Ten fixes for Vista's worst features

Windows Vista is loaded with features, but they don't all work as they should. Here's how to tweak, modify, cope with, or work around the operating system's biggest blunders.

Windows Explorer's Address Bar Drop-Down Menu

Microsoft did a lot of things right in Vista's version of Windows Explorer, but the address bar's drop-down menu of recently visited folders isn't one of them.

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First problem: It lists only folders you went to via the address bar. Worst problem: It also lists Web pages. If you're like most users, it will list more Web sites than folders. Personally, if I want to revisit a Web page, I'll use my browser, not my file manager.

Luckily, you have alternatives.

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1. Use the other recent folders list: Click the down arrow to left of the address bar for a list of recent folders — but only very recent folders. Close and reopen Explorer, and the list will be a blank slate.

2. Use favorite folders, instead: You can easily place a shortcut to any folder into Explorer's top-left pane (something Vista does right). All you need do is drag and drop. Use this function wisely, and the lack of a convenient recent-folders option won't hurt so much.

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3. Improve Windows Explorer: I recommend FileBox eXtender, a free add-on by Hyperionics Technology. It adds drop-down Recent and Favorites menus to Windows Explorer. Hint: FileBox eXtender works best if you check its Keys & Menus tab's Add folders from Windows… option.

Recent Items List

This clumsy execution of an otherwise good idea dates back to Windows 95 — and it still hasn't been fixed. Sure, it's great to have an automatically updated, conveniently located list of files you've recently used.

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But Windows' designers failed to realize that there are some file types you go back to, and others you don't. Personally, I'm very likely to return to a recently opened .doc file, and very unlikely to do so with a .jpg. Yet if I've just been editing some photos, they'll crowd my .doc files off the menu. A professional photographer would likely have that situation reversed. But a few simple user-defined parameters could solve both of our problems.

Since Microsoft hasn't provided those parameters, use Flexigensoft's free ActualDoc. This powerful tool gives you separate recent lists for documents, pictures, and other file types in either its full window or its system tray pop-up menu. It can also password-protect the lists to preserve your privacy. The €20 Pro version adds user-defined categories and other tools.

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Lincoln Spector

PC World (US online)
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