You may consider yourself a Windows master, but chances are even you've forgotten some of Windows' awesome built-in features. Here are seven of our favorite forgotten Windows features—and the cool things you can do with them.
You can beef up your Windows PC with cool downloads, but there's something to be said for exploiting an awesome trick built into Windows. Some of them you may have forgotten, some you may have never known about in the first place. Others you may know about and just haven't realized their potential. Even if you're a Windows expert, there's probably something new to learn, so check out our seven favorite forgotten features below.
Task Scheduler: Automate Just About Anything
One simple key to staying productive in the digital age: Automate everything. Windows' built in Task Scheduler can relegate boring, menial tasks to the OS and run them on a schedule (as the name implies). You can create tasks both simple and complex, ranging from starting a program and sending an email to running complex scripts under specific conditions, all with just a few clicks.
To use Task Scheduler, just open up the Start menu, type "task scheduler", and press Enter. You'll see a window with all your currently scheduled tasks in it, which could have been created by other programs on your system—like a task for updating certain software, or starting a program when you log in. Expand the Task Scheduler library on the left to see tasks in other categories and what they do.
To create your own task, just click "Create Task" in the right window pane. You can give it a name, description, and add a few security options. The other tabs help you create the task itself:
- The Triggers tab lets you set when the task will run. This can be on a timed schedule (like every day or once a week), every time your computer boots, or something more complicated.
- Actions is where you set what the task actually does. This could be launching an application, sending an email, displaying a message, or running a command line command. See "Clever Uses of Task Scheduler" below for ideas.
- Under Conditions, you'll be able to set certain exceptions for the task. For example, you can set it to run only if the computer has been idle for a certain amount of time, set it to wake your computer from sleep, and more. This is particularly handy, so comb through these options every time you create a task to make sure it runs the way you want.
- The Settings tab is similar to Conditions, but mainly deals with what happens if your task doesn't run (or takes too long). You can set it to run ASAP if it's missed, stop it if it runs too long, or let multiple instances of the task run at once.
You can also go to File > Create Basic Task if you want a simpler wizard to guide you through the process.
Clever Uses for Task Scheduler
- Start and shut down your computer automatically on a schedule
- Run CClearner on a schedule to keep your PC crap-free
- Schedule Disk Cleanup in Windows 7 & Vista
- Use Ninite and Task Scheduler to Keep Relatives' Computers Up to Date
- Automatically upload pictures to Flickr with Picasa
- Wake up easier in the morning with a video alarm
- Change Windows' clock update settings to avoid losing minutes every week
System Restore: Save Yourself from "Oh S#!+" Moments
Sometimes, you install a program or update a driver that causes more problems than it solves. Windows' System Restore feature is designed for just such an occasion: open it up, and it'll roll back your system to exactly the way it was right before you installed that program or driver. It isn't a replacement for a full, bulletproof backup—System Restore only copies certain registry and system files—but it can be great for when you just want to undo a small mistake.
To use System Restore, just head to the Start menu, type in "System Restore", and press Enter. System Restore will then show you all your most recent "restore points", or points in time to which you can roll back. By default, it automatically creates a restore point every time you install new software or drivers, so you don't even have to set it up to take advantage. If you notice a problem, just fire up System Restore and roll back. For a more detailed look at how to use the tool, check out our Complete Guide to Windows System Restore.
Make System Restore More Powerful
- Change how often System Restore creates restore points
- Use System Restore to recover individual files (remember, though, you should still have a real backup in place too)
- Make a shortcut to create System Restore points
- Make System Restore use less drive space
- Disable System Restore completely
Libraries: Organize Your Files, Make Windows Search Better
Libraries were one ofWindows 7's best underhyped features when it came out, and they're more powerful than they look. If you aren't familiar with libraries, they essentially collect the contents multiple folders from around your system and put them in one place, organized by what's inside. For example, if you have your music collection strewn about three different folders on your system, you can add each of those to the "Music" library. Then, when you open up Music from the Libraries window, you'll see all your music in one place, as if they were all in the same folder.
However, it gets a lot more powerful when you create your own libraries or add network locations, both of which we went through in our original primer on Windows 7 libraries. However, the best part about libraries are their integration with Windows Search. Windows Search can be kind of crappy out of the box, since it won't search your whole system. However, if you want to index a folder, just add it to one of your libraries, and Windows Explorer will be able to search it with lighting-fast speed. It's just one of the ways you can make Windows Search a million times better.
Other Cool Ways to Tweak Libraries
- Use them to share data across multi-booting Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs
- Add unsupported removable drives to libraries
- Get complete control over your libraries with Win7 Library Tool
- Customize your libraries' icons
- Disable the libraries feature completely
Homegroups: File Sharing Made Simple
If you have more than one computer in your house, you probably want to share files between them often, whether its documents you're currently working on, music you want to listen to, videos you want to watch on the other side of the house, and so on. A Homegroup is the easiest way to do that, letting you have constant access to any file you want to share across the network. You can even share printers, so you don't need a printer in every room of the house.
All you need to do is search for "Homegroup" in the Start menu and fire up the Create a Homegroup wizard. From there, you'll be able to choose which libraries you want to share (which you're hopefully using thanks to the above tips) and you're good to go. Join that homegroup on your other computers and you have instant access to any file you add to those libraries. For a more detailed how-to, check out our guide to setting up Windows 7 Homegroups.
Windows homegroups are also great for setting up a geeky media center that non-geeks can actually use. Of course, if you have no use for homegroups, you can turn the feature off, too.
Jump Lists: Your Favorite Features Just a Click Away
Jump Listsare another great underhyped featurethat give you quick access to recent items, popular menu items, and other things right on your taskbar. Each application in your taskbar has its own jump list (provided it's designed to work with Windows 7), so you can get the best features of each program in two clicks.
To access a jump list, just right-click on a taskbar icon. A menu will slide up from the taskbar, and you'lll be able to open a recent document in Word, start up private browsing in Chrome, and control your media in Winamp or foobar2000. You can also pin certain items, like saved Windows Explorer searches, to jumplists, making them more useful for the things you do day in and day out. For a full rundown of how to use them, check out our guide to Mastering Windows 7 Jump Lists and Boosting Your Productivity.
More Customizations and Clever Uses for Jump Lists
- Get quick access to Windows 7's Jump Lists from the keyboard
- Jumplist Extender customizes any Jump List entriy in Windows 7—perfect for apps that don't have jump list support
- Jumplist Launcher launches multiple programs from one taskbar slot through jump lists—perfect for overflowing taskbars
- JumpLaunch turns your quick launch folder into a Jump List
- Use Windows 7's Jump Lists to quickly attach files in Gmail
Resource Monitor: See What Your Programs are Actually Doing
Windows' Task Manager has some nice little resource charts built-in, where you can see if certain programs are misbehaving. However, it has another tool called Resource Monitor that gives you a much more detailed look at CPU, memory, disk, and network usage, so you can see what's really going on under the hood.
To use it, just head to the Start menu and type in "Resource Monitor". Press Enter when it pops up, and you'll be greeted with its Overview tab, showing you a brief rundown of your CPU, disk, network, and memory activity. Clicking on the other tabs will show you more detailed charts and graphs of each resource—for example, Memory will show you a graphic of how much memory is in use, in standby mode, or free. From here, you can find your program that's acting up, slowing down your machine, or taking up too much network bandwidth.
Of course, if you always want this information in your line of sight, we recommendcreating an attractive, customized desktop HUD using our favorite system monitor, Rainmeter.
Reliability Monitor: A Must When Things Go Wonky
If you've been noticing the same error message, crash, or problem for a few weeks but don't quite know how to fix it, the lesser-known Reliability Monitor tool is here to help. It keeps track of every application failure, Windows failure, warning message, and other important information, putting them on a timeline so you can see exactly when everything happened. That way, you can look back and see when an error first started popping up, and see if there are any patterns in when it decides to cause you pain.
To use it, launch the Start menu and type in "view reliability history". Press Enter, and you'll see a graph of your most recent problems. Click on a column for more information about what happened that day, and you'll see a list of the failures, warnings, and other messages in that column. You can view the graph by days or weeks, check for solutions to problems, and view other details of anything that went wrong. In short, when something's wonky with your computer, check out the Reliability Monitor to get the troubleshooting information you need.
These aren't the only forgotten Windows tools we love, but they are some of our favorites. Honorable mentions go to the Problem Solution Recorder, which records your screen so you can get help troubleshooting; the Mobility Center, which lets you customize essential laptop settings with just a keyboard shortcut; and the Compatibility Troubleshooter, which helps you get programs running that may not work with newer versions of Windows.