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Handy tips to make Windows 7 easier to use

Despite Windows 8 being out for quite some time now, most folks are still using Windows 7, and with that in mind, we're going to be posting some features chock full of tips for the OS over the next week or so. This article is all about making Windows 7 easier to use and generally more streamlined, presenting a collection of tips that can save time, make navigating your system easier, and give you quick access to commonly used programs and actions.

1. Handy keyboard shortcuts

Windows 7 includes many keyboard shortcuts that put frequently used actions at your fingertips. Learn these keystroke combinations and you'll soon be saving a few seconds of mousing time here and there throughout the day – it all adds up.

Display or hide the Explorer preview pane: Alt+P

Display gadgets in front of other windows: Windows Key+G

Zoom in: Windows Key+[plus sign]

Zoom out: Windows Key+[minus sign]

Maximise window: Windows Key+Up Arrow

Minimise window: Windows Key+Down Arrow

Snap to the left-hand side of the screen: Windows Key+Left Arrow

Snap to the right-hand side of the screen: Windows Key+Right Arrow

2. Create keyboard shortcuts for programs

In addition to using Windows 7's default shortcuts, you can also create your own shortcuts to launch your favourite programs. First, right click on the program icon, and choose Properties to open the Properties dialog. Click on the dialog's Shortcut tab, click in the Shortcut key text box, and press the key you want to use for that program. Your shortcut will use Alt-Ctrl plus your key – you can't overrule standard system shortcuts. Also, you can't use the Esc, Enter, Tab, Spacebar, PrtScn, Shift, or Backspace keys for obvious reasons.

3. Jump lists

Windows 7's Jump Lists appear in the Start menu and Taskbar buttons for programs that support the feature. They give you instant access to frequently used commands such as opening recent files or performing program actions. To access Jump Lists you can either click on the right arrow in program's Start menu entry, or right click an icon in the taskbar, or left click and drag the list open. If there's a document you want always accessible from the Jump List, you can just click on the pushpin icon in the right of the document's entry.

4. Clean up your screen

Focusing on one window when you have multiple windows open can be distracting. But instead of having to minimise every window one-by-one you can quickly unclutter your screen using Aero Shake. Simply click and hold the title bar of the window you want to leave open, give it a quick shake, and your screen will be cleared of all windows except the one you're working in.

5. Make Internet Explorer load faster

You can make IE load faster by disabling add-ons that slow it down. To find which add-ons you need to eliminate go to Tools > Manage Add-ons, check the load time listed here for each, and delete accordingly.

6. Combine taskbar icons

When you have a ton of windows or apps open at once, it can be hard to navigate among them all. Luckily, Windows 7 let you combine icons to keep your taskbar neat and organised. To combine taskbar icons, right click the Start button, go to Properties > Taskbar, and under Taskbar Buttons and choose "Always Combine, Hide Labels" or "Combine when taskbar is full." Alternatively, if you want to see everything with labels, you can choose Never Combine.

7. Troubleshoot and document system problems

Windows 7's Problem Steps Recorder comes in handy when you're looking to troubleshoot and document problems with your system. Typing psr into the Instant Search launches a recorder that can document what shows up on your screen as you recreate the problem step by step. You can even add comments. When you're done, the recorder compiles the footage into a zip file you can then email to a tech expert.

8. Add Videos to your Start Menu

You can make your video library easy to access by adding it to your Start Menu. To do so, right click the Start button, go to Properties > Start Menu > Customise, and set the Videos to "Display as a Link." There are plenty more options for what you want displayed in the Start menu here, so browse through the list to see what would work for you. Choosing "Display as a Link" puts a text choice on the right side of the Start menu, and choosing "Display as a Menu" will add a fly-out menu to the link with sub-choices. One particularly useful entry here is Recent Items, to help you quickly get to documents you've been working on recently.