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One of our biggest annoyances with Windows Vista was the Games Folder, aka the Gaming Grotto, aka the Gaming Ghetto. In Vista, Games for Windows titles and other game shortcuts automatically install to this directory, which you can only access with a Start Menu shortcut. This scheme prevents you from starting a game from the Start Menu search bar (aka the power user, keyboard-only method). Indeed, while you can launch any other application by mashing the Windows key, and typing its name in the Start Menu field, this isn’t the case for games installed to Vista’s Games Folder. Well, this oversight is fixed in Windows 7, and the universe is now home to slightly less evil.
You can quit messing around with ostensibly free, malware-infected burning software, because Windows 7 comes loaded with a DVD and CD ISO burning application. Just double-click your image file and Windows will start a tiny program window to help burn your disc. It’s a bare-bones app, but it works!
Besides its default desktop wallpaper, Win7 includes desktop backgrounds catered to your region (which is identified when you first install the OS). We Americans, for example, get six 1900x1200 images showing off National Parks and beaches. However, if your tastes run more international—don’t worry, we won’t hold that against you—you can grab wallpapers for other regions from a hidden folder. Type globalization in a search of your C: drive. The only result should be a folder located in the main Windows directory, and you should only be able to see ELS and Sorting folders nested here. Now search for MCT in the top-right search bar. This will display five new unindexed folders, each corresponding to a different global region. Browse these folders for some extra themes and wallpapers specific to Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, and Canada.
Despite good intentions, User Account Control pop-ups were one of the most annoying aspects of Vista, and thus UAC became a feature that most of us immediately disabled after a clean install. UAC in Windows 7 displays fewer warnings, but you can also fine-tune its notification habits by launching the UAC Settings dialog from the Start Menu. Just type UAC in the Start Menu search field and click the result. We find that setting the bar to just one tick above “Never notify” provides a comfortable balance between mindful security and incessant, Alice Kramden–caliber nagging.
The reliable Calculator applet has been beefed up to do more than just basic arithmetic. You can now toggle between Standard, Scientific, Programmer, and even Statistics modes. In addition, the Options menu lets you pull out many new automated conversation tools, such as Unit Conversion (e.g., Angles, Temperature, Velocity, and Volume) and Date Calculation (e.g., calculate the difference between two dates). More templates give you the ability to crunch gas mileage, lease tipping points, and even mortgage estimates (yeah, right!) based on any variables you input.
If you use built-in memory-card readers in a 3.5-inch drive bay or on your desktop display, empty memory card slots will not show up as drives in My Computer. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still there. To reveal hidden memory card slots, open My Computer. Press Alt to show the toolbar at the top of the screen, and go to Folder Options under Tools. Hit the View tab and uncheck the “Hide empty drives in the Computer folder” option.
Tired of switching between Device Manager, Properties menus for your devices, and the Start Menu to manage and use printers, digital cameras, mice, and other peripherals? Windows 7 comes to your rescue with its Devices and Printers dialog. Open Control Panel and select View Devices and Printers from the Hardware and Sound category. Right-click a device icon in Devices and Printers to configure the hardware, create shortcuts, troubleshoot, view properties, and run programs. Devices and Printers can save you a lot of effort. For example, when you use it to manage your computer, you have one-touch access to 12 different Control Panel and Explorer interfaces. And when you use a Windows 7–specific driver that supports Device Stage, Devices and Printers uses thumbnail art of the actual device, as shown.