How To Give Your Vista PC The Personal Touch With 5 Simple Steps

Are you settled in with Windows Vista yet? By now, having put the new operating system through its paces, you’ve gone beyond the novice user’s infatuation with the glitzy new Aero interface. It’s time to kick it up a notch and add some slightly more sophisticated options to your Vista palette. Here are five tips to tune your Vista installation.

>> Windows DreamScene: Vista’s full-motion video-enabled wallpaper is finally out of its preview phase. The big question remains: What’s the point? DreamScene doesn’t do anything; it just looks cool.

Owners of Vista Ultimate, the most expensive of the five editions of the operating system, are the only ones who currently can use DreamScene. To access it, go to Windows Ultimate Extras from the Start menu. That’ll take you to Windows Update With Windows Vista Extras, which is the regular Windows Update dialog box. The second title therein will alert you that “there are Windows Ultimate Extras available for download.” Look for Windows DreamScene Preview from earlier this year, and the more recently released DreamScene Content Pack. The 51.3-Mbyte Content Pack adds four DreamScene motion wallpapers to the basic animation that came with the Preview.

Enabling the DreamScene video backgrounds is simple. The command sequence is: Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Change desktop background.

DreamScene is fun, but if your Vista machine is your primary home-office PC, stick with old-fashioned, static wallpaper.

>> Smartflip: Here’s how to make your Vista setup more like a Mac, by letting it mimic the way Apple switches between open applications. Unaltered, Vista uses Flip 3-D to stack up slices of all your open apps and display them at a 45-degree angle on your screen. You can then use your mouse wheel to locate the app you want to work on. SmartFlip, a utility available on, replaces Vista’s stack-on-a-bias flip with the “rotating wheel” view used in Mac OS X. Your mouse is used to scroll the desired program to the fore; it’s selected with either a click or by depressing the enter key.

>> Shut Off UACs: That would be User Account Controls, warnings that are intended to prevent you from installing spyware and virus-laden programs. In practice, they distinguish not a whit between authorized apps from major vendors and worms written by the kid down the street, and all too often cry wolf. UACs are managed via Vista’s Windows Security Center. You can shut off the UACs using the taskbar’s Windows Security Alerts icon as your starting point. You also can get to the Windows Security Center via the Control panel. Move through Start > Control Panel > Check this computer’s security status. Next, click on the left-side link within the dialog box, “Change the way Security Center alerts me.” That opens the “Do you want to be notified of security issues?” box. To kill the UAC notifications, select “Don’t notify me and don’t display the icon.”

While ditching the UACs gets rid of a nuisance, it leaves unaddressed the very real problem of Vista security. So if you’re going to do this, you’ll need to install a separate, heavy-duty security program.

Smartflip's rotating view of apps  

>> myFireFox: Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox have been the subject of many comparisons. But while Firefox once held the lead in terms of look and feel, it’s been leapfrogged by IE7. One solution, which melds the performance of Firefox with the freshened presentation of IE, is myFireFox, an IE7 theme simulator found on Mozilla’s add-on site.

A couple of pointers: You have to be in Firefox to install myFireFox. Enable the theme-shifter by going to Firefox’s “Add-ons” menu under “Tools” (click “Use Theme”). When you relaunch Firefox, you’ll see that the forward/back navigation toolbar has adopted the IE7 theme, but you’ll wonder about the absence of the “favorites” and some other icons. To get them to appear, click on Firefox’s file menu and open a new tab. Overall, it’s a nice thematic addition to a browser that’s still the one to beat.

>> Vista Sidebar Gadgets: There’s an easy way to broaden your choice of Vista Sidebar Gadgets. The paucity of Gadgets was a serious issue at Vista’s launch in January. The basic OS install includes only a baker’s dozen of the tiny applets, which are designed to reside permanently on your desktop and keep you updated on time, date, weather, stock prices, and your CPU’s processing load.

Now the Gadget shortage is a thing of the past. Microsoft’s Windows Live gallery includes 37 pages of Vista Gadgets, including such novelties as a Dual-Core CPU meter and a Windows Mail applet, which lets you monitor your e-mail from the Sidebar. Want more? Then try a free tool from Mesa Dynamics called Amnesty Generator, which converts Google gadgets for use with Vista.



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