Customizing Windows

I just thought today I might share with you some of the customizations I’ve made to my Windows Vista installation to make it a bit more friendly.

Last week I stumbled upon this blog post from LifeHacker, and I’ve since implemented it’s suggestions fully (click for full size):


Basically the idea is to double the size of the taskbar and then create groups of icons for the most commonly used programs. Instead of having to click twice to get into Outlook or PuTTY, I now only have to click once. The hardest part is working out which icons are the best to put onto the taskbar. The image above is missing Notepad2 and Firefox, since I originally left them off. They have since been placed on the taskbar as well.

The instant messsaging client I use is Pidgin, and apart from Skype (which it doesn’t handle), it’s the only IM client I ever use. Since about 50% of my time on my computer is wasted in chatrooms and such, Pidgin has a high importance for me. Thus, I’ve made the Buddy List window dock into the side of my screen, so it’s never behind any other window, even when the other window is maximised. It’s best explained with a screenshot.

What happens is that when the Buddy List is the approximate height of the screen, floating, and is then dragged to either side of the screen (I used to have it on the left), it will snap into place and become sort of a taskbar as far as other windows are concerned. To do this with Pidgin, you’ll have to enable this functionality:

  1. Go to the Tools menu, and select Plugins.
  2. Scroll down the window until you see ‘Windows Pidgin Options’. If it’s not enabled (the tickbox on the left), enable it.
  3. Otherwise, click on it once to highlight it and click ‘Configure Plugin’.
  4. In the window that comes up, click the tickbox next to ‘Dockable Buddy List’, and click Close twice.
  5. You can now drag your Buddy List to either side of the screen and have it docked, ready and waiting to start a new conversation.

If you’re the type that notices such things, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not using the Aero interface (the see-through window effect). And for good reason too. As far as I can tell, all it does is hog memory and CPU, and make my machine very sluggish. Here is a good tutorial on how to do it.

Those are the three biggest changes I’ve made to the user interface in Vista, and all have made me much more productive. If only my laptop had a second screen…

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