Quick Tip – Making Windows on 2nd Monitor Visible

I’m a big believer in using two (or even three) monitors on my main development machine.  I have two monitors on my home development machine (24″ Dell and 22″ off-brand) and having the extra real estate of that second monitor is invaluable.  I use it often, putting different applications over on the 2nd monitor and then dragging-dropping work/files between the monitors.

But I have a slight problem when I remote into my home machine from work.  Windows 7 supports mapping multiple monitors on the remote machine to multiple monitors on the local machine.  But at work, I just use a single monitor.  So I only see the windows that are being shown on the main monitor of my home machine.

The problem arises when I click on an icon in the taskbar to see a window and it doesn’t show up–because it exists on my second monitor.  Because I’m only seeing my main monitor, I don’t see the application’s window and can’t click on it.

The fix is simple.  Do the following:

  • Left-click on the application’s icon in the taskbar, to make it active
  • Right-click on the icon in the taskbar and select Move
  • Click one of the arrow keys once (it doesn’t matter which)
  • Now move your mouse–you’ll see an outline of the application appear on the screen and you can place it where you like

This works on both Windows XP and Windows Vista.  Windows placement in Windows 7 works a bit differently, so I’m not exactly sure the best way to do this in 7.

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How Do I Bring Up Task Manager from a Remote Desktop Session?

Here’s another little trick that I assume most people know, but perhaps not.

When you’re connected using Remote Desktop and you need to kill a task, or to check on CPU or memory performance, how do you bring up Task Manager?  If you press Ctrl-Alt-Delete, you’ll get the Windows Security dialog in the host machine–not on the remote machine.

To bring up Task Manager in a remote session, just use the keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-ESC.  This will directly open the Windows Task Manager on the machine that you’re connected to.  Voila.

Windows Vista is the High School Slut

In most high schools, there is a girl labeled simply as “the slut”.  This is the girl that everyone knows is a total slut—her reputation precedes her.

But every once in a while, someone discovers that a girl’s reputation is completely unfounded.  You actually get to know “the slut” and discover that the rumors all derive from some mean comments that one guy said about her several years ago.  (Ironically, likely because her behavior is the opposite of what the boy claims).

What’s interesting is how fast a negative impression can spread, whether it’s true or not.  In the case of the slut, word spreads quickly and pretty soon everyone simply labels her as “the slut”, without questioning where the label came from.  Even people who have never met her don’t bother to question the label.  It’s also not a reputation that she can hope to overturn, short of moving to a new school or changing her name.  People who get to know her might realize how untrue the label is.  But the majority of the school continues to think of her as the slut, because that’s what everyone says.

Windows Vista as the Slut

In the world of PC-based operating systems, Windows Vista is the slut.

Vista’s reputation has been trashed by bloggers, technical reviewers and pundits all over the web.  The bad impression is so pervasive that even the non-technical guy at the water cooler admits that he just special-ordered a PC with Windows XP because “Vista sucks”.  Even Google agrees with his assessment—the phrase “vista sucks” will net you 210,000 results, while “xp sucks” will only turn up 16,100.

Does Vista really suck?  If not, how did it get such a horrible reputation?

Vista does not suck.  In fact, many people believe that it works even better than Windows XP.  I’ve been running Vista on a number of machines for well over a year now and I haven’t had a single problem with it.  Every piece of software I’ve ever installed has worked fine.  Every hardware device I’ve hooked up to it has also worked fine.  The user experience is just prettier, cleaner, and more efficient than Windows XP.  Performance has been fine—it actually doesn’t seem to degrade over time like Windows XP used to, as you install more and more applications.  If you don’t believe me, go read some in-depth reviews done by people like Paul Thurrott and his Windows SuperSite.

Like the high school slut, Vista got her bad reputation mostly through word-of-mouth—and because people delight in sharing negative information.  Some high profile bloggers posted some very negative reviews when it first came out, and other bloggers wrote posts of their own, merely repeating the same bad impressions.  Before long, everyone’s bad impression of Vista was cemented, despite the fact that many people harshly critical of Vista had never installed or used it in any meaningful way.

That’s not to say that Vista didn’t have some problems when it was first released.  Many hardware vendors failed to write new drivers, so their older hardware just didn’t work with Vista.  If people tried upgrading an older system, or tried using older peripherals with Vista, they found that the hardware didn’t work.

The problem with drivers is really the fault of the hardware vendors, rather than Microsoft’s fault.  For these vendors, writing new drivers for old hardware is a low priority.  They’d much rather sell you new hardware (which did work with Vista) for your new machine.  This is also nothing new—we saw exactly the same thing with Windows XP when it first released, in that the older Windows NT drivers didn’t work.

The driver problems are old news, though.  These days, it’s hard to find a piece of hardware built in the past few years that doesn’t just work when you plug it into a Vista machine.

Should You Be Using Vista?

Like the slut, Vista’s reputation clears up completely once you get to know her.  Once you start using Vista on a regular basis, you start wondering what all the fuss is about.  And you find it hard to go back to Windows XP.

So should you use Vista?  If you’re buying a new machine, the answer is—absolutely, yes.  You’ll find that everything will just work, both hardware and software.  Unless you’re buying a really low-end machine, the performance will be just fine.  Just shoot for at least 1GB RAM (2GB is even better) and at least 2 GHz dual-core processor.  (You can get a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop with 2GHz dual-core and 3GB RAM for under $500).

What about if you’re running an older machine—should you upgrade to Vista?  The simple answer is—no.  If you have an older machine running Windows XP and you’re happy with it, stick with it.  There’s no compelling reason to jump to Vista.  And—all other things being equal—Vista will perform more slowly than XP.  This has always been true.  If you had installed XP on your old Windows 98 box, it would have been pretty slow.  The truth is that hardware gets faster and faster all the time and newer versions of Windows take advantage of those performance gains.  That’s a good thing.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If we agree that Vista’s reputation has been unfairly tarnished, is there anything to be done about it?

No.

At this point, too many bad things have been said about Vista.  The damage has been done and it will never recover its reputation.

So, like the high school slut, Vista is doing the only thing it can do.  It’s moving, changing its name, making a new start.  Sometime later this year it will surface again—and we’ll be calling it “Windows 7”.

Hijacking Vista Special Folders on Start Menu

Ok, this wasn’t obvious, so it’s worth sharing.  What I want to do is to create a new sub-menu in the black area of Vista’s start menu, where you normally have a folder for your username, then “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Music”, etc.  I want a brand new folder where I can stick whatever shortcuts I want.

Here’s a picture of the final result.  Note the “famThings” folder, which is the custom folder that I wanted.  Also note that I was able to stick a file out here, as well as a sub-folder.

Hijacked Start Menu

As far as I can tell, there is no way to add a whole new slot for a sub-menu here, other than the default built-in menus that are part of Windows.  You can turn them on or off by tweaking the Start Menu properties, but I didn’t see a way to create a new one.  Perhaps there’s a registry hack to do this, but a quick Google search didn’t turn anything up.

So what I did instead was to hijack one of the pre-canned special folders and use it as the folder that I wanted.  I chose “Favorites”, because I use Firefox and my favorites are not stored here anyway.

Here’s how you do it:

  • If the Favorites folder doesn’t already show up here, turn it on:
    • Right-click start menu globe, select Properties
    • Go to Start Menu tab
    • Click Customize
    • Find entry “Favorites menu” and make sure that it’s checked
  • In Windows Explorer, navigate to C:UsersmynameFavorites and delete all the junk in there (assuming you don’t use Internet Explorer and store your regular favorites here).
  • Place whatever files you like in this folder, including files, sub-folders, or shortcuts
  • Now rename the Favorites folder to whatever you like
  • Log out and back in, or just restart the Explorer (e.g. by killing the explorer.exe process from Task Manager and then restarting)

Voila!  Now you have your very own custom menu at the top level of the Start Menu.

But Wait, That’s Not Enough

Here’s a little addendum, after the fact.  When I originally tried everything I described above, it worked—for a short time.  But then at some point, the directory name reverted back to “Favorites”.  What’s going on?

What’s happening here is that your Favorites folder is a “special folder”, in that it contains a little hidden file called desktop.ini that specifies some of the behavior of this folder in Windows Explorer.  Below is the original contents of desktop.ini :

[.ShellClassInfo]
LocalizedResourceName=@%SystemRoot%system32shell32.dll,-21796
IconResource=%SystemRoot%system32imageres.dll,-115
IconFile=%SystemRoot%system32shell32.dll
IconIndex=-173

This little file tells Windows Explorer a few tidbits about how the folder should be displayed, including its name and the icon used.  This overrides the actual folder name and the default folder icon normally displayed for folders.

So to achieve what we want, actually renaming the folder, we could just delete desktop.ini.  Alternatively, we could keep the file and just change the value of the LocalizedResourceName attribute to be what we want.  The other benefit of keeping this file is that you can change the actual icon displayed at the top of the Start Menu when you select the folder.

For example, let’s say that I have an icon file showing a cute little potted plant and I want that to be the icon associated with my famThings folder.  I could change desktop.ini to read:

[.ShellClassInfo]
LocalizedResourceName=famThings
IconFile=Plant.ico
IconIndex=0

Then I copy the Plant.ico file into the famThings (formerly Favorites) folder and set it to hidden.  (So that it doesn’t show up in the Start Menu).

Now you get what you want—a properly named special folder whose name won’t change.  And, at no extra charge, a custom icon for the folder.  Note that the special icon now shows up not just on the Start Menu, but as the folder icon anywhere in Windows Explorer:

Custom Icon