The default installation of Windows Vista weighs in at approximately 8 GB. In fact, Microsoft's latest operating system won't even install with less than 15 GB of space available on the hard drive. This is valid for both the low-end and the high-end editions of the platform. A full Vista installation will take up no less than 40 times more hard disk space compared to Windows 95's 200 MB and five times more than Windows XP's 1.5 GB. Part of the reason why Vista hugs so much hard disk real estate space is the fact that the operating system brings to the table a plethora of built-in administrative tools that ship by default with the platform.
In this context, the term hidden, is not entirely accurate. Advanced users and system administrators have no problems tracking down and using the administrative tools in Vista. But at the same time, an average user could pass right by them, just because of their low footprint in the operating system's fabric, as they simply have a way to go by virtually undocumented and unnoticed. But this does not mean that the tools are not there, it just requires a bit of digging under the surface. And you will be surprised of how many long-time Windows users have failed to take a deeper look under the hood of the operating system, even if it would make their life so much easier.
You'll be surprised of what is lying beneath. But at the same time you have to understand that a large part of these utilities are not new to Vista, although they all suffered enhancements. Some of them are obviously survivors from older editions of Windows. But this is besides the point. You should at least be aware of the luxuriant resources within your grasp, provided of course that you are running Windows Vista. Also, while the tools exemplified in this article are to a certain degree common to all SKUs of Vista, you would do better to focus on the high-end editions of the operating system, such as Business, Enterprise and Ultimate, and less on Home Basic and Home Premium, as some items might be missing or limited in functionality on the latter two examples of the platform.
1. Task Manager: Right, I thought I would debut with something as common as the Start Menu. The Windows Task Manager can be launched via Ctrl + Shift + Esc, or by Alt + Ctrl + Delete, as well as by right clicking the Taskbar and choosing Task Manager from the options in the contextual menu that pops up. The Windows Task Manager in Vista is designed to run with standard user privileges, and as such, will not deliver a User Account Prompt. The tool will permit you to manage Applications, Processes, Services, and to monitor Performance, Networking and the active Users through the corresponding tabs. If you are looking to kill a program that is not responding, identify the process associated with a certain program or simply check the CPU cycles or the amount of system memory cached, then Task Manager is the simplest and most accessible tool.
2. Network and Sharing Center: "The Network and Sharing Center puts you in control of your network connectivity. It's a place where you can check your connection status, view your network visually, and troubleshoot connection problems. The Network and Sharing Center informs you about your network and verifies whether your PC can successfully access the Internet—then summarizes this info in the form of a Network Map," reads a fragment of Microsoft's description of the resource.
But the Network and Sharing Center is only the surface of the Windows Network Diagnostics tool in Windows Vista, an automated utility designed to identify, diagnose and resolve connectivity problems. And in its turn, the Windows Network Diagnostics tool is just a part of the Network Diagnostics Framework (NDF) in Vista. Every time you will run into connectivity issues, NDF can provide a way out. The Network and Sharing Center is located under Control Panel, Network and Internet.
3. Backup, Shadow Copies, System Restore: There is an intimate connection between backup, shadow copies, system restore and restore points in Windows Vista. And there are two locations that will permit you to both have a general perspective of the status of the capabilities mentioned and to configure them, the Backup Status and Configuration and the Backup and Restore Center. Both can be launched by entering "Backup" in the search box under the Start Menu.
Via the Backup Status and Configuration you will be able to manage automatic file backup and handle the settings, as well as perform advanced restore or a complete PC backup. The Backup and Restore Center offers basically the same functionality but is additionally focused on creating system restore point and activating the shadow copies’ features.
4. Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption: Available exclusively in Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate, Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption is designed to help ensure the privacy of sensitive data by encryption. Although the default configuration of BitLocker requires a Trust Platform Module, the fact of the matter is that TPMs are rare in use outside of corporate environments, but users will be able to use the tool nonetheless, although without some functionality. With Windows Vista SP1, the Redmond company will also allow users to encrypt additional volumes on top of the operating system drive, protected by default.
"During computer startup, if BitLocker detects a system condition that could represent a security risk (for example, disk errors, a change to the BIOS , or changes to any startup files), it will lock the drive and require a special BitLocker recovery password to unlock it. Make sure that you create this recovery password when you turn on BitLocker for the first time; otherwise, you could permanently lose access to your files", is the warning Microsoft provides with the use of BitLocker.
5. Program Compatibility Wizard: The Program Compatibility Wizard under Control Panel and Programs will permit you to use an older program with Windows Vista. The tool is designed to help users that are experiencing functionality issues with an application in Vista, although the problems were not there with a prior version of Windows. The wizard will detect all the programs installed, and also permit the selection and testing of compatibility settings. Everything from display settings, to desktop composition and to administrative privileges can be set through the wizard.
6. Microsoft Management Console 3.0: "Microsoft Management Console (MMC) hosts administrative tools that you can use to administer networks, computers, services, and other system components," reads an excerpt of the Redmond company's description of the resource. The Microsoft Management Console 3.0, also known as Console Root or Console 1, has been around since Windows 2000. You can open it by typing "mmc" in the Search box under the Start menu, in a Run dialog box or in a command prompt window. MMC is essentially not an administrative tool, as it does not perform any such tasks, but it does provide hosting for various components including: Local security Policy, Computer Management, Event Viewer, and the Reliability and Performance Monitor as snap-ins which can be added for local or remote computers on the network.
7. Computer Management: Computer Management is a collection of administrative components. Accessible by entering "Computer Management" in the Search box under Start Menu, you can find items placed in three categories: System Tools, Storage and Services and Applications. Computer Management comes with the Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, Shared Folders, Local Users and Groups, the Reliability and Performance Monitor, Device Manager, Disk Management, as well as Services and WMI Control.
8. WMI - Windows Management Instrumentation: "Effective management of PC and server systems in an enterprise network benefits from well-instrumented computer software and hardware, which allow system components to be monitored and controlled, both locally and remotely. Microsoft is committed to simplifying instrumentation of hardware and software under Microsoft Windows operating systems. Microsoft is also committed to providing consistent access to this instrumentation for both Windows-based management systems and legacy management systems that are hosted in other environments. The foundations for manageability in Windows operating systems are Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI; formerly known as WBEM) and WMI extensions for Windows Driver Model," reveals the company's introduction on WMI.
9. Services: Typing "Services" in the Search box under the Start Menu will open the tool with exactly this name. Essentially, the utility will provide an exhaustive list of all the processes in Windows Vista complete with name, description, status and startup type. The console will allow you to stop, restart or start various services across the operating system, as well as getting an insight into all the properties of the services enumerated by the tool.
10. Disk Management: Disk Management in Windows Vista is under Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Storage. A breeze to navigate if you were to ask me. The system utility will help you manage partitions and hard disks. Disk initialization, creating volumes, and formatting with the FAT, FAT32, or NTFS file systems are all tasks offered by Disk Management.
11. Device Manager: "Device Manager provides you with a graphical view of the hardware that is installed on your computer. All devices communicate with Windows through a piece of software called a device driver. You can use Device Manager to install and update the drivers for your hardware devices, modify hardware settings for those devices, and troubleshoot problems", is the overview Microsoft provides of the tool. Device Manager permits users to modify hardware configuration settings, get a complete overview of all devices, perform device drivers installation and uninstallation actions, as well as enable and disable certain items.
12. Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor: Under Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools, the Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor is the big brother of the monitoring features provided by the Task Manager. The tool will offer a closer view at the CPU, the hard disk, Network activity and System Memory. Users can both monitor the system's performance in real time or choose to create logs of data collected and stored for further analysis.
13. Local Users and Groups: This is the perfect location to manage accounts in Windows Vista. You will be able to create and handle user accounts and the details related to them such as Groups and privileges. The Local Users and Groups console offers a location to activate the two built-in accounts that ship with Vista: Guest and Administrator. While Guest can be all but ignored, I am sure that the account for the Absolute Administrator of Vista is the kind of freedom some users will want.
14. Event Viewer: "The Event Viewer is a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that enables you to browse and manage event logs. It is an indispensable tool for monitoring the health of systems and troubleshooting issues when they arise. Event Viewer enables you to perform the following tasks: view events from multiple event logs; save useful event filters as custom views that can be reused; schedule a task to run in response to an event and create and manage event subscriptions", reads the tool's overview.
15. Task Scheduler: The Task Scheduler is also hosted under Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools and the name is pretty much explanatory. You can use the tool to schedule automated tasks in concordance with a specific time or a certain event. The utility will also offer a complete library of scheduled tasks allowing you to delete unnecessary items, in addition to options such as run, disable and modify.
16. Memory Diagnostics Tool: Normally, you will access the Memory Diagnostics Tool via the Windows Vista installation disk. But there is also another way. The utility can be found under Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools and, when launched, it will offer to restart immediately and check for RAM problems, or analyze the system memory the next time the computer is started. This is a very useful tool that will identify and diagnose memory problems.
17. System Configuration: System Configuration can be launched by entering "msconfig" in the Search box under the Start menu. It will offer users five tabs and with them the possibility to manage the startup process, boot options, the services across Vista, a reduced list of start-up items as well as providing shortcuts to a range of tools in the operating system. Under the Tools tab, you will be able to find some more hidden Vista goodies such as Internet Protocol Configuration, UAC and easy access to the registry.
18. System Information: "System Information (also known as msinfo32.exe) shows details about your computer's hardware configuration, computer components, and software, including drivers," reads the general description of the tool. System Information offers users a view over System Summary, the Hardware Resources and the Software Environment. The tool will display information about the operating system and its general settings, hardware and programs. Just type "msinfo32.exe" in the Search box under the Start Menu in order to launch it.
19. Windows Firewall with Advanced Security: Windows Firewall with Advanced Security is a bit of a hidden gem in Windows Vista. Located under Control Panel, Administrative Tools the tool is a bundle between a host firewall and Ipsec. If you want control over packets for IPv4 and IPv6 traffic, then this utility is the right answer for you, no doubt about it. You will be able to configure rules that will then apply to all incoming and outgoing traffic.
20. Local Security Policy: Also placed under Control Panel, Administrative Tools, the Local Security Policy will allow you to configure policies for the Vista Accounts, Local Policies, Public Key Policies, Software Restrictions Policies, IP Security Policies on Local Computer and the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.
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