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Top 5 Windows Vista Tips To Personalize Your PC

Our list of hot features to add to your Vista installation includes video wallpaper, making Flip 3-D work more like the Mac's, tuning Firefox's user interface, managing security, and where to get a hold of nifty Sidebar Gadgets.

Settled in with Windows Vista yet? By now, having had several months to put the new operating system through its paces, you've gone beyond the novice user's infatuation with the glitzy new Aero interface. And you're probably inured to the annoying User Account Controls.

Now, it's time to kick it up a notch and add some slightly more sophisticated options to your Vista palette. Accordingly, here are some tips to tune your Vista installation. We've got hints on using video wallpaper, making Vista's Flip 3-D function work more like the Mac's, tuning Firefox's user interface so that it more closely resembles Internet Explorer, and where to get a hold of nifty Sidebar Gadgets. Plus, how to turn off the UACs (and why you should think twice about that).

Enhance Your Background With Windows DreamScene

To enable DreamScenes, do: Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Change desktop background

(click image for larger view)

To enable DreamScenes, do: Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Change desktop background.

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Windows DreamScene, the video-enabled wallpaper that's the über-eye-candy of the Vista ecosystem, is finally out of its prolonged preview phase. Was it worth the wait? Kind of.

DreamScenes are full-motion video wallpapers, which can replace the plain, fixed backgrounds used traditionally.

My experience with DreamScene proved that some work well, while others can be decidedly funky. Even on a dual-core system -- I'm running a 3.2-GHz, Intel Pentium D 940 -- DreamScene sucks up a lot of processing power. One other caveat: my sense is that DreamScene doesn't appear to work and play all that well with any security programs you're likely to have on your machine.

Of course, the big software existential question surrounding DreamScene remains: What is the point? These things don't do anything. They just look cool, which only reinforces the rap on Vista that it's an operating system whose raison d'etre is its eye candy. Setting that aside--because, again, these backgrounds are nothing if not pleasing distractions--here's how they work:

The Microsoft DreamScene: ''Rushing water in a forest stream.''

(click image for larger view)

The Microsoft DreamScene: "Rushing water in a forest stream."

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Currently, DreamScene is only intended for owners of Vista Ultimate -- at around $250, the most expensive of the five SKUs of the operating system. As with many of the Vista command sequences, accessing DreamScene requires an idiosyncratic combination of the intuitive and the idiotic. Here's the sequence: Go to Windows Ultimate Extras from your Start menu. That'll take you to Windows Update With Windows Vista Extras, which is the regular Windows Update dialog box.

The second title therein will alert you that "There are Windows Ultimate Extras available for download." Sensible so far, but when you click through to view available extras, you have to scroll through a list of pending security updates, foreign language packs, and other OS detritus before you get to your objective. In my case, Windows Dreamscene Preview from earlier this year, and the more recently released Dreamscene Content Pack, which added some videos (the preview only had one).

The 51.3-Mbyte Content Pack adds four DreamScene motion wallpapers to the basic animation, which came with the Preview release. (That "basic" offering is a listlessly meandering variant on the classic green-hue Windows background, featuring what looks like a bunch of wispy rays of sunlight beating down on a large net of the kind they keep beneath circus trapeze artists.) The beefier "Pack" included -- these are my names, not Microsoft's -- dandelions in pollen season, rainfall at dusk, babbling brook, and (my favorite) "Burning Down the House" (golden fire).

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