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Windows 7: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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Chapter 4. Interior Decorating Windows

Without a doubt, Windows 7 looks a heck of a lot better than previous versions of Windows. The new system font alone, so much clearer and more graceful than the one that’s labeled your icons for decades, contributes to the new look. (It must have been driving Microsoft nuts that little old Apple, with its 8 percent market share, was getting all the raves for the good looks and modern lines of its operating system.)

And then there’s Aero, the visual design scheme described on The Windows Desktop—Now with Aero!. Its transparent window edges may not add much to your productivity, but they do look cool.

Still, these changes aren’t for everybody. Fortunately, Win7 is every bit as tweakable as previous versions of Windows. You can turn off Aero, or just selected parts of it. You can change the picture on your desktop, or tell Windows to change it for you periodically. You can bump up the text size for better reading by over-40 eyeballs.

As Microsoft might say, “Where do you want to redesign today?”

Note

Customizing the Start menu is described in Chapter 1; customizing the taskbar is covered in Chapter 2.

Aero or Not

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If you ask Microsoft, the whole Aero thing is a key benefit of Windows 7.

“Aero” refers to a whole motley collection of eye-candy effects: transparent window edges, preview thumbnails of taskbar programs, full-size previews of windows when you press Alt+Tab, the Flip 3D display of all open windows, window buttons that glow when you point to them, shrinking/growing animations when you close or open windows, windows that snap against the edges of your screen, and so on.

All of it is neato—and all of it collectively saps your system of a little bit of memory and speed. It’s not anything most people notice on modern PCs. But if your computer is older and slower, turning off Aero might make a noticeable speed difference.

Besides, some people just miss the less flashy, more utilitarian look of Windows XP.

Fortunately, Microsoft rarely takes a step forward without offering a step back to those who want it. Here’s how to turn off Aero—one feature at a time.

Turning Off Only Transparent Window Edges

It’s hard to think of how see-through window edges can boost your productivity. Truth is, depending on what’s showing through them, they can look a little murky and ugly.

To turn them off, open the Start menu. In the Search box, start typing transparency until you see “Enable or disable transparent glass on windows.” Click it.

In the resulting window, turn off “Enable transparency.” Click “Save changes.”

Turning Off Window Snapping and Shaking

In Windows 7, if you drag a window close to the top edge of your screen, the window expands to fill the whole screen. If you drag it close to a side of your screen, the window expands to fill half the screen. If all this auto-snapping makes you crazy, turn it off as described on Aero Snap.

Turning Off the Inch-Tall Taskbar

The Windows 7 taskbar shows giant, inch-tall icons—with no text labels. And you no longer get one button for each open window; Windows consolidates open windows within each program to save taskbar space.

You can make the taskbar look like it did in Vista or even Windows XP, if you like. Details are on Button Groups.

Turn Off All Those Glitzy Animations

Then there are all those other things Windows does to show off: Windows seem to zoom open or closed; the Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons glow when you point to them; menu commands and tooltips fade open and closed; and so on.

It turns out that there’s a master list of these effects, filled with individual on/off switches for Win7’s various animations, pop-up previews, simulated mouse and window shadows, and so on.

To see it, open the Start menu. Start typing effects until you see “Adjust the appearance and performance of windows.” Click it.

Now you’re in the Performance Options dialog box (see Figure 4-1). Now, these aren’t exactly the kind of special effects they make at Industrial Light & Magic for use in Star Wars movies. In fact, they’re so subtle, they’re practically invisible. Some examples:

  • Enable Aero Peek. Yes, you can turn off the Aero Peek feature, which lets you (a) point to a taskbar thumbnail to see its full-size window pop to the fore and (b) point to the Show Desktop button (right end of the taskbar) to make all windows transparent.

  • Smooth edges of screen fonts. If you look very closely at the characters on your screen, they look a bit ragged on the curves. But when this option is turned on, Windows softens the curves, making the text look more professional (or slightly blurrier, depending on your point of view).

  • Show shadows under windows/mouse pointer. Take a look: In Windows 7, open windows actually seem to cast faint, light gray drop shadows, as though floating an eighth of an inch above the surface behind them. It’s a cool, but utterly superfluous, special effect.

  • Show window contents while dragging. If this option is off, then when you drag a window, only a faint outline of its border is visible; you don’t see all the items in the window coming along for the ride. As soon as you stop dragging, the contents reappear. If this option is on, however, then as you drag a window across your screen, you see all its contents, too—a feature that can slow the dragging process on really slow machines.

Select “Adjust for best performance” to turn everything off, leaving you with, more or less, Windows XP. Alternatively, turn off only the animations you can live without.

Figure 4-1. Select “Adjust for best performance” to turn everything off, leaving you with, more or less, Windows XP. Alternatively, turn off only the animations you can live without.

Turning Off the Aero Look (and Aero App Switchers)

Turning off the look of Aero—see-through window edges, taskbar thumbnail previews, and so on—is as easy as choosing a different theme. (A theme is a design scheme. Windows comes with a bunch of them.) For step-by-steps, read on.

A Gallery of Themes

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As you can see in Figure 4-2, Windows includes a number of predesigned design themes that affect the look of your desktop and windows.

Most people with fast enough computers use the Aero look of Windows (top). But your computer may look different, especially if you’ve turned on one of the other styles—like Windows Classic (middle) or a high-contrast theme (bottom)—or if you’re running a netbook that has Windows Starter Edition installed.

Figure 4-2. Most people with fast enough computers use the Aero look of Windows (top). But your computer may look different, especially if you’ve turned on one of the other styles—like Windows Classic (middle) or a high-contrast theme (bottom)—or if you’re running a netbook that has Windows Starter Edition installed.

Each design theme controls these elements of Windows:

  • Your wallpaper (desktop picture).

  • Your screen saver.

  • The design of icons like Computer, Network, Control Panel, and Recycle Bin.

  • The color scheme for your window edges, plus any tweaks you make in the Color and Appearance dialog box (font size, window border width, and so on).

  • The size and shape of your arrow cursor.

  • The sounds your PC uses as error and alert beeps.

It’s fun to customize your PC (especially because it’s your opportunity to replace, at last, that huge Dell or HP logo that came as your preinstalled wallpaper). This is also yet another way to shut off some of Aero’s cosmetics.

To see your theme choices, right-click a blank spot on the desktop. From the shortcut menu, choose Personalize.

Note

There’s no Personalize option in the Starter Edition of Windows 7. What few appearance options are available are described in the box on Interior Decorating the Starter Edition.

The Personalization control panel opens, revealing a window full of factory-installed icons for different visual themes (Figure 4-3). Clicking one applies its look to your desktop world instantaneously, making it simple to try on different themes.

A theme is more than a color scheme. It also incorporates a desktop background, a standard screen saver, and even a coordinated set of alert sounds. The four icons across the bottom show you the current desktop, color, sound, and screen saver settings for whatever theme you click.

Figure 4-3. A theme is more than a color scheme. It also incorporates a desktop background, a standard screen saver, and even a coordinated set of alert sounds. The four icons across the bottom show you the current desktop, color, sound, and screen saver settings for whatever theme you click.

Aero Themes

The Aero themes at the top come with all the Aero features turned on. There’s also a “Get more themes online” link that takes you to a download-more-themes Web site.

Basic and High Contrast Themes

If you scroll down, you find the Basic and High Contrast themes. If you click one of these, you shut down much of what makes Aero, Aero.

Window edges are no longer transparent. The taskbar no longer offers thumbnail previews of open programs. The Show Desktop sliver (right end of the taskbar) no longer hides windows when you just point to it. Pressing +Tab no longer shows a 3-D stack of open programs for your switching pleasure, and pressing Alt+Tab shows a much more toned-down, XP-ish program switcher.

Notable here are Windows 7 Basic, which gives you the clean, modern look of Win7 windows and buttons, a rounded black glass look for the taskbar and Start menu, and so on; and Windows Classic, which returns your PC to the visual look of Windows Server 2003/Windows 2000.

Note

The High Contrast themes in the list are designed to help out people with limited vision, who require greater differences in color between window elements. High-contrast themes do not use any of the Aero features and more closely resemble the squared-off windows and dialog boxes of Windows 2000.

The real fun, however, awaits when you choose one of the canned themes and then modify it. Four of the modification tactics are represented by buttons at the bottom of the window (Desktop Background, Window Color, Sounds, and Screen Saver); two more are represented by links at the left side of the window (Desktop Icons and Mouse Pointers). The following pages cover each of these elements in turn.

Desktop Background (Wallpaper)

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Windows 7 has a whole new host of desktop pictures, patterns, and colors for your viewing pleasure. You want widescreen images for your new flat-panel monitor? You got ’em. Want something gritty, artsy, in black and white? They’re there, too. And you can still use any picture you’d like as your background as well.

To change yours, right-click the desktop; choose Personalize; and, at the bottom of the box, click Desktop Background.

Now you’re looking at the box shown in Figure 4-4. It starts you off examining the Microsoft-supplied photos that come with Windows. Use the “Picture locations” pop-up menu to choose a category:

  • Windows Desktop Backgrounds includes 37 absolutely gorgeous photos.

  • Pictures Library displays all your own photos—at least those in your Pictures library. It’s more fun to use one of your own pictures on the desktop. That might be an adorable baby photo of your niece, or it might be Britney Spears with half her clothes off; the choice is yours.

    Feel free to click Browse to forage through other photo folders on your PC, if you have them.

  • Top Rated Photos displays the photos in your collection to which you’ve given the highest star ratings (Ditching the remote control).

  • Solid Colors is just a palette of simple, solid colors for your desktop background. It’s not a bad idea, actually; it’s a little easier to find your icons if they’re not lost among the rocks and trees of a nature photo.

If you see something you like, you can click it to slap it across the entire background of your desktop.

Or—and this is a big or—you can use the new Windows 7 feature that changes your desktop picture periodically, so you don’t get bored.

Desktop backgrounds have come a long way since Windows 3.1. The desktop backgrounds include outdoors scenes, illustrations, and more. There are lots to choose from, so feel free to look around.

Figure 4-4. Desktop backgrounds have come a long way since Windows 3.1. The desktop backgrounds include outdoors scenes, illustrations, and more. There are lots to choose from, so feel free to look around.

Auto–Picture Changing

The novelty of any desktop picture is likely to fade after several months of all-day viewing. Fortunately, in Windows 7, you can choose multiple desktop pictures from the gallery; see Figure 4-5.

Now, from the “Change picture every:” pop-up menu, specify when you want your background picture to change: every day, every hour, every 5 minutes, or whatever. (If you’re really having trouble staying awake at your PC, you can choose every 10 seconds.)

Finally, turn on “Shuffle,” if you like. If you leave it off, your desktop pictures change in the sequence shown in the gallery.

Now, at the intervals you specified, your desktop picture changes automatically, smoothly cross-fading between the pictures in your chosen source folder like a slideshow. You may never want to open another window, because you’d hate to block your view of the show.

Note

If you have a laptop, by all means turn on “When using battery power, pause the slide show to save power.” Changing wallpapers is nice and all, but not if it means showing up for your talk with a dead laptop.

Making the Pictures Fit

No matter which source you use to choose a photo, you have one more issue to deal with. Unless you’ve gone to the trouble of editing your chosen photo so that it matches the precise dimensions of your screen (1280 x 800 or whatever), it probably isn’t exactly the same size as your screen.

To select an assortment of rotating wallpaper shots, turn on the checkboxes of the pictures you want. Or just use the usual icon-selection techniques; for example, Ctrl+click all the wallpapers you want to include, one at a time. Or click Select All, and then Ctrl+click the ones you don’t want.

Figure 4-5. To select an assortment of rotating wallpaper shots, turn on the checkboxes of the pictures you want. Or just use the usual icon-selection techniques; for example, Ctrl+click all the wallpapers you want to include, one at a time. Or click Select All, and then Ctrl+click the ones you don’t want.

Fortunately, Windows offers a number of solutions to this problem. Using the “Picture position” pop-up menu, you can choose any of these options:

  • Fill. Enlarges or reduces the image so that it fills every inch of the desktop without distortion. Parts may get chopped off, but this option never distorts the picture.

  • Fit. Your entire photo appears, as large possible without distortion or cropping. If the photo doesn’t precisely match the proportions of your screen, you get “letterbox bars” on the sides or at top and bottom.

  • Stretch. Makes your picture fit the screen exactly, come hell or high water. Larger pictures may be squished vertically or horizontally as necessary, and small pictures are drastically blown up and squished, usually with grisly results.

  • Tile. This option makes your picture repeat over and over until the multiple images fill the entire monitor.

  • Center. Centers the photo neatly on the screen. If the picture is smaller than the screen, it leaves a swath of empty border all the way around. If it’s larger, the outer edges get chopped off.

Other Ways to Choose Desktop Photos

Really, the Desktop Backgrounds screen described above is the wallpaper headquarters. But there are “Set as desktop background” commands hiding everywhere in Windows, making it simple to turn everyday images into wallpaper. You’ll find that command, for example, when you do any of the following:

  • Right-click a graphics icon in an Explorer window.

  • Right-click a picture you’ve opened up in Windows Photo Viewer or Windows Live Photo Gallery.

  • Right-click a photo you’ve found on a Web page.

  • Open the first menu (to the left of the Home tab) in Paint, Windows’s little painting program.

Window Color

All Versions

Choosing a theme or a desktop background is practically idiot-proof; even an adult could do it. The real geektastic fun, however, awaits when you click Window Color (at the bottom of the window shown in Figure 4-3) and then click “Advanced appearance settings.”

Note

In Windows 7 Starter Edition, you get here by opening the Control Panel, then clicking Appearance→ Display→“Change color scheme”→Advanced.

Now you find yourself in a dialog box that lets you change every single aspect of the selected visual theme independently (Figure 4-6).

Note

The controls in this dialog box don’t work if you’re using one of the Aero themes as your starting point. Microsoft put a lot of work into the look of Windows 7, and it doesn’t especially want people diluting it with their own random changes. “If you want the new look,” the company is saying, “it’s all or nothing.”

In other words, you should start your customization odyssey by clicking a theme icon in the Basic and High Contrast category. Otherwise, the changes you make in the Window Color and Appearance box will have no effect.

Proceed with your interior-decoration crusade in either of two ways:

  • Change the elements of the scheme one at a time. Start by choosing from the Item drop-down list (or by clicking a piece of the illustration at the top half of the dialog box, like a title bar or a button). Then use the Size, Color 1, and Color 2 drop-down lists to tailor the chosen element—such as Desktop or Scrollbar—to suit your artistic urges.

    Click a part of the View pane (Desktop, Scrollbar, and so on). Then use the menus to choose colors and type sizes for the chosen interface element.

    Figure 4-6. Click a part of the View pane (Desktop, Scrollbar, and so on). Then use the menus to choose colors and type sizes for the chosen interface element.

  • Some of the screen elements named in the Item drop-down list have text associated with them: Icon, Inactive Title Bar, Menu, Message Box, ToolTip, and so on. When you choose one of these text items, the Font drop-down list at the bottom of the dialog box comes to life. Using this menu, you can change the typeface (font, color, and size) used for any of these screen elements. If you have trouble reading the type in dialog boxes (because you have a high-resolution, tiny-type screen), or you wish your icon names showed up a little more boldly, or you’d prefer a more graceful font in your menus, these controls offer the solution.

When you’ve exhausted your options—or just become exhausted—click OK to return to the Personalization dialog box.

Sounds

All Versions

Windows plays beeps and bloops to celebrate various occasions: closing a program, yanking out a USB drive, logging in or out, getting a new fax, and so on. You can turn these sounds on or off, or choose new sounds for these events.

Sounds, too, are part of a Windows 7 theme. To edit the suite of sounds that goes with your currently selected theme, click Sounds at the bottom of the Personalization dialog box (Figure 4-3).

Note

In Windows 7 Starter Edition, go to Control Panel, and then click Hardware and Sound→“Change system sounds.” The Sound control panel opens, with the Sound tab ready to go.

See the list of Program Events? A speaker icon represents the occasions when a sound will play. Double-click a sound (or click the Test button) to see what it sounds like.

Or, if you click the name of some computer event (say, Low Battery Alert), you can make these adjustments:

  • Remove a sound from the event by choosing (None) from the Sounds drop-down list.

  • Change an assigned sound, or add a sound to an event that doesn’t have one, by clicking Browse and choosing a new sound file from the list in the Open dialog box.

Tip

When you click the Browse button, Windows opens the Local Disk (C:)→Windows→Media folder, which contains the .wav files that provide sounds. If you drag .wav files into this Media folder, they become available for use as Windows sound effects. Many people download .wav files from the Internet and stash them in the Media folder to make their computing experience quirkier, more fun, and richer in Austin Powers sound snippets.

When you select a sound, its filename appears in the Sounds drop-down list. Click the Test button to the right of the box to hear the sound.

Tip

Each set of sounds is called a sound scheme. Sometimes the sound effects in a scheme are even sonically related. (Perhaps the collection is totally hip-hop, classical, or performed on a kazoo.) To switch schemes, use the Sound Scheme pop-up menu.

You can also define a new scheme of your own. Start by assigning individual sounds to events, and then click the Save As button to save your collection under a name that you create.

Screen Savers

All Versions

The term “screen saver” is sort of bogus; today’s flat-panel screens can’t develop “burn-in.” (You’re too young to remember, but screen savers were designed to bounce around a moving image to prevent burn-in on those old, bulky, CRT screens.)

No, screen savers are mostly about entertainment, pure and simple—and Windows’s built-in screen saver is certainly entertaining.

The idea is simple: A few minutes after you leave your computer, whatever work you were doing is hidden behind the screen saver; passers-by can’t see what’s on the screen. To exit the screen saver, move the mouse, click a mouse button, or press a key.

Choosing a Screen Saver

To choose a screen saver, click Screen Saver at the bottom of the Personalize dialog box (Figure 4-3). The Screen Saver Settings dialog box appears.

Note

In Windows 7 Starter Edition, go to Control Panel, and then click Appearance→Display→“Change screen saver.”

Now use the “Screen saver” drop-down list. A miniature preview appears in the preview monitor on the dialog box (see Figure 4-7).

To see a full-screen preview, click the Preview button. The screen saver display fills your screen and remains there until you move your mouse, click a mouse button, or press a key.

“On resume, display logon screen” is a handy security measure. It means you’ll have to input your password to get back into your PC once the screen saver has come on—a good barrier against nosy coworkers who saunter up to your PC while you’re out getting coffee.

Figure 4-7. “On resume, display logon screen” is a handy security measure. It means you’ll have to input your password to get back into your PC once the screen saver has come on—a good barrier against nosy coworkers who saunter up to your PC while you’re out getting coffee.

The Wait box determines how long the screen saver waits before kicking in, after the last time you move the mouse or type. Click the Settings button to play with the chosen screen saver module’s look and behavior. For example, you may be able to change its colors, texture, or animation style.

At the bottom of this tab, click “Change power settings” to open the Power Options window described on Parental Controls.

Tip

If you keep graphics files in your Pictures folder, try selecting the Photos screen saver. Then click the Settings button and choose the pictures you want to see. When the screen saver kicks in, Windows puts on a spectacular slideshow of your photos, bringing each to the screen with a special effect (flying in from the side, fading in, and so on).

Desktop Icons

All Versions

Thanks to the “Change desktop icons” link at the left side of the Personalize screen, you can specify which standard icons sit on your desktop for easy access, and what they look like.

Note

In Windows 7 Starter Edition, open the Start menu, type icons into the Search box, and then click “Show or hide common icons on the desktop.”

To choose your icons, just turn on the checkboxes for the ones you want (see Figure 4-8).

Microsoft has been cleaning up the Windows desktop in recent years, and that includes sweeping away some useful icons, like Computer, Control Panel, Network, and your Personal folder. But you can put them back, just by turning on these checkboxes.

Figure 4-8. Microsoft has been cleaning up the Windows desktop in recent years, and that includes sweeping away some useful icons, like Computer, Control Panel, Network, and your Personal folder. But you can put them back, just by turning on these checkboxes.

You can also substitute different icons for your icons. Click, for example, the Computer icon, and then click Change Icon. Up pops a collection of pre-drawn icons in a horizontally scrolling selection box. If you see a picture you like better, double-click it.

Click OK if you like the change, Cancel if not.

Mouse Makeover

All Versions

If your fondness for the standard Windows arrow cursor begins to wane, you can assert your individuality by choosing a different pointer shape. For starters, you might want to choose a bigger arrow cursor—a great solution on today’s tinier-pixel, shrunken-cursor monitors.

Begin by clicking “Change mouse pointers” at the left side of the Personalize dialog box shown in Figure 4-3. In a flash, you arrive at the dialog box shown in Figure 4-9.

Left: The Pointers dialog box, where you can choose a bigger cursor (or a differently shaped one).Right: The Pointer Options tab. Ever lose your mouse pointer while working on a laptop with a dim screen? Maybe pointer trails could help. Or have you ever worked on a desktop computer with a mouse pointer that seems to take forever to move across the desktop? Try increasing the pointer speed.

Figure 4-9. Left: The Pointers dialog box, where you can choose a bigger cursor (or a differently shaped one). Right: The Pointer Options tab. Ever lose your mouse pointer while working on a laptop with a dim screen? Maybe pointer trails could help. Or have you ever worked on a desktop computer with a mouse pointer that seems to take forever to move across the desktop? Try increasing the pointer speed.

Note

As usual, it’s different In Windows 7 Starter Edition. Open the Control Panel, and then click Hardware and Sound→Mouse→Pointers.

At this point, you can proceed in any of three ways:

  • Scheme. There’s more to Windows cursors than just the arrow pointer. At various times, you may also see the spinning circular cursor (which means, “Wait; I’m thinking,” or “Wait; I’ve crashed”), the I-beam cursor (which appears when you’re editing text), the little pointing-finger hand that appears when you point to a Web link, and so on.

    All these cursors come prepackaged into design-coordinated sets called schemes. To look over the cursor shapes in a different scheme, use the Scheme drop-down list; the corresponding pointer collection appears in the Customize list box. The ones whose names include “large” or “extra large” offer jumbo, magnified cursors ideal for very large screens or failing eyesight. When you find one that seems like an improvement over the Windows Aero (system scheme) set, click OK.

  • Select individual pointers. You don’t have to change to a completely different scheme; you can also replace just one cursor. To do so, click the pointer you want to change, and then click the Browse button. You’re shown the vast array of cursor-replacement icons (which are in the Local Disk (C:)→Windows→Cursors folder). Click one to see what it looks like; double-click to select it.

  • Create your own pointer scheme. Once you’ve replaced a cursor shape, you’ve also changed the scheme to which it belongs. At this point, either click OK to activate your change and get back to work, or save the new, improved scheme under its own name, so you can switch back to the original when nostalgia calls. To do so, click the Save As button, name the scheme, and then click OK.

Tip

The “Enable pointer shadow” checkbox at the bottom of this tab is pretty neat. It casts a shadow on whatever’s beneath the cursor, as though it’s skimming just above the surface of your screen.

Pointer Options

Pointer Options

Clicking the Pointer Options tab offers a few more random cursor-related functions (Figure 4-9, right).

  • Pointer speed. It comes as a surprise to many people that the cursor doesn’t move five inches when the mouse moves five inches on the desk. Instead, you can set things up so that moving the mouse one millimeter moves the pointer one full inch—or vice versa—using the “Pointer speed” slider.

    It may come as an even greater surprise that the cursor doesn’t generally move proportionally to the mouse’s movement, regardless of your “Pointer speed” setting. Instead, the cursor moves farther when you move the mouse faster. How much farther depends on how you set the “Select a pointer speed” slider.

    The Fast setting is nice if you have an enormous monitor, since it prevents you from needing an equally large mouse pad to get from one corner to another. The Slow setting, on the other hand, can be frustrating, since it forces you to constantly pick up and put down the mouse as you scoot across the screen. (You can also turn off the disproportionate-movement feature completely by turning off “Enhance pointer precision.”)

  • Snap To. A hefty percentage of the times when you reach for the mouse, it’s to click a button in a dialog box. If you, like millions of people before you, usually click the default (outlined) button—such as OK, Next, or Yes—then the Snap To feature can save you the effort of positioning the cursor before clicking.

    When you turn on Snap To, every time a dialog box appears, your mouse pointer jumps automatically to the default button so that all you need to do is click. (And to click a different button, like Cancel, you have to move the mouse only slightly to reach it.)

  • Display pointer trails. The options available for enhancing pointer visibility (or invisibility) are mildly useful under certain circumstances, but mostly they’re just for show.

    If you turn on “Display pointer trails,” for example, you get ghost images that trail behind the cursor like a bunch of little ducklings following their mother. In general, this stuttering-cursor effect is irritating. On rare occasions, however, you may find that it helps locate the cursor—for example, if you’re making a presentation on a low-contrast LCD projector.

  • Hide pointer while typing is useful if you find that the cursor sometimes gets in the way of the words on your screen. As soon as you use the keyboard, the pointer disappears; just move the mouse to make the pointer reappear.

  • Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key. If you’ve managed to lose the cursor on an LCD projector or a laptop with an inferior screen, this feature helps you gain your bearings. After turning on this checkbox, Windows displays an animated concentric ring each time you press the Ctrl key to pinpoint the cursor’s location.

Tip

You can also fatten up the insertion point—the cursor that appears when you’re editing text. See Ease of Access Center.

Preserving Your Tweaks for Posterity

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The previous pages describe six ways to modify one of Windows 7’s canned themes. You can change the desktop picture, the window color schemes, the sound scheme, the screen saver, the desktop icons, and the mouse-pointer shapes. The basic concept is simple: You choose one of Microsoft’s canned themes as a starting point and then adjust these six aspects of it as suits your mood.

When that’s all over, though, you return to the Personalization box, where all the modifications you’ve made are represented at the top of the screen—as an icon called Unsaved Theme (Figure 4-10).

You may notice, after applying a theme, that its name seems to be “Unsaved Theme.” This happens whenever you apply a theme and then change any single component of it, including the desktop background. Windows takes note and reports the theme you are using as modified.

Figure 4-10. You may notice, after applying a theme, that its name seems to be “Unsaved Theme.” This happens whenever you apply a theme and then change any single component of it, including the desktop background. Windows takes note and reports the theme you are using as modified.

Well, you wouldn’t want all that effort to go to waste, would you? So click “Save theme,” type a name for your new, improved theme, and click Save.

From now on, the theme you’ve created (well, OK, modified) shows up in a new row of the Personalization dialog box called My Themes. From now on, you can recall the emotional tenor of your edited look with a single click on that icon.

If you make further changes to that theme (or any other theme), another Unsaved Theme icon appears, once again ready for you to save and name. You can keep going forever, adding to your gallery of experimentation.

You can also delete a less-inspired theme (right-click its icon; from the shortcut menu, choose Delete Theme). On the other hand, when you strike creative gold, you can package up your theme and share it with other computers—your own, or other people’s online. To do that, right-click the theme’s icon; from the shortcut menu, choose “Save theme for sharing.” Windows asks you to name and save the new .themepak file, which you can distribute to the masses. (Just double-clicking a .themepak file installs it in the Personalize dialog box.)

Note

If your theme uses sounds and graphics that aren’t on other people’s PCs, they won’t see those elements when they install your theme.

Monitor Settings

All Versions

You wouldn’t get much work done without a screen on your computer. It follows, then, that you can get more work done if you tinker with your screen’s settings to make it more appropriate to your tastes and workload. And boy, are there a lot of settings to tinker with.

Three Ways to Enlarge the Screen

There are two reasons why Windows 7 introduced a quick-and-easy way to magnify everything on the screen.

First, people tend to get older—even you. Come middle age, your eyes may have trouble reading smaller type.

Second, the resolution of computer screens gets higher every year. That is, more and more dots are packed into the same-sized screens, and therefore those dots are getting smaller, and therefore the type and graphics are getting smaller.

Microsoft finally decided enough was enough. That’s why, in Windows 7, there’s a one-click way to enlarge all type and graphics, with crisp, easier-to-see results.

There are also various older schemes for accomplishing similar tasks. Here’s a rundown of all of them:

Change the resolution

Your screen can make its picture larger or smaller to accommodate different kinds of work. You perform this magnification or reduction by switching among different resolutions (measurements of the number of dots that compose the screen).

When you use a low-resolution setting, such as 800 x 600, the dots of your screen image get larger, enlarging (zooming in on) the picture—but showing a smaller slice of the page. Use this setting when playing a small movie on the Web, for example, so that it fills more of the screen.

At higher resolutions, such as 1280 x 1024, the screen dots get smaller, making your windows and icons smaller but showing more overall area. Use this kind of setting when working on two-page spreads in your page-layout program, for example.

Unfortunately, adjusting the resolution isn’t a perfect solution if you’re having trouble reading tiny type. On a flat-panel screen—that is, the only kind sold today—only one resolution setting looks really great: the maximum one. That’s what geeks call the native resolution of that screen.

That’s because on flat-panel screens, every pixel is a fixed size. At lower resolutions, the PC does what it can to blur together adjacent pixels, but the effect is fuzzy and unsatisfying. (On the old, bulky CRT monitors, the electron gun could actually make the pixels larger or smaller, so you didn’t have this problem.)

If you still want to adjust your screen’s resolution, here’s how you do it. Right-click the desktop. From the shortcut menu, choose “Screen resolution.” In the dialog box (Figure 4-11), use the Resolution pop-up menu.

Tip

Depending on your monitor, you may see a weird Orientation pop-up menu here. Believe it or not, this control lets you flip your screen image upside-down or left/right, forming a mirror image.

These options make hilarious practical jokes, of course, but they were actually designed to accommodate newfangled PC designs where, for example, the screen half of a laptop flips over, A-frame style, so people across the table from you can see it.

In any case, once you choose an orientation and click Apply or OK, a dialog box lets you either keep or discard the setting. Which is lucky, because if the image is upside-down on a regular PC, it’s really hard to get any work done.

Use the Resolution slider to change the magnification of the entire screen. On flat-panel screens, only the highest resolution is sharp, which is a good argument for leaving this setting alone.

Figure 4-11. Use the Resolution slider to change the magnification of the entire screen. On flat-panel screens, only the highest resolution is sharp, which is a good argument for leaving this setting alone.

Enlarge just the type and graphics

This new Windows 7 feature is one of Microsoft’s most inspired, most useful—and least publicized. It turns out that you can enlarge the type and graphics on the screen without changing the screen’s resolution. So type gets bigger without getting blurrier, and everything else stays sharp, too.

To make this adjustment, right-click the desktop; from the shortcut menu, choose Resolution. In the resulting dialog box, click “Make text and other items larger or smaller.”

Now you arrive at a new dialog box; proceed as directed in Figure 4-12.

Top: Click either Medium or Larger, and then click Apply. A message lets you know, “You must log off your computer.” Click “Log off now.” When the computer logs you in anew, you see larger type and graphics.Bottom: If you prefer an in-between magnification, or a higher amount (up to 500%), drag right or left on the ruler until the sample text looks good to you; click OK. Older apps may not respond to the text-scaling feature, so you may get blurry text at large degrees of magnification. The “Use Windows XP style DP scaling” option is supposed to fix that, although it has side effects, too; it may produce weird-looking dialog boxes and chopped-off text in some programs.

Figure 4-12. Top: Click either Medium or Larger, and then click Apply. A message lets you know, “You must log off your computer.” Click “Log off now.” When the computer logs you in anew, you see larger type and graphics. Bottom: If you prefer an in-between magnification, or a higher amount (up to 500%), drag right or left on the ruler until the sample text looks good to you; click OK. Older apps may not respond to the text-scaling feature, so you may get blurry text at large degrees of magnification. The “Use Windows XP style DP scaling” option is supposed to fix that, although it has side effects, too; it may produce weird-looking dialog boxes and chopped-off text in some programs.

Tip

The box in Figure 4-12 offers only two fixed degrees of magnification: 125% and 150%. You can actually dial up any amount you like, though. Click “Set custom text size (DPI)” to produce the dialog box shown at bottom in Figure 4-12.

The Magnifier

If your “type is too small” problem is only occasional, you can call up Windows’s Magnifier. It’s like a software magnifying glass that fills the top portion of your screen; as you move your pointer around the real-size area beneath, the enlarged image scrolls around, too. Details are on The Magnifier.

Colors

Today’s monitors offer different color depth settings, each of which permits the screen to display a different number of colors simultaneously. You usually have a choice between settings like Medium (16-bit), which was called High Color in early versions of Windows; High (24-bit), once known as True Color; and Highest (32-bit).

In the early days of computing, higher color settings required a sacrifice in speed. Today, however, there’s very little downside to leaving your screen at its highest setting. Photos, in particular, look best when you set your monitor to higher-quality settings.

To check your settings, right-click the desktop. From the shortcut menu, choose “Screen resolution.” In the dialog box, click “Advanced settings” to open the Properties dialog box for your monitor. Click the Monitor tab, and use the Colors pop-up menu to choose your color depth.

Multiple Monitors

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If your computer has a jack for an external monitor (most do these days—including the video-output jacks on laptops), then you can hook up a second monitor or a projector. You can either display the same picture on both screens (which is what you’d want if your laptop were projecting slides for an audience), or you can create a gigantic virtual desktop, moving icons or toolbars from one monitor to another. The latter setup also lets you keep an eye on Web activity on one monitor while you edit data on another. It’s a glorious arrangement, even if it does make the occasional family member think you’ve gone off the deep end with your PC obsession.

What’s especially great is that Windows 7 has a wicked-cool keystroke just for setups like this (two monitors, or laptop+projector): +P. When you press it, you see the display in Figure 4-13.

Tip

Actually, just plugging in a projector generally inspires Windows to present something like the options in Figure 4-13. This is an extremely thoughtful touch for laptop luggers, because it avoids the staggeringly confusing keyboard-based system you previously had to use. That’s where you’d press, for example, F8 three times to cycle among the three modes: image on laptop only (projector dark), image on projector only (laptop screen dark), or image on both at once. Win7’s method is much easier.

Click how you want your two screens to work: one screen on and the other off, both screens showing the same thing, or some additional real estate.

Figure 4-13. Click how you want your two screens to work: one screen on and the other off, both screens showing the same thing, or some additional real estate.

You can also adjust the monitor settings independently for your two screens. To do that, right-click the desktop. From the shortcut menu, choose “Screen resolution.”

In the resulting dialog box (Figure 4-14), you see icons for both screens (or even more, if you have them, you lucky thing). It’s like a map. Click the screen whose settings (like resolution) you want to change. If Windows seems to be displaying these miniatures out of sequence—if your external monitor is really to the left of your main screen, and Windows is showing it to the right—you can actually drag their thumbnails around until they match reality. (Click Identify if you get confused; that makes an enormous digit fill each real screen, which helps you match it to the digits on the miniatures.)

When you have multiple monitors, the controls on the Settings tab change; you now see individual icons for each monitor. When you click a screen icon, the settings in the dialog box change to reflect its resolution, color quality, and so on.

Figure 4-14. When you have multiple monitors, the controls on the Settings tab change; you now see individual icons for each monitor. When you click a screen icon, the settings in the dialog box change to reflect its resolution, color quality, and so on.

To bring about that extended-desktop scenario, use the “Multiple displays” pop-up menu. It offers commands like “Duplicate these displays” and “Extend these displays.”

Advanced Settings

If you click the Advanced button on the Settings tab, you’re offered a collection of technical settings for your particular monitor model. Depending on your video driver, there may be tab controls here that adjust the refresh rate to eliminate flicker, install an updated adapter or monitor driver, and so on. In general, you rarely need to adjust these controls—except on the advice of a consultant or help-line technician.

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