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Windows Vista has an incredible amount of features and tools, many of which are almost totally undocumented and buried in the system somewhere. Administrative and troubleshooting tools particularly are now much more powerful and easier to use then ever before.

Here are six little features and applications in Vista which I think are quite useful:

Snipping Tool

The Snipping Tool was an application I didn’t even know existed till yesterday. This tool was introduced with Windows Vista (although it is not present in Vista Basic) but I just hadn’t come across it yet.

I’m so used to replacing any Windows applications with better freeware alternatives that it didn’t occur to me a Windows tool could do the job adequately. Sure, Snipping Tool isn’t the best screenshot application but it does all the basics, and even has a few extra features such as the ability to directly email a screenshot, or highlight something quickly. All it needs is a setting that enables it to be launched from the printscreen key.

Quick Launch ToolBar

If you initially tried to drag the Quick Launch toolbar off the Vista task bar, you wouldn’t have had much success. However this feature hasn’t been removed from Vista – its just been made less accessible for some strange reason.

If you want to enable the Quick Launch bar, simply create a new folder on your desktop. Drag this folder to the right edge of your screen and let go. The toolbar should have now have appeared down the side of the screen. By right clicking on the bar and selecting ‘Toolbars > Quick Launch’ you will have enabled the Quick Launch toolbar.


There are a couple of adjustable options such as hiding the title and folder text or making the icons smaller. I like using this as my application launcher as it’s the best launcher you’ll find, and I can live without the visual effects of others Docks - The 6 Best Friends of your Windows Taskbar Docks - The 6 Best Friends of your Windows Taskbar Read More .

Photo Slideshows

You’ve probably seen this option amongst the buttons along the explorer bar, but have you actually tried it?

The Slideshow is actually a nice way to view your photographs. You can change the speed and effects of the presentation, and a number of themes are included such as “collage”, “album”, “glass” and more. You can display photographs in Sepia, black and white and normal. It may seem trivial but it can be quite useful when you have relatives around, you can bore them with your latest travel photographs or something.

Windows Media Encoder

Windows Media Encoder was included with Vista but has been available to anyone as a free download for quite some time. Again it may lack some of the power of alternative applications, but I think you’ll find it does a fairly decent job.

You can use Media Encoder to capture audio or video, convert files, screen capture and more. The capture is particularly useful if you want to create a video of a program demonstration, etc.

Resizing Icons

Icons can be resized anywhere in Vista by simply holding down the control key and scrolling your mouse. Even though the ‘view’ options only list seven icon display sizes, there are actually nearly forty which you can scroll through via this method. It also works on your desktop icons.

Show Windows Side by Side

Ever got annoyed with Windows Explorer? Haven’t we all. Shankar offered some tips a few weeks back 7 Windows Explorer Addons for Power Users 7 Windows Explorer Addons for Power Users Read More for the power user, but if that’s a bit much then there is one simple thing you can do to make moving your files around a bit easier.

Hold down the control key and select two windows on the task bar. Right click and select “Show Windows Side by Side”. You’ll now have the two windows aligned next to each other. This isn’t just for Explorer windows of course, it’ll work on any application. Especially useful for comparing documents or online research.

What are your favourite tools in Vista?

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  1. Ellie
    June 11, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    I've got to check these out! I really like Vista!!!!

  2. bob
    June 2, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I want to be able to change the size of the menu icons in Vista, in XP, you can just right click it, go to Properties > Start Menu > Customize... and then on the window that pops up you can choose either large or small icons, in Vista this is gone! The Control Key + Scroll Wheel only works on desktop and folders, not Start Menu... I have that horrid pop-up; "Some Start Menu Items may not be displayed".. Arghh!

    Can anyone help, please?

  3. multippt
    May 30, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I knew half of these features and tried some of them from day one, some of them are part of the reasons why I got Vista, such as the snipping tool which I use almost everyday for some daily work (screenshots are incredibly handy).

    Though, I didn't realize that the quick launch toolbar was hidden. Guess I never used Quick Launch for quite some time and wasn't even aware that Microsoft hid it. Perhaps that's one reason why Microsoft decided Quick Launch be a "hidden feature" in Vista.

  4. Lethann
    May 30, 2008 at 9:36 am

    What are your favourite tools in Vista?

    I've got five off the top of my head:

    1) Snipping Tool - already covered
    2) Windows Explorer Favorite Links - Go to your user folder and you'll see a folder called "LINKS". In there drop a link to anything you use and/or remove anything you don't. I've put things like my external HD main link and folders that I'm constantly working in on there. Makes navigation it a whole lot easier in my opinion.
    3) Windows Explorer Address Bar - It's not new, but it's been tweeked. The default with Vista (at least on mine) doesn't show the old "full address", but the series of folders with little arrows next to each folder. I found out by accident one day that those arrows are actually dropdown menus so you can move from one folder to the next without having to either type it in or keep both open at the same time. And, if you want to swap to the old addressbar, you just click the far left of the bar and it switches modes.
    4) Switch Between Windows - It's a button down in the Quick Launch Bar that adds a nifty type of "cascade" where your windows are lined up 3D and you can see what each contains and pick which one you actually want. I don't use it too often, but think it's fun to use.
    5) Window Snapshot - Don't know what it's actually called, but hovering over the window tab in the toolbar will actually display a minisnapshot of whatever is in that window. It's not a stillshot either. Sometimes when I'm alt-tabed out of an MMO I can quickly see if something is attacking me without having to actually go back into the game.

    Call me a heretic or whatever, but I'm one of the rare people who actually loves Vista. I hate it when I have to go back to XP on someone else's computer. But then I didn't upgrade. I got it native on a new laptop and put 4 gigs of ram in it (yes, even thought it can't make use of all of it).

    • Laurence John
      June 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

      I'm one of those people too =P

  5. Justin
    May 29, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Using XP, but I was interested by the bit about the icons. The last part is old news though. You can't do it exactly the same in XP, but you can right click the taskbar and select 'Tile Windows Vertically' or 'Tile Windows Horizontally'.

  6. Lee Mathews
    May 29, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    As a tech, I gotta say the best feature is the whole reinstall process. Vista does a pretty excellent job of recognizing an old install and automatically grouping the old user account data prior to reinstalling itself. I like it, it saves me work and has yet to bite me in the butt.

  7. Laurence
    May 29, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    You sure?

    It came bundled with my Vista Home Premium... did you have a good search?

  8. Michael
    May 29, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Haha, these are great. I didn't know about the themes in Slideshows.

    About Windows Media Encoder. I have Windows Vista Ultimate and it doesn't seem to be installed... and the version offered as a download appears to be not-so-compatible with Vista. Why don't they offer a Vista version?

  9. anob
    May 29, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Show Windows Side by Side - it's not a new future, there's the same option in Windows XP.

  10. Chris
    May 29, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    True Launch Bar is a much nicer version of the windows launch bar. In it's simplest usage you can, for example, group programs into folders. More advanced usage lets you add plugins such as cpu usage, screenshot taker etc.

    There is also a free version which only allows grouping into folders, though that's still pretty nifty.

    • Laurence
      May 30, 2008 at 9:50 am

      It is a good alternative, but it's somewhat pointless with the new vista start menu. I use the quicklaunch bar for one click access, but once you start having menus and stuff it's easier simply pushing window key and typing what you want.