Windows Vista In A Nutshell: <br>Chapter 2, Using Windows Vista

Preston Gralla's new book, from O'Reilly, thoroughly documents every important setting and feature in Windows Vista. Here, as a free excerpt, is the complete second chapter: Using Windows Vista.

If you're looking at a folder full of images, any of the icon views will be most useful. The Tiles view is worthwhile if you want to see small icons in addition to basic file information.

If you want to see previews of the actual content of your files, you can turn on the Preview Pane. It appears on the right and shows a thumbnail of the current file you've highlighted. The Preview Pane works in any view. To turn it on, select Organize → Layout → Preview Pane. The icon next to the Preview Pane on the menu will become highlighted in blue, and the pane turns on. To turn it off, select Organize → Layout → Preview Pane, and the highlight around the icon will vanish, as will the pane.

You can change the columns displayed in the Details view. Right-click on any column, and from the list that appears select the file types you want displayed. In addition, you can change the sort order and display of any column by hovering your mouse over the column until a down arrow appears, then clicking the down arrow. You'll be presented with ways in which you can sort and display that column.

In certain instances you can also turn on a Search Pane, which will appear just above the toolbar. The pane works in concert with the Search Bar. Type in a search term, and the Search Pane lets you easily filter your search results by file type--such as Email, Pictures, and so on--by clicking on the appropriate button. To turn the Search Pane on, select Organize → Layout → Search Pane. The Search Pane icon will be highlighted in blue on the menu, and the pane turns on. To turn it off, select Organize → Layout → Search Pane, and the highlight will vanish, as will the pane. However, the Search Pane is only available this way in a few folders, such as Desktop and Computer. If you choose Organize → Layout in other folders, the Search Pane option will not be available. However, in any folder, if you type any text into the Search box, you can make the Search Pane appear by choosing Organize → Layout → Search Pane. But when you delete the text from the Search box, you won't have the option of turning on the Search Pane, except in a few select folders, such as Desktop and Computer.

Windows Vista will remember the view setting for each folder by default and will display it the same way the next time the folder is opened. (If a long time passes before you open a folder again, though, Windows will forget its settings.) You can turn this setting off by selecting Organize → Folder Options → View, unchecking the box next to "Remember each folder's view settings," and then clicking OK.

The Explorer Toolbar, like toolbars in most applications, provides quick access to some of the more frequently used features. The toolbar is context-sensitive; that is, it changes according to the content of the folder that you're viewing.

The Address Bar does more than just display your current folder; you also use it for navigation. Either move down the "bread crumb" trail that is displayed there, or else type the path to a folder and press Enter, and the folder's contents will be shown in the current window. This is often faster than navigating with the folder tree or using several consecutive folder windows. See Chapter 3 for details on using the Address Bar.

Although each new folder window you open will appear with Microsoft's default settings, it's possible to modify those defaults. Start by configuring a folder according to your preferences: choose the icon size, the sort order, and so on. Then, go to Organize → Folder Options → View, and click Apply to Folders. The setting will then be used for each new single folder window that is opened.

When you open a new folder, it opens in your existing Windows Explorer window. You can, however, have folders open in new windows instead. Choose Organize → Folder Options → General, select "Open each folder in its own window," and click OK.

Keyboard Accelerators in Folder Windows
Some keyboard accelerators are especially useful in Explorer and folder windows. You can use these in addition to the various keys described in "Point-and-Click Operations," earlier in this chapter.

  • Hold the Alt key while double-clicking on a file or folder to view the Properties window for that object.
  • Hover your mouse cursor over a file or folder to see basic information about the object, such as size, date modified, and so on.
  • Hold the Shift key while double-clicking on a folder to open an Explorer window (with the tree view) at that location. (Be careful when using this because Shift is also used to select multiple files. The best way is to select the file first.)
  • Press Backspace in an open folder to go to the parent (containing) folder.
  • Hold Alt while pressing the left cursor key to navigate to the previously viewed folder. Note that this is not necessarily the parent folder, but rather the last folder opened in Explorer. You can also hold Alt while pressing the right cursor key to move in the opposite direction (i.e., forward); this is similar to the Back and Next buttons in Internet Explorer, respectively. Windows Explorer also has Back and Next buttons.
  • Hold the Shift key while clicking on the close button (the x in the upper-right corner of the window on the menu bar) to close all open folders that were used to get to that folder. (This, of course, makes sense only in the single-folder view and with the "Open each folder in its own window" option turned on.)
  • Press Ctrl-A to quickly select all contents of a folder--both files and folders.
  • In Explorer or any single-folder window, press a letter key to quickly jump to the first file or folder starting with that letter. Continue typing to jump further. For example, pressing the N key in your \Windows folder will jump to nap. Press N again to jump to the next object that starts with N. Or, press N and then quickly press O to skip through the Ns and jump to notepad.exe. If there's enough of a delay between the N and the O keys, Explorer will forget about the N, and you'll jump to the first entry that starts with O.

Advanced Drag-and-Drop Techniques
Some of the basics of drag-and-drop are discussed in "Point-and-Click Operations," earlier in this chapter, but you can use some advanced techniques to have more control when you're dragging and dropping items. Naturally, it's important to be able to anticipate what will happen when you drag and drop an item before you actually do the dropping. The problem is that drag-and-drop is handled differently in various situations, so sometimes you'll need to modify your behavior to achieve the desired result. Here are the rules that Windows follows when determining how dropped files are handled:

  • If you drag an object from one place to another on the same physical drive (c:\docs to c:\files), the object is moved.
  • If you drag an object from one physical drive to another physical or network drive (c:\docs to d:\files), the object is copied, resulting in two identical files on your system.
  • If you drag an object from one physical or network drive to another and then back to the first drive, but in a different folder (c:\docs to d:\files to c:\stuff), you'll end up with three copies of the object.
  • If you drag an application executable (an EXE file), the same rules apply to it that apply to other objects, except that if you drag it into any portion of your Start menu or into any subfolder of your Start Menu folder, Windows will create a shortcut to the file. Dragging other file types (documents, script files, or other shortcuts) to the Start menu will simply move or copy them there, according to the preceding rules.
  • If you drag a system object (such as an item in the My Computer window or the Control Panel) anywhere, a shortcut to the item is created. This, of course, is a consequence of the fact that these objects aren't actually files and can't be duplicated or removed from their original locations.
  • If you drag system icons or items that appear within system folders, such as Documents, Internet Explorer, or the Recycle Bin, any number of things can happen, depending on the specific capabilities of the object. For example, if you drag a recently deleted file from the Recycle Bin, it will always be moved, because making a copy of, or a shortcut to, a deleted file makes no sense.

If you have trouble remembering these rules, or if you run into a confusing situation, you can always fall back on the information Windows provides you while you're dragging, in the form of the mouse cursor. A blue right-pointing arrow appears next to the pointer when copying, and a curved arrow appears when creating a shortcut. If you see no symbol, the object will be moved. This visual feedback is very important; it can eliminate a lot of mistakes if you pay attention to it.

Here's how to control what happens when you drag and drop an item:

  • To copy an object in any situation, hold the Ctrl key while dragging. Of course, this won't work for system objects such as Control Panel items--a shortcut will be created regardless. Using the Ctrl key in this way will also work when dragging a file from one part of a folder to another part of the same folder, which is an easy way to duplicate a file or folder.
  • To move an object in any situation, hold the Shift key while dragging. This also won't work for system objects such as Control Panel items--a shortcut will be created regardless.
  • To create a shortcut to an object in any situation, hold the Ctrl and Shift keys simultaneously while dragging. If you try to make a shortcut that points to another shortcut, the shortcut will simply be copied (duplicated).
  • To choose what happens to dragged files each time without having to press any keys, drag your files with the right mouse button, and a special menu will appear when the files are dropped. This context menu is especially helpful because it will display only options appropriate to the type of object you're dragging and the place where you've dropped it.

The Command Line

Many people who are new to computers will never have heard of the command line, also known as the command prompt, and sometimes (but incorrectly) called the DOS prompt. (DOS was the operating system used by most PCs before Windows became ubiquitous. The command line in DOS was the only way to start programs and manage files, and the command prompt in Windows borrows many of the command names from DOS but with vastly improved capabilities.) Users of older PCs may remember the command line, but they may be under the impression that it's purely a thing of the past. Advanced users, on the other hand--whether they remember the old days of the DOS command line or not--have probably learned the advantages of the command-line interface, even when using Windows Vista on a day-to-day basis.

You can perform many tasks faster by typing one or more commands into the Command Prompt window. In addition, some of the programs in Windows Vista are command-line-based tools, and you can run them from the command prompt as well as from the GUI. For full documentation on the command line and the Command Prompt application, see Chapter 14.

At the command prompt, you can get help on the available command-line options by typing:

commandname /?

You can see a list of all built-in command-line utilities by typing help and pressing Return.

When you run some command-line programs, such as openfiles, which displays all currently open files, you may get an error message similar to this: ERROR: Logged-on user does not have administrative privilege. You may get this message even if you are using an administrator account. There is a workaround: type cmd at the Start Search box on the Start menu (don't press Enter), right-click the "cmd" entry that appears at the top of the search results, and then choose Run as Administrator. You'll now be able to run any command-line program, such as openfiles, that gives you that error message.

Here are a few examples that show how you can use the command line as an alternative to the GUI:

  • To create a folder called sample in the root directory of your hard disk and then copy all the files from another folder into the new folder, for example, it can be quicker and easier to type:

    C:\>mkdir \sample
    C:\>copy d:\stuff\*.* \sample

    than to open Windows Explorer, navigate to your d:\stuff folder, select all the files, click File → Copy (or Ctrl-C), navigate to the new location, click New → Folder, type the folder name, open the new folder, and then click Edit → Paste (or Ctrl-V) to copy in the files. That's a heck of a sentence, and a heck of a lot of steps for what you can accomplish with the two simple commands shown here.
  • Once you learn the actual filename of a program rather than its Start menu shortcut name, it can be quicker to start it from the Run prompt or the Address Bar than it is to navigate the Start menu hierarchy. Which is really easier? Clicking your way through these menus:

    Start → Programs → Accessories → System Tools → Character Map

    or typing:


    into the Start menu's Search box or Explorer's Address Bar and pressing the Enter key? Typing a command is much faster than carefully dragging the mouse through cascading menus, where an unintentional slip of the mouse can get you somewhere entirely different from what you planned.

  • Finally, many useful programs don't appear on any menu in the Start menu. Once you know what you're doing, you can put shortcuts to such programs in the Start menu or on the Desktop--but once you know what you're doing, you might also find it easier to just type the program name.

Online Help

Many windows have some degree of online documentation in the form of a Help system that you can access by clicking the small question mark icon in the upper-righthand portion of the screen. The help is context-sensitive and will be relevant to the window from which you've accessed it.

In addition, you can press F1 at almost any time to display help. In some situations, pressing F1 will display only a tiny yellow message (known as a tool tip) with a brief description of the item with the focus; at other times, F1 will launch an online index of help topics. Sometimes F1 will have no effect whatsoever.

Furthermore, if you hold the pointer over many screen objects (such as a window's toolbar), a tool tip may appear. A tool tip may display nothing more than the name of the object to which you're pointing, but in other cases, it may provide additional information. For example, placing the pointer on the system clock pops up the date. You can turn tool tips off in the Windows interface by going to Control Panel → Appearance and Personalization → Folder Options → View and turning off the option "Show pop-up description for folder and Desktop items." Note that this won't necessarily turn off tool tips in other applications--only Explorer.

Shutting Down

You shouldn't just turn off the power to a Windows Vista machine, because it caches a lot of data in memory and needs to write it out before shutting down.