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Learning to tackle Vista

Learning to tackle Vista
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First Published: Sun, Nov 02 2008. 09 57 PM IST

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Updated: Sun, Nov 02 2008. 09 57 PM IST
After nearly two years, I’m really tired of reading about other people’s problems with Microsoft’s Vista operating system.
I mean, I’ve got my own problems. Teenagers living in my house and eating my food, a wife training to be an oral surgeon routinely working 36-hour shifts, a van that devours gas. Oh, and then there’s Vista.
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Consumers have had issues with Vista since its release in January 2007, although the latest figures indicate that most holdouts have accepted, if not embraced, the system. Despite Apple’s snarky ad campaigns promoting its Macs, more than 140 million copies of Vista have been sold; Windows remains a money magnet for Microsoft, accounting for more than a quarter of the company’s $60.4 billion (about Rs2.9 trillion) in annual revenue.
Taming Vista on my Intel chip-equipped Sony Vaio laptop became, after a while, a measure of maintaining patience, never mind sanity. Sure, there was a day recently when I could’ve thrown the thing out of the window and into the backyard, and then made tracks to the Mac Pro desktop in the basement.
The truth is, Vista doesn’t have to be as bad as the competing Apple ads say it is.
Here are some ways to make your Vista experience morelivable, and perhaps even more loveable.
Farewell to the UAC
It’s not just me: Among the features that many users found most annoying early on in Vista’s life cycle was the user account control (UAC) feature.
The UAC in Vista was to save newbie Web surfers from spyware and viruses that might otherwise install themselves on the hard drive. This is a good thing, of course, as Windows machines attract viruses like candy apples draw flies.
A warning box pops up on the screen every time a program or application is about to be installed: “Windows needs your permission to continue.”
The options are to click on “continue” or “cancel”.
It used to be that if you tried to disable the user account in Vista’s Control Panel, it would reappear on reboot. One observer noted that this was Microsoft’s way of “never forgiving you for your stupidity” in turning off UAC.
“Almost every other question I get was how to get rid of the UAC,” said Karl L. Gechlik, a systems administrator in Manhattan, who fields such questions as a hobby on his website, www.asktheadmin.com.
Microsoft now allows you to turn off UAC permanently if you have a newer version of the operating system or have downloaded the Service Pack 1 release (if you haven’t downloaded Service Pack 1 yet, do it now at www.tinyurl.com/55k8a4; the upgrade fixes a host of bugs with Vista).
Add memory
Vista is a memory hog. Microsoft says a computer running Vista needs 512MB or more of random access memory. In the real world, in which a person uses more than one application at a time, a GB of RAM is a more realistic minimum; 2GB is better.
Gechlik says his systems have been upgraded to 3GB RAM. “You need twice the memory for Vista that XP needed. You need a lot more oomph to do what you want.”
Adding RAM isn’t brain surgery nor is it outrageously expensive but, depending on the computer, installation is best left to an expert.
DIY types can search Google for “Installing more RAM”— there are plenty of how-to articles and videos available.
Give it a boost
With a flash memory device—a USB flash drive, CompactFlash or SD card—of at least 256MB, you can make the PC access data faster. Plugged into a USB port, the memory device serves as an additional memory cache—that is, memory that the computer can access much more quickly than it can access data on the hard drive (the more memory the better, up to 4GB).
After the device is inserted, Vista asks you if you want to use it to improve performance. You can choose to allocate part of the card or drive’s memory to what Microsoft calls ReadyBoost and use the remainder to store files.
Don’t laugh. This works. And, unlike random access memory, you don’t have to mess with the computer’s insides. And because the price of flash memory has dropped drastically—a 2GB device is only about $25 on sale—it’s a no-brainer. I bet the Mac Guy wishes he had one of these.
Use only what you want
You may think you have only the Firefox browser running, but Vista starts a host of programs every time you start it. There is no reason for most of them to be running and using the computer’s memory.
So, back to Control Panel. Click Uninstall a Program and in the Tasks pane on the left, click Turn Windows Features On or Off. You should see a checklist of all the programs. Most, quite honestly, are incomprehensible. What is “Windows DFS Replication Service”? Hover your cursor over each entry and a pop-up box tries to explain what it is. Uncheck the ones you do not need. This does not remove them from your PC, it just stops them from running.
Lose even more
If you are really serious about tweaking Vista, you can do even more to limit what is running in the background—and there is a surprising amount of activity on your PC when you think that all you are doing is playing Solitaire.
This process is a bit more intimidating. The easy part: Click the Start button, type in services.msc and hit Enter. A window pops up with a table of “services” running. And it’s a long list. Look at the entries labelled Automatic. These run whether you want them to or not. But which ones are necessary? TweakHound.com isan invaluable site for figuring this out.
To change a service from Automatic to Manual, right-click on the name of the service. Click Properties. Then click the Stop button and change the Startup Type to Manual.
Make Vista uglier
One virtue of Vista is that it makes your PC’s desktop prettier. But it uses a lot of memory to throw those widgets on the side of the screen and make icons transparent. Yep, go back to Control Panel, this time to Personalization. Disable the transparency feature by removing the check mark on Enable Transparency.
Click the Performance and System Tools tab, and click Adjust Visual Effects. Click Adjust for Best Performance.
The system will also run a little faster if you revert to the classic Window look instead of the Aero look. The easiest way is to right-click on the desktop, click Personalize and click Windows Color and Appearance. Click Open Classic Appearance Properties, choose a theme in the Color Scheme list box and click OK. There are more ways to make Vista run faster, some a bit more complicated. Microsoft has a 14-page guide to other tricks at www.tinyurl.com/5a439r
These tips should help until the next operating system upgrade (tentatively code named Vienna) comes along. Then, all this will happen all over again.
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©2008/The New York Times
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First Published: Sun, Nov 02 2008. 09 57 PM IST