be able to close a crashed window and
leave any other Explorer windows (and the desktop) intact, you’ll need to make
a change in Control Panel. Open Folder Options and choose the View tab. In
the Advanced settings list, turn on the Launch folder windows in a separate process option, and then click OK. From now on, when you see the Green
Ribbon of Death, it’ll only mean death for one of your Windows Explorer
windows, not all of them.
Blue Screen of Death
The Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) is aptly named. It’s blue, it fills the screen,
and it means death for whatever you were working on before it appeared.
Microsoft refers to BSoD errors as “Stop Messages,” a euphemism for the types
of crashes that are serious enough to bring down the entire system.
A single error is no cause for concern. Only if a BSoD error
happens a few times, or repeatedly, do you need to pursue any
of the solutions listed here.
By default, Windows restarts your computer as soon as the BSoD appears,
leaving almost no time to read the error message before it vanishes. To change
this, open the System page in Control Panel and click the Advanced system
settings link on the left side. In the Startup and Recovery box, click Settings, turn off the Automatically restart option, and click OK. You can also
see your BSoD errors in the Event Viewer (eventvwr.exe), provided you can
boot Windows.
If Windows won’t start, and you need to read the BSoD error message, use the
Disable automatic restart on system failure option, as described in “What
to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355.
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Alphabetical list of BSoD errors
There are a whole bunch of possible BSoD messages; probably more than a
hundred. However, only about 20 happen frequently enough that they might
imply that an actual problem exists. More than likely, you’ve seen at least one
of the following stop messages on your own system:
Crashes and Error Messages | 383
Attempted Write To Readonly Memory (stop code 0X000000BE)
A faulty driver or service is typically responsible for this error, as is outdated firmware. If the name of a file or service is specified, try uninstalling
the software (or rolling back the driver if it’s an upgrade). Check with the
manufacturer for firmware and driver updates.
Bad Pool Caller (stop code 0X000000C2)
Causes and remedies are similar to “Attempted Write To Readonly Memory.” Additionally, this error might also be the result of a defective
hardware device.
If you encounter this message while upgrading to Windows 7 (see Chapter 1), it may mean that one or more devices in your system are not
compatible with the new OS. Try disconnecting unnecessary devices, or
at least look for updated drivers and firmware. Also, disable any antivirus
software you may have running.
Data Bus Error (stop code 0X0000002E)
This can be caused by defective memory (see “Test for Bad Memory
(RAM)” on page 398), including system RAM, the Level 2 cache, or even
the memory on your video card. Other causes of this error include serious
hard disk corruption, buggy hardware drivers, or physical damage to the
motherboard. See “What to Do When Windows Won’t
Start” on page 355 for one way to test your PC’s memory.
Driver IRQL Not Less Or Equal (stop code 0X000000D1)
Drivers programmed to access improper hardware addresses typically
cause this error. Causes and remedies are similar to “Attempted Write To
Readonly Memory (stop code 0X000000BE),” earlier in this list.
Driver Power State Failure (stop code 0X0000009F)
This error is caused by an incompatibility between your computer’s power
management and one or more installed drivers or services, typically when
the computer enters the Hibernate state (discussed at length in Chapter 5). If the name of a file or service is specified, try uninstalling the
software (or rolling back the driver if it’s an upgrade). Or, try disabling
Windows’ support for Hibernation altogether. See Appendix A for BIOS
settings that may affect your PC’s support for power management features.
Driver Unloaded Without Cancelling Pending Operations (stop code
Causes and remedies are similar to “Attempted Write To Readonly Memory (stop code 0X000000BE),” earlier in this section.
Driver Used Excessive PTEs (stop code 0X000000D8)
Causes and remedies are similar to “No More System PTEs (stop code
0X0000003F),” later in this section.
Hardware Interrupt Storm (stop code 0X000000F2)
This error occurs when a hardware device (such as a USB or SCSI controller) fails to release an IRQ, a condition typically caused by a buggy
driver or firmware. This error can also appear if two devices are incorrectly
assigned the same IRQ (discussed later in this chapter). Sometimes just
moving an expansion card (desktop PCs only) from one slot to another
can fix this problem.
Inaccessible Boot Device (stop code 0X0000007B)
You may see this error during Windows startup if Windows cannot read
data from the system or boot partitions (described in Chapter 1). Faulty
disk controller drivers are often to blame, but this problem can also be
caused by hard disk errors.
If you have a multiboot system, a corrupt Boot Manager configuration
may cause this problem; see “Modify the Boot Manager configuration” on page 27 for details. If all is well with your drivers and your drive,
and you haven’t been messing with the Boot Manager, check your system
BIOS settings (described in Appendix A).
If you encounter this message while upgrading to Windows 7 (see Chapter 1), it may mean that one or more devices in your system are not compatible with the new OS. Try disconnecting unnecessary devices, or at
least look for updated drivers and firmware. Also, disable or update any
antivirus software you may have running.
Kernel Data Inpage Error (stop code 0X0000007A)
This error implies a problem with virtual memory (discussed in Chapter 5), most often in the case that Windows wasn’t able to read data from—
or write data to—the swap file. Possible causes include bad sectors, a virus,
bad memory, or physical damage to the motherboard or disk controller.
Kernel Stack Inpage Error (stop code 0X00000077)
Causes and remedies are similar to the previous entry, “Kernel Data Inpage
Error (stop code 0X0000007A).”
Kmode Exception Not Handled (stop code 0X0000001E)
A faulty driver or service is sometimes responsible for this error, as are
memory and IRQ conflicts, and faulty firmware. If the name of a file or
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Crashes and Error Messages | 385
service is specified, try uninstalling the software (or rolling back the driver
if it’s an upgrade).
If the Win32k.sys file is mentioned in the message, the cause may be thirdparty remote control software (discussed in Chapter 7).
This error can also be caused if you run out of disk space while installing
an application or if you run out of memory while using a buggy application
with a memory leak.
No More System PTEs (stop code 0X0000003F)
Page Table Entries (PTEs) are used to map RAM as it is divided into page
frames by the Virtual Memory Manager (VMM). This error usually means
that Windows has run out of PTEs.
Aside from the usual assortment of faulty drivers and services that can
cause all sorts of problems, this error can also occur if you’re using multiple
NTFS File System (stop code 0X00000024)
This is caused by a problem with Ntfs.sys, the driver responsible for reading and writing NTFS volumes (see Chapter 5). If you’re using the FAT32
filesystem, you may see a similar message (with stop code 0X00000023).
Causes include a faulty IDE or SCSI controller, improper SCSI termination, an overly aggressive virus scanner, or errors on the disk; try testing
your drive with Chkdsk, as described earlier in this chapter.
To investigate further, open the Event Viewer (eventvwr.msc), and look
for error messages related to SCSI or FASTFAT (in the System category),
or Autochk (in the Application category).
Page Fault In Nonpaged Area (stop code 0X00000050)
Causes and remedies are similar to “Attempted Write To Readonly Memory (stop code 0X000000BE),” earlier in this list.
Status Image Checksum Mismatch (stop code 0Xc0000221)
Possible causes for this error include a damaged swap file (see the discussion of virtual memory in “Optimize Virtual Memory and Cache Settings” on page 312), or a corrupted driver. See “Attempted Write To Readonly Memory (stop code 0X000000BE),” earlier in this section, for additional causes and remedies.
Status System Process Terminated (stop code 0Xc000021A)
This error indicates a problem with either Winlogon.exe or the Client
Server Runtime Subsystem (CSRSS). It can also be caused if a user with
administrator privileges has modified the permissions (see Chapter 8) of
certain system files such that Windows cannot read them. To fix the
problem, you’ll have to install a second copy of Windows 7 (see “Set Up
a Dual-Boot System” on page 26), and then repair the file permissions from
Thread Stuck In Device Driver (stop code 0X000000EA)
Also known as the infamous “infinite loop” problem, this nasty bug has
about a hundred different causes. What’s actually happening is that your
video driver has essentially entered an infinite loop because your video
adapter has locked up. Microsoft has posted a solution on its website that
involves disabling certain aspects of video acceleration, but I’ve never encountered an instance where this worked. Instead, try the following:
• If you’re using a desktop PC, try upgrading your computer’s power
supply. A power supply of poor quality or insufficient wattage will be
unable to provide adequate power to all your computer’s components,
and may result in a “brown out” of sorts in your system. Note that
newer, more power-hungry video adapters are more susceptible to this
problem. See “Don’t Overlook the Power Supply” on page 401.
• Make sure you have the latest driver for your video card. If you older
driver to see whether that solves the problem.
• Make sure you have the latest driver for your sound card, if applicable.
Also, make sure your sound card is not in a slot immediately adjacent
to your video card (desktop PCs only), lest the resulting interference or
heat disrupt the operation of either card.
• Inspect your video card and motherboard for physical damage.
• For desktop PCs only: make sure your video card is properly seated in
its PCI-E, AGP, or PCI slot. If applicable, try moving it to a different
slot. Next, try messing with some of your system’s BIOS settings, especially those concerning your video card slot or video subsystem, as
described in Appendix A. For example, if your AGP slot is set to 8x
mode, and your video adapter only supports 1x AGP mode, then you’ll
want to change the setting accordingly.
• Make sure your computer and your video card are adequately cooled.
Overheating can cause your video card’s chipset to lock up.
• Check with the manufacturer of your motherboard for newer drivers
for your motherboard chipset.
For example, the “infinite loop” problem is common among motherboards with VIA chipsets and nVidia-based video cards. Visit the VIA
website ( for updated drivers and
additional solutions.
• Try replacing your system’s driver for the Processor-to-AGP Controller. Open Device Manager (devmgmt.msc), expand the System
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If you get repeated BSoD errors, and the previous remedies don’t work, try
installing a second copy of Windows on your PC, as described in “Set Up a
Dual-Boot System” on page 26. If the second copy of Windows exhibits the
same problem, then the cause is your hardware. But if the second copy runs
well, then your best bet is to copy your data over to the new installation, and
abandon the old OS.
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware
A driver is the software that allows Windows and all of your applications to
work with a hardware device, such as a printer or video card. That way, for
example, your word processor doesn’t need to be preprogrammed with the
details of all available printers (as in the early days of PCs). Instead, Windows
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 387
devices branch, and double-click the entry corresponding to your Processor-to-AGP Controller. Choose the Driver tab, and click Update
Driver to choose a new driver. Unless you can get a newer driver from
the manufacturer of your motherboard chipset, try installing the generic “PCI standard PCI-to-PCI bridge” driver shown in the Hardware
Update Wizard.
• If your motherboard has an on-board Ethernet adapter, try disabling
the PXE Resume/Remote Wake Up option in your system BIOS (see
Appendix A).
Unexpected Kernel Mode Trap (stop code 0X0000007F)
Typical causes of this error include defective memory, physical damage to
the motherboard, and excessive processor heat due to overclocking (running the CPU faster than its specified clock speed).
Unmountable Boot Volume (stop code 0X000000ED)
This means that Windows was unable to mount the boot volume, which,
if you have more than one drive, is the drive containing Windows (see
Chapter 1 for more information on the boot and system volumes). This
can be caused by using the wrong cable with a high-throughput IDE controller (more than 33 MB/second); try an 80-pin cable instead of the
standard 40-pin cable. See also “Inaccessible Boot Device (stop code
0X0000007B),” earlier in this list.
Stop code 0x0000008E
This error, which typically has no title, is often caused by bad memory.
But it could also be the result of a rootkit infestation, described in “Viruses,
Malware, and Spyware” on page 344.
manages a central database of drivers, silently directing the communication
among all your applications and whatever drivers are required to complete the
task at hand.
Problems arise when a driver is buggy or outdated, or one of the files that
comprise a driver is missing or corrupted. Outdated drivers designed either for
a previous version of Windows or a previous version of the device can create
problems. Additionally, manufacturers must continually update their drivers
to fix incompatibilities and bugs that surface after the product is released. It’s
usually a good idea to make sure you have the latest drivers installed in your
system when troubleshooting a problem. Furthermore, newer drivers sometimes offer improved performance, added features and settings, better stability
and reliability, and better compatibility with other software and drivers installed in your system.
The other thing to be aware of is that some drivers may just not be the correct
ones for your system. For example, when installing Windows, Setup may have
incorrectly detected your video card or monitor and hence installed the wrong
driver (or even a generic driver). A common symptom for this is if Windows
does not allow you to display as many colors or use as high a resolution as the
card supports. Make sure that Device Manager (devmgmt.msc) lists the actual
devices, by name, that you have installed in your system.
Device drivers worth investigating include those for your video card, monitor,
motherboard chipset, network adapter, and any USB devices you may have.
If you’re not sure of the exact manufacturer or model number of a device installed inside your computer, take off the cover of your computer and look, or
refer to the invoice or documentation that came with your system.
How to Add Hardware
Windows 7 comes with a huge assortment of drivers for hardware available at
the time of its release, but as time passes, more third-party devices are released,
requiring drivers of their own. The first rule is to never use the disc that comes
with a device, but rather go straight to the manufacturer’s website for the latest
version. That said, hardware installation in Windows 7 is pretty straightforward…that is, when it works. When it doesn’t, Windows is no help.
Now, you’ve probably discovered the Add a device link in the Devices and
Printers page in Control Panel, and while it seems inviting enough, it’s not
what you need. Any modern hardware that’s working properly will identify
itself to Windows as soon as you connect it—or in some cases, as soon as you
boot Windows—at which point Windows will do the rest. Never try to do it
the other way around; it will always end in tears.
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But what happens if Windows doesn’t detect your new device? First, open the
Troubleshooting page in Control Panel, click Hardware and Sound, and then
click the Hardware and Devices entry to open the Hardware and Devices
troubleshooter. Click the Advanced link, turn off the Apply repairs automatically option, and then click Next.
After a brief interlude, Windows will prompt you to “Select the repairs you
want to apply,” followed by a list. Unless one of the entries precisely matches
your problem, turn off all repairs except Scan for recent hardware
changes, and then click Next.
If you want to do this more quickly, open Device Manager
(devmgmt.msc, also in Control Panel) and select the first entry
(the name of your PC). From the Action menu, select Scan
for hardware changes and wait to see what appears.
If Windows doesn’t detect your newly-connected hardware, it’s likely that it’s
not connected all that well. For instance, if it’s a USB device, your USB port
may be disconnected or malfunctioning; try a different port if possible. Also
check your BIOS settings (see Appendix A) and make sure all your ports are
Update a driver
These are often symptoms of a driver problem, and this can be fixed. (Of
course, it may also be an errant BIOS setting, as described in Appendix A, or
a problem with the hardware itself…but usually, it’s the driver.)
To see what driver a device is currently using, double-click the device in Device
Manager and choose the Driver tab. An easy (but certainly not foolproof) way
to tell whether you’re using the driver that came with Windows 7 is to look at
the driver date—it should be July 13, 2009 (for the initial release, that is)—
and its version number should be 6.1.7600.xxxxx. If not, it probably came from
another source, such as from a driver disk, from the Web, from Windows
Update, or from a previous installation of Windows. Drivers with newer dates
are usually—but not always—more recent, but the date alone is not a reliable
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 389
In nearly all cases, Device Manager will show an entry for the device you’re
installing, whether it’s working or not. If the device isn’t working, either its
parent branch will pop open automatically with a teensy, yellow exclamation
point over its icon, or the device will appear in the Unknown Devices branch,
as shown in Figure 6-9.
Figure 6-9. Here are two signs that Windows isn’t loading the driver for your device
Click the Driver Details button to view the files in use by the driver. Sometimes a driver won’t load merely because one of the files listed here is missing
or broken—a problem updating the driver, discussed next, doesn’t always fix.
Instead, uninstall and reinstall the device, as described later in this chapter.
Recently updated a driver? In Device Manager, use the Roll
Back Driver button to undo the latest update. For even better
protection, use Double Driver, free from http://www.boozet
.org/dd.htm, to maintain an archive of drivers for your hardware, and never let another errant driver update ruin your day.
Also available is DriverMax (free, http://www.innovative-sol
.com/drivermax/), which also makes it easy to copy driver files
from one PC to another—useful for when you can no longer
find the installer.
To install a new driver for a device, right-click the device in Device Manager
and select Update Driver Software. When prompted, point to the folder
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containing the latest and greatest driver you’ve just obtained from the manufacturer’s website and, if necessary, extracted from a Zip file.
Or, to start over, right-click the device and select Uninstall. Then, from the
Action menu, select Scan for hardware changes.
When troubleshooting a device, don’t forget to update the firmware, as explained in “Firmware: Software for Your Hardware”, the next sidebar.
Firmware: Software for Your Hardware
User-upgradable firmware is a feature found in many modern devices, including hard disks, printers, video cards, and, of course, your PC’s motherboard. Firmware is software stored in the device itself, used to control most
hardware functions. Although it’s not possible to, say, increase a hard disk’s
capacity by upgrading its firmware, it is possible to improve performance and
fix bugs in devices like wireless routers, DVD recorders, motherboards, and
even digital cameras.
The beauty of firmware is that if you purchase a peripheral and the manufacturer subsequently improves the product, you can usually update the firmware
to upgrade the product.
When a device isn’t working or a driver won’t install, go to the hardware
manufacturer’s website and look for a firmware update. Since there’s no
standard method of upgrading firmware, be sure to get the firmware upgrade
utility and installation instructions from the website as well.
There’s a bug in Windows 7 that makes it seem like it has amnesia. You plug
in a device—even one you’ve used before—and after quite a long time of
thinking about it, Windows complains that it can’t find the driver. This is
particularly disconcerting when it’s a common device like a hard disk or a USB
card reader. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to fix.
The problem is that Windows maintains a cache of its driver locations, and
for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Windows won’t abandon the cache when
it becomes corrupted. Such is the case here.
To clear the driver cache, open Windows Explorer, and navigate to the C:
\Windows\inf folder. If you see a file named INFCACHE.1, delete it immediately. If Windows won’t let you delete the file, see the section “Delete In-Use
Files” on page 104.
When you’ve excised the file, try uninstalling and then reinstalling the misbehaving device to reinstall the driver. For real this time.
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 391
What to do when Windows can’t find a common driver
What to do when Windows can’t find an obscure driver
Trying to get Windows 7 to recognize an old piece of hardware is like trying
to reason with a toddler: it’s usually not worth the trouble, but that doesn’t
stop us from trying.
The first task is to identify the device. If it’s an external unit, this is usually as
easy as reading the label on the back. But for internal devices and generic
hardware, sometimes a little detective work is in order. Open Device Manager
(devmgmt.msc), double-click the driverless device in question, and choose the
Details tab. From the Property list, select the Device Instance Path, and
you’ll see something like this:
Here, VID represents the vendor ID (manufacturer) and PID is the product
ID (model number). Armed with this new information, a few creative Google
searches should turn up an appropriate driver.
So what happens when you find a driver, but it won’t install, citing an incompatibility with your version of Windows? In some cases, you can extract the
driver files and install them manually, like this:
1. Run the setup program to begin installation.
2. When the first dialog window appears, leave it open and fire up a Windows
Explorer window.
3. Navigate to your Temp folder (see “Start Windows in Less
Time” on page 270) and look for an .msi file, either in the main Temp
folder or one of its subfolders.
4. Copy (but don’t move) the .msi file to a new folder.
5. Go back to the setup wizard from step 2, and click Cancel.
6. Open a Command Prompt window in Administrator mode (see Chapter 8), and use the CD command (Chapter 9) to change the working directory to the folder containing the .msi file (from step 4).
7. Type this command to extract the files to the current folder:
msiexec /a "setup.msi" /qb targetdir=.
where setup.msi is the filename of the .msi file. Close the Command
Prompt window when you’re done.
8. Return to Device Manager, right-click the device in question, and select
Update Driver Software.
9. On the page that appears, click Browse my computer for driver software, and then click Browse to locate the folder containing the extracted
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These steps will give your device the best chance at working, but don’t be
surprised if the driver—even after being successfully installed—still doesn’t
work with Windows 7.
Install a 32-bit driver on 64-bit Windows
Some drivers have no binary files (e.g., .dll, .sys, .exe), and instead are nothing
but .inf files that contain information about the device. (Monitor drivers are
an example of such a device.) Even so, the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 won’t
even attempt to install a .inf file intended for 32-bit Windows.
To force 64-bit Windows to accept the driver, just open the .inf file in a text
editor like Notepad, and look for the [Manufacturer] section, like this:
add a comma and then the text NTamd64 to the end, like this:
Next, find a section that matches the manufacturer (in this case, [Sony]):
%SDM-P234%=SDM-P234.Install, Monitor\SNY03D0
%SDM-P234D%=SDM-P234D.Install, Monitor\SNY02D0
Highlight this section, press Ctrl-C to copy, and then paste (Ctrl-V) a second
copy of the text immediately following the first. Then, add a period and then
the text NTamd64 to the end of the new section, like this:
%SDM-P234%=SDM-P234.Install, Monitor\SNY03D0
%SDM-P234D%=SDM-P234D.Install, Monitor\SNY02D0
When you’re done, save the file and try installing again.
Stop Plug and Play from detecting devices
One of the problems with Plug and Play (PnP) is its tendency to detect and
load drivers for devices you don’t want to use. Although there is no way to
prevent the Windows PnP feature from detecting and installing drivers for
some devices, you can disable most devices that may be causing conflicts.
To disable a device and prevent Windows from detecting it again, right-click
it in Device Manager (devmgmt.msc), and select Disable. A red × then appears
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 393
%SDM-P234%=SDM-P234.Install, Monitor\SNY03D0
%SDM-P234D%=SDM-P234D.Install, Monitor\SNY02D0
over the device’s icon to signify that it has been disabled. You can later reenable the device by right-clicking and selecting Enable.
Uninstall drivers for devices you no longer use
By default, Device Manager doesn’t show devices that are no longer connected
to your computer, even if the drivers for those devices are still installed and
taking up space on your drive. This makes it terribly difficult to remove those
drivers without either reattaching the device or showing “hidden” devices.
In Device Manager, you can select Show hidden devices from the View menu,
but all this will add to the listing are non-PnP devices. To have Device Manager
show all hidden devices, including drivers for long-forgotten hardware, follow
these steps:
1. Open the System page in Control Panel, and then click the Advanced
system settings link on the left.
2. Click the Environment Variables button.
3. In the lower System variables section, click New.
4. Type devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices for the Variable name, and enter
1 for the Variable value. Click OK when you’re done, and click OK to
close the System Properties window.
5. If Device Manager is open, close and reopen it.
6. In Device Manager, select Show hidden devices from the View menu.
Hidden devices (sometimes called ghosted devices) now appear in Device
Manager with grayed-out icons. Other than the fact that they represent nonpresent hardware, these hidden entries should behave normally, in that you
can uninstall them or change their properties like those for any other devices.
Interpret Device Manager Errors
From time to time, Device Manager will report a problem with one of your
devices by marking it with a yellow exclamation mark (!) or a red ×. Here are
the common error messages you’ll see when you double-click entries for malfunctioning devices, along with their respective remedies:
This device is not configured correctly (Code 1).
This is a driver problem; click Update Driver to install a new driver.
Windows could not load the driver for this device... (Code 2).
Again, try installing a new driver. If that doesn’t work, contact the manufacturer of your motherboard for a BIOS update.
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The driver for this device may be bad, or your system may be running low on
memory or other resources (Code 3).
Try removing the device (right-click and select Uninstall), restarting
Windows, and then reinstalling the driver.
This device is not working properly because one of its drivers may be bad, or your
registry may be bad (Code 4).
Of course, try updating the drivers. (Laughably, Microsoft may suggest
running Scanregw.exe, a program designed for Windows Me and not included in Windows 7, to fix this error.) If a new driver doesn’t fix the
problem, try the solution for Code 3, just discussed.
The driver for this device requested a resource that Windows does not know how
to handle (Code 5).
Remove the device (right-click and select Uninstall), disconnect it, and
then plug it back in and wait while Windows rediscovers and installs the
Another device is using the resources this device needs (Code 6).
You’ll see this error if you’ve installed a device that doesn’t support PnP.
Tsk tsk.
The drivers for this device need to be reinstalled (Code 7).
Click Update Driver to reinstall the drivers. Duh.
This device is not working properly because Windows cannot load... (Code 8).
This may indicate a missing or damaged .inf file, located in the \Windows
\INF folder, which may make it difficult to reinstall the driver for this
device. If the Reinstall Device button doesn’t work or is absent, and installing drivers provided by the manufacturer fails, see “What to do when
Windows can’t find a common driver” on page 391. If that doesn’t work,
contact the manufacturer for manual driver removal instructions.
This device is not working properly because the BIOS in your computer is reporting the resources for the device incorrectly (Code 9).
This indicates a problem with your motherboard’s support for ACPI
power management (discussed in Chapter 5). Check with the manufacturer of your motherboard for a BIOS update. Next, try removing the device (right-click and select Uninstall) and then restarting Windows.
This device is either not present, not working properly, or does not have all the
drivers installed (Code 10).
If the device is a PCI or ISA card inserted in your computer (desktop PCs
only), make sure it’s firmly seated in its slot. Otherwise, make sure it’s
plugged in and powered up. If it’s an external device, try turning it off and
then on again. Then, of course, try removing the drivers (right-click and
select Uninstall) and then run reconnect to reinstall.
Windows stopped responding while attempting to start this device, and therefore
will never attempt to start this device again (Code 11).
Windows may disable devices that prevent it from loading. To re-enable
this device, right-click the device name and select Uninstall, and then
restart Windows.
This device cannot find any free {type} resources to use (Code 12).
See the solution for error code 6.
This device is either not present, not working properly, or does not have all the
drivers installed (Code 13).
See the solution for error code 10.
This device cannot work properly until you restart your computer (Code 14).
Do I really need to tell you what to do here?
This device is causing a resource conflict (Code 15).
See the solution for error code 10.
Windows could not identify all the resources this device uses (Code 16).
Right-click the device, select Properties, and then choose the Resources tab. You may have to fill in some information provided by your hardware documentation. See also the solution for error code 10.
The driver information file {name} is telling this child device to use a resource
that the parent device does not have or recognize (Code 17).
You’ll need to obtain and install newer drivers for this device.
The drivers for this device need to be reinstalled (Code 18).
See the solution for error code 7.
Your registry may be bad (Code 19).
This extremely helpful message will appear if there is any corrupt data in
your Registry pertaining to this device. Note that if you restart Windows,
it may revert to an earlier copy of your Registry, which you may nor may
not want to happen. See Chapter 3 for help with backing up your Registry
before you do anything else. Uninstalling and then reinstalling the driver
may help here.
Windows could not load one of the drivers for this device (Code 20).
The driver you’re using is likely designed for an earlier version of Windows; contact the manufacturer of the device for a driver written explicitly
for Windows 7.
Windows is removing this device (Code 21).
This temporary message will appear immediately after you’ve attempted
to uninstall a device. Close the Properties window, wait a minute or two,
and then try again. If it doesn’t go away, try restarting Windows.
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This device is disabled (Code 22, version 1).
This means you’ve manually disabled the device by right-clicking and
selecting Disable. Click Enable Device to re-enable the device. If you
can’t enable the device, try removing it (right-click and select Uninstall)
and then restarting Windows.
This device is not started (Code 22, version 2).
Some devices can be stopped, either manually or via their drivers. Click
Start Device to re-enable the device. If this persists, look for updated
drivers, and see whether the device has any power management features
you can disable.
This display adapter is functioning correctly (Code 23).
Despite the fact that the message states the device is functioning correctly,
there’s obviously a problem. This typically occurs in systems with two
display adapters (video cards), wherein one doesn’t fully support being
installed in a system with two display adapters (desktop PCs only). Try
updating the drivers for both cards, and look for an updated BIOS for
either card. You can also try physically swapping the two cards.
This device is either not present, not working properly, or does not have all the
drivers installed (Code 24).
See the solution for error code 10.
Windows is in the process of setting up this device (Code 25 and Code 26).
You’ll see this if Windows is waiting until the next time it starts to complete the installation of the drivers for this device. Restart Windows to use
the device. Note that you may have to restart twice. If that doesn’t help,
remove the device (right-click and select Uninstall), restart Windows one
more time, and then try again.
Windows can’t specify the resources for this device (Code 27).
See the solution for error code 16.
The drivers for this device are not installed (Code 28).
Click Reinstall Driver to install the drivers currently on your system, or
obtain new drivers from the manufacturer of the device.
This device is disabled because the BIOS for the device did not give it any resources
(Code 29).
This message appears for devices on your motherboard—such as onboard hard disk controllers, network adapters, or video adapters—that
have been disabled in your computer’s BIOS setup. See Appendix A for
more information. (Note that this error may also appear for devices not
on your motherboard, in which case you’d need to change the settings in
the device firmware to fix the problem.)
This device is using an Interrupt Request (IRQ) resource that is in use by another
device and cannot be shared (Code 30).
See the solution for error code 10.
This device is not working properly because {device} is not working properly
(Code 31).
This means that the device is dependent on another device (or driver). For
instance, this message may appear for a joystick (game) port that is physically installed on a sound card that’s having problems. To fix this error,
troubleshoot the hardware on which this device is dependent.
Windows cannot install the drivers for this device because it cannot access the
drive or network location that has the setup files on it (Code 32).
First, restart your computer. If that doesn’t fix the problem, manually copy
said drivers directly to a new folder on your hard disk, and try installing
them from their new location.
This device isn’t responding to its driver (Code 33).
This may indicate a problem with the hardware, or simply a bad driver.
Start by removing the device (right-click and select Uninstall), restarting
Windows, and then reinstalling the drivers. If that doesn’t help, you may
have a dead device on your hands.
Currently, this hardware device is not connected to the computer (Code 45).
This message will appear for any hidden or ghosted device, shown when
you select View→Show Hidden Devices in Device Manager. This means
the driver is installed, but the hardware has been physically disconnected
or removed (or at least Windows thinks it has).
Test for Bad Memory (RAM)
Bad memory can manifest itself in anything from frequent error messages and
crashes to your system simply not starting. Errors in your computer’s memory
(RAM) aren’t always consistent, either; they can be intermittent and can get
worse over time.
Problems due to using the wrong kind of memory are not uncommon; odds
are your friend’s old memory modules not only won’t work in your system,
but they’re probably responsible for that burning smell, too. See the sidebar
“How to Buy Memory” on page 400 for details.
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Not sure what kind of memory is in your PC? Download the
free SIW utility from
.html. Run the program and choose the Memory item in the
Hardware tree to see the manufacturer, capacity, speed, form
factor and other vital details of your installed RAM modules.
So, you suspect a memory problem? The first thing to do is pull out each
memory module and make sure there isn’t any dust or other obstruction between the pins and your motherboard (use a microfiber cloth or lens-cleaning
paper; don’t use any liquids or solvents). Look for broken or bent sockets,
metal filings or other obstructions, and, of course, any smoke or burn marks.
Make sure all your modules are seated properly; they should snap into place
and should be level and firm (don’t break them testing their firmness, of
If all that is in order, there are two ways to determine whether your RAM is
actually faulty: test it or swap it out.
The easiest and least-effective memory test is the one your PC does for you;
see Appendix A for the BIOS setting that disables “quick start,” which is necessary to perform a full memory test each time you boot your PC.
For a more thorough test, use the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool,
mentioned in “What to Do When Windows Won’t Start” on page 355.
If testing has revealed a problem, it’s time for a trip to your local computer
store or web store to spend some money. It may only be necessary to buy a
single additional module (assuming you’ve already got more than one), because most likely only one module in your system is actually faulty. Next,
systematically replace each module in your computer with the one you’ve just
acquired, and test the system by turning it on. If the problem seems to be
resolved, you’ve most likely found the culprit—throw it out immediately. If
the system still crashes, try replacing the next module with the new one, and
repeat the process. If you replace all the memory in your system and the problem persists, there may be more than one faulty memory module, or the problem may lie elsewhere, such as a bad CPU or motherboard (or you may even
find that you’re not using the correct memory in the first place).
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For best results, use Memtest86+, available free from http://www.memtest
.org/. (Avoid releases of Memtest86 earlier than version 4.0—those without
the plus + moniker—as they have trouble with some multicore CPUs and more
than 4GB of RAM.) To use the program, download the latest ISO file and burn
it to a CD (see Chapter 4). Then, boot your PC with the CD, as described in
Chapter 1.
You can, of course, also take this opportunity to add more memory to your
system (possibly replacing all your existing modules). Adding memory is one
of the best ways to improve overall system performance; see the sidebar “How
to Buy Memory” for more information.
How to Buy Memory
There are no two ways about it: the more memory, the better (at least up to
a point). Adding more memory to a computer will almost always result in
better performance, and will help reduce crashes as well. Windows loads
drivers, applications, and documents into memory until it’s full; once there’s
no more memory available, Windows starts pulling large chunks of information out of memory and storing them on your hard disk to make room for the
applications that need memory more urgently. Because your hard disk is substantially slower than memory, this “swapping” noticeably slows down your
system. The more memory you have, the less frequently Windows will use
your hard disk in this way, and the faster your system will be. (See “Optimize
Virtual Memory and Cache Settings” on page 312 for more information on
this mechanism.)
The nice thing about memory is that it’s a cheap and easy way to improve
performance. When Windows 3.x was in wide use, 32 MB of RAM cost
around a thousand dollars. Modules 32 times that size today cost less than a
ticket to the movies.
The type of memory you should get depends solely on what your motherboard
demands. To find out which type of memory you should use, try to get recommendations for specific brands and part numbers from your motherboard/
PC manufacturer. You can also visit a reputable memory manufacturer’s website and get recommendations for your specific PC or motherboard; one of
the best such sites is
That simply leaves one thing to think about: quantity. In short, get as much
memory as you can afford. Like everything else, though, there is a point of
diminishing returns. 1 GB (1,024 MB) is the absolute lowest amount you
should tolerate on a Windows 7 system, but 3-4 GB is better. As described in
Chapter 1, though, you’ll need the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 if you want
to make use of 4 or more GB of RAM.
How to handle too much memory
There is one situation in which the right kind of memory may still not work
properly in a PC, even when there’s nothing technically wrong with it. Despite
what your computer’s marketing literature may promise, you may encounter
problems if you install too much memory in your PC. (It’s worth mentioning
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that this problem is more typical of desktop PCs, as laptops rarely have more
than one or two memory slots.)
The 32-bit edition of Windows 7—or rather any 32-bit operating system—has a limitation on the amount of memory it
will recognize. As explained in Chapter 1, you’ll need the 64bit edition of Windows 7 if you want to make use of 4 GB or
more of RAM. The most 32-bit Windows can use is about
3 GB.
Say your motherboard has four slots for RAM, each of which (the manual
states) supports memory modules of up to 8 GB. This means, at least in theory,
that you could install 32 GB of memory in your PC. So why won’t Windows
boot when you fill all four slots?
Imagine a pickup truck; you pick the color. The manufacturer says it has a
towing capacity (how heavy a trailer it can pull) of 6,000 pounds. But when
you’re towing 6,000 pounds, you can’t necessarily go 65 mph on the freeway
without scaring a whole lot of other drivers. Perhaps 35 mph on a side road
makes more sense.
Computer memory works the same way. You may be able to run 4 or even
8 GB of RAM without a problem, but fill all those slots, and something else
has to give.
To change the timing for your memory, you’ll need to dive into your PC’s
BIOS setup, covered in Appendix A. Unfortunately, some trial and error is
inevitable with something like memory timing; expect to restart your PC a
dozen or so times until you find values that work.
Don’t Overlook the Power Supply
Every time I encounter a problem that seems to have no reasonable explanation
(on a desktop PC, that is), the culprit has been the power supply. I’m beginning
to think it’s a conspiracy.
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 401
Turns out, the compromise you’ll need to make is the memory speed. In order
to fill up your motherboard, you’ll probably need to slow down your memory,
which, unfortunately, negates some of the speed gains that much memory
might otherwise provide. The specific memory times you’ll need vary widely
among memory types and motherboard manufacturers, but it’s a common
enough problem that a quick search online may reveal some memory timings
known to work. The manufacturer of your memory will probably also have
some recommendations.
Say, all of a sudden, one of your storage devices (hard disk, tape drive, etc.)
starts malfunctioning, either sporadically or completely. You try removing and
reinstalling the drivers (if any), you replace all the cables, and you take out all
the other devices. You may even completely replace the device with a brandnew one—and it still doesn’t work. Odds are your power supply needs to be
Your computer’s power supply powers all of your internal devices, as well as
some of your external ones (i.e., the keyboard, the mouse, and most USB devices). If your power supply isn’t able to provide adequate power to all your
hardware, one or more of those devices will suffer.
The power supplies found in most computers are extremely cheap, a fact that
ends up being the cause of most power supply problems. This means that it
doesn’t make too much sense to replace one cheap unit with another cheap
unit, even if the replacement has a higher wattage rating.
Power supplies are rated by the amount of power they can provide (in watts);
most computers come with 200–300W supplies, but many power users end
up needing 350–400W. The problem with power ratings, however, is that most
of those cheap power supplies don’t hold up under the load. A cheap 400W
unit may drop under 300W when you start connecting devices, but better
supplies can supply more than enough power for even the most demanding
systems, and will continue to provide reliable operations for years to come. A
well-made power supply will also be heavy and have multiple fans, as well as
being a bit more expensive than the landfill fodder lining most store shelves.
Possible exceptions are portable computers, which usually don’t have userreplaceable power supplies. However, the need for increased power is
generally only applicable to a desktop system that can accommodate several
additional internal devices, so the matter is pretty much moot on a laptop.
Fix USB Power Management Issues
Power management is a common cause of USB problems; if Windows is able
to shut down your USB controller to save power, it sometimes won’t be able
to power it back up again, which will prevent some USB devices (especially
scanners) from working.
To prevent Windows from “managing” power to your USB controller or devices, follow these steps:
1. Open Device Manager (devmgmt.msc).
2. Expand the Universal Serial Bus controllers branch.
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3. Double-click the USB Root Hub device, and choose the Power Management tab. (If there’s more than one USB Root Hub device, repeat
these steps for each one.)
4. Turn off the Allow the computer to turn off this device to save
power option, and click OK when you’re done.
See “Start Windows Instantly (Almost)” on page 274 for other power management issues.
Fix Printer Problems
What was once a source of lots of frustration in Windows computing—
installing a printer—is now a fairly simple task. Gone are the awful parallel
cables; in their place are reliable USB cables and built-in wireless network
connections. But there are two quirks in Windows 7 that can cause printing
headaches, even with the latest printers and the friendliest plug-and-play drivers you ever did see.
The first hurdle, one you’ll likely have to jump as well if you’re trying to get a
printer to work, is to clear the print queue. The queue is the collection of
documents waiting to be printed by a particular printer. For years, the print
queue has been a lousy tool in Windows, and Windows 7 doesn’t make things
any better. Try to delete (cancel) one or more documents queued to be printed
by a malfunctioning printer, for instance, and you’ll wait an eternity before
Windows actually removes the entry from the list.
The next problem with Windows 7 is that there’s no obvious way to uninstall
a printer driver, which is the #1 ingredient in the fix-my-printer soufflé. Sure,
you can delete any printer by right-clicking its icon in the Devices and Printers
page of Control Panel and selecting Remove device. But this won’t remove
the driver software from your PC, only the device instance from Control Panel.
And the next thing you know, the device will reappear, thanks to plug-andplay, with the same buggy driver that prompted you to remove it in the first
To fix the problem, open the Print Server Properties window. Assuming at least
one printer currently appears in your Devices and Printers list, select it and
Dealing with Drivers and Other Tales of Hardware Troubleshooting | 403
The solution is to forcibly clear the print queue. First, open the Services window (services.msc), right-click the Print Spooler service, and select Stop to
halt the service. Next, open Windows Explorer, navigate to the \Windows
\System32\spool\printers\ folder, and delete all the files therein. When the
printers folder is empty, return to the Services window, right-click the Print
Spooler service, and select Start to start the service once again.
then click the Print server properties button in the ribbon across the top of
the window. (If the button isn’t there, open your Start menu, and in the
Search box, type printui /s /t2 and press Enter.)
You can’t remove a printer driver if there’s a printer still using
it. Make sure you delete the printer instance from the Devices
and Printers window before you proceed.
Next, choose the Drivers tab, select the driver to uninstall, and click Remove. On the Remove Driver and Package window, select Remove driver
and driver package, and then click OK. Click Yes to indicate that you’re
absolutely, positively certain you want to delete this crappy driver, and then
click Delete on the next window to actually go through with it. Whew!
When you’re done, restart Windows and then try connecting your printer
again; this time, it’ll prompt you for a driver, at which point you can install
something that works.
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery
Face it: some sort of data loss is inevitable. Whether it’s a single lost file or a
dead hard disk—whether it’s tomorrow or 12 years from now—it will happen.
On that happy note, there is plenty you can do about it.
First and foremost, there’s no better method of disaster recovery than having
a good backup copy of all your data. Any stolen or damaged hardware is easily
replaced, but the data stored on your hard disk is not. Unfortunately, hindsight
is 20/20, and if you didn’t back up, there’s not much you can do about it after
the fact; even if your computer equipment is insured with Lloyd’s of London,
once your data is gone, it’s gone. Thus, a little preventative maintenance is in
Manage Windows Updates
If software manufacturers waited until their products were completely bugfree before releasing them, then this book would’ve been called Typewriter
Windows 7 has a fairly automated update system, wherein patches to the operating system that Microsoft considers important are made available on its
website, and, by default, automatically downloaded and installed on your PC.
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Just open Windows Update in Control Panel, and click the Check for updates link on the left to compile a list of the updates you haven’t yet installed.
This is a fairly straightforward procedure, but largely unnecessary because
Windows does it for you. Or is it necessary after all?
Right out of the box, Windows asks you how you’d like to handle updates.
Microsoft recommends the Install updates automatically option, and even
goes so far as to alert you through Security Center (see Chapter 7) if you’ve
selected any other option (or none at all). But if you go this route, you’re setting
yourself up to have your PC indiscriminately hijacked by Microsoft whenever
it needs to install an update. That means annoying pop-up reminders to restart
Windows while you’re trying to get your work done, or worse: a long delay
when you need to shut down in a hurry.
Of course, the other end of the spectrum is Never check for updates, which
some Windows users swear by. Sure, you never get the frequent bug fixes for
Internet Explorer, but that’s not such a big deal if you’re a Firefox user.
But the Download updates but let me choose whether to install them
option is the best of both worlds. This way, you can pick and choose your
updates, and more importantly, install them only when it’s convenient for you.
If, for some reason, you need to uninstall an update, you can do so most of the
time. In Control Panel, open Programs and Features, and then click the View
installed updates link on the left. Highlight any update in the list and click
Uninstall to get rid of it.
If you’re using Microsoft Office or another high-profile Microsoft product, you
can download updates for those products along with those for Windows. To
do this, open Windows Update, turn on the Give me updates for Microsoft
products link, and then click OK.
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery | 405
The hardware drivers delivered along with the other Windows
updates are a mixed bag, at best. Sometimes the driver install
fails, and other times, it succeeds and then breaks the device.
Update a driver only when you’re already using a Microsoft
driver (see “How to Add Hardware” on page 388); otherwise,
use the manufacturer-supplied driver. Fortunately, drivers installed through Windows Update can be “rolled back,” but
who wants to roll back drivers when you don’t have to?
Silence the restart nag
Some updates can only be applied while Windows isn’t running, which is why
Windows Update sometimes prompts you to restart Windows to complete
installation. What? You’re busy? Sure, you can decline to reboot, but Windows
will hassle you again just 5 short minutes later.
At this point, you can postpone the reboot for up to 4 hours, but unfortunately,
there’s no “stop bothering me” button. To get rid of the nag window, at least
until the next reboot, open the Services window (services.msc), highlight the
Windows Update service, and click the square Stop button on the toolbar.
Don’t worry; Windows will restart the service when you finally get around to
Here’s how to turn off the restart nag altogether:
1. Open the Registry Editor (see Chapter 3) and navigate to
2. Inside the Windows key, create a new key and name it WindowsUpdate.
3. Then inside the WindowsUpdate key, create a new key and name it AU.
4. Next, in the new AU key, create a new DWORD (32-bit) value and type
NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers for its name.
5. Double-click the new NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers value, type 1 in the
Value data field, and click OK.
6. Restart Windows just this once for the change to take effect.
To undo the change, just delete the NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers value.
Force a failed update to install
So, what do you do when Windows reports that an update has failed? Microsoft never provides a useful explanation nor any means of solving the problem:
your only recourse is to keep trying until you lose interest.
The first step is to figure out which update won’t install. Open the Windows
Updates page in Control Panel and then click the View update history link
on the left. Locate the update that reads “Failed” in the Status column, and
then make sure the update wasn’t subsequently installed successfully.
Next, right-click the update, select View details, and click the web link under
the More information heading. If the link takes you to a generic page that
explains how updates work (typical with definition updates for Windows Defender), this is a dead end. But if instead you get a numbered bulletin that is
specific to the update in question (e.g., “Microsoft Security Bulletin
MS09-035 – Critical”), then you’re on the right track.
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Read the summary and see if this update applies to you; if it fixes a problem
with a component you never use, you may be able to abandon the update and
save yourself some time. Otherwise, scroll down the page and look for prerequisites. Some updates require certain software (or certain installation features) to be present; without them, the update won’t install.
One common prerequisite is the version of the Windows
Installer engine currently on your PC. To determine the version number, open Windows Explorer and navigate to the
\Windows\System32 folder. Right-click the msi.dll file, select
Properties, and choose the Details tab. The Product version is the magic number; Windows 7 ships with MSI
Next, look for a standalone installer. Sometimes you can download the update
in a packaged .exe or .msi file, and these installers sometimes succeed where
the automated updates fail. But more importantly, standalone updaters usually
display a log of their progress (or lack thereof), which you can use to determine
the precise problem.
Can’t find a download link? Just open Internet Explorer (not Firefox) and
navigate to to view the
Windows Update Catalog. In the Search box, type the knowledge base number (e.g., KB971091), not the bulletin number (e.g., MS09-035), which you can
get from the update history.
When the download is complete, you may’ve gotten an .exe file or an .msi file.
(See Chapter 2 if you can’t see your filename extensions.)
If the update was delivered in an .exe file, just double-click the file to launch
the interactive installer. If the install fails, click the View the log file button
on the last page of the wizard; scroll down until you see a line in red explaining
the error.
If instead you have an .msi file, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to get an
install log. First, open a Command Prompt window in administrator mode
(see Chapter 9 and Chapter 8, respectively). Use the CD command to change
the active directory to the folder in which you saved the .msi file, like this:
cd "c:\users\{your user name}\Desktop\my failed update"
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When the update appears in the catalog search results, click the Add button.
Then, click the view basket link at the top of the page and click the Download button. When prompted, click Browse to choose a destination folder
and then click Continue to initiate the download.
and then run the update with the /qf /Le command-line switches, like this:
msiexec /i msifilename.msi /qf /Le .\log.txt
where msifilename.msi is the filename of your .msi file. When the update concludes, open the log.txt file for clues as to why it failed.
Once you know the problem—often an issue with registry or file
permissions—you should be able to fix it easily and try again.
Go Back in Time with Restore Points and Shadow Copies
The System Restore service runs invisibly in the background, routinely backing
up drivers, important system files, and certain Registry settings so that at some
point, you can roll back some or all of your computer’s configuration to an
earlier time. Windows extends this feature to include your personal documents
as well, forming what are called shadow copies. (In Vista, shadow copies were
only available to those with high-end Windows editions; in Windows 7,
everyone gets ’em!)
Windows maintains your PC’s restore points somewhat like
the Recycle Bin; old data is deleted invisibly in the background
to make room for new restore points. For this reason, never
rely solely on restore points to provide backups of your
There are several different ways to access restore points, each with its own
purpose and scope:
Roll Back Driver
In Device Manager (devmgmt.msc, also in Control Panel), expand a category, right-click a device, and select Properties. Choose the Driver tab,
and then click Roll Back Driver to replace the current driver with an
earlier version. If the Roll Back Driver button is grayed out, then either
you’ve loaded no earlier version of this driver, or the System Restore feature isn’t operational (discussed later in this section). What’s nice about
this feature is that the scope of the change is crystal clear; when you click
Roll Back Driver, only the driver files and settings for that very device
are affected.
System Restore
To open the System Restore wizard, open the Start menu, type rstrui into
the Search box and press Enter. Click Next on the first page to show a
list of the recent restore points, and then select an entry and click Next to
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revert your PC’s system files and configuration to an earlier state. (If you
don’t see any restore points, read on to see how to enable this feature.)
It’s best to think of this feature as neither an uninstall tool nor a time
machine, but rather something in between. Windows makes a restore
point when you install hardware drivers, when you install software (most
of the time), and occasionally at regular intervals. (You can also create
restore points manually in the System Protection window, described later
in this section.) But it’s never made clear what exactly changes when you
restore a restore point, making this a potentially dangerous tool. The good
news is that you can return to the System Restore wizard and undo your
last change should something go wrong (assuming you can boot Windows
If all you’re trying to do is uninstall software, you should
do so through the Programs and Features page in Control
Panel. Likewise, to uninstall a hardware driver, open Device Manager (devmgmt.msc), right-click the device, and
select Uninstall. With these features, at least the scope
of your change will be easily predictable.
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Last Known Good Configuration
If a recent driver or software installation has prevented Windows from
loading, press F8 just after your PC powers up (see “What to Do When
Windows Won’t Start” on page 355), and from the Advanced Boot Options menu that appears, select Last Known Good Configuration
If you’re lucky, the effect is more or less the same as choosing a recent
restore point in the System Restore wizard, allowing you to subsequently
start Windows. But in practice, this feature often has no effect, either because the scope of the change isn’t great enough to fix whatever problem
you’re having, or because Windows wasn’t set up to create restore points
in the first place (more on that shortly).
Previous Versions
Right-click a document you’ve been working on recently, select Properties, and choose the Previous Versions tab. What you see in the File
versions list here depends on several factors.
First, if you’ve used the Back up now tool on the Backup and Restore page
in Control Panel described later in this chapter, and the backup included
the file you right-clicked, at least one entry should appear indicated by
Backup in the Location column. (Thus the usefulness of this feature relies
heavily on the scheduled backup feature that comes with Windows 7.)
Next, if the file is on a drive protected by System Restore, you should see
at least one entry marked Restore point in the Location column.
The Previous Versions feature relies on administrative
(hidden) shares of your drives; if you’ve disabled them as
described in the section“Turn Off Administrative
Shares” on page 605, the File Versions list won’t appear. Furthermore, Windows will never save previous
versions of encrypted files (also covered in Chapter 8).
To roll back a file to an earlier version, select the backup or shadow copy
you want, and click Restore. But beware: this will overwrite the newer
file with the older version, which may not be what you want. To restore
the backup to a new location, click Copy instead. You can also retrieve
shadow copies with ShadowExplorer, free from http://www.shado
The biggest problem with the System Restore and Previous Versions features
is that they often don’t work. If they’re not properly set up, the restore points
on which they rely don’t get made. To get restore points to work on your PC,
follow these steps:
1. Start by opening the System Protection window; in the Start menu
Search box, type SystemPropertiesProtection, and press Enter. (Or,
open the System page in Control Panel, click the Advanced system settings link on the left, and choose the System Protection tab.)
2. Here, highlight drive C: and then click Configure.
3. Select one of the first two options here, either Restore system settings
and previous versions of files or Only restore previous versions of
files. Then, make sure Max Usage is set to a reasonably large value (several gigabytes, if you can afford it) and click OK.
To completely deactivate System Restore, select the
Turn off system protection option for each of your
drives and then click OK.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for any other drives for which you want to create
restore points.
5. If any drives weren’t previously protected, take this opportunity to save a
restore point by clicking Create.
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6. Click OK when you’re done.
7. Next, open the Services window (services.msc), and find the Volume
Shadow Copy entry in the list. If it doesn’t say Started in the Status
column, double-click the entry, and from the Startup type list, select
Automatic. Click Start to get the service running, and then click OK.
8. Repeat step 7 for the Microsoft Software Shadow Copy Provider service as well.
If shadow copies still don’t appear to be working, check your PC for utilities
that may not be fully compatible with Windows 7’s restore points. For instance, some Registry “cleaners,” like TuneUp Utilities and CCleaner, have
been known to interfere with restore points (among other things). And Diskeeper 2007 (defragmenter software) and earlier versions were known to erase
shadow copy data (Diskeeper 2008 fixes this problem). If you’re having trouble
getting shadow copies to work, try disabling any “fix-it” utilities on your PC
until you track down the culprit.
Manage disk space used by shadow copies and restore points
By default, restore points are allowed to consume as much as 15% of your hard
disk’s total capacity; on a 320 GB drive, that means up to 48 GB can be sucked
up by previous versions of your files, hardware drivers, and other detritus. Of
course, if you’re an avid user of shadow copies, and you’ve got a sufficiently
large drive, then you might prefer this value to be even higher.
vssadmin list shadowstorage
and press Enter to produce a report that looks like this:
vssadmin 1.1 - Volume Shadow Copy Service administrative command-line tool
(C) Copyright 2001–2005 Microsoft Corp.
Shadow Copy Storage association
For volume: (C:)\\?\Volume{3b5ab54e-c86b-11cb-a2d6-306f6f6e7963}\
Shadow Copy Storage volume: (C:)\\?\Volume{3b5ab54e-c86b-11cb-a2d6306f6f6e7963}\
Used Shadow Copy Storage space: 14.126 GB (10%)
Allocated Shadow Copy Storage space: 14.425 GB (10%)
Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space: 20.959 GB (15%)
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To find out how much space restore points are currently taking up, open a
Command Prompt window in administrator mode (see Chapter 8), type this
Here, restore points and shadow copies consume a little more than 14 GB. The
files themselves are stored in the \System Volume Information folder, which is
hidden in Windows Explorer unless you turn off the Hide protected
operating system files option covered in Chapter 2. (Regardless of the setting, Windows will never let you view the files therein directly.)
To allocate more or less space for shadow copies, open the System Protection
window; in the Start menu Search box, type SystemPropertiesProtection, and
press Enter. (Or, open the System page in Control Panel, click the Advanced
system settings link on the left, and choose the System Protection tab.)
Highlight the drive you want to manage, click Configure, and adjust the Max
Usage slider accordingly. To eliminate the storage limit, move the slider all the
way to the right and set it to 100%.
Need disk space fast? Click the Delete button here to delete
all your shadow copies and restore points without changing
any settings, and get back 10%–15% of your hard disk capacity on the spot. Of course, you’ll lose your previous versions, so you may want to back up your hard disk first, as
described later in this chapter.
For you typing fans, you can also manage shadow copy storage by typing this
command in a command prompt window (again, in Administrator mode):
vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=C: /on=C: /maxsize=5GB
(Replace C: with the drive you want to adjust, and 5GB with the actual amount
of space you wish to allocate.) You may have noticed that you need to indicate
the drive letter twice. This permits a nifty little hack: it turns out you can
allocate space on one drive to hold the shadow data from another drive. For
instance, type:
vssadmin add shadowstorage /for=C: /on=D:
to have the shadow data for drive C: stored on drive D:. (If C: is your primary
Windows drive, putting your shadow data on D: should improve system performance, provided D: is a real hard disk.) To rescind this order, delete the
shadow storage “association” with this command:
vssadmin delete shadowstorage /for=C: /on=D:
You can also delete shadow copy data without changing the associations, akin
to the aforementioned Delete button:
vssadmin delete shadows /for=C: /all
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Or, if you have a lot of drives and you want to clear the shadow data for all of
them at once, use this WSH script (see Chapter 9):
Set oWMI=GetObject("winmgmts:{impersonationLevel=impersonate}!\\.\root\
Set cVolumes = oWMI.ExecQuery("Select * From Win32_ShadowCopy")
For Each oVolume in cVolumes
See “Quick, On-the-Fly Backups” on page 414, for a quick and dirty alternative to shadow copies.
Choose a schedule for shadow copy creation
The usefulness of shadow copies, and the Previous Versions feature in particular, depends heavily on how often Windows creates those backups. Shadow
copies are created on a schedule: by default, this happens every day at
midnight—but only if your PC is on and idle—and 30 minutes after each time
you start Windows.
Start by opening the Task Scheduler (taskschd.msc), and in the right pane,
navigate to Task Scheduler Library\Microsoft\Windows\SystemRestore. Rightclick the SR entry in the middle pane, select Properties, and choose the History tab to see how often Windows has been making your shadow copies.
To change the schedule, choose the Triggers tab. Unless you’ve already made
a change here, you’ll see two entries in the list: Daily and At startup. Highlight
a trigger and click Edit to make a change.
There’s a limit of 64 shadow copies for each volume (drive
letter), so if you think it might be wise to create backups every
hour on the hour, keep in mind that this means you’ll have a
maximum of only 2 days and 16 hours worth of shadow copies
at your fingertips. And this doesn’t take into account any hard
disk space limitations you may’ve imposed in Control Panel
(covered earlier in this section).
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But there are conditions that must be met. For one, the process only begins if
your computer has been idle for at least 10 minutes, so don’t expect any backups to occur while you’re working. Next, to extend the life of your laptop
battery, backups are only made when you’re on AC power, so don’t expect
any backups at the coffee shop. Finally, if the backup fails for some reason,
Windows won’t try again until the next scheduled backup. If you rely on the
Previous Versions feature, you’ll probably want to adjust the schedule so
backups can occur more reliably.
When you’re done changing settings in the Edit Trigger window, make sure
the Enabled option is checked, and click OK.
Next, choose the Conditions tab. You may wish to turn off the Start the task
only if the computer is idle for option if your PC is frequently busy, or else
the shadow copies may be forever postponed. Or leave it on to improve performance elsewhere. Likewise, turn off the Start the task only if the computer is on AC power option if your laptop is frequently untethered, or leave
it on to improve battery life.
Finally, flip over to the Settings tab, and make sure the Run task as soon as
possible after a scheduled start is missed option is checked. Click OK to
commit your changes.
See the sidebar “Quick, On-the-Fly Backups” for a more reliable, but less automated way to backup up previous versions of files, or the next section for a
foolproof full system backup. See Chapter 9 for more on the Task Scheduler.
Quick, On-the-Fly Backups
Backups can take a long time, and even if you complete one every day, you
can still lose up to a day’s work with quick slip, power outage, or application
crash. Since a backup is not much more than a simple copy of your data, why
not do a quick and dirty backup several times a day when you’re working with
particularly important data? No special software or hardware is required, and,
best of all, it takes only a few seconds.
Solution 1: Simple copy
The next time you’ve put a few hours into a document, open the folder
in Explorer, and make a duplicate of the file: drag it to another part of
the same folder with the right mouse button and select Copy Here. Then,
when you need it, you’ll have a fresh backup right in the same folder. Of
course, you can also place your quick backup on a USB flash drive, online
backup server, or another PC on your network.
Solution 2: Simple Zip
To make a quick and dirty backup of an entire folder, just right-click the
folder, select Send To and then Compressed (zipped) Folder. A
new .zip file containing compressed versions of all of its contents will
appear next to the folder in a few seconds. If you then need to retrieve a
file from the backed-up folder, just double-click the new .zip file, and
drag the files you need back into the source folder. See “Zip It
Up” on page 107, for the scoop on this ubiquitous format.
Solution 3: Previous Versions
Right-click a document, select Properties, and then choose the Previous
Versions tab to see any automated backups Windows has made for you.
Unless you want to overwrite the newer version with the backup, click
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the Copy button to retrieve a backed-up version of the file. Windows
makes its backups on its own schedule, if at all, so there’s no guarantee
that the file you need has been recently protected. But it’s automatic,
provided you can get it to work, and that counts for a lot. For complete
control of this feature, see “Go Back in Time with Restore Points and
Shadow Copies” on page 408.
Solution 4: Add-on software
If you’re not averse to add-on tools, Microsoft’s own SyncToy is free and
actually quite excellent; get version 2.1 or later from
.com/downloads/. In short, SyncToy is designed to synchronize two or
more folders and keep their contents identical, but you can use it to
maintain an instant, up-to-date backup of any folder. (Hint: use it over a
network or on a flash drive for extra protection.) Think of SyncToy like
RAID 1 for individual folders; see “Protect Your Data with
RAID” on page 420. Also available is Second Copy (free trial at http://, which offers additional features.
Back Up Your Entire System
There are more ways to back up your data than to store it in the first place.
The sole purpose of a backup is to have a duplicate of every single piece of data
on your hard disk that can be easily retrieved in the event of a catastrophe (or
even just an accidental deletion). Imagine if your computer were stolen or
suddenly burst into flames and you had to restore a backup to a brand-new
computer. Could you do it? If the answer is no, you’re not backed up.
A bare minimum backup could be little more than a single CD or USB memory
key with your last three or four dozen important documents on it. It’s better
than nothing, and it does protect your most recent work, but what about your
email, your web browser bookmarks, your digital photos, and the thousands
of documents you’ve written over the past six years?
Ideally, you should be able to back up your entire hard disk on a single piece
of media. We won’t even entertain the idea of CDs—you’d need 625 of them
to back up a full 500 GB hard disk—nor DVDs (you’d need 58 dual-layer
discs). ZIP drives are a joke, and USB memory keys are too slow and too small.
Tapes are so far beyond passé, Windows 7 doesn’t even include drivers for
tape drives.
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You need to be able to complete a backup easily and often, to store the backup
in a safe place (away from the computer), and to retrieve all your data at any
time without incident. If it’s too difficult or time-consuming, odds are you
won’t do it—so make it easy for yourself.
The only practical choice for completely backing up a modern PC is a removable hard disk. Shortly after the initial release of Windows 7, a 1.5 TB 3.5-inch
hard disk cost less than US$100, with a decent external enclosure adding only
about 30% more.
Another option is to use an online backup service. Although
they typically require recurring/monthly fees to store your
data, they offer the significant advantage of an completely offsite backup. Such services are best for your personal files
(provided there’s nothing too sensitive to share with a 5-dollar
service); even if you decide to back up your entire drive
remotely, it would take an awfully long time to download it
all again in the event of a hard disk crash. But if you value your
data, an online backup is a great supplement to an easilyrestored removable hard disk. Some of the more well-regarded
services include MozyHome and Carbonite.
Figure 6-10. The Backup and Restore page in Control Panel allows you to back up your
personal files and create a system image with backups of every file on your hard disk
There are basically three software-based backup technologies included with
Windows 7:
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Back up or restore your files
The Back up your files tool makes it pretty easy to back up your personal
data onto any drive—removable or otherwise—and restore individual files
as needed. Just open the Backup and Restore page in Control Panel (Figure 6-10) and click the Back up now button.
If the Back up now button is grayed out, it means your
backup hasn’t been set up yet or your backup drive is
unavailable (disconnected). Click the Change settings
link below to choose the details of your backup and reenable the Back up now feature.
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery | 417
To restore one or more backed-up files, click the Restore my files button
and then use the Search, Browse for files, and Browse for folders buttons to select files to restore. None of the file selection windows show a
folder tree, so it’s a little cumbersome to restore more than a handful of
files or folders at a time, but it’s serviceable.
Files backed up with this tool are stored in individual Zip files (see Chapter 2) of up to about 200 Mb each, which means you can retrieve your
backed-up files on any computer using any operating system, merely by
opening the individual Zip files and dragging files out.
The automatic backup provided by the Back Up Files wizard is also an
ingredient to the Previous Versions feature discussed in “Go Back in Time
with Restore Points and Shadow Copies” on page 408. This means that
you can right-click a file on your hard disk, select Properties, and then
choose the Previous Versions tab to access any earlier copies of the file
backed up with the Back up your files tool.
The Back up your files tool is infinitely more useful than Vista’s Back Up
Files wizard—particularly with so many ways to restore your files—but it
still falls short when compared to the other backup tool on the same page
of Control Panel, Create a system image (next). For one, it’s intolerably
slow, taking about 3–4 times as long to back up data as a system image.
And it doesn’t necessarily back up all your files unless you explicitly tell
it to do so. But most importantly, it doesn’t let you easily restore your PC
entirely from a backup, as described in “Recover Your System After a
Crash” on page 423.
Create a system image
A system image is a snapshot of every last byte on your hard disk, stored
in a single file on the destination of your choice. This is the easiest way
to restore your PC entirely in the event of a hard disk crash or other
catastrophe. Just open the Backup and Restore Center (Figure 6-10), click
the Create a system image link on the left, and follow the prompts to
create image files of each of your hard disks. (This tool is the latest incarnation of what was known as Complete PC Backup in Vista.)
But as though Microsoft had plotted some cruel joke, you can’t restore
individual files from system image backups, at least not without a little
hack demonstrated later in this section. Rather, system images are only
intended for tasks like restoring a complete system after a crash (discussed
later in this chapter) and replacing your hard disk (covered in Chapter 5).
Unfortunately, system images don’t play with the Previous Versions feature (discussed earlier in this chapter),
so unless you want to use both the Back up your files tool
and system images, you’ll have to rely entirely on restore
points for your Previous Versions.
The other problem with system images is that you can’t schedule a system
image backup, at least not without third party software. About the closest
you can come is to create an entry in Task Manager (see Chapter 9) that
runs this command line:
sdclt.exe /blbbackupwizard
which just starts the Create a system image wizard. The only way to automate the entire system image backup process past this point is to use a
program that can send keystrokes to the wizard, such as the free AutoHotKey tool (
Shadow Copies/Previous Versions
The Shadow Copies feature, also known as Previous Versions, is an extension of the System Restore tool, which stores older versions of system files
and hardware drivers in case Windows won’t start as the result of a recent
change. See “Go Back in Time with Restore Points and Shadow Copies” on page 408 for ways you can use the feature as an on-the-fly backup
and restore tool.
See also “Protect Your Data with RAID” on page 420 for another means of
automated backup.
Restore a system image
Restoring a Complete PC Backup involves erasing your hard disk and replacing
all your data with the data in the backup. This means any data on your hard
disk created or modified since your last backup will be sucked into oblivion,
so you’ll likely only want to use this feature if your hard disk crashes. If you’re
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restoring from within Windows, consider making another, newer backup on
different media before you restore the older archive.
There are two ways to restore a backup from a system image. The first method,
useful when you’re rebuilding your PC with a new hard disk or when Windows
won’t start, is outlined in the section “Recover Your System After a
Crash” on page 423. The other method—the one Windows doesn’t support
out of the box—is explained next.
Restore individual files from a system image
The most frustrating limitation of the Create a system image tool is that
Microsoft made no straightforward provision for restoring individual files from
image files. You shouldn’t have to back up your data with both backup tools
in order to have complete protection and the convenience of individual file
System images are virtual hard disk image (.vhd) files, the very same files used
by Microsoft Virtual PC and Virtual Server to store data for virtual machines.
Not only does this allow Windows 7 to rebuild a hard disk from a backup, but
it also means that you can open a window to the past, so to speak, and operate
a Virtual PC session off your backup, described in Chapter 1. (If you have the
Enterprise or Ultimate edition, you can even boot off a virtual hard disk.) It
also means you can restore individual files…if you know where to look.
Figure 6-11. To restore individual files from a disk image, mount the backup VHD in Disk
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery | 419
The easiest way to mount a .vhd file is to open the Disk Management tool
(diskmgmt.msc), covered in “Work with Partitions” on page 328. From the
Action menu, select Attach VHD, and then click Browse to locate your
backup .vhd file (see Figure 6-11). Open your backup drive and navigate to
\WindowsImageBackup\{computername}\Backup {date}, where {computername} is the name of your PC and {date} is the date of your last backup.
Back on the Attach Virtual Hard Disk window (Figure 6-11), turn on the Readonly option to prevent changes to your backup, or leave it unchecked if you
want to alter your backup files. Click OK, and in a few moments, Disk Management will mount your .vhd file and assign it a drive letter. It’ll also appear
in the list of drives in the main Disk Management window, more or less indistinguishable from your physical disks except for its blue drive icon.
You can unmount the virtual drive by right-clicking the disk
in the leftmost column and selecting Detach VHD. To change
the drive letter, right-click the volume in the graphical view
(lower pane) and select Change Drive Letter and Paths.
Once mounted, the new drive will appear in the Computer branch in Windows
Explorer, from which you can restore any individual files from your backup
by dragging and dropping.
If you find yourself mounting and unmounting .vhd files frequently, you can
use the VHDMount command-line utility, which comes with Virtual Server
2005, freely available at (Nevermind
the version number; the latest release at the time of this writing, R2 SP1, works
just fine with Windows 7.) Then download the vhdmount.reg Registry patch
file from, and double-click
vhdmount.reg to add Windows Explorer integration. (If your Program Files
folder is on a different drive than C:, edit the vhdmount.reg file and change
both occurrences of the VHDMount folder path to the correct location.)
Thereafter, you can right-click a .vhd file and select Mount. (A Command
Prompt window will appear briefly with a message; leave it alone while it does
its job.) When you’re done with the backup, return to the folder containing
your .vhd files, right-click the one you’ve mounted, and select Unmount (discard changes). (Only use the other option, commit changes, if you made
changes to the virtual drive that you want to keep.) The drive should disappear
from Windows Explorer immediately.
Protect Your Data with RAID
RAID, or Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, is a collection of two or more
hard drives that your PC (and Windows) treats as a single volume. Save your
data once, and it’s invisibly stored on two different physical disks
simultaneously. If one of your drives fails, just swap it out for a new one and
keep working while your RAID subsystem rebuilds the new drive in the background.
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RAID comes in several varieties, but not all offer this vital redundancy. Raid
1 is the most common, safeguarding your PC by “mirroring” your data on your
multiple drives. Raid 0, on the other hand, spreads your data across multiple
drives to improve performance (called striping), yet offers no data redundancy.
Raid 5 works similarly to Raid 0, but adds a “parity” mechanism to safeguard
your data, and requires at least three drives. Finally, Raid 10 offers true mirroring (like Raid 1) and striping (like Raid 0)—the best of both worlds—but
requires four drives for the full effect. Raid 1 is the easiest to implement and
is the least expensive way to get data protection from RAID.
The first ingredient you need is a SATA RAID controller, one either built in to
your motherboard, or, barring that, an add-on RAID card. Next, you need two
SATA hard disks of the same capacity, preferably the same brand and model,
Not all drives play nicely with RAID, dropping out of the array
randomly or causing other problems. Before settling on a specific model, read some online reviews and see if others have
had trouble getting the drive to behave in a RAID setup. In
some cases, such as the well-known Seagate 1.5 TB unit, a
drive can be made more RAID-friendly with a firmware
To set up the drives, enter your PC’s BIOS setup screen (see Appendix A), and
make sure all of the SATA ports you’re using are enabled. Next, disable any
unused SATA ports (some RAID controllers mistake unused ports for missing
drives), and then turn on the RAID feature if it’s not already on. Save your
settings and reboot when you’re done.
After the BIOS setup prompt but before Windows begins to load, look for a
boot message from your RAID controller, and then press the required keystroke (e.g., Ctrl-I for the Intel Matrix Storage Manager) to enter your RAID
configuration utility. Use this screen to select drives and build your array. If
given the chance to name your new array, make sure to include the word RAID or
Array, as these names will later show up in Device Manager.
Joining a drive to a RAID is likely to erase any data on the
drive, so make sure back up anything you care about before
you proceed.
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To get started, plug your drives into ports 0 and 1, respectively, unless your
documentation says otherwise. (Some controllers have dedicated RAID plugs.)
To make room, you may need to relegate any other SATA devices, such as
DVD drives, to higher-numbered ports.
When you’re done, Windows will see the array as a single drive. Thereafter,
you can install Windows (see Chapter 1) fresh on the new array or restore your
backup, if applicable. Once you’re back in Windows, install the RAID management software so you can easily monitor the health of your array.
Drawbacks of RAID
RAID sounds great on paper: an instant, transparent backup of every byte
written to your drive in real time. But this also means an instant backup of
every malware infestation, every deleted file, and every corrupt Registry entry.
Thus RAID is not so much of a backup as a simple safeguard against mechanical failure; to fully protect your data, you’ll still need to conduct separate,
regular backups, as described earlier in this chapter.
RAID also consumes more power, generates more heat and noise, and costs
at least twice as much as a lone drive. But probably the biggest problem is
vibration. Two drives vibrate in your PC chassis much more than one, and
those vibrations can lead to premature drive failure: an irony not to be taken
The best way to deal with the vibrations is to install each drive
in an isolated, vibration-dampening chassis. Some drive manufacturers also sell upgraded drives that are less susceptible to
the effects of vibration (e.g., Seagate’s NS series). Also make
sure your array has plenty of ventilation and active cooling.
One of the benefits of RAID is that it actively monitors the health of your drives
and data; aside from the hardware redundancy, this is one of the reasons most
people use RAID. But this monitoring has costs, too. For instance, if you encounter a Blue Screen of Death of other fatal crash that prevents Windows
from shutting down properly, your RAID will check your array for errors the
next time you start your PC. Since this means reading every byte on every drive
in your array, you can expect poor overall performance until it’s finished (often
4–5 hours, depending on the size and speed of the drives).
Department of Redundancy Department
If a drive fails, your RAID controller will remove it from the array, and the
remaining drive(s) will continue to function as though nothing happened. The
faster you can replace the dead drive, the sooner your RAID will be protecting
your data once again.
Typically, high-demand servers have slide-out racks to make drive changes
painlessly quick; you don’t even need to open the case to swap out a drive.
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And due to the design of SATA connectors, some racks even let you slide in
and out bare SATA drives, so you don’t have to fuss with screws or a slide-out
drive holder. But these racks also tend to stack drives close together, which
can cause overheating and increased vibration: two things that can negate the
benefits of an array.
But for PCs that don’t need to be pumping out data 24 hours a day, a slideout rack can be a very convenient addition to a RAID system. At the end of
the day, when you’ve shut down Windows and turned off your computer, slide
out just one of your RAID drives and bring it home with you. Presto: an instant,
up-to-date, offsite backup of every single byte of data. The next day, bring it
back and slide it in its slot before powering your PC back on.
If you boot up your PC before reinserting the take-home drive,
Windows will load normally on the now compromised array.
But doing so will instantly obsolete the missing drive, so that
when you finally do plug it in, your RAID controller will insist
on erasing it and populating it with data from the other active
drives. The whole process should be seamless, but you’ll
experience decreased system performance and a lack of data
redundancy until it’s finished rebuilding your array. You can
avoid this by diligently inserting your take-home drive
before pressing your PC’s power switch.
Given the ease at which drives can be removed from slide-out racks, it’s a good
idea to employ drive encryption to protect your data from spying eyes, as
described in Chapter 8.
Recover Your System After a Crash
The purpose of backing up is to give you the opportunity to restore your system
to its original state if something nasty should happen to your hard disk,
whether it be theft, fire, malfunction, termites, tornado, the inevitable alien
attack, or sabotage by your evil twin. But you’d be surprised at how many
people back up their systems without having any idea how to restore it later
should the need arise. The backup doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get at
your files later, so it’s important to take steps to make sure you can restore
your system from scratch if necessary.
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery | 423
If you’ll be regularly removing one of the drives in your array, consider employing at least three drives, so that you’ll have data redundancy even without
the take-home drive.
So, assume your hard disk is completely dead, totally empty, or missing, and
you now need to restore your PC onto an empty volume. How you proceed
depends on the type of backup you made.
What if your hard disk isn’t empty? Say Windows got hosed
and won’t start, or perhaps you just lost half your data files.
Unless your backup is from this morning, you won’t necessarily want to erase all your remaining files and replace them
with whatever is in your backup archive. In this case, you can
install a new, empty drive, restore your system image onto it,
and then hook up your old drive and copy your recent data
onto it. This has the advantage of allowing you to format or
discard the damaged drive, something you couldn’t do if you
were still using it for your primary Windows partition.
Restoring from a system image
If the target drive is empty, you’ll need your original Windows setup disc,
system repair disc, or recovery partition (the latter two supplied by your PC
manufacturer). Boot up off the disc (see Chapter 1 for tips), and on the Install
Now page, click the Repair your computer link at the bottom. When prompted, select Restore your computer using a system image... and follow the
prompts to complete restoration.
Restoring from a system image will erase the target drive. If
you need to restore individual files, see the previous section.
If the target drive has a nonfunctional Windows installation, press the F8 key
to get to the Advanced Boot Options menu, as shown in Figure 6-5, earlier
in this chapter. Use the up and down arrow keys to highlight Repair your
computer and then press Enter. When prompted, choose a keyboard layout
and then type your username and password. On the System Recovery Options
page (Figure 6-4), select System Image Recovery and then follow the prompts
to restore your hard disk from the backup.
In the unlikely event you can boot into Windows, and you still prefer to erase
your hard disk and restore a system image—perhaps to cleanse your drive of
a vast malware infestation—open the Recovery page in Control Panel. Click
the Advanced Recovery Methods link and on the next page, click Use a
system image you created earlier to recover your computer.
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Restoring from backed up files
If your only backup is one made with the Back up your files tool, you’ll need
to install a fresh copy of Windows 7 on the drive before you can do anything
else. Once you boot into the new Windows installation, open the Backup and
Restore page in Control Panel, connect your backup drive, and click the Restore all users’ files link. (The more obvious Restore my files button offers
less of a guarantee that you’ll get everything you backed up.)
Preventative Maintenance and Data Recovery | 425
Networking and Internet
Pop quiz: how do you compromise your PC’s security, stability, and performance in about 10 seconds, without installing any new software? If you guessed
“sledgehammer,” you’re wrong—that takes only two seconds.
Of course, the correct answer is “connect it to a network.” You get bonus
points if you added, “leave Windows 7’s security settings intact.”
It’s fair to say that Windows 7 is more secure than any previous (networkcapable) version of Windows, but unfortunately, that’s not all that reassuring.
Sure, the Windows Firewall isn’t booby-trapped to prevent file sharing or time
synchronization like it was in XP, but the defaults can still leave your PC vulnerable to anyone who knows where to look.
Use this chapter and Chapter 8 to connect your PC to a local network and the
Internet without having to worry that Windows isn’t doing its job of keeping
your data safe. Certain aspects of networking, such as homegroups, file and
printer sharing, and security, are covered exclusively in Chapter 8.
Build Your Network
Firewalls notwithstanding, your connection to the Internet is not much different than your connection to other PCs in your home or office. It’s this fact
that makes Windows all at once easy to network and frustrating to troubleshoot and secure.
Terminology Primer
To start building a network, you should understand a few basic networking
The distinction between local and remote resources
A local resource is an object—a folder on your hard disk or a printer physically connected to your PC—that’s accessible without a network connection. A remote resource is one that resides on another computer to
which yours is connected over a network. For example, a web page at http:
// is a remote file, but an HTML file on your own hard
disk is a local file, even though they may appear indistinguishable in a
browser. Microsoft tries to blur the line, a strategy that sometimes works
and other times backfires: for instance, Windows applies different security
restrictions and drag-drop rules to remote files than to local ones, and that
subtlety can be a pain in the keester.
LAN versus WAN
LAN is shorthand for Local Area Network, a small assemblage of PCs in
a home or small office connected with cables or wireless signals. Likewise,
WAN stands for Wide Area Network, or a network formed by connecting
computers over large distances (e.g., the Internet).
Ethernet is the wired technology upon which the vast majority of nonwireless local area networks is built. Any PC capable of handling Windows
7 is likely to have a built-in Ethernet adapter (also called a NIC, or Network
Interface Card).
A standard Ethernet connection is capable of moving data up
to 10 megabits per second (Mbps; see “Bandwidth,” later in
this list), a Fast Ethernet connection (sometimes marked
“10/100”) can move data at 100 Mbps, and a Gigabit connection can move data at up to 1000 Mbps.
WiFi is a trendy shorthand term for wireless networking based on the
802.11x standards. The early favorite was 802.11b, but with a leisurely
maximum speed of only 11 Mbps, it was quickly obsoleted by 802.11g
(54 Mbps). Further tweaking has given us multichannel 802.11g and
802.11n standards, both of which promise even faster speeds and greater
range. Of course, all of these advertised specs assume laboratory-perfect
conditions, so unless you’re interested in building a vacuum chamber for
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your wireless equipment, you’ll likely get about a third of the quoted speed
of your equipment (and less, the poorer the reception gets).
A further caveat is that you need matched equipment to get
the best performance: your laptop must have an ‘n’ radio to
get the most out of an ‘n’ network. Luckily, each of these
standards (with the exception of 802.11a) is backwardcompatible with earlier incarnations, so an older ‘g’ laptop
will still work on a newer ‘n’ network, albeit at the slower ‘g’
speed. Of course, with typical DSL and cable Internet speeds
at only 1–3 Mbps, a faster WiFi signal will do nothing to get
you your email any faster.
Bluetooth is a wireless networking “standard” (the term must be used
loosely here). Bluetooth will never supplant WiFi, nor is it meant to.
Rather, it’s an inexpensive, low-power technology and is commonly used
in high-end cell phones, handheld PDAs, and some laptops. Most people
get their first taste of Bluetooth with wireless cell phone headsets or cordless mice and keyboards, but it does much more than that (at least in
theory). See “Get Bluetooth to Work” on page 465, if you feel like wasting
an afternoon installing and reinstalling Bluetooth drivers.
Bandwidth is the capacity of a network connection to move information
(the size of the tube, so to speak). Bandwidth is measured in Kbps (kilobits
per second) for slow connections, Mbps (megabits per second) for faster
connections such as DSL, cable, or Ethernet LAN connections, and Gbps
(gigabits per second) for the kinds of connections used by huge corporations and Internet providers.
Ethernet-based local networks can transfer data at up to 1,000 Mbps.
High-speed broadband (DSL and cable modem) connections typically
transfer data up to 1.0 to 8.0 Mbps, while the fastest analog modems (remember those?) communicate at a glacial 56 Kbps, or 0.056 Mbps.
Wireless 3G connections, due to varying reception, also offer varying
Build Your Network | 429
and Internet
Bandwidth is a shared resource. If a network connection
is capable of transferring data at, say, 1.5 Mbps, and two
users simultaneously download large files, each will only
have roughly 0.75 Mbps (or 768 Kbps) of bandwidth at
their disposal.
performance as high as 1 Mbps (if you’re lucky) to about 100 Kbps (if
you’re in a tunnel).
To translate a bandwidth measurement into more practical terms, you’ll
need to convert bits to bytes. There are 8 bits to a byte, so you can determine the theoretical maximum data transfer rate of a connection by simply
dividing by 8. For example, a 384 Kbps connection transfers 384/8 = 48
kilobytes of data per second, which should allow you to transfer a 1 megabyte file in a little more than 20 seconds. However, there is more going
on than just data transfer—such as error correction and bags of
inefficiency—so actual performance will always be slower than the theoretical maximum.
TCP/IP is a protocol (language), or more accurately, a collection of protocols, used in all Internet communications and by most modern LANs.
For those of you excited by acronyms, the TCP/IP specification includes
TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), IP (Internet Protocol), UDP (User
Datagram Protocol), and ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol).
The amazing thing about TCP/IP, and the reason that it serves as the
foundation of every connection to the Internet, is that data is broken up
into packets before it’s sent on its way. The packets then travel to their
destinations independently, possibly arriving in a different order than they
were originally sent. The receiving computer then reassembles the packets
(in the correct order) back into data.
Among the aforementioned protocols, IP (or rather, IPv4) is expected to
be obsolete sometime in 2011, due to IPv4 address exhaustion. Not unlike
the need to abandon 32-bit Windows in favor of the 64-bit edition to
support 4+ GB of RAM, IPv4 is in the process of being replaced by IPv6
to accommodate the need for more IP addresses around the globe.
Whereas IPv4—a 32-bit standard—offers a maximum of 4.3 billion addresses (covered next), IPv6—a 128-bit standard—gives us all a little more
room with 3.4×1038 unique addresses.
IP addresses
An IPv4 IP address is a set of four numbers (e.g., that
corresponds to a single computer or device on a TCP/IP-based network.
Each element of the address can range from 0 to 255, providing 2564 or
nearly 4.3 billion possible combinations. The newer standard, IPv6, with
128-bit addressing, employs addresses four times as long.
On the Internet, dedicated machines called domain name servers are used
to translate named hosts, such as, to their respective numerical IP addresses and back again.
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No two computers on a single network can have the same
IP address, but a single computer can have multiple IP
addresses. A router, discussed later in this chapter, uses
Network Address Translation (NAT) to allow multiple
PCs to share a single Internet connection, and thus a single IP address.
To connect two different networks to each other, while still maintaining
two separate sets of IP addresses, you’ll need either a bridge or a router.
Provided that you install two network adapters in your PC, Windows can
act as an impromptu bridge; just highlight two connections in your Network Connections window (discussed later in this chapter), right-click,
and select Bridge Connections. A router, of course, is a better choice
because it works even if your PC is off, and includes firewall protection to
TCP Ports
TCP/IP data moves in and out of your PC through ports, virtual doors
opened by the software that uses your network connection. For example,
your email program uses port 25 to send email (using the SMTP protocol)
and port 110 to retrieve email (using the POP3 protocol), while your web
browser downloads pages through port 80 (using the HTTP protocol).
Other commonly used ports are listed in Appendix B.
Windows and some applications typically leave more
ports open than you probably need, potentially making
your PC vulnerable to spyware, pop ups, viruses, intruders, and other annoyances. See “Secure Your Networked
PC” on page 498 for the solution.
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Firewalls, and why you need one
A firewall can be used to restrict unauthorized access to your system by
intruders, close backdoors opened by viruses and other malicious applications, and eliminate wasted bandwidth by blocking certain types of
network traffic.
A firewall is a layer of protection that permits or denies network communication based on a predefined set of rules. These rules are typically based
on the TCP port through which the data is sent, the IP address from which
the data originated, and the IP address to which the data is destined.
The problem is that an improperly configured firewall can cause more
problems than it ends up preventing. Windows includes a rudimentary
firewall feature, described later in this chapter, but software-based firewalls simply don’t work as well as hardware firewalls like those found in
Switches, access points, and routers
A switch allows you to connect more than two computers together—using
cables—to form a local network (see Figure 7-1). (Note that a hub does
pretty much the same thing as a switch, but much less efficiently.) Without
a hub or switch, the best you could do is connect two computers to each
other with a crossover cable (discussed later in this chapter).
A wireless access point is essentially a switch (or a hub) for a wireless
network, allowing you to connect multiple computers wirelessly. Without
an access point, you could only connect two computers wirelessly in “ad
hoc” mode (more on that later, too).
Finally, a router is a device that connects two networks, and routes traffic
between them. For example, a router can connect a peer-to-peer workgroup to the Internet, allowing you to share a single Internet connection
with all the computers in your office (see “Share an Internet Connection” on page 478 for details). Most routers also double as switches, just
as wireless routers double as wireless access points. Plus, any modern
router (wireless or otherwise) will have a built-in firewall (typically superior to a software firewall that runs on your computer), so you can basically
get everything you need in one inexpensive package.
The good news is that Windows 7 comes with everything you need to take
advantage of all of these standards, and use them to access the Internet or share
files and devices with other PCs on your network. The bad news is that it’s
almost never as easy to get it working properly as the industry would lead you
to believe.
To Wire or Not to Wire
Wiring is a pain, but it works. Wireless is convenient, but flaky. Luckily, you
don’t have to just stick with one system, nor have it all planned out ahead of
For best results, wire your non-portable desktop system to your router/switch/
hub when it’s nearby. Cables aren’t affected by poor reception, security codes,
or interference, and they provide full speed all the time.
Plug one end of an Ethernet cable into your router or DSL/cable modem, and
the other end into your PC, and you’re done; Windows will set up the connection and get you on the ‘Net in less than two seconds, no questions asked.
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Figure 7-1. An example of a wired peer-to-peer network (LAN) comprised of three
computers connected with a switch; the printer is connected to one of the PCs, which shares
it with the others
And unless a small rodent chews its way through said cable, it’ll keep working
until you unplug it.
If you see a prompt that entices you to Connect to a network, resist the urge if you’re using cables; even though it
doesn’t explicitly say it, the window that appears when you
click this link is only for connecting to wireless networks.
Wiring can vary in complexity and cost, depending on your needs, budget,
and office layout. (See the upcoming sidebar “Cabling Tips” on page 434 for
additional help.) For example, if you have two or more desktop computers in
the same room, wiring is a simple matter of adding a switch and one category-5
patch cable for each machine, as shown in Figure 7-1. More PCs require a
switch with more ports, or possibly multiple switches connected together, and
of course, more cables.
Most of the time, it doesn’t make sense to use cables to connect a laptop to
your network unless its wireless doesn’t work. (Of course, if you’re using a
docking station, plugging in is more practical, but that’s up to you.) Wireless,
of course, is slicker than using cables, and works anywhere within range of the
router; no drilling holes in walls so you can feed cables to all parts of your
home or office. Figure 7-3 shows a typical wireless network with four computers (three PCs and one PDA).
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If you only have two computers, you can eliminate the switch and simply
connect them with an inexpensive category-5 crossover cable, as shown in
Figure 7-2. Total cost: $3.99.
Figure 7-2. A quick and dirty switchless workgroup; given its limitations, however, it’s best
suited as a very temporary solution
Figure 7-3. A wireless router acts as both a wireless access point and a switch, allowing you
to connect any number of computers—and even WiFi-enabled PDAs—to form a wireless
LAN (WiFi antennas are shown exaggerated for cuteness)
Cabling Tips
Within a second or two of connecting both ends of a network cable, the corresponding lights on your hardware should light up. Lights should be visible
right on the network adapter, whether it’s in the back of your desktop computer or in the side of your laptop. (Note that some devices use multicolor
LEDs that appear green if the connection is correct and red if it’s wrong.)
Quickly flashing lights usually indicate data being transferred; slowly blinking
lights often indicates a problem somewhere.
Connect all your cables while your switch and any other equipment are turned
on and while Windows is running. That way, you’ll see the corresponding
lights go on, indicating that the switch, router, or NIC has detected the new
connection. Note that the lights only confirm that the cabling is correct; they
won’t tell you whether your drivers and software are correctly set up.
Use only category-5 (cat-5) patch cables, except for a few very specific situations that require cat-5 crossover cables. Use a crossover cable to connect two
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computers directly (without a hub, switch, or router) or to connect two
switches. In some cases where a DSL/cable modem connects directly to a
computer with a patch cable, a crossover cable may be required to connect
either of these devices to a hub or switch (naturally, consult the documentation to be sure). Either way, if the lights go on, you’re using the right kind of
(It’s worth mentioning that a lot of new hardware—switches, routers, etc.—
can auto-detect the type of cable you’re using and work accordingly.)
When measuring for cables, always add several extra feet to each cable; too
long is better than too short. Also, bad cables are not uncommon, so have a
few extras around in case any of those lights don’t light up.
Wireless needs more setup than cables and tends to be less reliable. Windows
needs at least 5–10 seconds to connect to a previously configured wireless
network (more for the first time), and may drop your connection if you switch
rooms, receive a phone call, or sneeze.
Speed may or may not be a factor in your decision. WiFi is not
nearly as fast as wired Ethernet; common 802.11g wireless
connections (rated at 54 Mbps) transfer data at about 20–30
Mbps, and this speed drops rapidly as reception worsens. The
fastest gigabit Ethernet connections move data at 600–700
Mbps, reception notwithstanding. Of course, the speed discrepancy is moot if you’re only doing Internet (typical broadband is only about 1–6 Mbps), but if you need to transfer files
between PCs in your workgroup, wired Ethernet will do it in
a fraction of the time. (Wireless connections can also add
latency—delays before data begins to flow—although this is
typically not noticeable on small, home networks.)
There’s one crucial aspect of wireless networking that simply doesn’t exist on
a wired network: intruders. By default, most wireless routers have no security
features enabled, meaning that any WiFi-enabled computer within range can
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So, what if you want the convenience of wireless, but the speed and reliability
of cables? The short answer is to wait about five years for the technology to
improve, and then pick up the latest Annoyances book to learn why you’ll need
to wait another five years. The even shorter answer is to simply connect your
WiFi-equipped laptop to your network with a cable when your wireless gets
cranky or you need to transfer a lot of files. Luckily, a properly configured
network should have no trouble handling both wired and wireless PCs. Figure 7-4 shows a common peer-to-peer network setup with two wired desktop
computers and a wireless connection to a laptop.
Figure 7-4. You can mix and match wired and wireless devices with a wireless router; these
three computers are on the same network, despite the different means of connection
connect to your workgroup and use your Internet connection. See “Set Up a
Wireless Router”, next, and “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446, for help
securing your wireless network and connecting to someone else’s unsecured
wireless network, respectively.
Set Up a Wireless Router
If you’ve read other solutions in this chapter, you’ve probably seen routers
mentioned several times (if not, drop back to the section “Terminology Primer” on page 428 to read up).
A router allows you to connect your computer (or your workgroup) to the
Internet, while simultaneously protecting you with its built-in firewall. A
wireless router does the same thing, but also adds a wireless access point, which
allows you to connect WiFi-equipped devices to each other and to the Internet.
A typical WiFi setup was shown in Figure 7-3 (see, no wires), but you’ll probably want something closer to the setup shown later in Figure 7-20, in which
a wireless router provides Internet access to all your computers. Here’s how
to set this up and configure the security measures that should’ve been enabled
out of the box:
1. Plug your DSL or cable modem (or whatever broadband connection you’re
using) into your router’s WAN or Internet port.
2. Use an Ethernet cable to connect at least one PC to one of the numbered
ports on your router, even if you eventually want to use that PC wirelessly.
3. Dispense with the software that comes with your router; it usually just
makes things worse. Instead, open a web browser on the wired PC and
type the IP address of your router into the address bar. In most cases, this
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is, but your router may be different; refer to your router’s
documentation for details. (You may also need to log in with a username
and password at this point, also listed in said documentation, at least in
theory.) If you can’t connect to your router, and you’re sure your PC’s
network card is working, see “Can’t Connect to Your Router?”.
Can’t Connect to Your Router?
If you can’t load your router’s setup page, and you’re certain you’re using the
correct IP address, the most likely cause is that your PC and your router are
not on the same subnet. The subnet is the range of addresses governed by the
first three components of the IP address, and Windows likes the default
192.168.1.x subnet.
This means that the first three groups of numbers (called octets) of your computer’s IP address needs to match the first three numbers of your router’s IP
address, while the fourth number must be different. For instance, if your
router’s address is, then you might not be able to connect to it
until you either change your PC’s address to 192.168.0.x (where x is any
number larger than zero) or change your router’s address to to
connect to the router.
Now, in theory, Windows should do all of this for you when you use the
Obtain an IP address automatically option described later in this chapter,
but this is notorious for not working when the subnets don’t match. If you
suspect this is the problem, try setting a static IP address on your PC, at least
temporarily, until you can connect to your router and reconfigure it to use the
192.168.1.x subnet.
5. Choose your connection type from the list. If your Internet connection
requires a username and password, select PPPoE. If your ISP has bespoken
a unique IP address for your connection, select Static IP. Otherwise,
choose Automatic Configuration - DHCP.
6. If you’ve selected PPPoE or Static IP in the previous step, you’ll probably
need to enter the IP addresses of your ISP’s DNS servers (your ISP should
provide these numbers for you).
7. Click Apply or Save Settings at the bottom of the page when you’re done.
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4. Once you get your connection to your router working, you’ll see your
router’s setup page, which should look vaguely like the one in Figure 7-5. Of course, your router’s setup page will almost certainly look
different, but most of the same settings will still be there.
Figure 7-5. Most routers use a web-based setup, meaning that you can configure your router
from any computer, running on any platform, as long as it has a web browser
8. At this point, you should have Internet access; go ahead and test it by
opening a second browser window (Ctrl-N) and visiting any website.
9. Once you have Internet, take this opportunity to update the firmware of
your router, as described in “Upgrade Your Router” on page 443.
10. Next, go to your router’s wireless setup page, like the one shown in Figure 7-6—you can get there with either a link in the main menu or a tab
across the top of the page—and choose a new name (SSID) for your
wireless network. (Note that the SSID should not be confused with the
Windows network name used in Chapter 8.)
The only way Windows distinguishes one configured network from another is the SSID, so choose a unique name for your network. If you were
to use a generic name like “wireless” or leave the default name (e.g., “linksys”) intact, you might have problems later on. For instance, if a neighbor
has a WiFi network with the same name, you might have trouble
connecting to your own network. Or, if your home network has the same
name as the one at work, yet both have different encryption settings (set
later in this section), Windows may not recognize both networks as unique
without a lot of hassle.
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Figure 7-6. Use your router’s wireless setup page to configure the security settings for your
wireless network
When choosing an SSID, you should also avoid names that give away your
location, such as your street address, your last name, or the name of your
business. An intruder—or WiFi leech, for that matter—might exploit that
extra information to break into your network.
11. Next, check to see whether the Wireless SSID Broadcast option is turned
on or off, and make sure it’s set the way you want it.
12. When you’re done here, click Apply Settings or Save.
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Opinions differ on whether turning off SSID broadcast is
a good or bad idea. Your SSID is a backdoor to your
wireless network; if you broadcast your SSID, you expose
one more piece of information someone could use to
connect to your network. If it’s hidden (and you’ve
chosen a unique name), you make it that much harder
for someone to break in. On the other hand, a hidden
SSID doesn’t necessarily guarantee an invisible network;
in fact, certain settings in Windows can be exploited to
expose your hidden SSID, as described in “Sniff Out WiFi
Hotspots” on page 446. So, don’t rely solely on a hidden
SSID to protect your wireless network.
Figure 7-7. Configure your wireless router’s encryption settings to prevent intruders from
connecting to your wireless network
13. Next, you’ll want to set up your router’s encryption feature for the best
wireless security. You can typically get to this setting by clicking a button
on the wireless page named Encryption, WEP, or—in the case of the
example in Figure 7-6—a separate tab named Wireless Security. Figure 7-7 shows a typical wireless encryption setup page.
Now, Windows understands several different types of wireless encryption,
all used to prevent intruders from connecting to or spying on your wireless
network unless they have your secret encryption key. Of course, some are
better than others; see the upcoming sidebar“Choosing the Right Encryption Scheme: WEP, WPA, or WPA2?” for details.
Choosing the Right Encryption Scheme: WEP, WPA, or WPA2?
Encrypting your wireless network accomplishes two things: it helps keep out
leeches who would otherwise use your WiFi for free Internet, and it helps
prevent intruders from breaking into your system to snoop around your PCs.
Of course, most wireless routers have encryption turned off by default, so any
choice you make is better than none at all. The three prevailing standards for
wireless encryption—all supported by Windows out of the box—are:
Wired Equivalent Privacy (or Wireless Encryption Protocol) is the original protection scheme included with early wireless routers, and it is also
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the weakest. With the right software, an intruder can easily break into a
WEP-protected network in a few minutes using the Related-key attack.
Use WEP only if you have older PCs or devices that don’t support
WPA, described next.
WiFi Protected Access was established as a stopgap measure to remedy
the vulnerabilities in WEP. If you have any Windows XP machines on
your network, they’ll need Service Pack 2 to connect to a WPA-encrypted
WPA2 or PSK (use this one!)
Also known as 802.11i or PSK for Pre-Shared Key, WPA2 is the completed
form of WPA, and is considered the strongest nonproprietary encryption
scheme for 802.11x wireless networks. Any wireless products certified
after March 2006 are supposed to fully support WPA2. WPA2 is supported under Windows XP if the WPA2/WPS IE update (available at http:
// is installed. Macs will need AirPort
4.2 or later to use WPA. See “Upgrade Your Router” on page 443 if your
router doesn’t fully support WPA2.
Those using WPA or WPA2 will have a choice between the Personal and
Enterprise varieties. As enticing as Enterprise may sound, it requires a
RADIUS server typically used only in large companies, making Personal
the proper choice for most home and small-business networks.
Next, your router may support the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) or TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol) encryption algorithms, or
both. Of the two, AES is stronger, but it is supported only by WPA2. If
you experience connection problems with AES, wherein certain websites
won’t load, try switching to TKIP (or vice versa). If your router allows it,
select both AES + TKIP to make troubleshooting easier, and then choose
one algorithm or the other in Windows.
So, for best wireless security, choose WPA2-Personal with AES + TKIP.
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14. Once you’ve enabled wireless encryption, you’ll need to choose a key or
With WPA or WPA2, you type a word or a phrase into your router’s setup
page, and then type the same word or phrase into Windows to connect,
as described in “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446. (In Figure 7-7, I
chose “Beware of the Leopard!” as my passphrase.) The stronger the passphrase you enter, the more secure your wireless network will be. A WPA
passphrase can be 8–63 characters (bytes) long, but the 802.11i standard
recommends a passphrase at least 20 characters long to deter practical
With WEP, your router may have you type a passphrase, but it’s only used
to generate a key. WEP keys are hexadecimal strings of numbers (0–9) and
letters (A–F), and are either 10 or 26 digits long (for 64- or 128-bit security,
respectively). You then type the hex key—not the passphrase—into Windows to connect.
Before you save your changes here, make things easy on
yourself and take this opportunity to record your passphrase or key. Highlight the key (if there’s more than one,
use the first key, Key 1) and press Ctrl-C to copy it to
the clipboard. Then, open your favorite text editor (e.g.,
Notepad), and press Ctrl-V to paste it into a new, empty
document. Save the file on your desktop (or a USB memory key to set up other PCs); this will allow you to easily
paste it into various dialog boxes later on, which is easier
than having to type it.
15. Click Apply Settings or Save at the bottom of the page when you’re done.
16. Unplug the cable connecting your PC to your router, and then attempt a
wireless connection, as described in the upcoming section, “Sniff Out
WiFi Hotspots” on page 446. See the next sidebar,“Router Placement
101” for ways to improve reception, and thus the performance of your
wireless network.
Router Placement 101
The tiny WiFi transceiver in your laptop should be capable of picking up any
wireless network within about 100 feet, perhaps a little more if you have newer
equipment. If indoors, this typically includes no more than about two or three
walls, and perhaps one floor or ceiling. But the placement of your wireless
router and the arrangement of natural obstacles near it will have a significant
effect on the strength and range of your WiFi signal.
Assuming you’re using a setup like the one pictured later in Figure 7-20, your
router will need to be within spitting distance of your DSL or cable modem.
But provided that the cable from your modem to your router is long enough,
you should have a little leeway there.
Your router should be out in the open; don’t put it under your desk, in a
drawer, behind a metal file cabinet, or at the bottom of a jar of Indian Head
pennies. If you’re feeding more than one computer, it should be placed in a
central location, if possible. Use the signal strength indicator (Figure 7-10) to
test various configurations. Consider cabling stationary computers so that you
can optimize the placement of the router for your portable ones.
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The 802.11b, g, and n standards operate over the 2.4 Ghz band, which is also
inhabited by cordless phones and microwave ovens. (802.11n routers also
support the interference-free 5Ghz band, but unless you use exclusively
802.11n devices or you have a dual-band/dual-radio router, you’ll still be operating at 2.4 Ghz.) This means that you’ll get better results if you move the
router away from any cordless-phone base stations, Bluetooth devices, televisions, radios, or TV dinners.
If, after adjusting the placement of your router, you still need more range than
it seems to be able to provide, consider either a repeater (range extender) or
an aftermarket antenna for your router. There are even a number of do-ityourself antenna projects for both the router and client (e.g., laptop), including the creative use of a Pringles™ can.
Note that replacing the antenna alone will only make the signal more or less
directional, and only affects the signal leaving the device to which it’s
If you employ encryption using these settings, but you
subsequently can’t connect to it wirelessly, it most likely
means that you’ve entered the encryption key incorrectly on
your PC. To fix the problem, you’ll have to reconnect your PC
to your router with a cable and modify the settings as described here. If that doesn’t help, make sure you’ve installed the
latest firmware on your router (see “Upgrade Your
Router” on page 443) and the latest wireless drivers on your
PC. As a final resort, reset the router as described in your
router’s documentation, and start over.
Upgrade Your Router
The software—a.k.a. firmware—in most routers is lousy, mostly because it
doesn’t need to be any better. But you may not realize how lousy yours is until
you replace it.
Most manufacturers equip their routers, wireless and otherwise, with userupgradable firmware. Just log into your router’s configuration page via a web
browser (covered in the previous section) and somewhere on the main page
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While it’s important to employ as many security features on your wireless
network as you can, you shouldn’t rely entirely on them to protect your
sensitive data. When you’re done here, make sure you set a password for your
Windows user account, and keep a watchful eye on precisely what resources
you’re sharing, both as described in Chapter 8.
or status page, you’ll see the current firmware version. Then head on over to
the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s a newer version available for your
model. (It would be a no-brainer to include an automatic firmware updating
feature, but nobody seems compelled to add this convenience to their devices
at the moment.) If there’s an update, download the file to your desktop and,
if necessary, unzip it. Through your router’s interface, upload the file and wait
a few minutes for your router to complete the update (a process called “flashing” the firmware).
Of course, since router manufacturers would rather you buy new equipment
than get new features on your old equipment for free, firmware updates rarely
do more than fix bugs and occasionally add support for newer encryption
protocols like WPA2 (discussed earlier). If you’re lucky, though, your router
manufacturer’s offering isn’t your only choice.
DD-WRT is a free, open source, Linux-based alternative firmware upgrade
that improves performance and reliability and adds features over the stock
firmware shipped with routers from nearly 70 companies. The upgrading
process takes no longer than it does to update the stock firmware to a newer
version (roughly 5 minutes), but this is time much better spent.
See the upcoming sidebar “Life with DD-WRT” for anecdotal
experiences after upgrading a particular Linksys router. A less
commercial—but also less-polished—alternative to DDWRT is the OpenWRT project (
OpenWRT is a modular system, and requires that you also
install an interface package like X-Wrt if you want a graphical
web interface like DD-WRT or your router’s stock firmware.
Life with DD-WRT
I had a troublesome 2-year old Linksys WRT150N router that was just begging
to be put out to pasture. Wireless transfer speeds were disappointing and
wireless connections were unreliable. But worst of all, the router would crash
during heavy activity, requiring a reboot at least 1–2 times a day. Some speculated that overheating was the cause, while others blamed flaky hardware.
After a quick and painless (not to mention free) DD-WRT upgrade, the problems stopped; no more crashes, no more flaky connections. Typical wireless
transfers (reported by WinSCP) were a lethargic 600–700 KB per second before the upgrade, but nearly tripled to 1700-1800 KBps with DD-WRT. And
not a single reboot was needed in six months.
The DD-WRT interface is better than the stock Linksys one as well, as shown
in Figures 7-5, 7-6, and 7-7. A DHCP client list, showing connected devices
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and their automatically-assigned IP addresses, is shown on the main page
instead of buried 4 levels deep. The controls to adjust the access restrictions,
firewall, and port forwarding are easier to understand and use. There’s now
more control over the UPnP service, useful for any Macs and iPhones on the
network and the PCs that connect to them. And the upgrade added some cool
features, like the ability to set up a wireless hotspot in case I decided to open
a café in my garage.
In short, the DD-WRT firmware turned a lousy router into a better product
for free.
To get started, go to and browse the Router Database for your router’s model number. If your model appears in the list, click
the link to view the available downloads for your router, and you’ll see 5–10
different downloads. For first-time flashing, DD-WRT recommends using the
Mini or Mini Generic flavor. You’ll get a file with the .bin filename extension;
just save the file to your desktop.
While the upgrade is taking place, you won’t have an Internet
connection (unless you bypass the router). So make sure you
have all the files, documentation, and stock firmware (just in
case) before you begin. Furthermore, some routers require
“activation,” which is free for personal use, so, if needed, go
ahead create an account at and visit
the Activation Center before you begin as well.
When you’re ready, upload the DD-WRT .bin file as you would any standard
firmware update; consult your router documentation or manufacturer website
for specific instructions.
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The first time you log into a newly-upgraded DD-WRT router, you’ll be asked
for a username and password: enter root and admin, respectively. (You can
change the password later on the Administration tab.) Then set up your Internet connection, wireless SSID, and wireless security, as described in the
previous section, “Set Up a Wireless Router” on page 436.
Figure 7-8. The “Connect to a network” window in Windows 7 lets you sniff out and connect
to WiFi hotspots in range
Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots
The centerpiece of Windows’ built-in wireless networking is the “Connect to
a network” pop-up window shown in Figure 7-8, which basically serves as a
WiFi sniffer. To see networks in range, click the tiny 5-bar signal strength meter
in your notification area (taskbar tray), or open your Start menu and select
Connect To. A little yellow star over the taskbar icon means you’re not connected; one or more white bars indicates an active connection.
To display the “Connect to a network” window, open the Start
menu and click Connect To (if it’s there). Or, click the network icon to the right of the notification area (tray) and then
click the Connect to a network link. Or, if you’re in Control
Panel, open the Network and Sharing Center, and click the
Connect to a network link on the Tasks pane on the left side.
(Note that this window is not needed at all if you’re connecting
your PC to a network with a cable.)
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A WiFi sniffer is a program (or device) that scans for and lists the WiFi networks within range. This is where the SSID Broadcast setting in “Set Up a
Wireless Router” on page 436, comes into play: as long as your router is
broadcasting your SSID, any sniffer within range will see it.
Just highlight an entry in the list and click Connect. Now, if a network is
identified as a Security-enabled network, you’ll need its encryption passphrase or key to connect to it. Provided it’s your own network, you can just
paste the passphrase from step 14 of “Set Up a Wireless
Router” on page 436; otherwise, you’ll have to get it from the administrator
of that particular hotspot.
If you turn on the Connect automatically option when connecting to a network, Windows will save the SSID and passphrase so it can connect without your help next time it sees
the hotspot in range. To see a list of saved networks, open the
Manage Wireless Networks window, discussed in “Troubleshoot Wireless Networks” on page 451.
Things are a little different if you’ve disabled your router’s SSID broadcast
option. For one, your WiFi network will either show up as Unnamed Network in the sniffer window, or it won’t show up at all. But more importantly,
you may have to go a different route to connect to your hidden network (particularly if there’s more than one “unnamed” network in range).
On the “Connect to a network” pop-up, click the Open Network and Sharing Center link on the bottom and then on the Network and Sharing Center
page, click the Set up a new connection or network link. From the list, select
Manually connect to a wireless network and click Next to open the page
shown in Figure 7-9.
Next comes the encryption key or passphrase. Now, despite the fact that it
clearly says Security Key here, Windows 7 only expects a “key” if you’re using
the older WEP encryption; for WPA or WPA2, enter the passphrase from step
14 of “Set Up a Wireless Router” on page 436. (Capitalization, punctuation,
and spacing all count.) Turn off the Hide characters option so you can see
what you’re doing, and then paste (Ctrl-V) the key.
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In the Network name field, type the SSID exactly as it appears in your router
setup page, and then choose the Security type (e.g., WEP, WPA2) that
matches the one used by your router.
Figure 7-9. To connect to a wireless network that isn’t broadcasting its SSID, go to this page
to hand-enter the SSID and encryption passphrase
Below, turn on the Start this connection automatically option, and then
pause while you try to figure out what Microsoft means when it warns you
that “Your computer’s privacy might be at risk” if you turn on the Connect
even if the network is not broadcasting option.
Give up? It turns out that Microsoft’s stated position—one not explained anywhere on this window, but rather only published online at http://technet.mi—is that if you turn off your router’s
SSID broadcast feature, bad things can happen.
It works like this: when connecting to a normal, broadcasting network, Windows waits until it sees a network you’ve already set up before it attempts to
connect. But when you turn off SSID broadcast to hide your wireless network,
Windows continually sends out a signal with the hidden SSID until it finds
your network. And as you may have guessed, some clown wrote a program
that “listens” for a PC that’s trying to connect to a hidden network and records
any SSIDs it encounters.
Now, in order for someone to discover your network’s hidden SSID, the hacker
must be within range of your PC when it’s on, and listening at the moment it
attempts to connect to your wireless network. If you’re already connected at
home or if you’re surfing the Web at the coffee shop down the street, Windows
won’t send out any signals. But more importantly, if someone discovers your
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SSID, she still won’t be able to connect to your network as long as you’ve
enabled encryption. As it is, a hidden SSID won’t adequately protect your
network if it’s the sole security measure, and that’s what Microsoft means by
its vague warning.
The aforementioned Connect even if the network is not
broadcasting option was first introduced in Windows Vista.
If you have any older PCs on your network running, say,
Windows XP, there is no such option unless you install the
Wireless Client Update at
So, to connect to your home network with a hidden SSID, you have four
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Take Microsoft’s advice and configure your wireless router to broadcast its SSID
Instead, rely on encryption, explained in the section “Set Up a Wireless
Router” on page 436, and authentication, described in Chapter 8, to protect your privacy. Then, connect to your network as described earlier in
this section.
Turn off your router’s SSID Broadcast setting…
…and enable the Connect even if the network is not broadcasting
option. This way, your PC will automatically connect to your hidden network whenever it’s in range, but you’ll run the risk of exposing your
“secret” SSID. If you do this, make sure you encrypt your network and
that you employ authentication (Chapter 8) in full force.
Turn off your router’s SSID Broadcast setting…
…but don’t use the Connect even if the network is not broadcasting
option. But beware: it’s a trap!
Here’s the problem: since your network is not broadcasting, Windows
won’t ever connect to it automatically. So, you need to connect by hand,
but how?
When you click Next on this page, Windows saves the network you’ve
just set up in the Manage Wireless Networks window (discussed in the
next section), but there’s no Connect button there. Don’t try using the
“Manually connect to a wireless network” window either, as it’ll just ask
you to set up another new network. And since your network isn’t broadcasting, it won’t show up in the “Connect to a network” window, at least
not yet.
The solution is to wait. Eventually, the “Connect to a network” window
will list your hidden network, assuming it’s in range. (It knows when it’s
in range, by the way, because it continually polls the airwaves for the network, using the process described earlier in this section that supposedly
compromises your privacy.) If you don’t see your new network entry after
a few minutes, close all open network windows and then reopen the
“Connect to a network” window; if that doesn’t help, restart Windows
and try again.
If your hidden network entry never shows up, you’ll need to either turn
on the SSID Broadcast option in your router, taking Microsoft’s advice,
or use the Connect even if the network is not broadcasting option,
while leaving your SSID hidden.
Abandon wireless altogether and use a cable
Yes, cables are a pain, but intruders won’t be able to break into your
wireless-less network without cables of their own. And that’s about as
secure as it gets.
Back on Earth, or more specifically, the “Manually connect to a wireless network” window, click Next when you’re done toiling with these settings. If you
see a message at this point that reads, “A network called xxx already exists,”
see “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469. Otherwise, Windows
should tell you that it has “successfully added” your network.
If you used the Start this connection automatically option on the last page,
Windows should be connecting as you read these words, and you can just click
Close here. Otherwise, click Connect to to return to the “Connect to a network” window, select your new network, and click Connect. Of course, if it’s
a hidden network as described earlier, it won’t show up there, so you’ll have
to click Change connection settings and then turn on the Connect even if
the network is not broadcasting option in order to connect.
If Windows won’t connect, see the section “Troubleshoot Wireless Networks” on page 451. See the upcoming sidebar “Quick and Dirty WiFi Piggyback” for another way to connect to a wireless network.
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Quick and Dirty WiFi Piggyback
Say you and a partner are staying in a hotel, and each of you has a laptop. The
hotel, of course, charges for wireless, and you don’t feel like ponying up the
extra dough for two connections, nor do you feel like taking turns.
Or, perhaps a friend visits your home or office and wants to check her email
with her laptop. What if you don’t want to share your wireless encryption
passphrase with any passerby who asks for it? Or, what if the laptop doesn’t
have wireless?
Assume you have a sample wireless network like the one illustrated in Figures
7-3 or 7-4. You can, of course, plug any PC (provided that it has an Ethernet
port) directly into your wireless router with an ordinary category-5 patch cable, and give it instant access to the Internet. But what if the router isn’t in a
convenient location?
Fortunately, any Windows PC can act as a gateway, funneling Internet access
to any computer to which it is physically connected, using Windows’ built-in
Internet Connection Sharing feature (discussed later in this chapter). All you
need to do is connect this new laptop directly to your own desktop or laptop
PC, and this typically requires only a single cable.
If the visitor’s laptop has an Ethernet port, and the connected PC has an unused Ethernet port (likely if it’s on a wireless network), just connect the two
computers with a category-5 crossover cable, and you’ve got yourself something like the wired network shown later in Figure 7-19. Just activate Internet
Connection Sharing on your PC, and the guest PC will have Internet access.
You wouldn’t want to use this as a long-term solution, but it works well
enough for a quick email download, takes only a few minutes and a $4 cable,
and doesn’t compromise your network’s security (much).
WiFi tends to be temperamental, not to mention annoying and tear-your-hairout frustrating. So, what do you do when you can’t connect to a wireless network you’ve just set up?
Your instinct might be to attempt to connect again through the “Connect to
a network” window. Or, if you’re connecting to a network with a hidden SSID
(described in the previous section), you may click the Set up a connection or
network link to attempt to enter all the information about your network
again. Of course, Windows will either let you complete setting up this network
only to have it not work, or complain that a network by that name already
exists. Arrgghhh.
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Troubleshoot Wireless Networks
Figure 7-10. Use the Manage Wireless Networks window to fix broken wireless connections
or delete wireless networks you no longer use
Instead, you should go directly to the little-known Manage Wireless Networks
window (Figure 7-10) via a tiny link by the same name on the left of the Network and Sharing Center window.
Here, you’ll see all the wireless networks you’ve ever saved or set up manually,
whether they’re in range or not. Double-click a network in the list to show the
Wireless Network Properties window (Figure 7-11). All the options here are
described in “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446.
Here’s how to solve some of the more common wireless connection problems:
Windows cannot connect to xxx.
This can be caused by a variety of problems, but Windows won’t tell you
which one. The most likely cause, at least when you’re connecting to an
encrypted network, is that you entered the wrong encryption passphrase/
key. If the network is hidden, you may have typed the wrong SSID (or if
there’s more than one hidden network in range, you may have selected
the wrong one).
If you ask Windows to diagnose the problem, it’ll probably suggest a weak
signal, but that’s unlikely if the network is showing up in your list with at
least two signal strength bars. More likely, it’s not a real network (perhaps
someone else’s laptop errantly set to accept incoming connections), or it’s
using MAC address filtering, as described in “Lock Out Unauthorized
PCs” on page 457.
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Figure 7-11. Open the Properties window for a wireless network you’ve saved to change
the connection options or modify the encryption passphrase/key
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Non-broadcasting network won’t show up.
If you see an entry named Unnamed Network, don’t try to connect to it
if you’ve previously set up the hidden network manually, as described in
“Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446. You either set it up incorrectly
or that’s someone else’s hidden network; either way, trying to connect to
this Unnamed Network won’t help. Use the Manage Wireless Networks
window, described earlier in this section, to remove the network and then
try adding it manually again.
Broadcasting (non-hidden) network won’t show up.
This may be caused by mixing old and new wireless equipment. For instance, most 802.11n routers have a setting that controls whether earlier,
slower equipment (g- and b-class routers) can connect. If you change the
setting so that only n-class devices can connect, then no laptop with an
older g- or b-class radio will be able to join the network wirelessly.
If you have an 802.11n router, you might choose to permit only n-class devices so that the router can operate
exclusively on the 5 Ghz band. Unless you have a dualband/dual-radio router, connecting older 802.11g devices will force it to drop to the more crowded 2.4 Ghz
band, making it more susceptible to interference.
Also, make sure both your router and your other equipment are communicating on the same channel (channel 6, 2.437 Ghz, is the typical default).
Windows tries to connect to the neighbor’s network first.
Open the Manage Wireless Networks window and delete the entry for
your neighbor’s network if it’s there. Next, double-click the entry for your
own network to show the Properties window, turn on the Connect automatically when this network is in range option and turn off the
Connect to a more preferred network if available option (unless it’s
grayed out). Click OK, and then drag your network to the top of the list
(or use the Move up button just above the list).
At this point, if your network isn’t showing up in the list of hotspots in
range, then you haven’t set it up yet. Close the Manage Wireless Networks
window, and then follow the instructions in “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446 to connect to it, and be sure to use the Save this
network option when you’re done.
After disconnecting, Windows immediately tries to reconnect.
Just click Disconnect again; Windows rarely does this more than two or
three times. If the problem persists, open the Manage Wireless Networks
window and delete the entry for this network.
A network called xxx already exists.
You’ll see this error if you try to set up a new wireless network with the
same SSID as one already saved on your PC. If they’re one and the same
hotspot, open the Manage Wireless Networks window and double-click
the network to modify that entry’s settings. However, if you’re trying to
set up two different hotspots that just happen to have the same SSID and
different encryption, see the next section.
Handle two networks with the same SSID.
Windows distinguishes one network from another by its SSID; in other
words, its name. Say you’ve named your home network wirelessnetwork,
and it works. (Yay!) Then, you take your PC to work and learn that your
employer’s SSID is also wirelessnetwork. When Windows sees wirelessnetwork, it tries to connect with the encryption passphrase it already
knows, and not surprisingly, fails.
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The best solution to this problem is to rename your home network to
something more unique, but this won’t help if both networks are administrated by other people. In this case, you have to make some changes.
First, open the Manage Wireless Networks window, right-click the network you have saved, and click Rename; this changes the superficial title
of the network entry while leaving the SSID intact. Next, double-click the
saved network, turn off the Connect automatically when this network
is in range option, and click OK. With that out of the way, you should
be able to connect to the new network by the same name and save its
encryption settings for next time.
If you frequently connect to different wireless networks,
use the Network and Sharing Center (shown in Figure 7-12 and discussed in Chapter 8) to quickly switch
between Public and Home modes.
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Windows loses its wireless connection when the phone rings.
If you have a cordless telephone on your land line, it’s likely the older 2.4
Ghz variety. 802.11b/g/n wireless networks operate on the same frequency, so move the cordless base station away from the router. For best
results, replace your old phone with a new WiFi-friendly 5.8 Ghz model;
or, if it’s your neighbor’s phone that causing the interference, consider
splurging on an early Arbor Day gift.
Alternatively, you can switch your router and all your wireless equipment
to the newer 802.11n standard, which operates in the 5 Ghz band. If you
still have g-class wireless devices (like iPhones and PDAs), make sure you
use a dual-band/dual-radio router so connecting a single 802.11g device
doesn’t force the entire network onto the 2.5 Ghz band.
Windows connects to WiFi, but the Internet doesn’t work.
If you seem to be getting a solid wireless connection, but you can’t load
any web pages or check your email, open the Network and Sharing Center,
shown in Figure 7-12. Now, this window is mostly a “home base” of sorts
that provides links to the other networking tools discussed in this chapter
and the sharing tools discussed in Chapter 8, but the View your active
networks section right in the middle of the window is a quick way to
diagnose this particular problem.
If there’s no active network connection—no LAN and no Internet—it’ll
simply say You are currently not connected to any networks here. If
you’re using a wired connection, the cable could be disconnected, your
router or switch could be turned off, or your network adapter could be
disabled or malfunctioning. If you’re using a wireless connection, you’ll
need to connect to a hotspot, as described earlier in this chapter.
If there’s any active network connection at all, this block will be divided
in two. On the left, you’ll see how Windows categorizes this network
(Home network, Work network, or Public network), which influences
only file and printer sharing (see Chapter 8). On the right, you’ll see which
physical network adapter is in use, and the Access type field will indicate
the status of the connection. Access type should be Internet; if this is the
case and you still can’t surf, try restarting your PC and temporarily disabling any firewall software that may be interfering.
If you’re on a public network (e.g., coffee shop, hotel,
airport), you might need to sign in or pay a subscription
fee for full Internet services, a fact that might be clear
from the first page your browser loads or perhaps suggested by the SSID.
If Access type says No Internet, then it could be an issue with your router
or broadband modem; try rebooting both devices and trying again. If you
connect with PPPoE (discussed later in this chapter) then there might be
a problem with your login credentials. If this is a new wireless network,
make sure you’re connecting to a true access point (router) and not someone else’s dormant ad-hoc (PC-to-PC) network. If all else fails, you may
need to mess around with your PC’s TCP/IP settings as described in
“Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469.
Everything works until you enable encryption.
Make sure your router has the latest router firmware; see “Upgrade Your
Router” on page 443 for details, plus an alternative that may fix the
If that doesn’t help, it’s likely that either your router or your wireless
adapter in your PC is not fully 802.11i-compliant. This means you’ll have
to either downgrade your encryption to one of the weaker standards explained in the “Choosing the Right Encryption Scheme: WEP, WPA, or
WPA2?” on page 440 sidebar, earlier in this chapter, or upgrade your
Beyond SSIDs and encryption, a wireless connection is not much different than
a wired connection. See “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469
for help fine-tuning TCP/IP addresses, a particularly useful tool when you have
a mix of different computers and devices on your network.
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Figure 7-12. The Network and Sharing Center shows the status of your LAN connection,
your Internet connection, and your sharing options, and provides links to most of Windows’
networking tools
Lock Out Unauthorized PCs
You’ve got encryption. You’ve got a hidden SSID. You’ve set up passwords
and restrictive permissions on all your shared folders (see Chapter 8). You’re
probably thinking that your biggest problem is that nobody seems capable of
remembering any of their passwords, but it may be quite the opposite.
For example, say you’ve got a small business with 20 employees, and someone
gets fired. Or, perhaps you live in an apartment building with shared wireless,
and someone moves out. Either way, the person who has left the system may
still have the wireless passphrase (and, in the case of the small business, a
common Windows password), and may still be able to get into your network.
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All of these security schemes rely on preshared information: anyone with your
WPA2 passphrase, your SSID, and your Windows password can connect to
your wireless network and possibly even read the files on your hard disk. The
system is built upon secrecy, and all it takes is a breach of that secrecy for the
whole system to break down.
What do you do? For one, you can change the password and then update the
remaining PCs and have everyone try to remember the new password. But the
ex-employee, ex-tenant, or ex-boyfriend might get the new password from a
friend or during a subsequent visit, and then you’re back where you started.
In short, a network that relies only on passwords to keep out intruders is still
One solution for home networks and small businesses—any outfit without the
means to install an authentication server typically available only to large
companies—is to use MAC address filtering.
A MAC (Media Access Control) address is a (more or less) unique ID for each
network adapter on your PC, or—from the point of view of your router—a
unique ID for each connection on your network. You can configure your router
to allow only specific MAC addresses to connect to your network, and in so
doing, turn away anyone else whether he or she knows your WPA2 passphrase
or not.
A typical Wireless MAC Filter page is shown in Figure 7-13. (If your router
doesn’t have this feature, see “Upgrade Your Router” on page 443.) Here, turn
on the Permit only PCs listed to access the wireless network option, and
then type or paste the MAC address of your PCs’ wireless adapters into the
boxes. Click Save Settings when you’re done.
To get your PC’s MAC address—which has nothing to do with Macintosh
computers, by the way—open the Network and Sharing Center in Control
Panel, and then click the link named for the active network adapter (under
View your active networks, next to Connections). Finally, click the Details button to open the Network Connection Details window shown in Figure 7-14; the six-segment Physical Address is the MAC address for this
To show the MAC addresses for all the network adapters on
your PC at once, open a Command Prompt window and type
ipconfig /all . Or, for a more abbreviated view, type getmac
at the prompt. (Note that only the MAC address of your wireless adapter matters here.)
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Figure 7-13. Use your router’s wireless MAC address filtering to keep out unauthorized PCs
You’ll need to enter the MAC address of each and every PC that connects to
your network wirelessly; leave one off, and it won’t be able to connect (and
the person using the PC won’t know why). Don’t worry about any PCs connected to your network with cables; they won’t be affected.
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Now, MAC address filtering is a useful solution, but it’s not foolproof. For
one, anyone with access to your router setup page can make changes to the
approved list, so you’ll want to change your router’s administrative password
if you haven’t done so already; you’re asking for trouble if you leave the default
password in place. Next, turn off your router’s Remote Administration option to ensure that only those connected to your private network have access.
Finally, consider the potential weakness in MAC address filtering explained
in“Why MAC Address Filtering Is Not Foolproof”, the next sidebar.
Why MAC Address Filtering Is Not Foolproof
MAC addresses—which are different for each device on your network—may
seem to be the perfect way to keep out intruders, but there’s a catch. Since
you can change the MAC address on most modern hardware, someone could
theoretically connect to a filtered network by spoofing the MAC address. This
makes the MAC address somewhat like a password, right?
Not exactly. First, no two devices on a network can have the same MAC address, so if your PC is connected, and someone else tries to break in by spoofing
your MAC address, the attempt will fail. Second, each PC has its own MAC
address and its own entry on your router’s MAC address filter page; this means
that an administrator can remove a compromised entry without affecting any
other PCs. (This is in contrast to the single WPA-Personal passphrase or WEP
encryption key that everyone on the network shares.)
The real problem is that, like the hidden SSID dilemma explained in “Sniff
Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446, a savvy intruder can use monitoring software to grab MAC addresses out of the air and use them to connect.
Think it’s difficult to change your PC’s MAC address? Think again. You can
use Mac Makeup, free from,
MadMACs, free from
-mac-spoofer, or Technitium MAC Address Changer to change your wireless
adapter’s MAC address in a few moments.
You can also change your MAC address—without any special software—by
editing the Registry. Open Registry Editor (Chapter 3) and expand the
\Class\{4D36E972-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}. Press Ctrl-F, type Driver
Desc in the box, and click Find Next. Press F3 to cycle through the subkeys
here (e.g., 0001, 0002, etc.) until you hit the one where the DriverDesc value
matches the name of your wireless adapter. Once you stumble upon the correct key, select Edit→New→String Value, and name the value NetworkAd
dress. Double-click the new value, type the MAC address you want to use in
the Value data field (without any hyphens, like this: 040815162342), and click
OK. To put the new address into effect, use the Network Connections window
to disable and then re-enable your network adapter (or restart Windows).
Of course, there are plenty of legitimate reasons to change one’s MAC address,
such as troubleshooting or conflict management. Even your router probably
has a way to change its MAC address—via the MAC Address Clone feature—
to match your PC’s address so remote servers that have been configured to
permit access from your PC won’t reject your router.
All this means that there’s no such thing as an impenetrable wireless network.
If you really care about security, abandon wireless and stick with cables.
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Figure 7-14. The MAC address of your wireless is adapter is the “Physical Address” listed
in the Network Connection Details window
If you’re worried about others on your local network breaking into your PC
and reading your files, see “Turn Off Administrative Shares” on page 605 for
another backdoor you can close.
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With MAC address filtering in place, all you have to do is create a new entry
for each new PC you want to allow to connect wirelessly. And of course, you’ll
need to remove entries for PCs you want to deauthorize. For this reason, it’s
useful to keep a record of the MAC addresses of all the PCs on your network
in say, a text file, somewhere safe.
Connect to a Public Wireless Network
The point of wireless networking is not necessarily to do away with a few feet
of cables, but to make a network do things it could never do before. For instance, if you have a portable computer equipped with wireless, you should
be able to walk into any airport, coffee shop, hotel, or college dormitory and
connect to the Internet in a matter of seconds. In more populated areas, it’s
not uncommon to walk down the street and have your pick of unsecured WiFi
networks; do it in a moving vehicle, and all of a sudden, you’re wardriving.
As described in “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446, you can connect to
any unsecured wireless network that Windows’ built-in WiFi sniffer is able to
detect. (The exceptions, of course, are those networks requiring a paid subscription or account access, but that’s a different story.) This applies to networks you’ll encounter while you’re on the road, as well as those that are in
range of your home or office.
The problem is that by connecting to these networks, you’re exposing your
computer to the full array of viruses, hackers, and other dangers present on
any network. (Thus the motivation for securing your own WiFi network becomes more urgent.) The solution is to take steps to protect your computer
(or workgroup), and the steps necessary depend on the scenario.
Scenario 1: Single-serving Internet
Say you’ve just sat yourself down at a sidewalk café, airport, or hotel lobby
and pulled out your laptop. You boot up Windows, open the “Connect to a
network” window as described in “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446,
find a local network, and connect for 20 minutes or so to check your email.
When you’re done, you’ll likely never use this network again.
Now, if you typically use your laptop when connected to your own private
network, protected by your wireless router’s firewall, you’ll want to take some
extra steps to secure your PC before you connect elsewhere. Since you won’t
have your router with you on the road, and thus won’t have any dedicated
firewall hardware, you’ll want to employ the built-in Windows Firewall software (or a third-party firewall solution), as described later in this chapter. (The
Windows Firewall is put in full force automatically if you choose Public network when first connecting to a new network or through the Networking and
Sharing Center.) This will provide basic protection, but certainly nothing
you’d want to live with for the long haul.
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Figure 7-15. Use a wireless bridge in conjunction with a wireless router to protect your
workgroup when connecting to a public Internet connection
Scenario 2: The long haul
Say your apartment complex, office building, or city provides free wireless
Internet. Naturally, you would never want to connect your computer or workgroup to this wireless free-for-all without some sort of reliable, long-term
firewall protecting you from the rest of the riff-raff (and vice versa). Now, since
this is not your own private Internet connection, you can’t just plug in a router
to facilitate your firewall. But you can add another device, a wireless bridge, in
order to build an “island” of sorts, in a sea otherwise filled with carnivorous
If you’re connecting to a wireless 3G network, versus a more
local WiFi hotspot, a wireless bridge won’t do the trick. Instead, you’ll need a 3G broadband router, or at least one that
supports USB-based WAN adapters.
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A bridge connects two networks; in this case, you’re bridging the public network to your private, secure network, as shown in Figure 7-15. Between them
is the wireless bridge and your router (which protects your private network
with its built-in firewall). The two dotted areas represent the scope of the two
different WiFi networks in effect: your own private, encrypted wireless network is shown on the left, and the public network is illustrated on the right.
(Your bridge and router actually form a tiny, third network, complete with its
own IP space separate from those in either of the two wireless networks.)
Here’s how you set it up:
1. Use the “Connect to a network” window as described in “Sniff Out WiFi
Hotspots” on page 446, to find the name (SSID) of the public wireless
network to which you’d like to connect. Connect to the network temporarily to confirm that it actually works.
2. Obtain a wireless bridge, and follow the procedure laid out in its documentation to set it up with the public wireless network you want to use,
a process that typically involves plugging the bridge directly into your PC
with an Ethernet cable.
3. While the bridge is still connected to your PC, obtain the local IP address
of your bridge; it’ll be something like or (You
won’t need the bridge’s remote IP address assigned to it by the public
4. When you’re done setting up the bridge, unplug it from your PC and connect it directly to the WAN port of your wireless router. (This is the port
into which you’d normally plug a DSL or cable modem.)
5. Connect your PC to your router and use a web browser to open up your
router’s setup page, as described in the section “Set Up a Wireless
Router” on page 436.
6. Configure your wireless router so that it has a Connection Type of Static
IP. (Refer to your router’s documentation for the specific details on this
and the next few settings.)
7. In the router setup, set the Gateway address to the IP address of your
bridge that you obtained in step 3.
8. Then, still on the router setup page, set the static IP address of the Internet
connection (as the router sees it) to a fictitious IP address in the same
subnet as your bridge. This means that the first three numbers of both IP
addresses should be the same, but the fourth should be different. That is,
if your bridge’s address is, then you could set the IP address
of your Internet connection to something like or
Don’t confuse these addresses with the IP addresses used
on your private network. The local IP address of your
bridge and the IP address for your Internet connection
that you enter here form the tiny, third network mentioned at the beginning of this section. Alternatively, you
could set your router to obtain its IP address automatically (back in step 6), a strategy that may or may not work
depending on how cooperative your bridge is.
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9. Finally, set the DNS server addresses in your router setup to the IP addresses of your Internet Service Provider’s DNS servers.
If you don’t know which ISP is responsible for the public network you’re
trying to connect to, try connecting directly with your PC once more. Open
a web browser, type in the address bar, and
press Enter; this will show the true IP address of your Internet connection.
Then, open a Command Prompt window and type nslookup ip_address,
where ip_address is the set of four numbers reported by This gives you the name of your ISP, plus some extra stuff.
So, you might see something like, which
means your ISP is Then, it’s only a matter of visiting the
ISP’s website (e.g., and determining its DNS
server addresses from its online documentation. Alternatively, you can use
Google’s free public DNS servers ( and or those provided
by OpenDNS.
10. Complete the setup of your router as explained in “Set Up a Wireless
Router” on page 436, and make sure to enable wireless encryption and
any other security settings at your disposal.
This should do it. The bridge will funnel the public Internet connection into
your router, and your router will funnel it to the computers in your workgroup.
The router acts like a firewall, provided that you connect all your computers
directly to your own, personal WiFi network, and not the public, unsecured
Among other things, your bridge/router combination will serve as a repeater
(a.k.a. range extender), and should boost the signal strength and might even
improve performance over connecting your PCs directly to the public network.
Get Bluetooth to Work
The problem is that Bluetooth standards are poorly implemented in most devices; don’t be surprised if you can’t exchange a simple address book entry
between your Bluetooth-capable PDA and your cell phone, even if they’re the
same brand. Even Windows 7’s built-in Bluetooth stack only works with certain types of Bluetooth transceivers, and then only on Tuesday. When the
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Bluetooth holds a lot of promise. For one, you can do things like connect a
laptop wirelessly to a Bluetooth GPS receiver for portable navigation, or to a
cell phone for cordless address-book synchronization. With your Bluetoothequipped PC, you can use a Bluetooth cell phone as a portable wireless modem,
handheld wireless presentation remote control, or wireless data storage drive
for your files.
moon is full. But usually the biggest stumbling block is getting Windows to
recognize and use the Bluetooth transceiver in your PC. Only after Windows
fully supports your Bluetooth adapter can you easily pair Bluetooth cell
phones, PDAs, cordless mice and keyboards, presentation remotes, headsets,
GPS receivers, and other devices with Windows.
You can tell whether Windows is aware of—and has loaded
a proper driver for—your Bluetooth hardware if there’s a
Bluetooth Devices icon in your notification area (taskbar
tray). Don’t go looking for the Bluetooth Devices icon in
Control Panel, found in earlier versions of Windows; it’s gone
in Windows 7, replaced by a hidden subpage of the Devices
and Printers page in Control Panel. But more on that later.
Most PC-based Bluetooth adapters are either tiny cards wired inside some
laptops or lipstick-sized USB dongles that plug in to the back of your PC. But
just because the manufacturer of that adapter claims compatibility with Windows 7 doesn’t mean you’ll see the Bluetooth icon in your taskbar. The problem is that only some Bluetooth adapters use Microsoft’s Bluetooth stack, the
set of drivers and utilities that allows your programs to talk to your Bluetooth
devices. Many adapters instead use either the Toshiba Bluetooth stack or the
Broadcom Bluetooth stack; good luck trying to find out which stack your
adapter uses simply by reading the packaging.
To determine the missing pieces on your PC, open Device Manager in Control
Panel. If all is well, you’ll see a Bluetooth Radios category, under which you’ll
find an entry for your adapter and another for Microsoft Bluetooth Enumerator. If you don’t see the Microsoft driver, or if your adapter appears in
the Unknown Devices category, you have three choices: hunt down a native
Windows 7 or Vista driver, be content with your device’s proprietary software
(if it works), or discard your adapter and spend $20 on a newer one.
Don’t bother trying to brute-force install a driver right here in
Device Manager. If you manage to install the proper software,
Device Manager will identify your Bluetooth adapter and install the driver automatically. Otherwise, the best you’ll get
with a manually loaded driver is an icon in the Bluetooth
Radios category covered by a yellow exclamation mark and
the error “Device cannot start.” Before you try to install one
of the Bluetooth stacks listed here, unload any drivers already
on your PC by right-clicking the entry for your Bluetooth radio
in Device Manager and clicking Delete. See Chapter 6 for
more on installing drivers.
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Figure 7-16. Your Bluetooth adapter and any Bluetooth devices you’ve paired with Windows
will all appear in the Devices and Printers page in Control Panel
Inspect the software that comes with your Bluetooth adapter (even if it won’t
install on Windows 7), or check the manufacturer’s website to find out what
kind of chip your adapter uses. If you have a Toshiba Bluetooth adapter, you
can get the Toshiba stack at:
If the proper drivers are installed, your Bluetooth adapter will show up in the
Devices and Printers page in Control Panel, as shown in Figure 7-16. (Don’t
be surprised if the name of your adapter is something unfriendly like
BCM92045B3 ROM.)
To pair a new device, click Add a device, and then while Windows waits,
make your device “discoverable.”
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Or if you have an adapter that uses a Broadcom or Widcomm Bluetooth chip,
you can get the Broadcom stack at:
As soon as Windows sees the device, highlight it and click Next. If prompted
to select a pairing option, choose Pair without using a code for simple devices
like mice and keyboards. For devices that have their own codes (refer to the
device’s documentation), select Enter the device’s pairing code and then
enter the code, which is often 0000. And for smart phones and other devices
with a screen and means of entry, click Create a pairing code for me and
then enter the code shown into your device. Note that Bluetooth devices time
out quickly, so don’t dawdle when entering pairing codes.
When you’ve successfully paired the device, an icon for it will appear in the
Devices and Printers window, like the iPhone shown in Figure 7-16.
To show only paired Bluetooth devices—but not your Bluetooth adapter—open your Start menu, type bthprops.cpl in
the Search box, and press Enter. The Bluetooth Devices page
doesn’t add any features over the main Devices and Printers
page in Control Panel, but it does conveniently filter out all
non-Bluetooth devices for easier setup and troubleshooting.
But to make your PC discoverable to other devices, to configure COM ports,
or to change other settings, right-click your Bluetooth adapter and select
Bluetooth settings to show the Bluetooth Settings window in 7-17.
Most PC software communicates over Bluetooth airwaves via virtual COM
ports that Windows opens on your PC (just like the ones you plugged your
mouse into in the 1980s, except invisible). Click the COM Ports tab to see
which ports have been claimed by the devices listed in the Devices and Printers
window. Some applications that communicate with Bluetooth devices autodetect the COM port(s) being used, but you may have to inspect this list to
determine which ports your device is using. If you don’t see at least one COM
port associated with your device—and you know there should be at least one
here—return to the Devices and Printers page in Control Panel, right-click the
device, click Properties, and choose the Services tab to see what the device
is capable of.
There’s no Edit or Properties button on the COM ports page,
so you’ll need to open Device Manager if you want to change
any settings, like the COM port number or baud rate. In Device Manager, expand the Ports (COM & LPT) category, and
then double-click a Standard Serial over Bluetooth link
entry and select the Port Settings tab to configure it.
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Figure 7-17. Use the Bluetooth Settings window to make your PC discoverable, set up virtual
serial ports, or choose whether or not to show the Bluetooth icon on the taskbar
Troubleshoot Network Connections
Whether you’re connected wirelessly or with a cable, Windows needs certain
numeric details to be squared away, or nothing will work right. With that in
mind, you should get to know the Network Connections window: on the Network and Sharing page in Control Panel, click Change adapter settings to
open the folder shown in Figure 7-18. If you haven’t done so already, open the
Views drop-down and select Details to show the pertinent information.
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Don’t be surprised if you can successfully pair a device with Windows, but
Windows can’t actually make use of the device. In most cases, you’ll need to
get software specifically designed to work with Bluetooth to use the device
wirelessly. For instance, get MeHere, free from http://mehere.glenmurphy
.com/, to use your Bluetooth GPS to navigate a live Google Maps window.
Figure 7-18. Use Network Connections to manage the hardware that connects your PC to
your network
Here you’ll see the status of all your network adapters—both wireless and
wired—at a glance. The Status column tells you which connections, if any,
are connected, albeit with some inconsistencies. Wireless and Bluetooth
adapters that are not in use say Not connected, but Ethernet (wired) adapters
say Network cable unplugged. In either case, any adapter currently in use
(connected) is marked only the current network name.
Don’t let the network name throw you. It’s not the SSID of the
wireless network you’re using (see “Sniff Out WiFi Hotspots” on page 446), nor is it the workgroup name used for
sharing folders and printers (explained in Chapter 8), nor does
it have anything to do with your Internet connection. Rather,
it’s a superficial title you can enter by clicking the Customize link in the Network and Sharing center, used to make it
easy to switch between public and private networks; see
Chapter 8 for details.
Also important is the Connectivity column, which shows exactly what each
adapter is providing (e.g., to Internet Access); see the previous section for
more on this indicator.
To see the IP address and other TCP/IP settings are currently being used by a
connection, double-click the connection to view the Status window and then
click the Details button. If a connection is connected but isn’t delivering any
data, an incorrectly assigned IP address may be to blame.
But the main reason to use this window is to change TCP/IP settings. Rightclick the connection you need to fix and select Properties. Then, select
Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) from the list and click the
Properties button to open the Properties window shown in Figure 7-19.
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Figure 7-19. You may have to manually configure TCP/IP properties to get your PC noticed
on your network
In most cases, selecting the defaults—Obtain an IP address automatically
and Obtain DNS server address automatically—will suffice. This works
because your router, if you have one, automatically assigns a unique IP address
to each new PC it sees using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP).
1. If you have a router, open its configuration page in a web browser (usually or, and navigate to the DHCP client
table. This shows all the PCs connected to your network (both wired and
wireless) controlled by DHCP, along with their dynamically assigned IP
addresses. (In most cases, PCs with static addresses will be absent from
this list.)
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But sometimes DHCP doesn’t cooperate as well as it should; either a PC is
given the wrong IP address or no address at all. To get around this problem,
try pulling your PC out of the DHCP arena and assigning it a static (nonchanging) IP address:
While you’re here, check also the DHCP settings and determine the range
of IP addresses your router is allowed to use for automatic assignments.
For instance, if the Start IP Address is set to and Maximum DHCP Users is set to 50, then the addresses from to are fair game for DHCP and should be avoided by you.
2. Open the Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) Properties window as
described at the beginning of this section, and choose the Alternate Configuration tab.
The settings in the Alternate Configuration tab, as
opposed to the General tab, allows you to choose a static
IP address for only the current network, a useful strategy
for portable computers that may connect to other
networks. If you’re not using a portable PC, the General tab works just as well.
3. Select User configured (or, if on the General tab, select Use the following IP address).
4. Pick an IP address (e.g., not claimed by the DHCP (see
step 1) and then type it into the IP address field. The first three numbers
of the address you use must be the same as the rest of your network (e.g.,
5. For the Subnet mask, type
6. For the Default gateway, type the IP address of your router (again, usually or
7. For the Preferred DNS server and the Alternate DNS server, type the
IP addresses of your ISP’s DNS servers.
8. Click OK in both boxes when you’re done. The change should take effect
9. Return to the Network Connections window when you’re done, and look
at the Status column entry for the connection you’ve just modified. If it
says Acquiring network address, it means Windows is in the process of
establishing a connection; if you see this for more than, say, 10 seconds,
you’ve probably done something wrong. If the status is Limited or no
connectivity, it means that a connection has been established, but your
IP address is incorrect.
In a perfect world, you’d never have to issue static IP addresses to your PCs,
but doing so may help them cooperate with other cranky computers on your
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Static IP addresses are sometimes also necessary to simplify
port forwarding (IP routing), wherein your router redirects
incoming traffic on a certain port to a specific IP address you
specify. See “Control a PC Remotely” on page 488 for an example.
If, at this point, your network appears to be functioning, you can proceed to
set up the various services you need, such as file and printer sharing (described
in Chapter 8) and Internet Connection Sharing (described later in this chapter).
Otherwise, look through the following checklist for possible solutions:
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Heed the advice at the beginning of Chapter 6: restarting your computer
will fix 99% of all problems. This is never truer than when diagnosing a
networking problem.
Nearly all network hardware (adapters, routers, print servers, etc.) has
user-upgradable firmware. Check the device manufacturers’ websites for
the latest firmware if you’re experiencing any network problems. It may
also be worth looking for a router firmware update or replacement to
eliminate the need for static IP addresses, as described in “Upgrade Your
Router” on page 443.
Bad cables
Make sure the green light is on next to each cable you’ve plugged in. If
not, try replacing one or more of the cables, especially if they’re old or
their connectors are worn.
When you transfer data across a network connection, each network
adapter, your router/switch/hub, and even your broadband modem,
should all have “activity” lights that flash. Some devices have separate
lights for receiving and transmitting data, while others have only a single
light for all incoming and outgoing traffic. Activity lights tend to flash
intermittently and irregularly; if they pulsate regularly and slowly, it may
indicate a problem with the device or connection.
No dupes
Make sure no two computers on your network are attempting to use the
same IP address (see Step 4 earlier in this section) or computer name (see
the sidebar “What’s My PC’s Name?” on page 594).
Make sure you have the latest drivers for each network adapter on your
PC, and remove any proprietary software that may have come with your
network hardware. See Chapter 6 for more on updating and troubleshooting stubborn drivers.
Some problems are caused by improper hardware settings, usually attributed to the network adapter itself. Open Device Manager and double-click
the icon for your troublesome adapter (or right-click it in the Network
Connections window, select Properties, and then click Configure).
Choose the Advanced tab, and thumb through the Property list on the
left, looking for possible problems. If you don’t understand a particular
setting, look it up in the documentation or on Google.
Can’t see another PC
This is a nasty problem, one with several different causes and often no
clear-cut solution. First, open the Services window (services.msc), find the
Computer Browser service, and make sure its Status is Started and its
Startup Type is Automatic (if it isn’t, double-click the service to change
its settings). Next, try the Ping utility, described in “Test an IP Address” on page 475, to determine whether your PC can actually see another PC on your network. If the Ping test fails, try pinging your router (if
you have one) from each computer to see which PC’s connection isn’t
working. If Ping is successful, proceed to Chapter 8 for help with file
Add new network connections
You may have noticed that there’s no obvious way to add a new connection
to the Network Connections window. By default, the Network Connections
window only shows your installed hardware, which means you can add a new
network adapter, and it will show up in this list.
But the Network Connections window also supports virtual connections, such
as dial-up (analog modem) connections and broadband (PPPoE) connections.
To add one of these, open the Network and Sharing Center and click the Set
up a connection or network link, as described in “Internet
Me” on page 476. Of course, you’ll have to return to the Network Connections
window if you want to modify or delete one of these virtual connections.
Prioritize multiple, simultaneous network connections
If you ever use more than one network connection simultaneously, there’s a
little known setting you can play with that may solve some problems. Say you
connect wirelessly at home most of the time, but when you transfer a lot of
files from one PC to another, you prefer to use a cable for greater speed.
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Except in specific cases, Windows will only use one network adapter at a time.
So, if you’re connected wirelessly and with a cable, you’ll want to choose which
connection Windows prioritizes. In the Network Connections window, press
the Alt key to temporarily show the menu, and then from the Advanced menu,
select Advanced Settings. Pick the fastest connection, and use the up arrow
to move it to the top of the list.
While you’re here, choose the Provider Order tab, and make sure the Microsoft Windows Network entry appears at the top of the list.
Click OK when you’re done; the change will take effect immediately.
Test an IP Address
Once you know the IP address of a PC or device—whether it’s dynamically
assigned or static—you can easily check if that machine is running and visible
to other machines on the network. The Ping utility sends small packets of
information to another computer on your network and reports on its success
(if any).
Open the Start menu, type cmd, and press Enter to open the Command Prompt.
At the prompt, type ping address, where address is the IP address of another
computer or perhaps your router. For example, to ping the computer at from any other PC, you’d type:
If the connection is working, the Ping transaction will be successful, and you’ll
get a result that looks like this:
Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=24ms TTL=53
Reply from bytes=32 time=16ms TTL=53
Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Request timed out.
Request timed out.
it means that Ping never got a response from the other computer. A failed Ping
can mean that the adapter on your local PC is misconfigured, or that the target
machine isn’t up and running. (There’s also a small chance that the target
machine has a firewall blocking Ping.)
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To be fair, this test only works if both connections are working, and if the
network is functional. If you get this result:
You can also test your Internet connection by pinging a host on the Internet
(outside your local subnet), like this one:
Now, if you get a reply from, but no reply when you ping a host
name, like this:
it means that your DNS nameservers—the machines at your ISP that translate
host names to their IP addresses and back—are misconfigured or possibly
down. In this case, follow the steps in “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469, to enter the correct DNS addresses.
Internet Me
Connecting to the Web is much easier than it used to be, so much so that
Windows basically takes this for granted. In fact, I’m going to make this really
easy for you: if you have broadband (typically via DSL or cable), and you’re
not using a router, get one right now and hook it up. Once you set up your
router (see “Set Up a Wireless Router” on page 436), connect your PC to the
router either wirelessly or with a cable, and you’re online. That’s it.
Now, if you have broadband but you can’t use a router for some reason, or if
you’re (gasp) still using dial-up, then you need to configure Windows to connect to the Internet for you. Of course, the procedure depends on the type of
connection you’re setting up:
Broadband with a static IP address
Follow the steps in “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469,
to set up your Ethernet adapter to use your Internet connection’s static IP
address. But do this only if you have no router, which means you also have
no protection.
Broadband with a username and password (PPPoE)
Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) is used to establish temporary, dynamic IP connections over broadband. If your Internet connection has a dynamic IP address, it means your ISP assigns you a different
IP address every time you connect to the Internet. The PPPoE protocol
facilitates this connection by sending your username and password to your
provider. Again, follow these steps only if you have no router to do this
for you.
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Never use the proprietary software provided by your ISP
to connect via PPPoE; use the procedure explained here
instead for best results.
To set up a PPPoE connection, open the Network and Sharing Center, and
click the Set up a connection or network link on the bottom. Select
Connect to the Internet, and click Next. Click Broadband (PPPoE),
type the User name and Password provided by your ISP, and turn on the
Remember this password option. Type a name for the connection (anything you like) and then click Connect.
You can subsequently connect with the Connect to a network pop-up
window or modify your connection from the Network Connections window, both of which are covered earlier in this chapter.
Dial-up (analog modem) connection
Sure it’s obsolete, but it’s cheap, and if there’s no broadband around, it
may be your only choice. To set it up, open the Network and Sharing
Center and click the Set up a connection or network link on the bottom.
Select Set up a dial-up connection, and click Next. Type the Dial-up
phone number and User name and Password provided by your ISP, and
turn on the Remember this password option. Type a name for the connection (anything you like), and click Create. To connect, click the
Manage network connections link, and then double-click your new
See the “Live with PPPoE” sidebar, next, for tips that also apply to
dial-up connections.
Live with PPPoE
Connect on demand
To have Windows connect automatically whenever the connection is
needed, open the Network Connections window, right-click the connection icon and select Set as Default Connection. Then, go to Control
Panel→Internet Options, choose the Connections tab, and select the
Always dial my default connection option.
Connect automatically
To have Windows connect automatically when you first start your computer, drag the connection from the Network Connections window to
your Startup folder.
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PPPoE can be a pain on a day-to-day basis, mostly because Windows is responsible for the dialing. Here are some ways to make it a little more seamless:
Connect without asking
To skip the Connect dialog that asks for your username and password
each time, open the Network Connections window, right-click the connection, and select Properties (or click the Properties in the Connect
window itself). Choose the Options tab, turn off the Prompt for name
and password, certificate, etc. option, and click OK.
Share a PPPoE connection
If you’re using PPPoE in conjunction with Internet Connection Sharing,
discussed later in this chapter, and you’ve found that some web pages
won’t load on the client computers, see the sidebar “Change the
MTU” on page 482.
Of course, the best way to live with PPPoE is to get a router and let it handle
the connection. It’ll do a much better job than Windows will, plus it provides
a superb firewall and a very convenient means of sharing an Internet connection among several PCs.
Share an Internet Connection
When including an Internet connection, you have several choices. The old
school approach, shown in Figure 7-20, involves a single computer connected
directly to the Internet (via broadband, dial-up, or whatever). That PC then
serves as a gateway (thanks to Internet Connection Sharing, discussed shortly)
and shares the Internet connection with the other computers on the LAN.
Figure 7-20. A simple workgroup with three computers, one of which has a shared Internet
There are several downsides to Internet connection sharing. For one, it can be
temperamental and frustrating to set up. Performance and security leave a lot
to be desired, and it tends to be slow. Also, one computer (the gateway) must
always be on for the others to have Internet access, and that computer must
have two network adapters.
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Figure 7-21. A wireless router not only makes it easy to share an Internet connection, it
offers better security and more flexibility than the old-school approach shown in
Figure 7-20; all of these computers, wired and wireless, have equal access to the Internet—
note the wireless print server
The preferred method is to use a wireless router, forming the setup shown in
Figure 7-21.
The router is a sole unit (the little box with two antennas in Figure 7-21) that
plays a whole bunch of valuable roles on your network:
You’ll see routers discussed throughout this chapter. If you don’t yet have one,
do yourself a favor and pick one up. They’re cheap, and as shown here, do
quite a lot. Even if you only have a single PC (no local network to speak of),
the firewall feature of a router provides excellent security, and far better protection than Windows’ built-in firewall.
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• A switch, which connects all the PCs on your network to one another.
• A wireless access point, which serves as a base station for your wireless
PCs and devices, and connects them to the rest of your network.
• A router, which bridges your local network to the Internet and provides
Internet access to all computers on your LAN. Plus, if you use a
broadband connection that requires a username and password (e.g.,
PPPoE), the router automatically logs in for you, and keeps you logged in.
• A DHCP server, which automatically assigns IP addresses to computers
in your local network (typically starting with, where is the router itself), allowing them to coexist peacefully on
your network. (See “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469
when this doesn’t work.)
• A firewall, preventing any and all communication from the outside world,
except that which you specifically allow (facilitated by your router’s portforwarding feature).
Now, if you don’t have a router, or you want to follow the steps in the sidebar
“Quick and Dirty WiFi Piggyback” on page 451, you can use the Internet
Connection Sharing (ICS) feature built into Windows, along with at least one
cable. To get ICS to work, you’ll need the following:
• At least two computers, each with a network adapter properly installed
and functioning. ICS can be used with both conventional and wireless
• One PC must have an Internet connection properly set up, as described
in “Internet Me” on page 476.
• If you’re sharing a broadband (DSL or cable) connection, the PC with the
Internet connection must have two network adapters installed: two Ethernet cards, or one wireless adapter plus one Ethernet card. See Figure 7-20, earlier, for a diagram of this setup.
If your Internet connection is accessed through a router
or you’ve allocated multiple IP addresses, you don’t need
The first step in setting up ICS is to configure the host, the computer with the
Internet connection that will be shared:
1. In the Network and Sharing Center, click the Change adapter settings
link to open the Network Connections window. If you haven’t already
done so, open the Views drop-down and select Details.
2. Here, you should have at least two connections listed: one providing your
Internet, and the other providing access to your LAN. If they’re not there,
your network is not ready. (For clarity, rename the two connections to
“Internet Connection” and “Local Area Connection,” respectively.)
3. Right-click the connection providing your Internet, and select Properties. This is either an Ethernet adapter plugged into your DSL or cable
modem, or—if you’re using PPPoE—your broadband connection.
4. This step is optional, but may be required if there are any PCs on your
network running Windows 98 or older versions: follow the steps in
“Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469, to set the IP address
of the host PC to
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Figure 7-22. Any Internet connection can be shared with other computers in your
5. Choose the Sharing tab, and turn on the Allow other network users to
connect through this computer’s Internet connection option, as
shown in Figure 7-22. (The Sharing tab will be absent if there’s only one
network adapter.)
That’s it! The change will take effect immediately, and you won’t have to do
anything special on the client PCs. Verify that the Internet connection still
works on the host by attempting to open a web page, and then try it on each
of the clients.
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6. Click OK when you’re done. Verify that Internet Connection Sharing is
enabled; among other things, it should say Shared in the Status column
of the Network Connections window.
Change the MTU
The MTU, or Maximum Transmission Unit, is the largest chunk of data that
can be passed through a network interface. The MTU in Windows 7 is fixed,
but there are times you may want to change it, such as when client computers
have trouble downloading data through a shared Internet connection facilitated by PPPoE.
To find a suitable MTU, sit down in front of one of your client machines, and
ping -f -l 1500
where is the address of the host computer (or router) and 1500 is
the MTU to test. If, at this point, you get an error message at this point about
fragmentation, try the Ping command again with a lower value, say, 1492 in
lieu of 1500. Keep trying with lower values (1492, 1480, 1454, etc., down to as
low as 1400) until the ping is successful.
Once you’ve found an MTU that works for you, open a Command Prompt
window in Administrator mode (see Chapters 9 and 8, respectively), and type:
netsh interface ipv4 show subinterfaces
to list the network connections on your PC.
netsh interface ipv4 set subinterface "Local Network Connection"
mtu=1454 store=persistent
where Local Network Connection is the name of the connection to modify (in
quotes), and 1454 is the MTU value you’ve settled upon. Restart Windows for
the change to take effect.
Test Your Throughput
Throughput is the practical measurement of bandwidth: the quantity of data
you can transmit over a connection in a given period of time.
The simplest way to measure your throughput is to visit one of the many
bandwidth-measuring websites, such as,, or Bandwidth Place.
For the most accurate results, make sure you close all superfluous programs
before running the test. In addition to calculating your bandwidth and reporting the results, these services typically ask for your postal (zip) code and connection type to compile statistics on typical connection speeds in your area.
The results should look something like Figure 7-23.
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Figure 7-23. Use a free online speed test page to measure the speed of your Internet
Now, according to the results in Figure 7-23, the download speed is a fair 3,268
Kbps, which means, hypothetically, it should take about 6.5 seconds to download a 1 MB file.
Since your connection speed (or lack thereof) is most noticeable during file
downloads (compared with web surfing or emailing), you can overcome some
of these conditions by using a download manager, as described in “Do Download Accelerators Really Work?”, the next sidebar.
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So, what do you do if your connection seems too slow? First, close all open
windows, turn off all background programs (see Chapter 6), and shut down
any other PCs and devices that share your Internet. Next, examine the lights
on your router or broadband modem; if they’re flashing, it means that some
program is still running on your PC, possibly consuming bandwidth. There’s
a chance that the unexplained traffic is the result of malware (covered in
Chapter 6) that has made its way onto your PC.
Do Download Accelerators Really Work?
There are a number of “download accelerator” software products available,
all of which promise to speed up the transfer of files downloaded to your
computer. As you might’ve guessed, none of them are actually capable of
increasing the bandwidth or throughput of your Internet connection. Rather,
they employ download managers that compensate for inefficiencies in the
download process.
These programs work by downloading a file in pieces, via multiple concurrent
download streams (not unlike the TCP/IP protocol itself). While two concurrent downloads would each be allotted half the bandwidth normally consumed by a single download, this boundary only applies when your Internet
connection is the bottleneck. In practice, download managers do use a larger
percentage of your available bandwidth, and as a result, do tend to shorten
download times, particularly for large files.
The problem is that any speed advantage you notice may be offset by the
annoying and cumbersome interfaces these programs add to the mix: numerous dialog boxes and unnecessary prompts, not to mention bloated manager
applications that take too long to load before they even get started. But in the
end, the convenience afforded by some of these programs’ extra features may
make them worth the hassle.
Some of the better download managers available, all free, include Download
Express and Free Download Manager.
The real advantage of products like these is not so much in the speed increase,
but in the perks. Some programs also can resume aborted downloads, find
alternative servers from which to download your files, and schedule downloads for off-peak times.
Do-it-yourself bandwidth test
One of the simplest ways to measure the throughput is to transfer a precompressed binary file (such as a .jpg or .zip file) from your computer to another
location and then back again, recording the time it takes to complete the
transfer each way. Just divide the file size by the transfer time to get the
throughput, typically in kilobytes or megabytes per second.
When testing the speed between two PCs on your local network (for instance,
when comparing the speed of your wireless network with that of cables), you
might be inclined to drag and drop the files in Windows Explorer, a process
discussed at length in Chapter 8. Sure, it’s a good real-world test, but Windows
7 adds a lot of overhead to this process, so it won’t be a true test of raw
throughput. If you’re feeling adventurous, try using SCP or FTP: just set up an
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FTP server on one PC, either using Windows’ built-in IIS service or a thirdparty freeware alternative, and then connect to that PC with a basic SCP client
like WinSCP.
A slightly more scientific approach is to use the Performance Monitor
(perfmon.msc). When it opens, highlight Performance Monitor from the
Monitoring Tools branch in tree. Right-click the chart, select Add Counters, and then click the tiny arrow next to Network Interface in the list.
Highlight both Bytes Received/sec and Bytes Sent/sec (use the Ctrl key to
select multiple entries) and below, highlight your network adapter. Click Add
>> and then click OK. (Forget the Current Bandwidth entry here, which
shows the theoretical maximum bandwidth of your network adapter, not that
of your actual connection.)
Performance Monitor than starts ticking away, recording incoming and outgoing traffic and displaying the results in the chart. Now, transfer a large file
and watch what happens. At the bottom, highlight either Bytes Received/
sec or Bytes Sent/sec to see the Average and Maximum data throughput
that results.
Set Up Virtual Private Networking
Virtual Private Networking (VPN) allows you to construct a private workgroup
of two or more computers across a standard Internet connection. With a VPN,
you can accomplish tasks previously available only over a LAN, such as file
and printer sharing, user authentication, and even networked games. Figure 7-24 illustrates a typical scenario with a tunnel connecting a single computer to a remote workgroup.
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Figure 7-24. Form a virtual private workgroup through a tunnel across the Internet
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Need privacy on a public wireless network? Set up a VPN to
transfer data between PCs securely. For another way to get
privacy on a public network, see “Connect to a Public Wireless
Network” on page 462.
Before you can set up VPN, you need a tunnel server. If you’re connecting to
a large company, the VPN administrator will provide the necessary settings
(and software, if necessary) to establish a connection. Otherwise, you can use
a Windows 7 PC as a tunnel server by following these instructions.
Part 1: Set up the tunnel server
Despite the fact that Microsoft markets its server-class operating system for
this purpose, Windows 7 can indeed serve as a VPN server without any extra
Here’s how you do it:
1. Open the Network and Sharing Center, and click the Change adapter
settings link on the left to open the Network Connections window.
2. Press the Alt key to show the menu, and then from the File menu, select
New Incoming Connection.
3. On the “Who may connect to this computer?” page shown in Figure 7-25, place a checkmark next to each user account you wish to use as
a login for VPN clients. Unless you’re using this VPN connection yourself,
you’ll probably want to click Add someone to create a separate user
account for others to use. Otherwise, you’ll have to share your own username and password with those who will be connecting. Click Next when
you’re done.
4. On the next page, turn on the Through the Internet option, and then
click Next.
5. Highlight Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and click Properties. Turn on the Allow callers to access my local area network option,
and then specify how you’d like to assign IP addresses to incoming connections; you can optionally assign a range of addresses here.
6. Click OK and then Next when you’re done, and then click Allow
access to complete the wizard.
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Figure 7-25. This page lets you choose who can join the VPN connection hosted by your
Windows 7 PC; click Add someone to create a new account on the fly
7. If you’re using a router on the server end, you’ll need to set up Port Forwarding to route VPN traffic to the IP address for your tunnel server. VPN
over PPTP uses port 1723, and IPSec uses 500, 50, and 51. See “Control a
PC Remotely” on page 488 for details, and see Appendix B for more information on TCP/IP Ports.
Next, set up at least one other PC as a VPN client to connect the two.
Part 2: Set up the VPN client
1. Open the Network and Sharing Center, and click the Set up a connection
or network link on the bottom.
2. Select Connect to a workplace from the list and then click Next.
3. Click Use my Internet connection (VPN).
4. In the Internet address field, type the IP address ( or the host
name ( of the tunnel server.
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Although there only needs to be one VPN tunnel server, you can have as many
clients as you like (that is, until you reach the limit specified in the tunnel
server’s configuration). Here’s how to connect a Windows 7 PC to an existing
VPN network:
5. Next, choose a title for the new connection (it can be anything you want),
type it into the Destination name field, and click Next.
6. On the next page, type your user name and password on the tunnel server;
this is either the login for a valid Windows user account on that PC (see
Step 3 in Part 1, earlier) or a login provided by the tunnel server’s
7. Turn on the Remember this password option, and click Connect (or
Create, if you opted not to connect on the previous page).
As soon as you’re connected, you should have access to
the additional resources shared on the remote network;
see Chapter 8 for details on accessing shared folders and
printers. Later on, you can connect by double-clicking
the VPN connection in the “Connect to a network”
popup window.
8. If you connect to the Internet through a router, you’ll most likely need to
turn on the IPSec option in your router’s setup to get VPN to work. See
“Set Up a Wireless Router” on page 436, or refer to your router’s documentation, for details.
For additional tips on working with VPN connections, such as how to bypass
the Connect dialog, see the sidebar “Live with PPPoE” on page 477.
Control a PC Remotely
With virtualization, covered in Chapter 1, running an operating system in a
window is commonplace, not to mention very cheap. But virtualization is no
substitute for a real, live PC, particularly when that PC is miles away and is
more than just a bare-bones Windows box.
Got important data on a remote machine? Sure, Windows Explorer does let
you transfer files to and from other computers by dragging and dropping (see
Chapter 8), and even over long distances with the help of VPN, but you can’t
run programs or use your hardware merely through Explorer.
Enter the Remote Desktop feature, included with the Professional and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 (lesser editions can only use the feeble Remote
Assistance feature described later in this section). Remote Desktop lets you
view and interact with the desktop of a PC in a window, as though you were
sitting in front of it.
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Remote computing is great for travelling, as it allows you to leave the lion’s
share of your data and processing power at home, and lug around nothing
more than an ultra-lightweight netbook. It’s also useful for commuters, who
need to access work documents and programs from home, or vice versa.
Of course, the concept of remote assistance—fixing someone else’s PC from
afar—is so valuable that many paid help websites now employ some form of
remote control. And anyone administrating PCs in other rooms or other buildings will likely need remote control on a regular basis.
You can access Device Manager, Registry Editor, the Disk
Management tool, the Services window, and any administrative tools remotely without initiating a Remote Control
session. From the Files menu in Registry Editor, for instance,
select Connect Network Registry and then type the name of
the remote PC to browse the registry of that computer. Just
make sure Administrative Shares are enabled, as described in
Chapter 8.
Of course, there are drawbacks to remote control as well. For one, you’ll need
a relatively fast connection to use any remote control software like Remote
Desktop, since a lot of data is transferred to update the screen image. For
example, a direct Ethernet (LAN) connection will provide nearly instantaneous responsiveness, while a DSL or cable connection will be more sluggish.
And network setup, particularly if you’re connecting through a router, can be
a chore.
Finally, while just about any computer—even a Mac—can connect to a Remote Desktop PC, only the higher-end editions of Windows 7 (plus Vista, XP,
and 2000) can host a Remote Desktop session and be controlled remotely. Of
course, the alternatives described later in this section overcome this limitation,
but that’s just more software to install.
Part 1: Enable the Remote Desktop host
Allowing others to connect to a computer with Remote Desktop is relatively
easy. Open the System page in Control Panel and click the Remote settings
link on the left side.
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Follow the following procedure to set up Remote Desktop on both the host
and client PCs.
Windows offers two levels of security. If you know you’ll be using another
Windows 7 or Vista machine to access this PC, select Allow connections only
from computers running Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication. Or, if you’ll need to access this PC from an older Windows 2000 or
XP machine, use the Allow connections from computers running any version of Remote Desktop option.
Network Level Authentication (NLA) is also known as Terminal Services Client 6.0. To use NLA with Windows XP or
Windows Server 2003, install the update available at http://
By default, all active administrator-level users can connect to your PC when
Remote Desktop is enabled. If you wish to grant access to a lesser user account,
click Select Users. (See Chapter 8 for more information on user accounts.)
Click OK when you’re done; the change will take effect immediately.
Next, if you’re using a router, you’ll have to set up your router’s port forwarding feature to permit the incoming connection. (This step, of course, is not
necessary if you’re connecting from another PC from within your local network
or VPN workgroup.)
The simplest way to make your PC work with your router’s
port forwarding feature is to assign a static IP address to your
PC, as described in the section “Troubleshoot Network Connections” on page 469. See also the section “Upgrade Your
Router” on page 443 for an upgrade that may make a static IP
Open your router’s setup page as described in “Set Up a Wireless
Router” on page 436, and navigate to the Port Range Forwarding page, which
should look something like the one in Figure 7-26. Here, fill out the first blank
line as follows:
This is just a description; type Remote Desktop here.
Start, End
Type 3389, the TCP port number used by Remote Desktop, into both the
Start and End fields. (See Appendix B for more information on TCP/IP
Ports.) If you have more than one PC, you can specify additional ports
(3390, 3391, etc.) here and then customize them in Remote Desktop on
each PC.
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Figure 7-26. To control a PC across an Internet connection, you’ll need to permit the
incoming signal by going to your router’s Port Range Forwarding page
Choose TCP.
IP Address
Enter the static IP address you chose for your PC.
Place a checkmark in this box to permit this service.
Click Save Settings when you’re done.
To connect from another PC elsewhere on the Internet, you’ll need the IP
address of the host PC on the Internet (not the address in your workgroup).
Just open a web browser, navigate to, and record the
number displayed.
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If you’ll only be connecting to this PC from another PC on
your network, you can skip the port forwarding and external
IP address and instead use the computer name of the host to
connect. You can find the computer name on the System page
in Control Panel, next to Computer name in the middle of
the page. Click the Change settings link and then click the
Change button to choose a new name for the PC.
Part 2: Connect to a remote computer
Once you’ve set up a host to accept remote connections, jump over to another
PC and run mstsc.exe to open Remote Desktop Connection.
If you’re using an older Windows PC without Remote Desktop, you can get the RDP software for free from http://www
.mspx. RDP for the Mac is available at
.com/mac/products/remote-desktop/. For Linux, use rdesktop,
or for iPhone, get Remote Desktop, WinAdmin, or Gooer.
The default Remote Desktop Connection dialog is very simple, with only a
single field. Click Options to display the full dialog, shown in Figure 7-27.
If you’re connecting to another computer in your workgroup, type the name
of the computer in the Computer field, or, if you’re connecting to another
computer on the Internet, type its IP address here. Next, type the User
name of a valid Administrator-level user account on the remote computer;
you’ll be prompted for a password later.
The rest of the options in this dialog are optional. The settings in the Display and Experience tabs deal with performance issues, and the Programs
tab lets you start programs on the remote computer automatically when you
connect. The Local Resources tab has similar options, plus a Local devices section, which lets you share remote drives and printers.
If you plan on reconnecting to the remote computer at a later
time, click Save As to create an .rdp file wi