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Configuring Windows Aero and Desktop Settings (part 2) - Working with Windows Aero & Troubleshooting Windows Aero

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Working with Windows Aero

The Windows Aero user interface is a new feature in certain editions of Windows Vista. It has been designed to take advantage of hardware acceleration features that are present in most modern video cards. Windows Aero features provide benefits related to usability, as well as an updated look and feel. Windows Aero is included in the premium editions of the Windows Vista platform, including Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista Business, and Windows Vista Ultimate.

Windows Aero Features

Windows Aero is a collection of several different features that can make interacting with the desktop and programs quicker and more intuitive. These features include:

  • Transparent glass borders In earlier versions of Windows, application title bars and other user interface components were completely opaque. That is, a window that was active would completely obscure any windows that were located beneath it. Windows Aero provides users with the ability to see underlying windows through what appears to be glass (see Figure 6). This feature can help users more easily keep track of multiple open windows.

    Figure 6. Transparency effects that allow users to see through particular windows
  • Shadow effects for open windows Application windows now have a more 3-D look through the use of shadows in window borders. This creates the effect of having the windows themselves floating slightly above the desktop and other windows.

  • Enhanced window management buttons A feature common to almost all standard Windows applications are the minimize, restore, and close buttons that are located in the top-right corner of open windows. In past versions of Windows, the buttons were fairly small, and users would sometimes click the wrong one. Windows Aero adds a glowing effect whenever one of these window items is highlighted (see Figure 7). This can help users more easily identify which icon they wish to click based on color.

    Figure 7. Viewing enhanced window management button effects

  • Window animations When users have multiple windows open on the desktop at the same time, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out what happens when applications are maximized and minimized. Windows Aero enables animations that help users visualize when application windows are launched and when they’re minimized to the taskbar.

  • Other look and feel enhancements With Windows Aero, common window elements such as buttons and user controls appear to glow softly when you hover the mouse over them. This helps users identify which areas of the GUI are interactive.

Note: Visualizing Windows Aero

Some of these user interface features can be difficult to visualize when you read about them in text. If you’ve used a system that supports Windows Aero, you’re probably already familiar with the visual effects (although they might have been somewhat subtle). If you haven’t, I highly recommend you access a computer that supports Windows Aero and try out all of these features firsthand. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.


Although these features might seem relatively minor when it comes to productivity, they can be very helpful when combined. If you find yourself demonstrating Windows Vista, you’ll likely find that potential customers or other end users will be impressed by these effects.

Enabling Windows Aero

During the installation process of an edition of Windows Vista that supports Windows Aero, the operating system will perform a quick system test to determine whether the installed hardware configuration is capable of supporting Windows Aero user interface enhancements. Assuming that a suitable video adapter is installed and that the appropriate drivers are available, Windows Vista enables Windows Aero by default.

Customizing Windows Aero Options

In some cases, users might want to enable or disable various Windows Aero user interface features manually due to aesthetic preferences, issues with application compatibility, or performance reasons. You can quickly and easily change these settings while the operating system is running.

When Windows Aero is enabled, you use the Window Color And Appearance dialog box to specify details related to the appearance of the Windows Aero glass effects. Figure 8 shows an example of the options that are available. They include the following:

  • Color You can choose from one of the default colors included within Windows Vista. Selecting one of these options automatically makes changes to the other settings, such as color intensity. This is the quickest and easiest way to choose a color, and it can help you get back to something more familiar if you’ve accidentally changed any of the other settings.

  • Enable Transparency This check box specifies whether portions of the user interface will enable you to see the contents of windows that are located beneath it. You can disable all transparency effects by clearing this check box.

  • Color Intensity This slider allows you to specify the intensity of the selected color. The ideal setting will largely be a matter of personal preference and can range from shades that are very light to ones that are exceedingly bright.

  • Color Mixer In addition to choosing from the standard built-in colors included with Windows Vista, you can also choose your own colors, based on preferences. The three main parameters are hue, saturation, and brightness. The easiest way to see the effects of these parameters is to open a few windows and then use trial and error to find the settings you want. The changes will be applied live, as you make them.

Figure 8. Adjusting Window Color And Appearance settings

Overall, the various Windows transparency features can have a significant effect on the aesthetics of using Windows Vista.

Troubleshooting Windows Aero

Because there are specific hardware requirements for enabling the Windows Aero user interface, a common customer support issue will be related to troubleshooting systems on which Windows Aero is not enabled. A good first step to finding the source of the problem is to verify that Windows Aero is supported on the installed edition of Windows Vista and to make sure that the system meets the minimum system requirements .

Verifying Display Hardware

When attempting to enable Windows Aero, it’s often helpful to get details related to the properties of the video card. You can do this in the Display Settings dialog box by clicking Advanced. The Adapter tab (shown in Figure 9) and Monitor tab provide details related to the type and amount of video memory that is present. Other details, including the manufacturer and model of the graphics chipset, are also provided.

Figure 9. Viewing the properties of the display adapter


Verifying Display Configuration Settings

There are several display-related settings that must be properly configured for Windows Aero to be enabled and to work properly. These include the following:

  • Window Color And Appearance If the transparency effects of Windows Aero are not being properly displayed, a good first step is to verify the Window Color And Appearance settings. The Enable Transparency check box should be selected. If this check box is disabled, other issues are preventing you from enabling transparency effects.

  • Desktop Theme settings The selected Desktop Theme should be set to Windows Vista. When users make changes to some settings, the item might appear in the list as Modified Theme (or another name if the settings have previously been saved). If you suspect that some settings are preventing Windows Aero from running, a good troubleshooting step is to select the Windows Vista theme, which resets the options to their defaults.

  • Color scheme The color scheme selected in the Appearance Settings dialog box should be Windows Aero. (You access this dialog box from the Personalization window by first clicking Window Color And Appearance and then clicking Open Classic Appearance Properties For More Color Options.)

  • Display settings The computer’s display must be configured to use the Highest (32-bit) color depth setting. You can verify this setting by using the Display Settings dialog box.

  • Refresh rate The refresh rate of the display must be set to greater than 10Hz. For most LCD and CRT displays, the rate should be set significantly higher. If Windows Vista is unable to determine the optimal settings, you can usually find this information in the monitor’s product documentation.

Assuming that all of the settings are configured properly, there are still scenarios that might prevent Windows Aero from working. These include the following:

  • Hardware-related changes Changes to device drivers or driver settings might prevent Windows Aero features from running properly. Although it is more common to upgrade computers than it is to downgrade them, Windows Vista can automatically detect if an incompatible video adapter has been installed or if the total amount of physical memory has been lowered. In these cases, Windows Aero will automatically be disabled.

  • Running legacy applications To maintain compatibility with some applications that do not support new display features, Windows Vista might temporarily disable Windows Aero when these applications are launched. When this happens, a notice appears in the system tray. The desktop and all windows will then revert to a basic mode that does not include the glass features of Windows Aero. Over time, this situation should become less common as vendors and application developers update applications to provide full support for the enhanced Windows Vista user interface.

  • Memory limitations The primary purpose of an operating system is to run applications. Ideally, a computer will have enough physical memory to run several applications and Windows Aero at the same time. If Windows Vista detects that the amount of physical memory is getting low, it might automatically decide to disable advanced Windows Aero features. This enables Windows Vista to provide maximum resources to applications and should improve overall performance. If you suspect that a lack of available memory is preventing Windows Aero from working properly, you should try closing all open programs and stopping any unnecessary services.

This might seem like a long list of configuration options to check, but you can often troubleshoot in a matter of a few minutes the most common issues that prevent Windows Aero from running.

Other -----------------
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- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 2)
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