Windows toolkit: 50 super software secrets

From obscure options to esoteric shortcuts and arcane add-ons, these hidden gems will help you master the programs you use every day.

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Taskbar techniques

Restore your Quick Launch bar: Windows 7 added a lot of neat features to the taskbar, but in the process it got rid of the Quick Launch bar. Fortunately, bringing Quick Launch back is fairly easy. Right-click the taskbar and uncheck Lock the taskbar; then right-click the taskbar again and choose New toolbar. Type %appdata%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch into the file path, and then click the arrow button on the right to navigate to that folder. Quick Launch will be back in action.

Clean up your system tray: Your system tray probably contains lots of icons that you rarely use. Instead of clicking the arrow to expand the system tray every time you need access to its contents, just drag the icons you use most often from the expanded tray to the minimized tray area on the taskbar. That way, you can click them immediately instead of having to expand the tray and root around for the icon you need.

Drag and drop to your taskbar apps: A taskbar icon's behavior depends on which modifier keys you hold down as you click it. Hold down Shift while you click an app's icon to open a new instance of the app. Hold down Ctrl-Shift while clicking the app's icon to open the program as an administrator. Drag a file from your desktop (or from an open window) over an app's icon on the taskbar to pin the icon to the app's jump list, or hold down Ctrl to open the file with that program.

Master Microsoft Office

While your job might be sheer drudgery on certain assignments, working in Office doesn't have to be. Office has its fair share of hidden secrets that can lighten the load of your workday.

Work with Word

Convert your PDF files: PDF to Word is a neat Web service that converts PDF files to Word format so that you can edit them. Alternatively, you can download Nitro PDF Reader, an app that comes from the same company and offers similar features.

Maximize your macros: If you spend a significant amount of time in Word, consider using the built-in Macro function to record and automate repetitive tasks. First enable the Developer tab (in Office 2007): Click the Office button in the upper-left corner, choose Word Options, and check Show Developer tab in the Ribbon. Then switch to the Developer tab in your document, and you can record your own macros (global as well as document-specific) and assign them to keys or toolbar buttons.

Navigate with your thumbnails: Scrolling through long Word documents is a waste of time. Click the View tab and check the Thumbnails box to add a bar on the left side of the window that you can use to skip quickly from page to page.

Strip out text formatting: Want to copy and paste a block of text without bringing the original formatting along for the ride? To do this, first copy the text you want (by pressing Ctrl-C); then open the Edit menu (or click the drop-down menu under the Paste icon on the Word 2007 ribbon), choose Paste special, and select Unformatted Text. This method is perfect for removing hyperlinks from copied Web content.

Own your Office

Bring menus back: If you still haven't learned Office 2007's ribbon system after three years of exposure to it, maybe you should just get rid of it. UBitMenu is a third-party Office add-on that restores the old menu setup. What's more, it's free for private use.

Keep your docs private: You can make a Word or Excel document more secure by saving it with a password (if you like, you can even specify different passwords so that some people can edit the document while others can only read it). Select Save As, click the Tools drop-down menu, and choose General Options (Security Options in older versions of Office).

Find a lost e-mail message: By default, in its All Items searches, Outlook 2007 doesn't include e-mail messages consigned to the Deleted Items folder. If you're looking for a missive that you think you may have deleted, select Tools, Options, Preferences, and click Search Options. Check the box under ‘Deleted Items' that says Include messages from the Deleted Items folder in each data file when searching in All Items, and you may be able to pull your missing mail out of the trash.

Eliminate notifications: Ever had a highly productive computer session ruined by an errant e-mail notification? To disable Outlook's notification sounds and system-tray messages, go to Tools, Options, Preferences, E-mail Options, and then click the Advanced E-mail Options button. Uncheck all of the options shown under ‘When new items arrive in My Inbox'.

Insert a new worksheet in an Excel spreadsheet: To open a new worksheet in an existing Excel spreadsheet without having to dig through any menus first, simply press Shift-F11.

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