How to Use Windows Laptop Utilities - dummies

By Dan Gookin

Portable computing has always had its drawbacks. The screens and keyboards tend to be smaller. But there are Windows utilities that make using your laptop a tad easier. They are called Ease of Access tools and are only included with newer versions of Windows, not in Windows XP.

Use Windows Mobility Center

Win+X conjures forth the Windows Mobility Center. The Windows Mobility Center offers quick access to popular laptop features in Windows, including battery status, wireless networking, external monitor, and other features.


Magnify the screen

One of the Windows Ease of Access features is the Magnifier program. It has two parts: a control window where you can set various options and the main magnifier window.


The magnifier window is what you use to better see a portion of the display. The window follows the action ― either the mouse pointer or the location where you’re typing. That part of the screen appears as much as 16 times larger.

To start the Magnifier, from the Start menu choose All Programs→Accessories→Ease of Access→Magnifier. The screen blinks and blanks for a second, and then you see the two windows. If you’ve used the Magnifier before, the control window may not appear.

To use the Magnifier, first make settings in the control window. In Windows 7, summon the window by clicking the mouse in the Magnifier. Click the Gear icon to see more options and settings.

In Windows Vista, the control window might be minimized to the taskbar; click its button, named Magnifier, to restore it. After making any necessary adjustments, you can minimize the control window to better use the magnifier window.

To close the magnifier window, right-click its toolbar button and choose the command Close Window or Close.

  • The magnifier window remains on top of all other windows, allowing you to see what you’re doing, but in a larger size.

  • Try undocking the magnifier window. Remove the check mark by the Docked option in the control window. Then you can resize and move the magnifier window.

  • You can increase the magnification size by choosing a new value from the Scale Factor button in the control window.

Type on the On-Screen Keyboard

Unless you have a laptop with a wide screen, your laptop probably lacks a full-size keyboard. At those times when you’re desperate for a full-size keyboard, summon the On-Screen Keyboard (OSK) utility.


The OSK gives you mouse pointer access to full-size keyboard luxury on your laptop’s screen. Because it’s really an Ease of Access tool, it’s not a rapid or sneaky way of doing things. Nope, it’s just a handy alternative.

To view the On-Screen Keyboard, choose All Programs→Accessories→Ease of Access→On-Screen Keyboard from the Start menu. The On-Screen Keyboard window shows up, floating atop all other windows on the screen.

Use the On-Screen Keyboard by plucking out keys with the mouse pointer. Clicking a shift key (Shift, Alt, or Ctrl) locks the key for one keystroke.

You can still use the laptop’s keyboard while you use the On-Screen Keyboard. In fact, you can press and hold a shift key on the laptop’s keyboard to affect the OSK display.

To ensure that the OSK window always stays on top of other windows, choose Settings→Always On Top. The Magnifier will always trump the OSK in the battle to be on top. You can bring the OSK forward, however, by clicking its window. Hover the mouse pointer outside the OSK window to pop the magnifier upfront again.