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Six Top Tips for Hacking Windows Vista

by Preston Gralla

Finally, the long, five-year wait is over--Windows Vista is here. But you won't have to wait five years if you want to start hacking it; you can start right now. Check out these six top tips for hacking Windows Vista.

Note: For more help on using Windows Vista, check out my book, Windows Vista in a Nutshell.

Hack the Windows Explorer Shortcut Menu

The right-click menu in Windows Explorer is quite useful; right-click a file and a menu appears, letting you take a variety of actions, such as opening the file, printing it, deleting it, copying it, creating a shortcut to it, and so on. Figure 1 shows you the screen you'll see. (Note that the "Scan with…" option is only available if you install antivirus software, such as avast! Anti-virus.)

The right-click menu
Figure 1. The normal menu that appears when you right-click a file in Windows Explorer

But there's a way to power up the menu. Hold down the Shift key as you right-click a file, and you get several new menu options, as you can see circled in Figure 2.

The Shift right-click menu
Figure 2. The options circled are added when you hold down Shift when right-clicking a file.

Here's what the options do:

Hack Windows Vista Screensavers

Windows Vista's screensavers, for incomprehensible reasons, cannot be customized using the user interface. Want to change the way bubbles look in the Bubbles screensaver? Forget about it. You won't find a way to do it.

You can, though, hack the Windows Registry to customize many of the screensavers. For the Bubbles screensaver, for example, you can add three new values to the Registry, and turn the bubbles metallic or keep them transparent; configure whether the bubbles should have shadows; and display the bubbles against the desktop or instead against a solid black background.

To do it, open the Registry Editor, then go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Screensavers\Bubbles. Select Edit-->New DWORD (32-bit) Value, and create a new DWORD called MaterialGlass. Give it a value of 1 for glassy, transparent bubbles, and a value of 0 for metallic bubbles.

Create a DWORD called ShowShadows, and give it a value of 1 to display shadows below the bubbles, and a value of 0 to have no shadow displayed.

Create a DWORD called ShowBubbles and give it a value of 1 to show the bubbles on the desktop, and a value of 0 to show them against a solid black background.

When you exit the Registry Editor, your new settings will take effect.

You can similarly hack the Ribbons screensaver.  Open the Registry Editor, then go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Screensavers\Ribbons. Select Edit-->New DWORD (32-bit) Value, and create a new DWORD called NumRibbons. Click Decimal, and then type in the number of ribbons you want to be displayed. The minimum number of ribbons is 1; the maximum is 256.

Create a DWORD called RibbonWidth, click Decimal, and then type in a number to determine the width of each ribbon. The smaller the number, the narrower the ribbon.

When you exit the Registry Editor, your new settings will take effect.

To go back to your old settings, delete the Registry values.

Hack the Elevated Command Prompt

When you run certain commands from the command prompt, you're told that you don't have administrative rights to run them, even if you're currently logged in as an administrator.

What gives?

You'll have to run the command prompt itself as an administrator, which is called running an elevated command prompt.

One way to do it is to type cmd into the Search box on the Start menu, right-click the command prompt icon that appears at the top of the Start menu, and then select "Run as administrator."

But if you don't want to go about doing that each time you run a command prompt, there's a simpler way. You can create a Desktop shortcut for an elevated prompt, or pin the elevated prompt to the Start menu.

To create a shortcut on the Desktop:

  1. Right-click the Desktop, and select New-->Shortcut.
  2. In the text box of the Create Shortcut dialog box that appears, type CMD and then click Next.
  3. On the next screen, type a name for the shortcut--for example, Elevated Command Prompt. Then click Finish.
  4. Right-click on the shortcut you just created and select Properties.
  5. Click the Shortcut tab and click Advanced. (See Figure 3.)
  6. Check the box entitled "Run as administrator," click OK, and then OK again.

The Elevated Prompt
Figure 3. Creating a shortcut for an elevated command prompt

Now, when you want to run an elevated command prompt, simply double-click the shortcut.

If you'd like the elevated command prompt to appear on the Start menu, drag it from the Desktop to the Start button, and place it where you would like it to be.

Hack Aero's Glass Borders

The borders around system windows, such as dialog boxes and the Control Panel, are transparent in Windows Vista's Aero interface. If you'd like, you can make those transparent borders larger or smaller:

  1. Right-click the Desktop and select Personalize.
  2. Click Windows Color and Appearance.
  3. Click "Open classic appearance properties" for more color options.
  4. From the dialog box that appears, make sure that Windows Aero is selected as the color scheme. Click the Advanced button on the right side of the dialog box.
  5. Select "Border Padding" in the Item drop-down box. To change the size of the border, type a new size for the border. (The default is 4.) Click OK, then OK again. The sizes of the borders will now change.

Hack System Restore

System Restore can chew up tens of gigabytes very quickly. If you want to regain that precious hard disk space, you can delete all restore points except your most recent one:

  1. Click Start, then choose All Programs-->Accessories-->System Tools-->Disk Cleanup.
  2. From the screen that appears, choose "Files from all users on this computer."
  3. If a dialog asks which drive to clean up, choose the drive on which Windows Vista is installed. Click OK.
  4. Disk Cleanup will now scan your hard drive and display a dialog box. Click the More Options tab.
  5. In the System Restore and Shadow Copies section, click "Clean up."
  6. A dialog will ask, "Are you sure you want to delete all but the most recent restore point?" Click "Delete."
  7. Click OK to close the Disk Cleanup window.

Disk cleanup
Figure 4. Deleting System Restore points

Keep in mind, though, that when you do this, you will also delete any older Shadow Copies of files, and older Windows Complete PC Backup images as well.

Hack Vista's Blinking Cursor

Windows Vista's blinking cursor can be razor thin, and sometimes it can be very hard to find, especially if you're using a laptop. But it's easy to make the cursor thicker--pretty much as thick as you want. Select Control Panel-->Ease of Access-->Optimize visual display. Scroll toward the bottom of the screen until you come to "Make things on the screen easier to see," as shown in the nearby figure.

See cursor
Figure 5. From here, you can fatten up Windows Vista's cursor.

In the box next to "Set the thickness of the blinking cursor," select a number. The larger the number, the fatter the cursor. You'll see a preview of the cursor next to the box. Click Save. The cursor throughout Windows Vista will now be fatter and easier to see.

Preston Gralla is the author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell, the Windows Vista Pocket Reference, and is the editor of He is also the author of Internet Annoyances, PC Pest Control, Windows XP Power Hound, and Windows XP Hacks, Second Edition, and co-author of Windows XP Cookbook. He has written more than 30 other books.

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