Windows 7 includes all sorts of small improvements that will make your computing life more enjoyable. These tips will help you make the most of your desktop working environment.

Snap tricks

Snap is one of Windows 7’s nifty new features: drag a window to the side of the screen, and it will automatically resize so it occupies that half of the screen; drag a window to the top of the screen, and it will expand to occupy the entire screen; drag the window away from the edge or the top and it will snap back to its original size. You can also double-click a window’s bottom or top border to maximize its height while retaining its original width. When you do this, make sure you double-click the edge of the window—double-clicking in the title bar maximizes the whole window, not just its height.

Multi-monitor snap

If you’re using two monitors, you can use the technique in the previous tip to snap a window to the left side of the left-hand monitor and the right side of the right-hand monitor, but what if you want to snap a window to the right side of the left-hand monitor or the left side of the right-hand monitor? In that case, use Winkey+right-arrow or Winkey+left-arrow. Each time you press the keys, the selected window will shift across the screen: first to the right side of the left monitor, then the left side of the right monitor, centre of right monitor, right side of right monitor, left side of left monitor, and so on.

If you press Winkey+Shift+right-arrow or Winkey+Shift+left-arrow, the selected window will move to the next screen while maintaining its position relative to the edge of the screen.

Instant clean desktop

Do icons congregate on your desktop no matter how often you tuck new ones into folders and sweep the rest into the Recycle Bin? If the desktop clutter grates and makes you feel like your life is out of control, take heart: Windows 7 gives you a very simple way to clear everything away in an instant. Simply right-click an empty spot on the desktop (if you can find one!) and select View -> Show Desktop Icons from the pop-up menu. Your icons will be hidden. Use the same technique to redisplay them. On the same context menu you’ll also find an option to hide or display any gadgets you have on your desktop.

Rename your recycle bin

In earlier versions of Windows, renaming the Recycle Bin required a registry hack. In Windows 7, it’s much easier: right-click the Recycle Bin, select Rename from the pop-up menu, type in your desired name and press Enter.

Reinstate missing icons

Have you deleted your recycle bin or misplaced another system desktop icon? Get them back by right-clicking the desktop and choosing Personalize from the context menu, then click ‘Change desktop icons’. Click to place a checkmark beside the icons you want displayed and click OK.

Resize your icons

If you find yourself squinting at the icons on your desktop, resize them on the fly: click in a vacant spot on the desktop or on any of the icons, hold down the Ctrl key and scroll your mouse wheel up to increase the icon size or down to decrease it.

Resize desktop text

Make text more readableThe previous tip resizes the icons on the desktop but it doesn’t change the size of the text. Windows 7 provides an easy way to bump up the text size, too:

  1. Right-click an empty spot on the desktop and select Screen Resolution from the context menu.
  2. Click ‘Make text and other items larger or smaller’.
  3. Choose the medium or larger settings, or click ‘Custom text size (DPI)’, drag the ruler to select a setting and click OK.
  4. Click Apply.
  5. Click Log Off.
  6. Log back on to see the new settings.

Note that this technique makes everything on your screen bigger—windows, icons and text. When applied, you won’t be able to fit as much on the screen.

Restore icon layout

If you resize your desktop icons or change screen resolutions frequently, or if something else alters the tidy arrangement of your desktop, a tiny program called Desktop Restore will make your life easier.

Desktop Restore lets you save multiple desktop icon layouts: one for each resolution you use plus additional custom layouts. You can then restore any of those layouts with a click or two. It’s available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

Once you install the program, use it by right-clicking an empty spot on the desktop and choosing Save Desktop from the pop-up menu. Desktop Restore saves the layout with the current resolution as the layout name. If you mess up your icons, right-click the desktop once more and choose Restore Desktop; the program will automatically restore the correct layout for your currently displayed resolution.

A Custom Save/Restore option lets you save and name additional layouts and choose which layout to restore from a list. It even works with icons scattered across multiple monitors.

Drag your icons

Rearranging the icons in your taskbar is a simple matter of clicking an icon and dragging it to a new location. This welcome shortcut also applies to the icons in the notification area (aka system tray) at the extreme right of the taskbar. You can not only drag the notification icons displayed on the taskbar but you can also rearrange those which have been tucked away into the ‘overflow’ area, accessed via the up-arrow at the left of the notification area. So, to hide a notification icon, simply drag it onto the up-arrow and then into the overflow area.

Put the taskbar on the sideSideline the taskbar

These days, most screens are appreciably wider than they are high, and yet most of us keep our taskbar firmly ensconced across the bottom of the screen. That taskbar strip occupies a sizeable fraction of the vertical space available, especially if you’re working on a tiddly netbook. Why not maximize the advantages of having a wide screen by moving the taskbar to the left? Right-click it, click ‘Lock the taskbar’, click-and-drag the taskbar to the left-hand edge of the screen, then right-click and ‘Lock the taskbar’ again. You’ll find that Microsoft has gone to considerable trouble to make a side-docked taskbar as good looking and efficiently functioning as a bottom-docked one in Windows 7. It may take you a few days to get used to the side-docked taskbar, but the payoff in usable screen real estate is worth it.

Display externally

On a notebook computer with an external monitor connected or on a multi-monitor desktop setup, press Winkey+P to choose how to use the displays. This feature lets you duplicate your screen on another screen or projector, switch between screens or extend a display across multiple screens.

Faster thumbnails

When you hover the mouse pointer over a taskbar icon, Windows displays thumbnail previews of each of the windows open in that application. If you’d like a speedier display of these thumbnails, try this registry hack:

  1. Click Start, type regedit and press Enter to open the Registry Editor.
  2. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Mouse.
  3. In the right-hand side of the editor, double-click MouseHoverTime.
  4. Decrease the default value from 400 to something in the 100 – 200 range.
  5. Close the Registry Editor.