Has there ever been an operating system that wasn’t annoying? From the day I first used a keypunch machine to make cards for a wheezy old IBM mainframe, through the bizarre syntax used by Commodores, through CP/M’s “you don’t have to be a programmer to get this, but it helps” command structure, through every single version of Microsoft’s operating systems so far–there’s been something in all of them that annoyed me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Fortunately, now we have O’Reilly Media’s “Annoyances” series to help us fight back.
Annoyances un-annoyed here
Like the other Annoyances books, Windows 7 Annoyances can be read in any order, and readers can easily look up the solution to whatever is irritating them at the moment. As with the previous editions, if you don’t read the whole book, you may miss out on exactly the fix you didn’t know you needed. That said, however, this book is definitely not for the novice.
Begin at the beginning, if you can
Windows 7 Annoyances begins with a description of the versions of Windows 7, and then offers helpful links and tips for those who don’t have Windows 7 Ultimate, to add in a lot of the features that weren’t included in other versions. Then it’s on to installation. There’s a helpful chart to show you what your chances are of making an upgrade work–if you have Windows Vista. If you’re still using Windows XP, forget it, there is no way to upgrade, period. You have to wipe your drive and start over. Many people would consider that an extreme annoyance, but Microsoft had good reasons for doing it that way, as Windows 7 Annoyances explains. What follows is without a doubt the most complete explanation of installations I’ve ever seen. It covers what can go right, what can go wrong, what to do if you don’t have a boot disk, what to do if you don’t want Windows 7 creating extra partitions, and everything else that can be done to make sure you end up with Windows 7 running happily along. The chapter concludes with a section on migration to Windows 7, which I think should have come first. It’s vital to know whether your current hardware is compatible, whether you’ll need new drivers, and –especially if you’re a current Windows XP user– whether you can adapt your working style to accommodate all the changes that will be necessary once Windows 7 goes in.
She sells tweak shells?
The next chapter is called Shell Tweaks. (While the author explains what he means in the opening paragraph, I’m not sure how many non-techies refer to Windows Explorer, the desktop and taskbar as the “shell.”) I appreciated the detailed explanation of how to get the classic Windows Explorer interface back and how to work more efficiently, including displaying files and folders the way you want. There’s a good section on tweaking the Control Panel, for more advanced users.
Each version of Windows has changed the Start Menu, and Windows 7’s is the most radical transformation yet. Since I still need to practice all the new arrangements and syntax, I welcomed the book’s thorough explanation of how to clean up the Start Menu and work with it more efficiently. The next section deals with keyboard shortcuts for common file/folder actions. I suspect many people will find this and the following section on using multiple monitors very useful.
Registry annoyances, not for the faint of heart
The chapter on the Registry is definitely for more experienced users. While many readers will appreciate the thorough description of what the Registry is, how it works, and how to tweak it, the potential for disaster is always looming when people mess around in there. The chapter quite rightly starts out with a stern warning that irreparable harm can be done if the Registry isn’t correct, and urges proper precautions and backups. I think this warning should have been in boldface type and I think the section that describes backing up the Registry should have immediately followed the warning instead of being placed toward the end of the chapter. Windows 7 Annoyances goes on to explain how to search and edit and suggests some third-party tools that work better than the tools built into Windows 7. There’s a long and detailed section on file types and associations and how to tweak things to suit your preferences, with appropriate warnings about what will happen if you make mistakes. Again, I think the warnings should have been in boldface type.
See and hear, your way
Windows 7 is much better with video than its predecessors, but it still falls short in many ways. Windows 7 Annoyances explains codecs (and why it’s necessary to go find them yourself) and describes some third-party tools that should make that easier. There’s a section on repairing videos that won’t play and a discussion of Windows Media Player and some of its competitors, with useful tips for making Media Player work the way you want it to. The section that shows how to download media files from web pages was nicely detailed and should make a sometimes tricky job much easier. Windows 7 also made major changes in its audio, fixing many of the persistent annoyances in previous versions, but this didn’t come without a price. Windows 7 Annoyances lays it on the line: If you skipped Vista and upgraded directly from XP, this is why your sound doesn’t work. If you’ve got sound problems that aren’t caused by incompatible hardware, you’ll appreciate the thorough, step-by-step troubleshooting section here. There are also instructions for extracting sounds from video, converting audio files from one format to another, and tagging music, again with good third-party software suggestions.
Better than a shoebox, better than a TV
Next you’ll find a section that details several more efficient ways to deal with photos, including instructions for tweaking the thumbnail cache and using your own software instead of Windows Photo Gallery. Windows 7 Annoyances then moves on to editing photos, sorting them, and changing metadata, which is a big help with large image collections. Most of the Media Center section deals with TV, but there’s also a brief discussion of ripping DVDs to your hard drive. I was surprised that the issue of copy protection didn’t come up. Almost all commercially available DVDs are copy protected, so it’s not just a matter of ripping them. It’s possible this issue was not discussed because of the strict anti-piracy laws in the USA, but there should have been at least a brief mention that ripping DVDs might not be a straightforward process.
Need for speed
The Performance section of Windows 7 Annoyances is the book’s most valuable. In it, you’ll find just about every possible adjustment, tweak, setting, hardware recommendation and all-around housecleaning advice, to make your Windows 7 computer run faster and better. From a detailed list of Aero features (and which ones you don’t need) through video tuneups, turbocharging boot and shutdown speed, freeing up disk space, and starting applications faster, Windows 7 Annoyances shows you how to take control of your software. And then the book moves on to hardware–by way of showing why you should use Glass and customize it. There are suggestions for making your display work better (absolutely necessary to display Windows 7 to full advantage), improving battery life on a laptop, and overclocking your processor. Hard drive performance adjustments and defragmentation get their own section and the chapter concludes with sound advice on disk housekeeping, virtual memory, cache administration and advanced hard disk management techniques. This chapter is a must-read for anyone who wants more than just what came in the box.
Oh, we got trouble
The Troubleshooting chapter works step by step through diagnosis and repair of the most common problems, starting with malware (with a lengthy list of software that can help get rid of it) and working through startup problems, drive errors, crashes, installation and uninstallation glitches, the Green Ribbon of Death, the Blue Screen of Death, drivers and hardware, bad memory, power issues and printer problems. The chapter concludes with a detailed description of Windows Update problems, restore points, shadow copies, backups and, recoveries. If you can’t find good advice on how to fix your problem here, you’ve really got problems. I would have placed this chapter at the end of the book.
Networks and more (with fewer annoyances)
The final chapters are not so much lists of annoyances, but well-illustrated tutorials on networks, user accounts, and security, with a concluding chapter that deals with the command prompt and automation. These are most useful for people who want to move beyond the defaults and beyond point-and-click.
Windows 7 Annoyances is an excellent resource for people who are confident in their skills and willing to do a little extra work to customize their computers. I liked the lists of third-party software recommendations, the web links to useful information, and the step-by-step instructions in each section. But I think the author spent a little too much time being snarky about Windows, and in a book that’s already nearly 700 pages long, fewer such digressions would have done no harm.
Windows 7 Annoyances is a worthy successor to the previous Windows Annoyances book and contains a wealth of useful information. Some of its suggestions require advanced skills, but for the most part, the tweaks, hacks and recommendations are accessible to anyone and worth trying (with appropriate precautions) to make using Windows 7 more of a pleasure and less of a pain.