Handy Windows 7 tips for business users

Does your business run Windows 7? If so, then you’ll find this article will point out plenty of tips which will help to smooth over your workday. We’ll look at topics including customising the Start Menu, checking over hardware drivers, and security issues such as using BitLocker. Read on for the full lowdown…

Expand the System Tray area

By default, Windows 7 hides most icons in the system tray – more formally known as the Notification area. Installed apps are often controllable from this area, though Microsoft would prefer them to use pinned taskbar icons instead of the system tray. You can, however, make them visible should you wish. To do so, click on the up-arrow icon at the left of the few tray icons that do display by default, and check the "Always show all icons and notifications on the taskbar" check box at the bottom. Alternatively, you can fine tune the setting app-by-app, in case there are only some that you want showing all the time and others you don't.

Use Aero Shake

One of Windows 7’s least-known Aero conveniences is Shake. Aero snap gets all the love – that's the one where you drag a window all the way to the side of the screen to take up half the area. I'd say I use Shake even more, and business people who tend to have a lot of application windows open will love it, as will those easily distracted like me.

When your desktop is cluttered with overlapping windows, simply grab the top title bar of the window you want to concentrate on, hold down the mouse button, and shake the mouse back and forth a few times. All the unwanted windows will swim down to the taskbar, minimised for later use.

Customise the Start Menu

A few Start menu modifications can help business folk be more productive. To customise it, just open the Start menu, right click in its lower-right quadrant somewhere below the Help and Support link, and click on Properties (the only choice that appears). Here you can not only choose what links will appear in the Start Menu, but whether they'll display as links or menus that fly out with sub-choices. One thing that makes sense for business users to change here is Recent Items, which gives you quick access to documents and other files you’ve been working with. The entry to enable this is somewhat hidden; it’s the 19th choice, between Pictures and Recorded TV.

Use the Libraries icon

I'm often surprised how few people use the folder button in the Windows 7 taskbar in favour of desktop icons or using the Start menu to navigate documents. This Library taskbar button is your friend. Libraries gives you quick access to all the drives and folders available to your computer, whether it's a local, attached, or network drive. One behaviour that may throw some off is that clicking the icon doesn't open a new Explorer window if you already have one open – it just opens and closes the existing window. The way around this is to right click the Library icon and then choose Windows Explorer. This will get you a fresh Libraries window for those cases where you may need multiple ones open, say, for dragging and dropping. Another quick way to get an Explorer window is to hit Ctrl+N with the desktop highlighted.

Snipping Tool

Windows 7 has a decent screen capture utility called the Snipping Tool. If you need to show a co-worker what's happening on your screen, this tool is a godsend. It not only lets you create an image file of your full desktop or the app window currently in focus, but it also lets you create a rectangular or freeform selection. As soon as you release the mouse, you'll see your created image in a window from which you can save it to disk or send directly to a colleague as an email attachment. There's also a marking tool for when you want to point something out, and an erase tool to wipe out unnecessary bits. Snips are by default copied to the clipboard for you to paste anywhere. The easiest way to start the Snipping Tool is to type Snip in the Start Menu search bar and click on the top result.

Protect sensitive data with BitLocker

Business users often keep sensitive company-related information on their laptops and USB sticks, and BitLocker can lock this data down, protecting it in case of a theft or loss. BitLocker is only available in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7. It lets you use either a password or smart card to unlock the drive. Note that if you're going to encrypt the drive where Windows is located, you'll need a computer sporting Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 1.2 or higher, or a USB key and a two-partition setup with one for system boot and a second for Windows. Setting up BitLocker To Go on a USB flash drive is simpler. For both, you start from the Control Panel's System and Security page, where you'll see the BitLocker choice towards the bottom. From here, it’s a simple matter of clicking Turn On BitLocker. You’ll then be asked for a password (or smart card if you have a reader). Then you’ll get to save or print a recovery key, should you forget the password. After this, the encryption process begins, and your bits are safe! But be patient, encryption can take a while.

Check your app's compatibility

Maybe you’ve not long upgraded from Windows XP in the face of its soon-expiring support, and you want to know whether an app is compatible with Windows 7 – and if it isn’t compatible, bear in mind you can (hopefully) run it in XP mode. To find out about a program’s compatibility, right click the app's icon, and choose "Troubleshoot compatibility." Next, a short dialog will detect compatibly and let you choose to "Try recommended settings." The app will test run in XP Mode, and if all goes well, you can save the XP mode setting.

Check your hardware drivers

Your Windows 7 PC may appear to be working, but it may not be working optimally, with all pistons firing. Checking your hardware drivers for the latest versions is a good way to remedy this. Just open the Start Menu, type "fix hardware" and click on the top search result – "Find and fix problems with devices." This will check the drivers of all installed hardware, and offer to update them. At the start of the process, you can click Advanced, and that gives you the option to fix everything automatically. Otherwise, you'll be prompted before each fix is applied. The wizard also checks whether devices are enabled.