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Customize: Change Vista's Defaults

You probably won't be happy with everything about the way Vista looks or works when you install it. Here are the five customizations that most Vista users will want to make as soon as they get the new OS rolling.

Customize the desktop: It's easy to adjust nearly every aspect of the Vista desktop. Right-click the desktop and choose Personalize to change the background, screen saver, sounds, and mouse pointer. You can also choose a theme, alter your monitor's resolution, or change your icons and fonts. If you use Vista's Aero interface, you can assign custom colors to your windows by choosing Windows Color and Appearance and picking a color, or click Show color mixer to mix a custom color.

Rework the Start menu: Right-click the Start button and select Properties, Start menu. To revert to the days of Windows 98 and 2000, click Classic Start menu. To tweak Vista's Start menu, keep it selected and click Customize. You can choose the items that you want on the menu, change how submenus display, and reset your search options, among other settings. Click the Taskbar tab to alter the appearance of your taskbar, and select the Notification Area tab to do the same to your system tray.

See all of your files and folders: By default Vista hides system files and folders, and it doesn't show the extensions of common file types. This keeps you from knowing exactly what's on your system. To see all that you can see, open Windows Explorer or any folder window and choose Organize, Folder and Search Options, View to see options for changing which files your system displays and how they appear. For example, you can choose to display file icons as thumbnails, and whether to show drive letters. Select Show hidden files and folders, and then uncheck Hide extensions for known file types.

While you're there, click the Search tab to change search settings; in the General tab, tweak your folder options, such as whether a folder opens in the same window or a new one.

Use Vista's Default Programs applet to select a mix of Microsoft and non-Microsoft programs.
Use Vista's Default Programs applet to select a mix of Microsoft and non-Microsoft programs.
Reset your default programs: Vista will probably be using Microsoft programs for browsing, e-mail, and other applications (depending on how your PC vendor configured the machine, or whether you're upgrading from Windows XP). For instructions on how to change the application that opens automatically when you double-click a specific file type, see "Tweak Your Associations."

An appealing addition to Vista is the ability to change the defaults for an entire group of programs at one time. Click Start, Default Programs (or Start, Settings, Control Panel, Default Programs on the Classic Start menu). In the Default Programs applet, choose Set program access and computer defaults. Select Microsoft Windows from the list of configurations to use Microsoft software as the defaults--in other words, Internet Explorer for browsing, Windows Mail or Outlook for e-mail, Windows Media Player for audio and video files, and so on. Select Non-Microsoft if you have software from other vendors that you would rather use for all of these purposes. If you want to pick and choose from among available Microsoft and non-Microsoft apps, select Custom and then choose the individual applications you prefer.

Bounce the Sidebar: Some people like the Sidebar mini-apps on the Vista desktop, but for other folks they're useless. To dump them, right-click the Sidebar icon in the system tray, select Properties, and uncheck Start Sidebar when Windows starts.

Preston Gralla is the author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell (O'Reilly Media). He is based in Massachusetts.
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