Windows Vista Ultimate - Tips and Tricks


Like it or loathe it, Vista is here.

I'm not going to get into one of those arguments about Vista looking like OSX because it does - quite obviously, and only people who haven't used OSX would argue otherwise.

My first look at the Ultimate edition was on a Sony Vaio VGN-TX2XP. Everything works out of the box except for the memory stick and SD card reader (which work with the XP drivers available from www.vaio-link.com). The important things such as graphics, WiFi and sound do work out of the box. I've left XP on there and Vista has installed as dual boot with no problems.

There are a few things I want to document here regarding setting up Vista in a business environment (I know Ultimate is not the edition that businesses will be using but a lot of this will be applicable).

One of the things that annoyed me about installing XP was that the language had to be set in three separate places (format, locale and keyboard). If you missed one then you got US English. As if to add insult to injury, if you install IE7 on XP then you get a 'first run' page for each new user who logs in where they are asked again what language they are using! Fortunately you only have to set the language option once in Vista.

Okay then. Down to the things I need to change to make this computer look like one that belongs in my workplace domain....

Desktop picture.
Under XP pictures lived in c:/windows but on Vista the default location is c:/windows/web/wallpaper. Of course, other folders can be used. Vista can also display JPEGs.



Changing the login screen background.

Why why WHY do Microsoft make it so awkward just to change the background image of the logon screen? This should be an accessible user option like changing the desktop background. In XP you could change it by setting the path to a bitmap image from a registry key as below:

HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper

In Vista, this key no longer exists. While changing the background image via the registry is still possible, it's a lot more complicated. By far the easiest way is to download a free copy of Stardock's Logon Studio which will allow you to set the image of your choice.



Creating a new tile picture.

The 'tile' is the picture you get associated with your account. The in-built tiles are the usual dull stuff (goldfish, flower, etc.) I created my own 128x128 pixel bitmap image and put it into
C:/Program Data/Microsoft/User Account Pictures/Default Pictures (which is a hidden path by default) and then I was able to set this tile as my picture from the User Accounts control panel. The default tile for new users is called 'users.bmp' and this sits outside of the Default Pictures folder. Replace this with a 128x128 pixel bitmap of your choice and named the same for it to be applied to all new users.


Managing login screen account display.

By default Vista remembers the last user that logged on which is fine for home users but not for a domain machine. You can click 'Switch User' and click 'Other User' to bring up username & password fields but I prefer this to be shown by default. Fortunately this is easy to change. Click Windows -R for a Run box (or use the Start Search feature) and enter secpol.msc to edit the local security policy. Expand Local Policies and click Security Options. Change the setting that reads Interactive Logon: Do not display last user name to being Enabled. Now when you log off you will have the standard username and password fields displayed and not the name of the last user. Ultimate doesn't show a Domain field like the XP Pro login window used to, it assumes you are logging in with a domain account. If this isn't the case (for instance, if you are logging in as a local administrator) then you will need to enter the computer name followed by a backslash and the local account name into the username field - i.e. "mycomputer\localuser". If you have the Administrator account active, typing Administrator as the username will automatically change the domain name to that of the local computer name.



Stopping the Admin prompt.
While in the local security policy you may also want to take a look at the option for User Account Control: Behavior of the elevation prompt for administrators in Admin Approval Mode. This is the pesky fellow that prompts whether or not you want to continue whenever you are installing software or changing system settings. As an administrator I'm confident enough that I know what I'm doing - or can get myself out of trouble if something goes wrong, so I'm going to set this to 'Elevate Without Prompting' instead of the default of 'Prompt for Consent'.


Views.
In Windows Explorer you can now toggle your view setting from the View button or select the view from the slider to the right of the button. You can also right-click in a window to change the view setting. The Folder Options function now lives in Control Panels.


Dual Boot.
Okay so I have XP and Vista on this laptop. When I switch it on I am presented with a menu asking if I want to boot into Vista or 'Previous version of Windows'. You'd have thought Vista would be clever enough to know what that previous version of Windows was and that it would be named appropriately! Now, under XP the text could be changed by editing boot.ini either directly or via the Startup and Recovery System Propertites. Under Vista the boot loader can be edited with an application called BCDEDIT. To use, right-click the Command Prompt application in the Start menu and select to Run as Administrator. This will open a command window in "c:\windows\system32" instead of in the current users directory. From here type BCDEDIT to view the current settings. To edit the text for the legacy OS, type:

bcdedit /set {legacy} Description "Windows XP Professional"

Of course, the text in the quotes can be anything you want. Incidentally, it's nice to see the tab key now completes your text entry in the command prompt as it does in Linux/OSX.

One more thing on dual booting - although I got Vista installed on the Sony as an alternative to XP, when I came to install it on my HP nc6220 laptop I wasn't offered the option to install as a separate OS. The Sony had two partitions while the HP had one and it seems Vista won't allow you to edit the partitioning scheme (at least, it didn't offer me that choice). All I could do with the HP was to either install in place of XP or format the hard drive and perform a clean install. If the Linux distros can handle repartitioning XP to create some space for a dual boot system then I don't know why Vista can't. By the way, Vista works fine on the nc6220 - I just had to download drivers from HP for the SD card reader and QuickLaunch buttons. I would recommend a BIOS upgrade available from www.hp.com as this seemed to improve reliability for me (there were some random lock-ups which have stopped now I've upgraded). I can also confirm it working fine on a Toshiba R200 with support for the SD card slot being provided by Toshiba.


Mobile Synchronisation.

When I attended an event run by Orange and Microsoft, the man from Microsoft's mobile data division told us that Activesync was now part of the Vista Sync Center and would be updated with Windows - no more manual installations of the latest version of Activesync!

Well, not quite. As it happens, if you want to sync with a WM2003 or 2005 device then you need to download the Windows Mobile Device Centre from Microsoft. It seems a shame to me that mobile device synchronisation is not an integral part of Vista and you still have to download and install a separate application.


3G Connectivity (Orange).
Speaking of Orange, I did wonder how hard it would be to get my Orange Sierra 850 PCMCIA data card working with Vista. The latest software from Orange doesn't work and the Tech Support people at Orange say they won't have Vista support until autumn 2007. Fortunately Sierra themselves do offer a solution at www.sierrawireless.com. Their Support site offers a firmware download and 3G 'Watcher' application. Insert your Sierra 850 and ignore the Windows prompts to search for and install drivers. Run the Orange installer and it will install and configure the card for you. I also applied the firmware upgrade to my card although it seemed to be working in Vista without this. The 3G Watcher app configured itself to work with Orange so no extra configuration was needed and so far it works fine.


Connecting to OSX.
So I tried connecting to my OSX machine via the network to transfer some files across and couldn't find it. File sharing was running on the Mac but Vista just didn't seem to see the share. It turns out this is another setting in secpol.msc and can be adjusted as below..

Hit the Windows -R keys for a Run box (or use the Start Search feature) and enter secpol.msc to edit the local security policy;
Click Local Policies and select Security Options;
Double-click 'Network Security: LAN Manager authentication level';
Change this setting from 'NTVLM2 responses only' to 'LM and NTLM – use NTLMV2 session security if
negotiated';
Click OK and close the local security policy editor.

I have read about (but haven't tried) the following method for Home Premium:

Hit the Windows -R keys for a Run box (or use the Start Search feature) and enter regedit to edit the registry.
Navigate to key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Lsa
If it doesn't already exist, create a DWORD value named LmCompatibilityLevel
Set the value to 1
Reboot for changes to take effect.


Startup items.
You know what it's like when you start installing your applications, shortcuts to the apps or component parts end up running when you log in which may or may not be what you want. If you have a stubborn application that fires up when you log in to Windows you may find yourself scratching your head to find where it's launching from as the directory structure has changed from XP to Vista.

First of all, go to the Folder Options control panel and under the View tab, set the option to Show Hidden Files and Folders. Here are the (normally hidden) file paths where shortcuts may lurk that will be run at startup...

Run for all users:

XP path:
c:\documents and settings\all users\start menu\programs\startup

Vista Ultimate equivalent:
c:\program data\microsoft\windows\startup\

Run for particular user:

XP path:

c:\documents and settings\[username]\start menu\programs\startup

Vista Ultimate equivalent:
c:\users\[username]\appdata\roaming\microsoft\windows\programs\startup

Of course, there are also startup registry keys which can be used to launch applications and these are the same as in XP. Open a Run box with the Windows -R keys, type regedit and navigate to:

Run for all users:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

Run for current user:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run



Changing the Default User profile.
Setting up Default User is pretty much the same as in XP. Log in as a local or domain user and set this profile up as a 'template profile', i.e. a profile that contains the settings you would like to apply to all users. Next, log in under a different account with rights to edit the Default user profile (such as local administrator). Open the Folder Options control panel and turn on hidden files and folders (otherwise the Default user profile will be hidden). Open the System control panel (or right-click the Computer icon on the desktop and select Properties). Click the Advanced System Settings tab and click the Settings button under User Profiles. Select the templatre profile created earlier and click the Copy To button. Click Browse and browse to c:\Users\Default then click OK. The template profile will now be applied to the Default profile so any user logging in for the first time will receive the Default user settings. This works the same as under XP however I mention it here because unlike XP it is not possible to take the shortcut route of simply copying the contents of your template profile and pasting it directly into the Default profile using Windows Explorer. This was never the approved way of setting up a Default profile under XP - but it worked. Doing the same under Vista results in a damaged Default users profile.

Another thing to look out for is that if a profile is deleted or removed from c:/users and then the user logs back in, an error message will appear stating that the user was logged in under a temporary profile and that changes would be lost when they logged out. The fix is to browse to this registry location from an administrative account....

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/WindowsNT/CurrentVersion/ProfileList

... and to look for the entry created with the .bak suffix. Select this entry and confirm the affected username is showing in the right-hand panel under the ProfileImagePath key. Delete the entry from ProfileLIst. You should then be able to log back in as this user and a new profile should be correctly created.

The preferred way to remove a profile is to go to System Properties and then into User Profile Settings where a profile can be removed properly thus avoiding this problem.


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