The Best Free Software

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Tame Windows

Windows Care Essentials

If you don't have the time or inclination to dig through Windows menus yourself, Winuscon puts several important Windows tools (such as a file manager, an SMS message sender, and access to all of Windows' control panels and management settings applets) at the ready, all in one place.

X-Setup Pro gives you control over dozens of settings that affect Windows' look and feel.
X-Setup Pro gives you control over dozens of settings that affect Windows' look and feel.
Gearheads can use X-Setup Pro to adjust and restore the minutiae of Windows display, theme, sound, and other settings on their PCs--nearly 1700 different elements of the user interface. You can even create special files that let you transfer your customizations to other computers (or you can use it just to back them up).

Windows guru and PC World columnist Lincoln Spector likes the utilitarian KillWin program, which lets you shut down, restart, or log off Windows at specified times and dates. He uses it to close all his apps before running a backup.

JetToolBar's tabbed interface lets you quickly find and launch programs, and open files.
JetToolBar's tabbed interface lets you quickly find and launch programs, and open files.
For a quicker and more organized way to launch your favorite programs, turn to the JetToolBar utility, which displays a floating or docked toolbar. Think of it as a clever alternative to the Windows Start menu.

You want drivers? DriverFiles.net has more drivers than NASCAR. This easily searched, no-frills site can bring you up to speed with a wide range of device drivers (including unofficial and beta versions) for most peripherals and components. If you're looking for Windows-certified drivers, check the Windows Update Driver Catalog to search for the most stable device drivers for your hardware components.

Tweak Windows to Your Heart's Content

If you can't get enough of Windows XP tweaks, check out the Windows XP Power Toys--a set of Windows utilities for power users. Following are five of the best:

  • Alt-Tab Replacement Toggle between apps in style, with a tool that shows a thumbnail of each application's open windows.
  • Power Calculator A graphing calculator that performs math tricks. A favorite of engineering students and other geeky types.
  • Image Resizer Resize an image file, or run the same operation on several such files at once, with just one click of your mouse.
  • Virtual Desktop Manager Jockey among as many as four Windows desktops, à la Linux desktop manager.
  • Webcam Timershot Command your Webcam to take pictures on a schedule, upload them, and save the image files.

Triage Time

If your Windows XP-based computer didn't come with repair tools on a bootable CD, or if your PC can't boot from a CD, you'll want to download the Windows XP Home Edition Setup Disks for Floppy Boot Install and create a set of bootable floppies--in case you hit trouble down the road.

Get back to where you once belonged: The PC Inspector File Recovery utility finds work you deleted by accident, or lost when your PC flaked out on you.

A companion product, PC Inspector Smart Recovery, helps retrieve accidentally deleted image files from virtually any kind of removable media for digital cameras.

Anyone who has used CD-R/RW media knows it's not foolproof. CDCheck identifies any files that are damaged or corrupted, and retrieves them for safekeeping. This helpful utility will also let you check the continued health of other PC files viewable through Windows Explorer.

The Recycle Bin is not all-powerful. If you want a good undelete program, give Restoration a try. The utility will even run from a floppy so that you don't accidentally overwrite a "deleted" file that's still lying dormant somewhere on your hard drive.

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