Administrators are constantly learning these days. Server virtualization, desktop VDI, Exchange, SharePoint -- it's a never-ending barrage of new material to take in. With so many products, it's easy to fall behind on learning all the features of the "old" Windows 7, so let me bring you up to speed. Here are the top 20 tips and tricks that you should know for Windows 7; if you want to see my favorite three, just watch the video.
1. Taskbar icons have keyboard shortcuts. To open these applications through shortcut keys, simply hold down the Windows key and press the number on the keyboard that corresponds with the icon, working from the Start "orb" button to the right. For example, if Internet Explorer is the first icon, press Windows-1 to open IE.
[ Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. ]
2. You can move items on the taskbar. I know it feels like this was already possible in Windows XP and Vista, but this actually is a new Windows 7 feature.
3. Paint and WordPad use the new ribbon interface. In addition, Paint has new brushes, and both applications have new Save As options. However, you still can't open more than one document or picture at a time.
4. There is a great new tool for supporting family members and friends from afar. Click the Start button and type psr to open the Problem Steps Recorder. This tool can capture step by step (even take screenshots) what a person is doing. When they stop the recording, the session is bundled as an MHTML file and compressed for easy emailing back to support, which in most cases is you. (An MHTML file is an IE-only HTML variant.)
5. You can have more than one clock on your notification area. For those of us who work with people in other time zones, you can display clocks for each of those regions. Click the clock in the notification area and choose Change Date and Time Settings. Select the Additional Clocks tab to display as many as two other clocks and to set their time zones. (This feature actually came with Vista, but few people know about it.)
6. There's a fast way to run a program using administrator privileges. To open an application with administrator permissions, you usually locate it through the Start menu, right-click the application, and choose Run as Administrator from the contextual menu. However, you can also simply type the name in the Instant Search bar at the base of the Start menu and press Ctrl-Shift-Enter.
7. There is a replacement to the Security Center called the Action Center. Located in the Control Panel, it provides both security and maintenance information for your system. It also provides links to many other features such as backup settings.
8. There is a new UAC (User Account Control) slider to set the desired prompt level. You can reach it quickly by typing uac in the Instant Search bar. This slider is set by default to a less annoying setting than what Vista had, but you can bring the settings back to Vista mode, leave it in Windows 7 mode (which prompts you only if an action is attempted beyond your input), or lower the settings to the bottom and turn off the UAC security altogether to what I like to call "Mac mode" (yes, I know the Mac's UAC equivalent prompts users for the same kinds of actions as UAC's Windows 7 mode). Note that the slider is also available in the Action Center.
9. You can quickly turn on and off certain Windows apps. To turn on and off built-in apps such as Internet Explorer, DVD Maker, and Media Player, type features in the Instant Search bar and select the Turn Windows Features On or Off link under Control Panel; then locate the feature you want to hide or display.
10. You can run a private version of Internet Explorer. If you are at a conference or in a public location and want to run a private version of Internet Explorer, you can quickly jump to the InPrivate Browsing mode to do so. There are several methods. You can click and drag the IE icon up or right-click it to get a contextual menu in which you choose Start InPrivate Browsing. Or in IE itself, choose Safety > InPrivate Browsing or press Ctrl-Shift-P to open a new, private IE window. You can also set a desktop shortcut for IE that automatically launches in InPrivate Browsing mode; just append -private after the application path, with a space before the hyphen. No matter how you launch that private session, IE won't retain any of the information you view or type during that session.
11. You can turn off auodetection of your location and other such browser information. Sometimes, when you go to a site, it locates your connection point and asks, for example, "Would you like to know the weather in [your location]?" That may freak you out a bit, but you can use a new IE feature called InPrivate Filtering, located in IE's Safety options, to choose what browser information you want to filter out from sites' access.
12. You can set up a quick home network. Use the new feature called HomeGroups to share documents, pictures, and printers easily with other members of your home network also running Windows 7.
13. Find out what's causing reliability issues. If your PC has issues every once in a while, such as crashes or application hangs, type reliability in the Instant Search bar to open the Reliability Monitor; it will show your system's reliability history over a period of time and what seems to hit your reliability the most.
14. See a system diagnostic of your computer in 60 seconds with minimal effort. Rather than go to Administrative Tools, then to Performance Monitor, and finally to Data Collector Sets just to launch the System Diagnostic DCS, simply open up an administrator command prompt and type perfmon /report.
15. You can enforce time limits and game restrictions on users. Use the Parental Controls in the Control Panel. Yes, they're great for home control but also for libraries, schools, and kiosk systems not connected to a domain.
16. Find missing tools such as Windows Mail and Photo Gallery. These have been moved to a download site called Live Essentials.
17. Work fast using PowerShell. PowerShell v2 is included with Windows 7, which also offers a new semi-GUI version of the tool called PowerShell ISE. PowerShell ISE has three panes: The bottom one is for direct command input, the middle one is for output, and the top one is for scripting and saving those scripts as PS1 files. One tremendous benefit of PowerShell v2 is its remoting capability, which lets you perform tasks on other systems through the command line.
18. Control application access control via AppLocker. This tool uses rules and file properties to provide access control to applications. Although you'd typically use AppLocker on a domain, you can play with the settings and become more familiar with AppLocker by opening Administrative Tools, opening the Local Security Policy, and expanding the Application Control Policies. There, you can create rules that relate to the publisher, path, and/or file hash, along with a host of other settings.
19. Get automatic email alerts for error events. Have an error event in Event Viewer that you want to be emailed about when it happens again? Open Event Viewer, locate the event error through the logs, select the event, and use the Attach Task to This Event wizard in the Actions pane to attach a task to that event, such as displaying a message, running a program, or sending an email.
20. See your Windows Experience Index (WEI) performance score. Type wei in the Instant Search bar and click the Check the Windows Experience Index link to see your system score (aka the Base score) and individual component scores. To see the underlying XML files that are created when this score is calculated, go to c:\Windows\Performance\WinSAT\DataStore and look for the latest (Formal) assessment XML for a full review of the results from the Windows System Assessment Tool (WinSAT). Finally, if you want to have some nerdy fun, you can adjust the permissions settings and give your system a higher WEI score.