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Get more with Vista's 'secret' features

02/29/2008 - In the past year, you've heard about Vista's security benefits. You've seen Vista's spiffy design. Improved security is a welcome change, of course. But Vista's pretty face hides more than beefed-up security.

Vista is more complete than previous versions of Windows. Microsoft has bundled many features into Vista. But you might not even be aware of them.

You'll find programs that save you time and make Windows easier to use. Other programs turn your computer into a multimedia powerhouse.

So next time you need a tool, start with Vista. While Vista is not perfect, there's a good chance that it does what you want—without additional software! To get you started, here are some of my favorite hidden features:

Work with your movies, music and photos

Need an easy way to view and manage your movies, music and photos? Look no further than Media Center.

There's a Media Center Edition of Windows XP. With Vista, Microsoft made Media Center a program. It is available with Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate.

You must set up Media Center before using it. The process helps you configure your display and speakers for optimum results. It also scans your computer for media.

After configuring Media Center, you're ready to watch movies. Or, listen to music and peruse your photos.

If your PC has a TV tuner card, Media Center can also record shows. A program guide helps you schedule recordings. So you can turn your PC into a PVR.

Show and tell

A picture says a thousand words. Maybe you want to copy a strange error message you encounter. Or maybe you want to share something you read online.

Vista's Snipping Tool makes it easy to take shots of your computer screen. Open the tool and drag over your screen. The selection is saved as a picture on a clipboard.

You can highlight parts of the clip or make notes with your mouse. You can save the clip to your computer. Or e-mail it to someone else. It's very handy.

Instant Search

I know what you're thinking. I didn't tell you where to find Media Center or the Snipping Tool. For that, you can use Vista's Instant Search.

You can search for files, e-mail and programs from the Start menu. Just click Start and enter your term in the search box.

Instant Search isn't just for hard-to-find items. It's also a time saver. You don't need to click through several menus to pull something up.

For example, say you want to use Paint. Simply type Paint in the Instant Search and the program starts. Try it the next time you want to use a program. It's a real time saver.

You can also limit searches. In that case, click Start>Search. Select Advanced Search. You can limit searches by file type, location, size and other criteria.

You can save advanced searches. Just click Save Search above the results. This is helpful for frequently used searches.

Parental controls

Computers pose a dilemma for parents. Children often need computers for school work. But, the Internet can invite predators and pornography into your house. And it is difficult to limit time spent online.

Vista's built-in parental controls help you specify the hours your children spend online. You can create a list of approved Web sites. Or, block sites based on settings you specify.

You can also restrict computer games and view a report of your child's activities. For example, check on e-mail and instant messaging usage.

No program substitutes for vigilance. But, Vista's parental controls make things easier on you. Set up parental controls when you create your child's user account. Click Start>Control Panel>User Accounts.

Copyright 2008, WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved. Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast or find the station nearest you, visit: To subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters, sign-up at

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