Dec 032008
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer, Ryan Gibbons

Welcome to another installment of tech how-to. This is going to be one-half of a two-part series — today will be about how to improve your Windows/Vista PC to try to make said operating system a little more interesting. Next week, we will write about how to trick out your Mac. Isn’t that exciting? So without further adieu: Improving your Windows experience.

/So, it’s common knowledge that most people hate Windows Vista, but since all PCs ship with it now, we’re all just going to have to deal with it. So in order to make things run a little smoother, we’re going to start with a few tips that will help make your Vista experience a little better.

First token of advice: take a look at those Sidebar Gadgets. The default news, stock and weather tickers can get a little dull, but definitely check out the selection of gadgets available for download. You can find simple games, snow reports for the slopes or even gadgets that can send text messages to any U.S. phone carrier. For those of you who think the gadgets are useful but an eyesore on your great desktop image, right-click on said gadgets and set the opacity to 20 or 40 percent.

A quick note: for those of you still running Windows XP or wanting something a little different from the Gadgets, check out Google’s sidebar, it has similar functionality with a different set of gadgets to offer (just search Google for ‘google sidebar’)./

In our opinion, the Snipping Tool included in Vista is one of the more under-represented features included in the operating system. Hopefully, most of you know what a Print Screen is; if not, well it’s OK, we just can’t be friends anymore. The Snipping Tool brings the Print Screen function to a whole new level. Found in all programs, under Accessories, this little application allows you to select any part of your screen and save it as a picture file (JPEG, GIF, etc.), which you can then embed in a Word Document, Power Point, Web site or attach to an e-mail.

Our next suggestion would be to take a look at your Power Options. Many laptops and computers shut off the monitor and/or hibernate after only a few minutes. While this helps to save battery and electricity, wouldn’t it be better if you could customize it? Simply hit start, type “power options” into the search bar and hit enter. From this window you can control just how long it takes for your computer to start entering its various power saving modes. We would also strongly recommend taking a look at your Power Plan, which is found in the same window. When you have the Power Saver Plan turned on, your processor can run at only 50 percent. We’d suggest at least the/Balanced plan if not High Performance, which will greatly increase the speed of your computer.

For those of you who paid the extra $200 for Windows Ultimate: Congratulations, you just paid $200 for a bunch of features you probably don’t use, but that’s OK because we can show you one nifty feature which might make it worth your while. Your version of Windows came with a feature called Dreamscene, which allows you to play videos as your wallpaper, giving your desktop a cool new look that sets it apart from the rest.

For those of us who saved the $200, luckily there’s a solution for you as well: Visit and take a look at Deskscapes. This $20 application brings the same functionality as Dreamscene and saves you the $180 more it would have cost for Ultimate.

Remember to read next week for cool tricks on how to pimp out your Mac.

Columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons can be reached at

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