Windows Rejuvenated

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New-Look Windows: Longhorn's Features--Now

Everyone's waiting for Longhorn

Get the look of Longhorn now: Four utilities produce a partial facsimile of Longhorn today.
, Microsoft's follow-up to Windows XP due out in 2006 (last we checked). But you don't have to wait for some of the new operating system's most anticipated features. These four utilities give Windows XP several of Longhorn's projected interface improvements now, for a total cost of only $40. Click here for the downloads.

Desktop Sidebar: Longhorn will supplement the Windows taskbar with a new sidebar panel that displays information gleaned from your computer and the Internet. The free Desktop Sidebar utility from Idea2 already does that. The program's panels show your e-mail, Outlook calendar, system performance data, news feeds, and even a slide show. Like the Windows taskbar, the sidebar can display at all times or hide until you want it.

Actual Transparent Window: Ever wanted to see what's in the window behind the one that's currently active on your screen? In Longhorn you'll be able to make any window as transparent as you like. Actual Transparent Window, a $20 shareware program from Actual Tools, does the same thing today. The program gives every window an extra title-bar icon to control transparency: Click it to have the window toggle between full opacity (the default) and 20 percent transparency. Set the transparency level on a window-by-window basis, or apply it to all windows at once using the program's configuration tool.

Spaces: My notes from testing Spatial Research's $20 Spaces utility begin with a simple declaration: "This is really fun!" As Longhorn promises to do, Spaces replaces the flat Windows desktop with a three-dimensional workspace in which you can move running programs into the background or foreground, or to the side. Shift open windows around Spaces' two angled grids; zoom in and out, or rotate your desktop view. Spaces requires Microsoft's free .Net Framework, available at windowsupdate.microsoft.com.

Copernic Desktop Search: Windows' search engine is pathetic. Longhorn promises to fix this via "libraries"--which have many of the attributes of folders--among other improvements. Copernic Technologies' free Copernic Desktop Search doesn't offer all that, but the program does search the contents of your files--so fast that you'll miss it if you blink. How does it do this? By indexing the files on your hard drive the way Web search engines index the Internet. And like a Web search engine, it allows you to do advanced searches using and-or-not strings; for instance, I can search for any files containing the words "Windows" and "Longhorn" plus the phrase "coming in 2006" but not the word "cow." Copernic Desktop Search even shows you the contents of the files that it finds.

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