Bend Windows 7 to your will

by Kevin Purdy -- You, or someone you know, may be upgrading to Windows 7. The interface is shiny, the taskbar is really helpful, but not everything works exactly like it did before.

Luckily, Windows 7 is more helpful than any previous operating system at transferring settings and getting things running. Here are a few tools that help fix what used to work for you in XP or Vista.

[ Learn some Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts and start zipping around with mouse-free ease ]

If you haven't actually upgraded to 7 yet, make a few changes now that will pay off big in the long run. First off, back up system and files to an external hard drive. Now, divide the hard drive into two partitions: one for the operating system and one for all the data, documents, and other stuff. You might need to shrink down a partition to do so; many step-by-step guides exist online to help you through, like at How-To Geek. Not only will separate partitions make repairs and Windows re-installs easier down the line, it will save hours on an in-place Vista to Windows 7 upgrade.

If you're upgrading from XP to Windows 7, Microsoft offers a free online tool you can load on XP to capture your Windows settings and desktop and interface tweaks, and then can translate those same settings to Windows 7. The free app can also work over a network or "Easy Transfer Cable," but a USB connection is a little more reliable.

[ See also: Windows 7 upgrade: What you can, can't, and should do ]

Once you've arrived at your shiny new Windows 7 desktop, you might find something small but essential not working -- a single driver not updated, sleep/suspend acting wonky, something like that. Assuming you've run Windows Update and installed everything labeled "High Priority," head to the Start menu's search bar, type in "Performance Info" and hit Enter. Inside the Performance Issues and Tools dialog, hit the "Advanced Tools" link, and under "Performance issues" you'll see what problems Windows actually recognizes and can suggest fixes for.

Underneath the yellow warning signs, there's a link to "View performance details in Event log." That's Microsoft speak for the Event Viewer, a tool that provides a much clearer look at when and why your system is throwing out halts, errors, and issues. Finally, at the bottom of the Performance Issues window is a link to "Generate a system health report." Just like it sounds, this is a top-to-bottom report on hardware compatibility, system processes, and recurring errors, with the best explanations your computer can muster for them. Best of all, you can print all or just pertinent sections of it for when you're ready to really troubleshoot your system.

Finally, if there's a tiny little thing you loved in XP or Vista and just can't find in Windows 7, grab the Ultimate Windows Tweaker and dig through its many, many options. Pretty much every little feature or annoyance of Windows 7's Start menu, desktop, windows, taskbar, and mouse clicks can be toggled or slide-adjusted from here, and you'll feel like you never left your old, trusty desktop.

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