It must be a great time to work at Microsoft. For the first time in years, the people who work on Windows can hold their heads high in public.
Windows 7 is the best-reviewed, best-loved, and, well, best version of Windows ever. Maybe part of the positive reception is because of Win7’s contrast to Windows Vista, which was almost universally despised. Maybe Microsoft saw that it was losing market-share ground to Mac OS X and Linux and maybe even Google and, its back to the wall, did some of its best work.
But whatever the reason, Windows 7 is a hit.
It’s technically an evolution of Windows Vista, so Windows 7 maintains all the stuff that was good about Vista: stability, security, just enough animation and eye candy to keep things interesting. “Blue screen of death” jokes have almost completely disappeared from the Internet.
Yet Windows 7 fixes what everybody hated about Vista:
Speed. In PC Magazine’s tests, Windows 7 was 12 to 14 percent faster than Vista. It’s especially brisk when starting up, going to sleep, and waking from sleep. A lot of other things have between tweaked for speed, too, like noticing USB gadgets you’ve plugged in.
Hardware requirements. PCs have steadily grown faster and more powerful since Vista’s debut in 2007, but the hardware requirements for Windows 7 are exactly the same. Even those $300 netbooks manage to run Windows 7 without bogging down.
Intrusiveness. Windows Vista used to freak out, with full-screen, show-stopping warning boxes that required your password to continue, at every potential security threat. But Win7 leaves you in peace far more often. In fact, 10 categories of warnings now pile up quietly in a single, unified new control panel called the Action Center, and don’t interrupt you at all.
Microsoft added a few choice new features, not the usual list of several hundred. This time around, the master plan wasn’t “Triple the length of the feature list,” as usual at Microsoft. Instead, it was “Polish and fix what we’ve already got.”
The formula worked. New color schemes make the whole thing feel lighter and less daunting. New fonts make everything cleaner and sharper. There’s a new design consistency, too, featuring plain-English, lowercase, one-click toolbar commands for the things you’re most likely to want to do at the moment (“Burn,” “New folder,” “Share,” and so on).
New taskbar. The taskbar, the traditional row of buttons at the bottom of the screen (representing your open programs), has been given the most radical overhaul in years. Now it resembles the Dock on the Mac: It holds the icons for open programs and icons you’ve dragged there for quick access.
If you point to a program’s icon, Triscuit-sized miniatures of its windows pop up. You can either click one, to bring that window forward, or you can just run your cursor across them; as you do so, the corresponding full-size windows flash to the fore. All of this means easier navigation in a screen awash with window clutter.
Jump lists. Another taskbar feature. When you right-click a taskbar icon, you get a new, specialized list of shortcuts called a jump list. It maintains a list of that program’s most recently or frequently opened documents, and offers a few other important program-related commands too.
New window treatments. Now Windows does more for windows. You can drag a window’s edge against the top or side edge of your screen to make it fill the whole screen or half of it. You can give a window a little shake with the mouse to minimize all other windows when you need a quick look at your desktop. The Show Desktop button has been reborn as a sliver at the right end of the taskbar—a one-click shortcut for hiding all windows instantly.
A new folder concept: Libraries. Libraries are like meta-folders: They display the contents of up to 50 other folders, which may be scattered all over your system or even all over your network.
Libraries make it easy to keep project files together, to back them up en masse, or to share them with other PCs on the network.
Effortless networking. Windows has always been good at networking computers together—but Microsoft has never been especially good at making that easy for the average non-techie. That all changes with Windows 7’s HomeGroups feature.
You just enter a one-time password on each machine in your house. Once that’s done, each computer can see the photos, music, printers, and documents on all the other ones. At no time do you have to mess with accounts, permissions, or passwords. Obviously, homegroups aren’t ideal for government agencies or NASA—but if it’s just you and a couple of family members, the convenience of sharing your printers and music collections may well be more important than big-deal security barriers.
Better plug-and-play. Microsoft’s little driver slave drivers were busy during the three-year gestation of Windows 7. Thousands more gadgets now work automatically when you plug them in, without your having to worry about drivers or software installation. The new Device Stage window even shows a picture of the camera/phone/printer/scanner you’ve just plugged in, describes it for you, and offers links to its most useful functions.
Multitouch. Does the world really want multitouch laptops and desktop PCs that work like an iPhone? It’s too soon to tell, but Microsoft is ready for the new wave of multitouch screens. Windows 7 recognizes the basic two-finger “gestures”: pinching and zooming (to shrink or enlarge a photo or a Web page), rotating (for a photo), dragging a finger (to scroll), and so on.
Other new-and-improved items lurk around every corner; among other improvements, somebody with a degree in English has swept through every corner and rewritten buttons, links, and dialog boxes for better clarity.
Microsoft has taken a bunch of stuff away, too. Most of it is complicated clutter, introduced in Vista, that nobody wound up using. The not-so-dearly departed features include Stacking in desktop windows, the Quick Launch toolbar, the Sidebar, and Offline Favorites.
If you’re among the few, the proud, who actually used these features, don’t despair; this book proposes replacements for all of them.
Windows 7 is pretty great, but it’s not all sunshine and bunnies. You should know up front that you’re in for a few rude surprises:
Upgrading your current PC from Vista is easy. But upgrading from Windows XP involves a clean install—moving all your programs and files off the hard drive, installing Windows 7, and then copying everything back on again.
Clearly, Microsoft hopes that XP holdouts won’t even bother, that they’ll just get Windows 7 preinstalled on a new PC.
You thought Windows XP was bad, with its two different versions (Home and Pro)?
Microsoft says each version is perfectly attuned to a different kind of customer, as though each edition had been somehow conceived differently. In fact, though, the main thing that distinguishes the editions is the suite of programs that comes with each one.
Each main heading in this book bears a handy cheat sheet, like this:
This line lets you know at a glance whether or not that feature discussion applies to you.
Meanwhile, if a description of this or that feature makes you salivate, fear not. Microsoft is delighted to let you upgrade your copy of Windows 7 to a more expensive edition, essentially “unlocking” features for a fee. See Windows Anytime Upgrade for details.
Here, for the record, is what they are:
Starter. This stripped-down version of Windows 7 is what you’ll probably get preinstalled on a netbook (that is, a lightweight, inexpensive laptop that doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive).
The Starter edition lacks Aero (the suite of animations, window-manipulation gestures, pop-up taskbar thumbnails, and other eye candy); Windows Media Center; DVD playback; streaming of music and video to or from other computers; the ability to connect a second monitor; XP Mode for accommodating older programs; and a 64-bit edition. The Starter version also doesn’t let you change your desktop picture or your visual design scheme, or switch accounts without logging off.
Sounds like a lot of missing stuff. But the truth is, none of those things diminish the things you’d want to do on a netbook: emailing, surfing the Web, writing, working with photos, and so on.
Perhaps surprisingly, Starter doesn’t actually save you any hard drive space. Every copy of Windows 7 is actually a complete Ultimate edition on the hard drive—but with features turned off. That’s how Microsoft is able to pull off the instant-upgrade feature known as the Anytime Upgrade. Choose its name from the Start menu, pay a few bucks at a Web site, and presto: Your PC has just acquired one of the fancier editions of Windows 7.
Home Basic. In the Vista days, the Home Basic edition was the cheapest and most bare-bones edition sold in the U.S. But not anymore. Oh, it’s still the cheapest and most bare-bones—but now it’s sold only in third-world countries.
Home Premium. This is the one you’re most likely to get when you, a normal person, buy a single PC. It’s the mainstream consumer edition.
Professional. Has all the features of Home Premium, but adds Presentation Mode (shuts off anything that might interrupt during PowerPoint slideshows); the ability to join a corporate network; the Encrypting File System (lets you encode certain files or folders for security); XP Mode; and location-aware printing.
(This was called the Business edition in the Vista days.)
Enterprise, Ultimate. Same version, just sold different ways. (Enterprise is sold directly to corporations; Ultimate is sold in stores.) Has everything Professional has, plus it can run in multiple languages at once, has even more fancy networking features, can run Unix programs, and can use a feature called BitLocker to encrypt your hard drive for total security.
N and K editions. These are special editions sold in Europe and Korea, respectively, to comply with antitrust laws there. They’re identical to the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions—but they have Windows Media Player and DVD Maker stripped out. (You can download those missing free apps at any time, so what was the point? What a waste of everyone’s time!)
To make matters even more complicated, each version except Starter is available in both 32-bit or 64-bit flavors (see Windows XP Mode for what this means). Good luck figuring out why some cool Windows 7 feature isn’t on your PC.
Out of fear of antitrust headaches, Microsoft has stripped Windows 7 of a bunch of programs that usually come with mainstream operating systems. Believe it or not, Windows 7 doesn’t come with a calendar, an address book, photo management, video editing, instant messaging, or even email!
That’s not to say that Microsoft is leaving you without these programs entirely; they’re available in a single, free, downloadable suite called Windows Live Essentials. One click and you’re done—not a big deal. (The company you buy your PC from may even preinstall them.)
But you may be confused at first, especially if you upgrade your Vista machine to Windows 7—the installer actually deletes your copies of Windows Mail, Movie Maker, Calendar, Contacts, and Photo Gallery! (Mercifully, it preserves your data.)
Windows still has some long-standing frustrations, too. It’s still copy-protected, it still offers way too many ways to get to a certain feature, it still requires antivirus software. And it’s still an enormous, seething, vast hunk of 50 million lines of computer code that must appeal equally well to a third-grader and a NASA systems analyst; sooner or later, everybody runs into parts of it they could do without.
On the other hand, it’s still Windows in a good way, too. It’s still the 800-pound gorilla of the computer world, so it’s compatible with the world’s largest catalog of programs, games, and add-on gadgets.
Despite the many improvements in Windows over the years, one feature hasn’t improved a bit: Microsoft’s documentation. In fact, Windows 7 comes with no printed user guide at all. To learn about the thousands of pieces of software that make up this operating system, you’re expected to read the online help screens.
Unfortunately, as you’ll quickly discover, these help screens are tersely written, offer very little technical depth, and lack examples. You can’t even mark your place, underline, or read them in the bathroom. Some of the help screens are actually on Microsoft’s Web site; you can’t see them without an Internet connection. Too bad if you’re on a plane somewhere with your laptop.
The purpose of this book, then, is to serve as the manual that should have accompanied Windows. In these pages, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for using almost every Windows feature, including those you may not even have understood, let alone mastered.
Windows 7: The Missing Manual is designed to accommodate readers at every technical level (except system administrators, who will be happier with a very different sort of book).
The primary discussions are written for advanced-beginner or intermediate PC users. But if you’re a first-time Windows user, special sidebar articles called “Up To Speed” provide the introductory information you need to understand the topic at hand. If you’re an advanced PC user, on the other hand, keep your eye out for similar shaded boxes called “Power Users’ Clinic.” They offer more technical tips, tricks, and shortcuts for the veteran PC fan.
This book is divided into seven parts, each containing several chapters:
Part One, covers everything you see on the screen when you turn on a Windows 7 computer: icons, windows, menus, scroll bars, the taskbar, the Recycle Bin, shortcuts, the Start menu, shortcut menus, and so on. It also covers the system-wide, instantaneous Search feature.
Part Two, is dedicated to the proposition that an operating system is little more than a launch pad for programs. Chapter 6 describes how to work with applications and documents in Windows—how to launch them, switch among them, swap data between them, use them to create and open files, and so on—and how to use the microprograms called gadgets.
This part also offers an item-by-item discussion of the individual software nuggets that make up this operating system. These include not just the items in your Control Panel, but also the long list of free programs that Microsoft threw in: Windows Media Player, WordPad, Speech Recognition, and so on.
Part Three, covers all the special Internet-related features of Windows, including setting up your Internet account, Windows Live Mail (for email), Internet Explorer 8 (for Web browsing), and so on. The massive Chapter 10 also covers Windows’s dozens of Internet fortification features: the firewall, anti-spyware software, parental controls, and on and on.
Part Four, takes you into multimedia land. Here are chapters that cover the Windows Live Photo Gallery picture editing and organizing program; Media Player 12 (music playback); and Media Center (TV recording and playback).
Part Five, describes the operating system’s relationship with equipment you can attach to your PC—scanners, cameras, disks, printers, and so on. Special chapters describe faxing, fonts, laptops, and tablet PC touchscreen machines.
Part Six, explores Windows 7’s greatly beefed-up backup and troubleshooting tools. It also describes some advanced hard drive formatting tricks and offers tips for making your PC run faster and better.
Part Seven, is for the millions of households and offices that contain more than one PC. If you work at home or in a small office, these chapters show you how to build your own network; if you work in a corporation where some highly paid professional network geek is on hand to do the troubleshooting, these chapters show you how to exploit Windows’s considerable networking prowess. File sharing, accounts and passwords, and the new HomeGroups insta-networking feature are here, too.
At the end of the book, four appendixes provide a guide to installing or upgrading to Windows 7, an introduction to editing the Registry, a master list of Windows keyboard shortcuts, and the “Where’d It Go?” Dictionary, which lists every feature Microsoft moved or deleted on the way to Windows 7.
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you’ll find sentences like this: “Open the Start→Computer→Local Disk (C:)→Windows folder.” That’s shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to open three nested icons in sequence, like this: “Click the Start menu to open it. Click Computer in the Start menu. Inside the Computer window is a disk icon labeled Local Disk (C:); double-click it to open it. Inside that window is yet another icon called Windows. Double-click to open it, too.”
Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus. “Choose Start→Control Panel” means to open the Start menu, and then click the Control Panel command in it. Figure 1 shows the story.
Figure 1. In this book, arrow notations help to simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, “Choose Start→Control Panel→AutoPlay” is a more compact way of saying, “Click the Start button. When the Start menu opens, point to Control Panel; without clicking, now slide to the right onto AutoPlay,” as shown here.
To get the most out of Windows with the least frustration, it helps to be familiar with the following concepts and terms. If you’re new to Windows, be prepared to encounter these words and phrases over and over again—in the built-in Windows help, in computer magazines, and in this book.
It’s a launching bay. At its heart, Windows is a home base, a remote-control clicker that lets you call up the various software programs (applications) you use to do work or kill time. When you get right down to it, applications are the real reason you bought a PC.
Windows 7 is a well-stocked software pantry unto itself; for example, it comes with such basic programs as a Web browser, a simple word processor, and a calculator. And a suite of games, too. (Chapter 7 covers all these freebie programs.)
If you were stranded on a desert island, the built-in Windows programs could suffice for everyday operations. But if you’re like most people, sooner or later, you’ll buy and install more software. That’s one of the luxuries of using Windows: You can choose from a staggering number of add-on programs. Whether you’re a left-handed beekeeper or a German-speaking nun, some company somewhere is selling Windows software designed just for you, its target audience.
It’s a file cabinet. Every application on your machine, as well as every document you create, is represented on the screen by an icon, a little picture that symbolizes the underlying file or container. You can organize these icons into onscreen file folders. You can make backups (safety copies) by dragging file icons onto a flash drive or blank CD, or send files to people by email. You can also trash icons you no longer need by dragging them onto the Recycle Bin icon.
It’s your equipment headquarters. What you can actually see of Windows is only the tip of the iceberg. An enormous chunk of Windows is behind-the-scenes plumbing that controls the various functions of your computer—its modem, screen, keyboard, printer, and so on.
One of the most important features of Windows isn’t on the screen—it’s in your hand. The standard mouse or trackpad has two mouse buttons. You use the left one to click buttons, highlight text, and drag things around on the screen.
When you click the right button, however, a shortcut menu appears onscreen, like the one shown at left in Figure 3. Get into the habit of right-clicking things—icons, folders, disks, text inside a paragraph, buttons on your menu bar, pictures on a Web page, and so on. The commands that appear on the shortcut menu will make you much more productive and lead you to discover handy functions you never knew existed.
This is a big deal: Microsoft’s research suggests that nearly 75 percent of Windows users don’t use the right mouse button and therefore miss hundreds of timesaving shortcuts. Part of the rationale behind Windows 7’s redesign is putting these functions out in the open. Even so, many more shortcuts remain hidden under your right mouse button.
Choose Start→Control Panel. Switch to Classic view (Control Panel via Search). Open the Mouse icon. When the Mouse Properties dialog box opens, click the Buttons tab, and then turn on “Switch primary and secondary buttons.” Then click OK. Windows now assumes that you want to use the left mouse button as the one that produces shortcut menus.
A wizard is a series of screens that walk you through the task you’re trying to complete. Wizards make configuration and installation tasks easier by breaking them down into smaller, more easily digested steps. Figure 2 offers an example.
Figure 2. Wizards (interview screens) are everywhere in Windows. On each of the screens, you’re supposed to answer a question about your computer or your preferences, and then click a Next button. When you click the Finish button on the final screen, Windows whirls into action, automatically completing the installation or setup.
No matter what setting you want to adjust, no matter what program you want to open, Microsoft has provided five or six different ways to do it. For example, here are the various ways to delete a file: Press the Delete key; choose File→Delete; drag the file icon onto the Recycle Bin; or right-click the filename, and then choose Delete from the shortcut menu.
Pessimists grumble that there are too many paths to every destination, making it much more difficult to learn Windows. Optimists point out that this abundance of approaches means that almost everyone will find, and settle on, a satisfying method for each task. Whenever you find a task irksome, remember that you have other options.
In earlier versions of Windows, underlined letters appeared in the names of menus and dialog boxes. These underlines were clues for people who found it faster to do something by pressing keys than by using the mouse.
The underlines are hidden in Windows 7, at least in disk and folder windows. (They may still appear in your individual software programs.) If you miss them, you can make them reappear by pressing the Alt key, Tab key, or an arrow key whenever the menu bar is visible. (When you’re operating menus, you can release the Alt key immediately after pressing it.) In this book, in help screens, and in computer magazines, you’ll see key combinations indicated like this: Alt+S (or Alt+ whatever the letter key is).
In some Windows programs, in fact, the entire menu bar is gone until you press Alt (or F10). That includes everyday Explorer windows.
Once the underlines are visible, you can open a menu by pressing the underlined letter (F for the File menu, for example). Once the menu is open, press the underlined letter key that corresponds to the menu command you want. Or press Esc to close the menu without doing anything. (In Windows, the Esc key always means cancel or stop.)
If choosing a menu command opens a dialog box, you can trigger its options by pressing Alt along with the underlined letters. (Within dialog boxes, you can’t press and release Alt; you have to hold it down while typing the underlined letter.)
The fastest way to almost anything in Windows 7 is the Search box at the bottom of the Start menu.
For example, to open Outlook, you can open the Start menu and type outlook. To get to the password-changing screen, you can type password. To adjust your network settings, network. And so on. Display. Speakers. Keyboard. BitLocker. Excel. Photo Gallery. Firefox. Whatever.
Each time, Windows does an uncanny job of figuring out what you want and highlighting it in the results list in the Start menu, usually right at the top.
You also don’t need to type the whole thing. If you want the Sticky Notes program, sti is usually all you have to type. In other words, without ever lifting your hands from the keyboard, you can hit , type sti, and hit Enter—and you’ve opened Sticky Notes. Really, really fast.
Now, there is almost always a manual, mouse-clickable way to get at the same function in Windows—in fact, there are usually about six of them. Here, for example, is how you might open the Device Manager, a window that lists all the components of your PC. First, the mouse way:
Open the Start menu. In the right-side column, click Control Panel.
The Control Panel opens, teeming with options. If the “View by:” pop-up menu doesn’t say “Category,” skip to step 3.
Click “Hardware and Sound.”
Now a second Control Panel screen appears, filled with options having to do with external gadgets.
Click Device Manager.
The Device Manager dialog box opens.
OK then. Here, by contrast, is how you’d get to exactly the same place using the Start menu method:
Now, you’re forgiven for exclaiming, “What!? Get to things by typing? I thought the whole idea behind the Windows revolution was to eliminate the DOS-age practice of typing commands!”
Well, not exactly. Typing has always offered a faster, more efficient way to getting places and doing things—what everyone hated was the memorizing of commands to type.
But the Start menu requires no memorization; that’s the beauty of it. You can be vague. You can take a guess. And almost every time, the Start menu knows what you want, and offers it in the list.
For that reason, this book almost always provides the most direct route to a certain program or function: the one that involves the Start menu’s Search box. There’s always a longer, slower, mousier alternative, but hey: This book is plenty fat already, and those rainforests aren’t getting any bigger.
Here’s another bit of shorthand you’ll find in this book (and others): instructions to Shift+click something. That means you should hold down the Shift key, and then click before releasing the key. If you understand that much, the meaning of instructions like “Ctrl+click” and “Alt+click” should be clear.
You can’t write an operating system that’s all things to all people, but Microsoft has certainly tried. You can change almost every aspect of the way Windows looks and works. You can replace the gray backdrop of the screen (the wallpaper) with your favorite photograph, change the typeface used for the names of your icons, or set up a particular program to launch automatically every time you turn on the PC.
When you want to change some general behavior of your PC, like how it connects to the Internet, how soon the screen goes black to save power, or how quickly a letter repeats when you hold down a key, you use the Control Panel window (described in Chapter 8).
Many other times, however, you may want to adjust the settings of only one particular element of the machine, such as the hard drive, the Recycle Bin, or a particular application. In those cases, simply right-click the corresponding icon. In the resulting shortcut menu, you’ll often find a command called Properties. When you click it, a dialog box appears, containing settings or information about that object, as shown in Figure 3, right.
It’s also worth getting to know how to operate tabbed dialog boxes, like the one shown in Figure 3. These are windows that contain so many options, Microsoft has had to split them up into separate panels, or tabs. To reveal a new set of options, just click a different tab (called General, Tools, Hardware, Sharing, Security, Previous Versions, and Quota in Figure 3). These tabs are designed to resemble the tabs at the top of file folders.
You can switch tabs without using the mouse by pressing Ctrl+Tab (to “click” the next tab to the right) or Ctrl+Shift+Tab (for the previous tab).
When computer geeks talk about their drivers, they’re not talking about their chauffeurs (unless they’re Bill Gates); they’re talking about the controlling software required by every hardware component of a PC.
The driver is the translator between your PC’s brain and the equipment attached to it: mouse, keyboard, screen, DVD drive, scanner, digital camera, palmtop, and so on. Without the correct driver software, the corresponding piece of equipment doesn’t work at all.
When you buy one of these gadgets, you receive a CD containing the driver software. If the included driver software works fine, then you’re all set. If your gadget acts up, however, remember that equipment manufacturers regularly release improved (read: less buggy) versions of these software chunks. (You generally find such updates on the manufacturers’ Web sites.)
Fortunately, Windows 7 comes with drivers for over 15,000 components, saving you the trouble of scavenging for them on a disk or on the Internet. Most popular gizmos from brand-name companies work automatically when you plug them in—no CD installation required (Chapter 18).
Windows has an absolutely staggering array of features. You can burrow six levels down, dialog box through dialog box, and never come to the end of it. There are enough programs, commands, and help screens to keep you studying the rest of your life.
It’s crucial to remember that Microsoft’s programmers created Windows in modules—the digital-photography team here, the networking team there—with different audiences in mind. The idea, of course, was to make sure that no subset of potential customers would find a feature lacking.
But if you don’t have a digital camera, a network, or whatever, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ignoring everything you encounter on the screen that isn’t relevant to your setup and work routine. Not even Microsoft’s CEO uses every single feature of Windows.
To get the most out of this book, visit www.missingmanuals.com. Click the “Missing CD-ROM” link—and then this book’s title—to reveal a neat, organized, chapter-by-chapter list of the shareware and freeware mentioned in this book.
The Web site also offers corrections and updates to the book. (To see them, click the book’s title, and then click View/Submit Errata.) In fact, please submit such corrections and updates yourself! In an effort to keep the book as up to date and accurate as possible, each time O’Reilly prints more copies of this book, I’ll make any confirmed corrections you’ve suggested. I’ll also note such changes on the Web site so that you can mark important corrections into your own copy of the book, if you like.