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The System Window

Want to configure your workgroup or network? Or configure Remote Assistance or Remote Desktop? Need protection? If so, you need to go see the Godfather, also called System.

You can find System in the Control Panel. Or you can right-click Computer from the Start menu and select Properties. You'll start off with a new graphical screen that gives you some basic information: the version of Windows, your Windows Experience Index (which we discuss later), your computer name workgroup/domain name, and the Activation options (see Figure 3.11).

Figure 3.11

Figure 3.11 Your initial System screen, before you get to any of the good stuff.

On the left is a list of tasks. Click the Advanced System Settings link to see the System Properties, which includes five tabs. Let's discuss each one.

Computer Name

On the Computer Name tab, you can change the description for your computer. If you want to join a domain (or workgroup), you can select the Network ID button, which starts an easy-to-use wizard that guides you through the process. If you don't need or want help, you can select the Change button and answer the questions for switching between a domain and a workgroup.

To join a domain, you must have a domain controller available (logically) and have a user account on the domain with the capability to join systems to that domain. Interestingly, if you are connected to a domain, you must still have those credentials to un-join and go back to a workgroup. This prevents users from removing themselves from the domain without permission.

From the Change options, you can also change your computer name. Or you can configure a DNS suffix for the system (which you don't have to worry about unless you are part of a domain, and even then it's rare) or change the NetBIOS name for the computer.

Hardware

The Hardware tab contains two options. The first is Device Manager, which we talked about in Chapter 2. The second is Windows Update Driver Settings.

If you select the Windows Update Driver Settings button, you will see the Windows Update Driver Settings dialog box and be presented with three options:

  • Check for Drivers Automatically (Recommended)
  • Ask Me Each Time I Connect a New Device before Checking for Drivers
  • Never Check for Drivers when I Connect a Device

Advanced

The Advanced tab gives you options to enhance your system's performance. For an admin, this is like a candy store of options. There are three sections to focus on in this window: Performance, User Profiles, and Startup and Recovery. Each has a Settings button you can click to modify your system's advanced system properties.

Performance

When you click the Settings button for Performance, you'll find that there are three tabs with which you can work:

  • Visual Effects—Choose to configure Vista for best appearance (which turns on all options) or performance (which turns off all options). Or you can go through all the options and manually make adjustments that will give you what you need. If your system is acting sluggish, your best option is to turn off some of these and see whether performance improves, without losing all your favorite effects.
  • Advanced—You can change the Processor Scheduling to either Programs or Background Services. And you can configure your Virtual Memory.

    The options under Processor Scheduling relate to how your processor (which can only handle so much work at a time) divides its attention among multiple applications. If you leave the setting to Programs, the processor devotes the majority of its time to the program running in the foreground (that's whatever program you are currently working in). If you select Background Services, the processor devotes time equally to all applications.

  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP)—This is the final tab under Performance. DEP monitors your system to ensure that programs use system memory properly. Although DEP is a software-based protection feature, some processors are also DEP enabled for hardware protection. The two options you can configure are Turn On DEP for Essential Windows Programs and Services Only and Turn On DEP for All Programs and Services Except Those I Select. Then you can configure which programs you don't need monitored.

Understanding Virtual Memory

Virtual memory is something you generally don't have to worry about. If you open this setting, you can see that the option at the top makes you feel good inside—it tells Vista to handle it without your help. However, any true Vista Master knows what it is and how to configure it if needed. Ronald Barrett, the Senior Network Administrator for ERE Accounting in Manhattan, says:

Now, even though we said you can let Microsoft handle it, the fact is that there are some best practices Vista knows but ignores.

If you have multiple drives, you can divide the pagefile between all the drives you have (drives, not partitions). The more drives, the better. You should also try to get the pagefile off your system file drive (c: drive). If you have any drives that are fault tolerant (discussed later), you should keep the pagefile off these drives.

Microsoft generally sets the minimum size of the pagefile to the amount of RAM you have plus 300MB. The recommended size is 1.5 times the amount of RAM. You can increase beyond that if you want. Generally, though, it's best to go with the recommended and just split it up amongst your drives and get it off that system drive (but not on fault-tolerant drives).

User Profiles

Explained earlier as your likes and dislikes for your desktop, you can use the user Profiles tab to delete profiles on the system from here. You can also copy profiles to give to other user accounts and configure roaming or local user profiles if you have a profile configured as roaming.

Startup and Recovery

The Startup and Recovery options, shown in Figure 3.12, haven't changed from Windows XP.

Figure 3.12

Figure 3.12 Startup and Recovery options.

The System Startup section lets you select the OS to which to boot up (only important if you have multiple OSes on the same machine) along with a boot time. You can also configure startup to automatically show the recovery options for a period of time (instead of pressing F8) during bootup.

The recovery options are for those special "blue screen of death" moments that occur in all our lives. (Although, hopefully, their frequency will be much less in Vista.) Sometimes you want the system to reboot and get it over with; other times you want to see the blue screen before the system reboots so you can see what's happening.

In addition, you can configure the extent of the memory dump that occurs, the location of the dump file, and so on. Here are the types of memory dumps you can configure, besides none, which is self-explanatory:

  • Complete Memory Dump—Records the entire contents of memory. Basically, during the crash, your RAM is copied over to the pagefile, which is then saved as the memory.dmp file during the reboot process.
  • Kernal Memory Dump—Records only kernel memory, driver memory, and HAL memory (which should suffice to know what crashed the system).
  • Small Memory Dump (64KB)—Lists the stop message and parameters, loaded drivers, processor context, and running thread information.

To understand what has actually occurred, you need to analyze the dump file. You can download the latest Windows debugging tools from http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/devtools/debugging/default.mspx. In addition to the tools, plenty of documentation is provided.

System Protection

The System Protection feature lets you create restore points so you can quickly jump back to a point in time when your system was working perfectly. This feature affects only the system; it does not undo files, photos, or other items you have created on your system.

So, for example, if you've installed a program or new driver and the system cannot handle it, you can try to uninstall the problem. If that doesn't work, you can use a restore point to jump back.

System Restore is an option from All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. You can run this wizard when you want to restore a previously created restore point. But, you create the points from your System Properties. Restore points are automatically created every day and when you install new applications and drivers. You can also go into your System Properties, open the System Protection tab, and select the Create button to take a snapshot of the system as it is at that moment.

Restore points require at least 300MB of space on any given hard disk where they are turned on.

Remote

Remote is where the settings for Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop reside. The Remote Assistance feature is more helpful than most people give it credit for. I cannot count how many times family members have called asking for assistance and I just had them send me an invitation so I could see what they are doing and either take over or walk them through the changes.

The settings are simple. You can set Remote Assistance to make connections that allow desktop control. You can also determine the length of time for the invitations to be valid. To invite others to use your system or accept invitations, go to the Windows Help and Support dialog box and look for the Windows Remote Assistance options.

Remote Desktop enables you to connect to another computer as if you were sitting at it. So, for example, you can access your work computer from home (if your work computer is on, configured to use Remote Desktop, and the Firewall allows the connections).

To connect to a system, you use the Remote Desktop Connection tool under Programs, Accessories. You can configure quite a bit, including the display settings and the use of resources.

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