If you remember the volume control in early version of Windows, you could only control the overall volume of the machine. A cool new feature to Vista and Windows 7 is the Mixer which allows you to adjust the volume to specific applications.
Here is a really good scenario that I use when I’m busy at work:
Most of the important applications I have running are set to max, so I can hear a new message come in. The rest are set a lot lower so I can hear the other applications and also hear when someone comes behind me to talk or to play a joke on me.. As you can see I have my media player set really low so I can still listen to some rocking music with out missing anything important.
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