Five Ways to Bend Windows Vista to Your Will

Got Vista already? Make it your own with these five easy customization tweaks.

OK, you've gone through the effort of installing Windows Vista, or else you've bought a fresh, shiny computer with a fresh, shiny copy of Vista on it.

Now what?

Like any self-respecting power user, you want to bend the new operating system to your will. There are plenty of ways you can do that in Windows Vista. To get you started, here are five must-dos for the first time you run the new operating system.

1. Add gadgets

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The Windows Sidebar and its gadgets -- useful and fun mini-apps that sit on the right edge of your desktop -- are one of Vista's niftiest new features. So the first thing you should do is make the Sidebar always visible and add some new gadgets to it.

To make the Windows Sidebar visible, double-click its icon in the System Tray. You'll see several default gadgets already in place. To add new ones, click the plus sign at the top of the Sidebar, then drag the gadgets you like from the window that appears over to the Sidebar. To see even more gadgets, click the "Get more gadgets online" link at the bottom right of the window.

Adding gadgets to the Windows Sidebar.
 

Adding gadgets to the Windows Sidebar.

(Click image to see larger view.)

My favorite gadget downloaded from online is IP Config, which displays your current IP address and MAC address. If you have multiple network connections (for example, a Wi-Fi and an Ethernet connection), it will display information about both.

Until now, the list of gadgets available for Vista has been fairly small, but Microsoft just announced partnerships with major media players, including Time, People, Sports Illustrated and InStyle, as well as other companies, which will bring many more gadgets to Vista.

To customize any gadget, hover your mouse over it, click the little wrench icon, and fill out the form that appears. To remove a gadget, hover your mouse over it and click the X. You can even change the opacity of any gadget. Right-click the gadget, and from the Opacity menu item, choose the amount of opacity you want, anywhere from 20% (very transparent) to 100% (no transparency).

2. Get more security -- for free

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Windows Vista is more secure than previous versions of Windows, but it's missing one important security feature -- antivirus software. There are plenty of for-pay antivirus tools available, but the truth is, you don't need to pay for good antivirus protection.

There are several free antivirus programs for noncommercial use that work with Windows Vista, including AVG Anti-Virus and Avast. I've been using Avast with both beta and final versions of Windows Vista, and it works like a charm. It doesn't take up much RAM or system resources, offers customizable protection, and offers resident protection as well as scanning.

Avast offers free antivirus protection for Windows Vista.
 
Avast offers free antivirus protection for Vista. (Click image to see larger view.)
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