Tweak Vista Icons, Add Shortcuts With Hassle-Free PC

Add Windows 7-Style Icons to Vista

As most Windows watchers know by now, Windows 7 has some cool interface tweaks, starting with large, eye-pleasing program icons that take up residence in the taskbar. Of course, this is little more than an update to the Quick Launch feature that debuted in Windows XP. And believe it or not, Vista users can easily bring that Windows 7 look to their own taskbars. Here's how:

  1. Right-click any open space in the taskbar and clear the check mark from Lock the Taskbar.
  2. Right-click the taskbar again and choose Toolbars, Quick Launch. A small batch of icons appears next to the Start button.
  3. Click and drag the Quick Launch toolbar's right handle to the right to create some extra icon space.
  4. Right-click in an open space within that toolbar, then choose View, Large Icons.
  5. Presto! Now your Vista taskbar should look a lot like Windows 7's. To add icons, just drag and drop any program, folder, or individual file to the Quick Launch toolbar.

I'll admit I'm not so ga-ga over Windows 7's interface changes as some folks, but as a longtime Quick Launch fan, I'm definitely liking these larger icons.

Add a VPN Shortcut to the Vista Desktop

Here's something annoying about Vista: When you set up a new VPN connection (which many people do so they can log onto their office networks from home), you don't get the option to "create a desktop shortcut" like you did with Windows XP.

Fortunately, there's a simple workaround. I'm going to assume you already know how to get your VPN connection up and running. Once you're tied into the VPN, follow these steps to create a shortcut:

  1. Click Start, type Network, and then click Network and Sharing Center.
  2. On the left-hand side, under Tasks, click Manage network connections.
  3. You should see your connection listed in the Virtual Private Network section. Right-click the icon and choose Create Shortcut.
  4. Vista will tell you that you can't create a shortcut here, but you coulld have one on the desktop instead.
  5. Click Yes.

Now just double-click the shortcut icon and presto: You can sign right into your VPN.

Resize Vista's Taskbar Preview Thumbnails

Much as I love the idea behind Vista's window-preview thumbnails, which pop up when you mouse over any running program in the taskbar, I find them almost useless. Why? Because the thumbnails themselves are too small.

This is especially problematic on system's with large, high-resolution monitors. On my 22-inch LCD, for instance, the thumbnails rarely give me a clue as to what's actually inside the program.

Fortunately, I've discovered the awesome Vista Thumbnail Sizer, a free utility that lets you make thumbnails just about any size you want.

After extracting the .zip file, open the 32bits or 64bits folder (depending on which version of Vista you have), then run the AveThumbnailSizer application. Use the two sliders to set the maximum width and height for your thumbnails. I've got mine at around 550, but you should experiment until you find the settings you like best.

Fortunately, the changes are instantaneous: After you move a slider, you can mouse over any program to see the newly resized thumbnail.

When you're done, click Start AveVistaThumbnailSizer with Windows so that your settings stay in effect after you reboot.

Note that Vista's Aero effects must be turned on for this program (and, indeed, Vista's window preview) to work.

Add Windows Explorer to the Quick Launch Toolbar

It surprises many users to learn that Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer are not the same thing. The latter is a file manager--not the greatest one in the world, but definitely a handy tool for browsing, moving, copying, and deleting files.

Why, then, does Microsoft insist on making it so hard to find? In Windows XP and Vista, you have to click your way through to the Accessories folder to find it. Alternately, you can hit Windows-E on your keyboard or right-click the Start button and choose Explore. But those options don't really help novice users learn that Windows Explorer, well, exists.

That's one reason I'm keen on Windows 7: Microsoft finally gives Explorer a high-profile spot, right on the taskbar. Thankfully, you don't need to wait for Windows 7 to get your own one-click Explorer icon. Instead, you can add it to the Quick Launch toolbar. Here's how:

  1. If your Quick Launch toolbar is already visible, skip ahead to step 3. If not, right-click an open area of the taskbar and choose Toolbars, Quick Launch.
  2. Again, right-click an open area of the taskbar and clear the check mark from Lock the Taskbar. Now you've got a "handle" you can drag to the right to create more space for Quick Launch.
  3. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories. Now drag the Windows Explorer icon from the Start menu to the Quick Launch toolbar and drop it there.

That's it! Now a single click of the Explorer icon launches the program. If you want to change its icon, right-click it, click Properties, Change Icon, and make your selection.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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