Wrangle Your Desktop: Hide Icons, Beef Up Previews

One of the things I love about Stardock's icon organizer, Fences, is the way the program can quickly hide all your desktop icons. Just double-click any empty area and poof: They're gone. A second double-click brings them back again. You can do the same thing in Windows Vista and 7, and you can also easily flip between external displays. Read on for those tips, plus a great little free app that beefs up your taskbar previews.

Hide Your Desktop Icons

Here's how to hide desktop icons in Windows Vista and 7 (I'm not sure about XP):

  1. Right-click any empty area of the desktop, then mouse over View.
  2. Click Show Desktop Icons to remove the check box.

Presto! No more icons! Now you can enjoy that fancy Windows wallpaper without all the clutter. Don't worry, the icons aren't gone for good: To bring them back, just repeat the above steps.

Personally, I think hiding all your icons permanently is a great way to go. Just train yourself to run programs via the Start Menu, or, better yet, with a keyboard-based launcher like Launchy.

Easily Switch Between External Displays in Windows 7

A certain technology-challenged relative, who shall remain nameless, frequently calls me to ask the same question: "I just connected my projector to my laptop. How do I make it, uh, go?"

I agree it isn't immediately obvious how to make a projector (and/or second monitor) "go" after connecting it to your PC. After all, displays aren't plug-and-play devices.

If you're a Windows 7 user, however, all you have to do is remember the letter P--as in "Projector." Specifically, pressing Windows-P invokes a new display-switch toolbar that makes it a snap to switch between various display modes.

By default, the mode is set to Computer only. Click Duplicate and Windows will clone your screen to whatever secondary display is connected, monitor or projector. That's handy during presentations and other situations when you're still working at the computer.

If you're using a second monitor, however, I recommend clicking Extend, which literally expands the desktop so you can open extra windows (a common example is running your Web browser on one screen and your word processor on the other).

Finally, there's Projector only, which turns off your laptop's LCD, effectively turning the projector into your monitor. Why do this? If you're trying to preserve laptop battery life while giving a presentation, this will help.

Sorry to say that if you're still running XP or Vista, you'll need to find your laptop's external-display toggle (which is usually the combination of the Fn key and a function key), or delve into the Control Panel, bring up the display settings, and fiddle until you get the right combination.

Little amenities like this are why I'm loving Windows 7. That's right, I said it!

Resize Windows 7's Taskbar Preview Thumbails

Much as I love Windows 7'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 true on systems 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. So what's the point of having them?

Fortunately, I've discovered the awesome Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customer 1.1 (W7TTC for short), a free utility that lets you make thumbnails just about any size you want.

There's nothing to install: Just run the program, then drag the Maximum Size slider somewhere north of its default. (I tried doubling it to 400, then went all the way to the maximum: 512.) Click Apply Changes, then mouse over a running taskbar to see the results.

Yay! I've been waiting for a solution like this, which has been available for Vista for quite some time. And as you can see in the screenshot (click to make it larger), W7TTC offers several other taskbar adjustments as well, including spacing, margins, and delay time (i.e. the wait before thumbnails actually appear).

Amazingly, this little app was developed by 12-year-old Kishan Bagaria. He just made this 41-year-old very happy.

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

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