Windows 7: Tips and tricks

Jay Dougherty | DPA
Publication Date: 
Tue, 2009-11-10 03:00

Nothing will make you feel more at home with a new operating system like knowing the tips and tricks that can help you to be as productive as possible. And Windows 7 is packed is full of productivity secrets. Let’s explore a few.

Keyboard magic

Windows 7 allows you to use the keyboard in some pretty imaginative ways. For instance, to quickly dock the current application to the left or right side of your screen, hold down the Windows key and tap the left or right arrow keys. To quickly maximize the current window, hold down the Windows key and tap the up arrow key. To return the application to its former size, hold down the Windows key and tap the down arrow key. To minimize all open applications except the one in the foreground, hold down the Windows key and tap the Home key. The same key combination returns all applications to the state they were in before you pressed Windows key: Home.

The Windows key in combination with the numbers along the top of your keyboard can be used to activate minimized applications as they are represented in your Windows taskbar. Windows key+1 restores the first application icons on the taskbar. Windows key+2 restores the second application, and so on. For instance, if Internet Explorer is the first icon on your taskbar, pressing Windows key+1 will bring Internet Explorer to the foreground. Press Windows key+1 again, and Explorer is minimized again to the taskbar. If you have multiple instances of Windows Explorer — or another application — minimized to the taskbar, keep pressing the Windows key and the appropriate number to cycle through the instances of the running application.

Drag and snap

Windows 7’s new “drag and snap” feature will automatically dock and resize a running application if you drag it to either the left or right side of your monitor. If you haven’t experienced drag and snap yet, try it. You may have to move the application almost half off of the screen in order for drag and snap to take effect.

The trouble with drag and snap is that, for some, it automatically docks and resizes applications when you’re simply trying to move them out of the way temporarily.

The good news is that you can off drag and snap. Want to turn off drag and snap? Open the start menu and type “snap.” The first item that you see in the Start menu’s search results will be “Turn off automatic window arrangement.” That’s Windows 7’s term for “drag and snap,” so click that link. In the resulting “Make the mouse easier to use” dialog box, select the check box labeled “Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.”

Smart file renaming

The fastest way to rename a file in Windows is to highlight it and press F2. When you do, the file name becomes editable, and all you need to do is start typing.

In Windows 7, this type of file renaming gets even smarter because pressing F2 will make just the file name itself — and not the file extension — editable. Normally, you don’t want to rename a file extension because, if you do, the file will no longer be recognized by the program that is associated with that file type in Windows.

In previous versions of Windows, pressing F2 with a highlighted file caused the entire file name to be editable, which mean you had to be careful not to change the extension.

Get the menus back

Microsoft seems not to like traditional menus any more. The company has removed them in Office 2007 in favor of the ribbon bar, and in Windows 7 menus are often hidden by default.

If that’s not to your liking, you can get the menus back. To do so, open the Start menu, and type “folder options.” Click the Folder Options entry that appears. In the resulting Folder Options dialog box, select the View tab, and then click the check box next to “Always show menus.”

Jump lists

Microsoft did a smart thing by automatically grouping multiple instances of an open application under a single taskbar icon. But it got even smarter when it tied jump lists to those icons. Jump lists provide you with a quick way to get to the documents you use frequently.

Using jump lists is simple: Just right-click an application icon on your taskbar, and Windows 7 opens a neatly organized list of the documents you work on most often in that application. The items in a jump list will vary by application. For Word, you’ll see a list of frequently used documents. For Windows Explorer, you’ll see a list of frequently visited folder, and so on. Scroll your mouse over the list, and you’ll see a thumbtack icon next to each item. Click the thumbtack to “tack” that item to the jump list so that it’s always displayed.

Get an energy report

For laptop users, every minute of battery life counts. If you find yourself scratching your head, wondering what is eating up your battery reserve, Windows 7 has a new tool that will hunt down the biggest battery abusers.

To use it, open the Start menu, and type “cmd.” Then hit Enter. A command prompt window will open. At the prompt, type “powercfg — energy,” and press Enter. Windows 7 will take about a minute to assess the power consumption of all of the components in your computer and then publish a report to your hard drive. Open the report, and you’ll be able to see at a glance how to improve the power consumption of your machine.

Customize the task bar

There are some new ways you can customize the taskbar in Windows 7. To get to the customization panel, right-click the taskbar, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. If the taskbar is taking up too much space on your PC, click “Use small icons” in the Taskbar Appearance section. While you’re there, check out the other taskbar customization options. In Windows 7, this dialog box allows you to determine which side of the screen the taskbar appears, and you can specify whether taskbar buttons should be combined when more than one instance of an application is running.


Windows 7 comes with a little-known desktop magnification feature that’s great for those times when you need to zoom in on an element on screen in order to see it better. At any time, just hold down the Windows key and tap the plus key (+), and Windows 7 will magnify the contents of the entire screen by 200 percent. A magnifying glass icon also appears on the screen. With it, you can adjust the level of magnification. Move your cursor to the edge of the screen to move the magnified area around. Press the Windows key and the minus key (-) to zoom back out.

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