7 hidden gems of Windows 7Top tips for getting the most from your PC

19 February 2011

Windows 7 has been out for over a year now, and on Tuesday, February 22 Service Pack 1 is released. In times past Service Packs were big events, adding important new features, fixing major bugs, and improving performance markedly. Not so this year, it's a fairly minor update. But, whether you've switched or not, we've collected seven useful things to know about Windows 7 to commemorate the event.

Windows 7

Windows 7 Service Pack 1 will be sent to users automatically through Windows Update. You don't need to download anything manually.

1. Problem solver

Windows 7’s Problem Steps Recorder lets you record troublesome error messages, which you can send to a friend or a helpdesk, such as the Which? Computing Helpdesk. To use it go to Start, type psr and click the psr.exe link at the top of the list. Click Start Record and recreate the problem – an error message, for instance. Problem Steps Recorder notes everything you do, making logs and screenshots. You can add comments, and then send the .zip file to someone who can help you.

2. Taking control

User Account Control (UAC) is meant to protect you from nefarious programs making changes to your system. In Windows Vista it was very obtrusive, but that's improved in Windows 7 as it can now be customised. To do so, go to Start, click on Control Panel, then select User Accounts and Family Safety > User Accounts and click on Change User Account Control settings. Use the slider to adjust UAC – the top setting (‘Always notify’) is the safest, but it will mean more frequent UAC messages. You can turn it off altogether (‘Never notify’), but we don’t recommend this. Click OK when you’re done.

3. Advanced Calculations

Windows 7’s calculator is much more useful than its predecessors. For example, you can work out the difference between two dates using the 'Date Calculation' mode. To use it, select Date Calculation from the View menu, and then input the 'From’ and ‘To’ dates by clicking on the calendar icon and then clicking on a date. Other useful features include a unit conversion tool, and mortgage and fuel economy calculators.

Thinking about upgrading to Windows 7? Read our Windows 7 explained feature.

4. Voice control

Windows 7 has a built-in speech recognition tool, allowing you to dictate text and even control certain aspects of your PC without using a mouse. Plug a microphone into the correct socket, then to set up speech recognition, go to Start, type speech and click on the Windows Speech Recognition link at the top of the list that appears. Click OK if you see a warning, then follow the onscreen instructions.

5. Screen text

If you’re having trouble reading on-screen text, then Windows 7 has an easy fix. Right-click on an empty part of your Desktop and select Personalize from the menu that appears. Next, click the Display link in the bottom left-hand corner of the dialogue box that opens. Now click next to either Medium or Larger (if available) and click Apply. You’ll need to restart or log off and on again to see the changes take effect.

6. Magnified view

Another way to deal with too small to read documents is Windows 7's Magnifier. Go to Start > Control Panel > Ease of Access > Ease of Access Center and click on Start Magnifier. By default, the Magnifier will zoom in to a portion of your display by 200%, but you can change the way it works.

Click on the new magnifying glass icon on your desktop, click Views on the Magnifier toolbar and select either Lens or Docked. In Lens view, your mouse cursor becomes a virtual eyeglass – move it over a section of text to enlarge it. In Docked view, a magnified portion of your screen sits at the top of your desktop at all times.

7. Play God

To get complete access to many more hidden Windows 7 features, you can enable something called ‘God Mode’. It's a folder that provides access to every one of your computer’s Control Panel tools, including many that are normally difficult to find. Right-click on an empty space on your desktop; select New > Folder. Right-click your new folder and select Rename. Now type the following name exactly as it is printed below, including the full stop and curly brackets: 


The icon on your desktop will change and be labelled GodMode. Double-click on this icon and scroll down to view all the different applets, of which there are nearly 300.

This feature was originally published in Which? Computing magazine. Click here to sign-up for your trial.

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