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Ask the Readers: What’s Your Favorite Windows Customization Trick?

Windows doesn’t really feel like your own until you’ve tweaked and prodded it a little. This week we’re interested in hearing about your favorite must-have customization trick that takes precedence over all others.

Whether it’s a stock tweak that uses built-in Windows tools or requires a third-party app (like those that enable multi-monitor toolbars or virtual desktops), we want to hear all about it. Sound off in the comments with your must-have customization tip, trick, or app.

Check back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 07/4/12

Comments (61)

  1. r

    no tricks, I always get oem version so no bloatware crap to clean up. I just update drivers and “voilĂ ”
    …”silly rabbit, Trix are for kids”

  2. thom

    Replace it with Linux. :)

  3. Danny

    I change so much on a fresh install of windows.
    The most important is to disable ‘enhance pointer precision’
    Others include:
    Increase mouse sensitivity
    Increase scroll to 4 lines at a time
    Minimise keyboard repeat delay
    Change date to YYYY/MM/DD
    Move taskbar to left of widescreen
    Change taskbar buttons to ‘never combine’
    Change notification area to ‘always show all icons’
    Change most of the power options
    Disable most of the effects like slide and fade
    Remove the sound for ‘start navigation’
    Change windows update to ‘notify me’ instead of ‘auto’
    Change sharing options
    Enable ‘no GUI boot’ in msconfig
    Change many folder options
    Disable defrag schedule (I’ve got an SSD)
    Many more things I cannot recall right now

    So many defaults in windows are just miserable and slow me down.

  4. Grant

    DBAN!

  5. Howard

    Probably the most important customization I have done is to use FENCES which allows me to group the icons I have on the desktop into various groups.

  6. Nathan

    rainmeter

  7. TechGeek01

    I have a Ninite installer with all of my essential programs on it. This way, I don’t have to use IE because Firefox is part of the installer. Then, I load Firefox, and download and install Aptana Studio and FileZilla for web developing. Occasionally, I then may use a few registry hacks, and follow a few of your How-To Geek guides based on what’s left to work with. I usually tweak like this until I’m happy. Once that’s done, I’m done with my initial hacking and modding. Then, as I find a feature or two I don’t like over the next few weeks, I mod and fix that.

    Once I’m done here, I leave it be unless I find a cool hack here. Then, I apply that. I also use Desktoppr to shuffle through wallpapers I like.

    That’s it for hacks. Simple, but effective.

  8. KiraTM

    I move the taskbar on the top and install RocketDock. With CustoPack I changed the theme to Mac-Style including mouse cursor. I also change the logon background image. I turn off most of the windows-own sounds and replace them with the sounds of the Anime Wallpaper Pack that was linked here in HTG more than a year ago. I pick on the taskbar my most important programs Firefox, Thunderbird, mIRC, Skype, iTunes, VLC and of course the Windows Explorer, to RocketDock I put all other applications I use like games or office programs.

  9. Joergermeister

    My “must-have” customizations every time installing a new windows 7 instance, in this order!
    1) Change all icons in programms pinned to taskbar and start menu icons
    2) Change the Windows 7 start orb!
    3) Change the Windows visual style, using a customized VS.
    4) Change all windows icons in explorer (like harddrives, networkdrives, favourites, bibliotheks, homegroupes, etc.
    5) Disable all Ballontipps (registry patch) and the notification area (hide)
    6) Install Rainmeter and custom skins to show important system monitoring info like CPU, Clock, Weather, etc.
    7) Customize Windows Log-On Screen (new background, etc.)

    Enjoy a wonderful, customized windows 7 desktop and never ever upgrade to a Windows 8 Desktopcomputer ;-)

  10. Red

    When I get a new Windows I do this:
    1) Delete ALL the Bloatware
    2) Disable ALL the Unwanted Features
    3) Customize the Windows Theme (better than installing Software to make it prettier, they just eat up more time between login and actually beeing able to do something)
    4) Install needed Programms and Games
    5) Use autoruns to disable any unwanted start-Programs and shell extensions
    6) Configurate Programms like Browsers, Media Players etc.

  11. Ted Lilley

    The most fundamental change I make to Windows 7 is to immediately add tabs to Explorer via the QTTabbar add-on. I also add the good old cut/copy/paste/delete/new folder buttons alongside the tabs by installing Classic Shell (I skip Classic Start).

  12. Fantasm

    Simple tricks…
    I have 3 monitors plus a large screen tv so I use “zbar” for different wallpapers on each screen…
    Each screen then gets a high resolution nude of different girlfriends…
    One screen also has a window showing a webcam view of the outside…
    I watch a lot of movies so Windows Media Center with media browser installed sits on the Tv’s screen…

    Anything else is pointless…

  13. Robin

    I use VirtuaWin in order to get virtual desktops on Windows, and also install EasyBCD and iReboot in order to quickly reboot into my dual-boot Linux OS directly from the Windows taskbar.

  14. swelfy

    Install KatMouse, so I can use scroll wheel on any window that the mouse is on without changing focus. Also allows you to scroll some panes that normally are not scrollable.

  15. Mike Honeycutt

    Windows 7

    Desktop Icons – Change horizontal icon spacing to 77, vertical icon spacing to 55, and make icons bold. (Control Panel, Display, Personalize, Window Color, Advanced Appearance Settings).

    More details in folders – add size, date modified, etc. to make the information in folders more useful. (Start Button, Control Panel, Folder Options, Tools menu, Folder options, View tab, uncheck: Show hidden files, folders, and drives, hide extensions of known file types, click Apply button, click Apply to Folders).

    Notification Area – Show All Icons – right click Task Bar, Customize button, check “Always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar”

    Task Manager – Add colums – right click the Task Bar, Start Task Manager, View Menu, Select Columns, check: PID, CPU Time, Base Priority, Description and Command Line.

    Internet Explorer – delete temp files: Tools menu, Internet Options, Check: delete browsing history on exit. Advanced Tab, “Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed”

    Auto Login to Primary Account – Start Button, type CONTROL USERPASSWORDS2, advanced tab, uncheck “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer”

    Download and Install: CCleaner, AntiVirus (Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG, Avast), Malwarebytes (just in case), install a second browser (Firefox, Safari, Chrome) just in case, install Sandboxie (sandboxie.org) and use it, install PrimoPDF.

    Buy and learn to use an “Image Backup Tool” like Ghost or TrueImage.

  16. Paul

    installing Ubuntu

  17. Jack Alexander

    With 539 programs in my machine it takes a hand made start menu (XP). First I create a list of categories and create files for them in All Users file. Then I drop and drag the various files to their category. If that still makes for pop-outs from the categories–they can be broken down to sub folders too.

  18. Jack Alexander

    Edit: It should say: If that still make for long pop-out…. my bad, didn’t check it first.

  19. Chris

    1 – Install MS Security Essential before going online
    2 – Install Chrome
    3 – Install HTC Home, and network + system monitoring widgets
    4 – Add any required S/W (Office, Photoshop, Skype etc)
    5 – Either create folders on desktop for less used icons leaving the most often used ones on the desktop, or add a dock and get shot of all icons

  20. AlanWade

    First customization I do is to get rid of all the un-necessary desktop right click menu items I dont need then add the items I really want. This is typically Notepad, calculator, regedit, and shortcuts to a couple of well used folders.
    The second thing I do which will explain why the right click entries, is to remove all/any desktop icons, I dont like my desktop cluttered.

  21. MJ

    After installing a clean version of Windows to remove all bloatware:
    1 – Colorless Aero Windows, so that they fit with any wallpaper.
    2 – Approx. 400 wallpapers from Interface-Lift, set to random slideshow each hour.
    3 – Hide desktop icons (which right now are about 150).
    4 – Remove all folders from Index, except for the Start Menu shortcuts, so that searching for programs is blazing fast. Also, I disable searching for files from the Start Menu.
    5 – Changing the name and icon of the “Documents” library to “Aeronautics” and a plane on that blue glass base (I’m an aerospace engineer).
    6 – Move all the “User” folders to another partition, so that in the event of a reinstall I do not have to copy and restore them.

  22. GrumpyKuss

    After a clean install of Win 7 x64 I customize a bunch of stuff including but not limited to:

    Move the My Documents, Video, User folders to another
    Emerge Desktop Replacement Shell (Totally Dumps the hideous Win7 Taskbar and Start Menu)
    –Configure Middle Click menu to include(Process Explorer in place of TaskMan, MyEventViewer, Autoruns, Console2Cmd Shell, RevoUninstaller, CCleaner, Running Task List, Stickynotes)
    –Configure Right Click menu to include default FileManager (XYplorer, Standard Explorer, Recycle Bin, As Folders, Start Menu, Quick Launch, Desktop, Control Panel, Display Properties, Logoff, Lock, Shutdown)
    –Setup Emerge Command, Emerge Tray Applets
    –Unload the Emerge Launcher

    Turn off the Desktop Icons and load John’s Background Switcher and set it for various Bing/Google Postcard sets

    WinRoll – X11 Style Titlbar window roll up
    Autohotkey – Script has the Spell Checker, all the keys for my MS Natural Keyboard Macros, and various Win+# keys for my most common apps.
    ESET’s Smart Security Manager
    Dropbox
    System Utilities (SysInternals, NirSoft, cygwin and others)
    Install ObjectDock (Include Stacks applet for the flyouts)
    Install ClockX
    Do the Productivity/Work software
    Customize the ObjectDock Icons
    I go through and clean up the start menu and reorganize it into a form I use (Office apps all ine folder etc)

  23. Huisie

    As MJ says: “After installing a clean version of Windows to remove all bloatware:”
    a) HDD partitioned so C: drive contains OS + apps and D: contains files
    b) move taskbar to left, large icons set as “combine when full”, customise what is displayed on Start Menu
    c) default Libraries set to display as menu for cascading navigation
    d) unhide “Appdata” folder for access from username shortcut on Start Menu
    e) add desktop toolbar to taskbar, small icons, below start button, move divider up so it displays Libraries + My Computer + Control Panel + Recycle Bin (hide Recycle Bin on desktop and uncheck option to display delete confirmation)
    f) can then do CTRL+click to get cascading menus from these shortcuts
    - I’ve tweaked many gpedit.msc settings, can be backed up and restored (http://www.frickelsoft.net/blog/?p=31)
    - install reg tweaks, many from this site (thanks!)
    - install themepack; I downloaded and extracted images from Microsoft’s personalization gallery (rename .theme to .zip), then made my own theme (transparent colour theme, no sounds)

  24. LinuxCanuck

    Install Linux to dual boot. Never use Windows again.

  25. Rollin'

    My top 3…

    Install UxStyle Core beta for ease of third party themes

    Install multiple instances of Jumplist Launcher to the taskbar, for zero desktop icons and nothing running at startup/in the background. Customise individual instances with IcoFX (free), and add files, folders, and executables for perfect grouping.

    Install Types for easy changing of file type icons.

    And then the fun starts!

  26. spike

    Win7 Pro:

    1. Take everything off the desktop (not ‘hide desktop icons’, but remove)
    2. Use a combination of autoruns, CCleaner, msconfig, etc. to optimize startup to super fast.
    3. Configure Local Security Policy, Windows Firewall, Group Policy, etc. for maximum security. (Disabling admin shares, tweaking password policies, etc.)
    4. Store User Profiles on a separate drive (not just separate partition) Use SSD for boot drive and big HDD for user data.
    5. Use colorless aero color to match anything. Customize logon screen and desktop background to match.
    6. Install ESET, CCleaner, Dropbox, Advanced System Care, KeePass, Firefox, TrueCrypt, Wireshark, FreeFileSync, and anything else required for that device’s role.
    7. Get a bunch of utilities’ binaries on there: SysinternalsSuite, superscan, HijackThis, PuTTY, and a few others.
    8. Hide all but a couple icons in the notification area, and unpin from taskbar anything that isn’t launched (from the taskbar) all the time. Turn off any extra toolbars.
    9. Set reminders or tasks for maintenance items such as running Defraggler, chkdsk, CCleaner, etc.
    10. Enjoy!!

  27. BillB

    Installing W2000

  28. John C Phillips

    If you write out a text file to the folder you keep text in or the folder that the text goes with then this is nice to know, that is, how to create a desktop shortcut to the file without having to open the folder where you saved the file.
    1. Save the file in the program that created it. (graphics, text, or ect.)
    2. Before you close out the program that saved it. Select ‘Save As’ from the file menu. The ‘Save As’ box will open with the name of the file you saved on the addressbar.
    3. Click the right end of the filename passed the end of the ext.
    4. Type an asterisk. Ex: filename.ext* This will let show the one file that you saved above the addressbar.
    5. Now, right-click, hold down button, its’ icon and drag it to you desktop. Answer ‘Create Shortcut’.

  29. Jeepers

    Install Rainmeter. Uninstall/delete all docks, gadgets, sidebars program icons etc..

  30. Citrus Rain

    I put the startbar on the right.
    Fake XP-style quick launch (picked up from HTG) at the bottom half of start bar.
    Startbar Icons small, no-combine
    I still haven’t found a start orb replacement I like.

    I would probably have it more modified if I didn’t perfer it to boot to linux. (I always have 100% chance of it wanting chkdsk to run on my 1TB drive – even after consectutive boots to windows!)

  31. Mohammad

    I Like Folder Background customization because it’s very fun.

  32. thereddog

    My favorite Windows hack is the “Enable Concurrent Sessions”

    It allows two users or more to use a PC at a time. My Windows HTPC setup would not work without it. While I have XBMC running on the TV, I can Remote Desktop into the same PC as a different user (or the same user) and not disturb the currently playing video. Since my HTPC is a jack-of-all-trades in my small apartment, I can watch TV, but also be encoding/managing files/etc on the desktop.

    http://www.missingremote.com/guide/how-enable-concurrent-sessions-windows-7-service-pack-1-rtm

  33. ckthakkar

    I installed (Mac) Lion Transformation Pack and copied all icons folders and wall papers and my program files contain a folder named Icons containing icons and png files. PNG works on rocket dock.. Then I removed LTP. Now my icons are customized to Mac. I also installed Rocket Dock. I do not show icons on desktop. I change logon screen frequently with Tuneup Utilities. Unlocked hidden themes in W7 from windows globlization and enabled all pictures in desktop background, task bar on top, rocket dock on bottom with start menu button on it, added Recorded Video button to start menu and configured it for Dropbox. Recyle Bin gadget on desktop to keep system clen and weather and time and calendar gadget + Appl. Launcher. Vice versa Backup to keep my desktop and laptop synchronized. Windows color without transprancy. Team Viewr, Hamachi VPN, Genie Timeline (windows timemachine), pdf password remover, simidude etc.

  34. R J Sheppard

    Everyone seems to tweak for cosmetics. The most useful tweak I found is to right-click the task bar > add new toolbar > browse to My Computer. This creates a toolbar on the taskbar

  35. R J Sheppard

    …..that you click and open, but then hover cursor over the drives and folders. Navigate your system without clicking everything…very fast finding something.

  36. Markiz

    Ever since 7 came out, NOTHING.

  37. Jordan Georgiev

    Heya,

    I use a small side toolbar ( auto-hide on ),
    Ordered taskbar icons ( for hotkey awesomeness ),
    Jumplist Launcher ( Considering WinLaunch ),
    Rainmeter ( for a cool looking note thing on my desktop, got more but turned them off ),
    7 Taskbar Tweaker awesome tool, took me awhile to find it ( a MUST ),
    Win7 Orb Remover ( or something like that ),
    Fantasy Desktop with a ton of wallpapers ( filled with clutter, considering Fences )

    Cheers!

  38. GeekBuddhist

    1- Uninstall

  39. john3347

    The first, and most important, single feature I install on a Windows 7 computer is Classic Shell. I positively would not attempt to use Windows 7 without that customization. Some additional customizations I do very quickly and before I begin using a newly installed Windows computer is to create desktop shortcuts for popular applications and websites. Very early, I install a Logitech thumb operated trackball and program the center button (scroll wheel) to perform a double click and the two “extra” buttons, if available, for copy and paste functions. I am very disappointed with Windows 7 because numerous minor customization functions that I use on my older Windows OSs (Windows XP and Windows 2000) are unavailable, or are safely hidden, on Windows 7. Windows 8 is promising to be an additional step backward from Windows 7 in that respect and probably will prevent Windows 8 from ever appearing on a computer of mine. I don’t want anyone else, especially Microsoft in this case, deciding for me what I want my GUI to look like and how to act!!!

  40. Jim Nagy

    1) Crack the theme engine to allow 3rd party themes from Deviantart.com
    2) Install a Leopard OSX theme and wallpaper or Simple Grey solid theme.
    3) Move the taskbar to the top and add Object Dock launcher
    4) Add Firefox and Chrome web browsers, and 7zip.
    5) Add OpenOffice or LIbreOffice free office suites.
    6) Add iTunes, and CDEX CD music ripper.

  41. Bill Huggins

    I like a clean desktop without icons. Right-click the desktop and choose View. Uncheck Show Desktop Icons. The apps that I use a lot have a shortcut on the task bar. Create a new folder on the Desktop and call it Apps. Open it and drag the icons of apps that you use less often to the Apps folder. Now uncheck Show Desktop Icons. Right click on the task bar. Click on Toolbars. Select New toolbar. Navigate to the new Apps folder. You will end up with Apps at the left side of the tray. Left click on it and you will see the items that you dragged into the Apps folder.

  42. Marc

    Install…
    - AutoHotkey (for scripts with many, many customizations, macro’s, hotstrings, hotkeys/shortcut keys, disabling certain default Windows shortcut keys, etc.)
    - Xplorer2 (dual pane file manager with many more functions than the Windows Explorer. And no, I don’t like the gui of Total Commander)
    - Classic Start Menu
    - SRWare Iron (Chrome clone with less Google privacy issues than Chrome)
    and other apps.

    Customizations:
    - Turn off all the system sounds (except for a cool minimize/maximize sound :-)
    - Choose my own set of mousecursors
    and more customizations that currently not pop into my mind.

  43. Donnie

    I always install Rocketdock it keeps my desktop clean and i can pin Firefox web links on to it,works fine on windows 7 64 bit and i wouldn’t be without it x

  44. John

    after re installs always the first- “Take Ownership”

  45. Kimdracula

    1. First thing, move the task bar to the left side of the screen, much easier to see everything when you have lots off apps open.
    2. I add small icon shortcuts to my most used programs to the task bar.
    3. I like to have shortcut toolbars to my frequently used folders (I do a lot of design work and it is so easy to drag and drop a logo from here into a design file).
    4. I love “Fences” – helps me keep my Desktop nice and tidy… :)

  46. edmenje

    Once bloatware is gone and I set new defaults VLC, Irfanview, etc. and setting Explorer to show all file extensions…here’s what I use on the GUI side:
    1) Hide desktop icons…without a doubt my most important and initial customization.
    2 Rainmeter/gnomemeter configs along top with Desktop Coral (yeah a misspell by developer) to keep it visible above maxed windows. I also customize the configs to my preferred mouse actions to activate popups rather than the defaults.
    3) Windows 7 Start button changer (in some cases I’ve even made my own start buttons in GIMP)
    4) Logon BG Changer…set the logon/lock screen to match my current wallpaper.
    5) Bring back the Quicklaunch bar and use it to run 7stacks with my most used progs in groups.
    6) Classic Shell and Start Menu…much more elegant than 7′s default menu when classic layout is combined with Aero style.
    7) Add entries to desktop right-click context menu ie. Edit Registry, Control Panel, System Restore, Task Manager, Log off, Shutdown, Restart and Lock, and remove all “New” items except Folder, Shortcut and Text document (I never use any of those Office and other program’s New entries anyway).

    spike mentioned earlier not just hiding but removing desktop icons, well some of the software I use requires shortcuts on the desktop and they keep returning everytime they are run, so the only icons there that are hidden are these ones these programs insist on having there.

    I’ve done most of these on XP and Vista as well as Iconizing the Taskbar with Taskbaric on those as well. I went through a series of tweaks and gadgets a couple of years back and have finally settled on these to be my usual set of customizations that fit the way I work.

  47. Albert Kolkin

    I only want to say right now is that this is the most interesting survey you have made. With all the new things I heard about I will be playing and customizing for weeks. My income will go down, but my fun index will go up.

  48. Doh Ouch

    Set desktop to solid colour (now Dark Teal)

    Ban all Theme transitions/animations & Aero.
    Make Opera default browser
    Add Copy to/Move To folder to Right Click Menu
    Replace Task-bar clock with app”Timekeeper 1.44.0″ from 12noon.com
    Add Eject/Close CD tray to right click menu
    Create Keyboard short-cut for Hibernate

  49. SarcasticWhit

    Uninstall bloatware
    change pinned items in taskbar
    change start menu item sizes
    disable grouping similar items in taskbar
    install chrome, firefox and safari
    install Ditto (expanded clipboard)

  50. Bert Burnie

    i just get my knob out after setting up webcam… works for me eveytime..

  51. Rattlehead

    My favorite windoze customization was to switch to a Mac, best permanent customization ever.

  52. monkeeh

    Tweaking the registry with Speed Up Windows 7 Desktop and Shutdown
    http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/26476-desktop-shutdown-tweaks-combined.html

    Installing my favorite software, creating shortcut keys and some eyecandy: changing the orb and startmenu icons (7confier), wallpaper change each startup, no desktop icons and enabling transparency.

    Removing unnecessary startups and stopping some services.

  53. Al

    I have to turn off that stupid “hide known extensions” setting. How people can work without knowing what they are working with.
    Like a lot of others:
    1. Change desktop icons to my own
    2. Add 2 or 3 desktop gadgets… but this isn’t tweaking windows really.
    3. Add toggle show/hide hidden folders in Explorer, a small vbs script.
    4. Add printdir to explorer
    5. Change all those VIEW settings in Explorer.
    6. Increase the size of the recent programs list on the start menu.
    7. After installing all my apps, I have to reorganize the start menu. I move any installs from the ‘All Users” start menu to my start menu, make some custom folders like “CD/DVD” and “Video” and group similar programs. It shortens the menu. It rubs me when I get on family PC’s and there is a 2 column list of software and unsorted at that. At least right click and sort!!!

  54. Luis

    Installing Ubuntu Linux

  55. Marcel

    Set up to dual boot into Mint!
    Install antivirus program.
    Only boot to windows when doing college course work that requires windows.
    Install ANY alternative to WMP.
    Install Notepad++ to write HTML and CSS websites.
    Install Visual Studio and Netbeans IDEs.
    Turn off user account controls.
    Install Firefox or Aurora browser.

  56. Colin P

    The comment from Workmanmax was a sneeky way to get people to look at Herblelife MLM.
    NOTHING to do with the forum. Let’s hope you take too many and get a rash for life!
    CP

  57. Fr0stbite

    1.Remove customization options from the desktop context menu.
    2.Change default Shutdown button to Lock button.
    3.Change Grouping of minimized taskbar icons.
    4.Install Google Chrome and change DNS settings.
    5.Clean up the %tmp% location occasionally.
    6.Customize Task Manager to show some more columns in the Processes tab.
    7.Change Default Power Options[Never put to sleep when on Power Supply].

  58. Ringo

    1. Change resolution to suit my tastes.
    2. Install Avast, Malwarebytes, Ccleaner, Google Chrome, Revo Uninstaller, Auslogics Defrag and Foxit Reader.
    3. Uninstall/disable Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader.
    4. Disable automatic defrag by Windows.
    5. Change automatic updates to ‘download but let me choose’
    6. Remove bloatware, run Revo, Ccleaner and Defrag.

    I notice some responders state they remove bloatware, then go on to install a slew of third party apps and programs.
    Some of which will run at startup and probably use more resources that the ‘bloatware’ they just removed!

  59. brise

    Wow, thanks for all the useful tips folks. I would like to know how you are able to do some of the suggestions though rather then just saying them. ie remove bloatware, the steps to do this would be great.
    Thanks

  60. blestab

    i agree with brise, more detailed how to would really help here

  61. MdKnightR

    The first thing I do on a new Windows machine for myself is move the taskbar to the top of the screen and set it to auto-hide. I also make sure that I have the taskbar buttons set to “Always combine, hide labels” because reduces clutter on my taskbar.

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