How to Help Windows XP Keep Up With Vista Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

How to Help Windows XP Keep Up With Vista

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Hailed by Microsoft as an operating system revolution when it was released in January 2007, Windows Vista contains many features which most users will consider to be quite groundbreaking. However, there are those who are quite happy just to keep on running XP or do not have a system that is advanced enough to handle Vista - while many computers could theoretically run Vista, on older systems most of the time would be spent waiting for the computer to transfer the right bit of data into its memory. This Entry therefore aims to help them get the best out of their existing software.

Updates for XP

Several programs are included with Windows Vista and have been advertised as features of the operating system. However, despite the operating system not coming with these programs built in, Windows XP users can still download and update to the following:

  • .NET Framework version 3.0
  • Windows Defender (anti-spyware program)
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • Windows Media Player 11
  • Windows Security Centre and Firewall (included in Service Pack 2)

It's a good idea to install Service Pack 2 and update your computer with all the security patches that have been released for XP. Keeping Windows XP also comes with an added bonus - you get to keep Clippit1, the Microsoft Office paperclip, which has been replaced in Vista by a text box.

Windows Flip v Instant Viewer

Windows Vista includes two improvements on the old Alt + Tab method in XP2, which allows users to switch between windows by holding Alt and repeatedly pressing the Tab button. This displays a box containing a neat little row of icons representing the windows that are open along with the title of each window, and it generally gets the job done. Vista's Windows Flip replicates this function using thumbnails of the windows instead of icons, but is otherwise just a more graphically-intensive version of the same thing.

Meanwhile, Vista also includes Windows Flip 3D, which displays the different windows lined up one behind the other in 3D. However, a similar though slightly less impressive trick is available on XP in the form of Instant Viewer, which is available in the more up-to-date driver packages for Microsoft mice. Upon a press of the mouse wheel, Instant Viewer displays a smaller version of each window, allowing the user to select the one they want by clicking upon it. When it comes to working out which windows are open and selecting the right one, this feature is more or less as useful as Flip 3D.

Windows XP users should also be sure to memorise the following window-related shortcuts:

  • Windows Key + D - minimise / restore all windows.
  • Windows Key + E - start Windows Explorer.
  • Windows Key + F - start Windows Search.
  • Windows Key + R - opens the Run... box.
  • And of course Ctrl + Alt + Del, which in the Home Edition opens the Task Manager.

Instant Search v Do It Yourself

Vista includes a search utility in the Start Menu which allows users not only to find files quickly, but to run common programs simply by typing in their names. In order to run common programs quickly in Windows XP, you need to do the following:

  • Press Windows Key + R to bring up the Run... box.

  • Type one of the following programs:

    • cmd - Command Prompt
    • calc - Calculator
    • charmap - Character Map
    • cleanmgr.exe - Disk Cleanup
    • dfrg.msc - Disk Defragmenter
    • notepad - Notepad
    • pbrush - Paintbrush
    • wmplayer - Windows Media Player
    • wordpad - Wordpad
    • wupdmgr - Windows Update

  • Or type one of the following games:

    • freecell - FreeCell
    • mshearts - Hearts
    • sol - Solitaire
    • spider - Spider Solitaire
    • pinball - Pinball
    • winmine - Minesweeper

  • Or type one of the following utilities, if you know what you're doing:

    • control - Control Panel
    • dxdiag - DirectX Diagnostics
    • sndvol32 - Volume Controls
    • sysdm.cpl - System Properties
    • taskmgr - Task Manager

  • Press Enter and the program, game or utility will open.

Streamlining XP

While installing a new operating system from scratch may improve a system's performance, re-installing the old one can also help get rid of all the virtual dust which is slowing a PC down. However, starting over again may not appeal to everyone, and so the following can be used instead in order to try to improve performance:

  • Add/Remove Programs - by opening 'Add/Remove Programs' in the Control Panel, you can remove all of the old programs that you never use.

  • Start Menu - If you can live without the fancy XP Start Menu3, you should set your Start Menu to the Classic setting by opening 'Taskbar and Start Menu' in the Control Panel and selecting the correct option in the Start Menu tab of the box that appears. Having done this, you can then click 'Customize' and then uncheck 'Use Personalized Menus' in the list of options to get an extra boost in performance.

  • Start Menu Clutter - while most programs you install will add an entire folder to your Start Menu containing icons to uninstall the program and to visit the maker's website, all you really need is the single icon that opens the program. In order to view the Start Menu as a series of folders, right-click on Programs and click 'Open'. From here, you can move the important icons into a handful of folders and then delete all the unnecessary rubbish.

  • Pointless Graphics - XP has many minor features such as shadows under menus which just eat up a bit more of your computer's performance. You can disable these by opening 'System' in the Control Panel, clicking on the 'Advanced' tab, clicking the 'Settings' button in the Performance section and then select 'Adjust for best performance'. This will probably also set your windows and menus to 'Windows Classic Style'. If you want to lose the fancy graphical features but keep the superficial XP window bars, go to 'Display' in the Control Panel, click on the 'Appearance' tab and then set 'Windows and Buttons' to 'Windows XP Style' again.

  • Desktop Clutter - while having an array of icons on your desktop makes it easier to load programs and files without a second thought, their very presence adds just one more thing for the computer to do. Try to remove as many icons from your desktop as possible by either relying upon the Start Menu or by putting the icons in a folder on the desktop. One final trick in this area is to either set your wallpaper to 'blank' in the Control Panel->Display->Appearance tab, or to use a smaller file as your wallpaper by reducing the size of the picture and saving it as a compressed png or jpeg file.

  • Startup Clutter - Many programs feel the need to start themselves whenever you turn your computer on, thus increasing the loading time and then slowing your computer by running little applets in the system tray4. Windows Defender's Software Explorer can be used to block most of these programs from running at startup.

  • Fonts - go to Control Panel->Fonts and move all the fonts you don't use to another folder.

  • Hibernation5 - unless you use the hibernation function instead of setting your computer to Standby or turning it off, you don't really need to have hibernation enabled. Hibernation allows a computer's state to be restored after a period of hibernating, and so having it enabled requires Windows to set aside a large chunk of memory for use only by the hibernation feature. Open 'Power Options' in the Control Panel and select the 'Hibernation' tab, and then uncheck the 'Enable hibernation' box.

  • Cleaning Up - while a certain degree of cleaning up can be performed without any extra help, the free programme CCleaner can be used to remove a bulk of unnecessary files while also fixing errors in the system registry.

  • Not Forgetting - run Disk Cleanup, run an Error Check and Defragment your hard drives - it all helps to keep things running smoothly. All of the tools you need are in the Properties box accessed by right-clicking on your hard drive in My Computer.


Finally, a mention should be made of overclocking, the act of forcing the components of your computer to run faster than they are designed to. While it is possible to increase system performance in this way, doing so increases the amount of heat produced by the components and will lead to system instability and possible damage if the components are pushed too hard. Due to the availability of software designed to overclock both CPUs and video cards overclocking can be performed even by the average user, but this Entry strongly advises that such users do their research before attempting changes that could leave their system running at 0 GHz.

1Official name: Clippit.
Nickname: Clippy.
Favourite hobbies: letter writing, getting on PC users' nerves.
Greatest achievement: being slightly better than the 'scrumptious gang of Personal guides' (no, really) which appeared in Microsoft Bob, the worst operating system of all time.
2Alt + Tab has been included in each Windows operating system since Windows 3.1, but was more recently revamped to make it more pleasing on the eye.3Which you should be able to - just put shortcuts of the three or four programs you use most on your desktop.4The right-hand side of the taskbar where all the little icons appear to allow quick access to a program or to display a program's status.5In other languages:
German: 'Ruhezustand'.
French: 'Mise en veille prolongée.'
Italian: 'Ibernazione'.
Dutch: 'Slaapstand'.
Spanish: 'Hibernación'

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