Tips, tricks and tools for optimizing performance under Windows Vista while ensuring that you’re taking full advantage of Windows Vista’s advanced security features.
by Forrest Stroud and Joseph Moran
Check Your System’s Heath
Does your system feel a bit out of sorts? See what might be wrong with it by running a system health report. You can get one by accessing Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Performance Information > Tools, and then clicking the Advanced tools link.
When you click Generate a system heath report, after about a minute or so Vista will display a comprehensive list of issues that might be negatively affecting your system, including missing hardware drivers or software (e.g. anti-virus) or things like high usage of system resources like CPU, RAM, or disk space. You can save the reports to track your system’s performance over time.
Expert Tip: To generate this report automatically from a command line, enter perfmon /report.
Enable Parental Controls
While XP completely lacks any built-in Parental Controls, Vista provides plenty of ways for parents to limit when and how their kids use the computer. Just look for Parental Controls from the Start Menu, and Vista will not only let you block Web sites and set limits on Internet and computer usage, but also restrict games based on the game’s title or ESRB rating (or one of several other popular rating systems).
Vista’s Parental Control feature also lets you view account and Internet activity reports, including info on not just what was blocked, but also sites successfully visited and files downloaded. And unlike router logs, these reports don’t disappear when the system is shut off or restarted.
Despite its name, Vista Parental Controls’ value certainly isn’t limited to family use. Small business owners may also find Parental Controls useful in restricting their employees’ access to certain sites and for monitoring Internet activity on a company computer.
Force Secure Account Login
Just like in XP, when a Vista system is set up with multiple user profiles, different people can log on by clicking their account icon and entering a password. But this method leaves open the possibility, however remote, of a malicious program intercepting an account password by displaying a faux Windows logon screen.
For an extra later of security, you can force users to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete before they can log in. To do this, run netcplwiz, click the Advanced tab, and put a check next to Require users to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete.
Turn Off User Account Control
User Account Control (UAC) is a new feature in Windows Vista designed to prevent malicious software from making unauthorized configuration changes by prompting you for confirmation whenever such a change is attempted. UAC only pops up in association with changes that affect multiple users or the system as a whole, but that still makes for plenty (and we do mean plenty) of annoying warnings over the course of normal computer usage.
Although it’s not recommended from a security standpoint, you can eliminate the nagging dialogs by disabling the UAC feature for a given account. Just go to Control Panel > User Accounts and Family Safety > User Accounts and click Turn User Account Control on or off. Don’t think you can simply escape the UAC nagging without any repercussions, though; if you use tools like Windows OneCare Live, you can expect to receive frequent nags to turn the UAC alerts back on or risk compromised security.
Check Your Memory
Sometimes when a system crashes a lot or behaves erratically, the cause may be faulty RAM. XP didn’t offer a way to test system memory, but Vista does.
You can use Windows Vista’s Memory Diagnostics Tool to run a memory test that’s far more comprehensive than the POST test done when the system boots. The only catch is that the test can only be run before Windows loads, so when you launch the Memory Diagnostic Tool you’ll have the choice to restart the system immediately or have the test run the next time you restart.
Give Your System a Boost
Flash memory drives are a convenient way to move files around, but in Vista they can also help speed up your system’s performance. ReadyBoost can use your 512 MB-or-larger USB 2.0-based memory device as a high-speed cache. It also works with devices like CompactFlash or SD memory cards.
When you pop one of the aforementioned memory devices into a Vista system, one of the choices offered by the AutoPlay menu will be Speed up my System using Windows ReadyBoost. When you select it, you’ll be taken to the device’s Properties page where you can specify how much of the device’s available storage you want to allocate to ReadyBoost (Vista will recommend an amount to use, and you don’t necessarily need to use the device’s entire capacity). You can safely remove the device at any time, since ReadyBoost doesn’t use it for critical system data.
Getting Older Programs to Run in Vista
It’s no secret that some older (and some not so old) Windows programs have trouble running under Vista. When this happens, you may have better luck when you use Vista’s Compatibility Mode.
To run a particular application in compatibility mode, right-click the program’s icon, click Properties, and select the Compatibility tab. After you put a check next to Run this program in compatibility mode, you’ll be able to select a specific version of Windows (including XP Service Pack 2) that you want Vista to emulate when running the program.
Resize Disk Partitions Without Data Loss
Unlike Windows XP, Vista will allow you to change the size of an existing disk partition without wiping out your data. From the Start menu, right-click Computer and choose Manage. Then select Disk Management and select the partition you want to change. You can then choose either Extend Volume or Shrink Volume and specify a new size.
Quick Configuration on Notebooks
If you’re running Vista on a portable system, the Windows Mobility Center can put several important configuration options within easy reach. From the Windows Mobility Center you’ll be able to view and adjust settings for power management, wireless networking, external displays, and synchronization to handheld devices.
From here you can also conveniently put the notebook into presentation mode, which will do things like disable standby/hibernate modes (as well as disable the screen saver) and set the speakers predefined volume.
Do Your Drivers Speak Vista?
No matter how much beta testing an OS has gone through, the release of a new operating system version inevitably results in some broken or poorly optimized drivers for your hardware, especially when it comes to older equipment. While not all hardware has been optimized for Vista yet, wealth of Vista-optimized driver updates have been made available in recent months.
Our partner site Vista drivers for a variety of hardware tools. You can also check the harware vendor’s Website to ensure you’re using the latest Windows Vista-certified driver for your equipment.
Does Your Software Speak Vista?
Your existing hardware’s compatibility with Vista isn’t the only factor you need to consider when upgrading to Windows Vista, as not all software will work in Microsoft’s new operating system. Microsoft has created two logos to help customers identify whether an app will work under Vista or not.
An app that carries the Certified for Windows Vista logo has passed a rigorous testing program on computers that are running Windows Vista that focuses on four core areas: reliability, security, compatibility with Windows Vista and future operating systems, and installation and removal.
The Works with Windows Vista logo applies to a less stringent certification program and is used for existing software programs that have met Microsoft’s guidelines for Windows Vista compatibility.
Microsoft has an extensive list of applications that have earned either the Certified for Windows Vista or Works with Windows Vista logo available on this Vista Software compatibility page.
Want More from Vista?
Windows Vista development didn’t cease with the operating system’s mainstream release on January 30th. The Vista team continues to refine and optimize the operating system as well as release new features and Vista-specific tools. Many of these updates, security patches, and bug fixes will be downloaded and updated automatically via Windows Update, but some of the add-on tools and Vista-enabled software need to be downloaded separately.
Microsoft’s Windows Vista Team Blog is the first place to look for continued Vista developments and new technology and software releases such as Sliverlight and Windows Media Player on Firefox.