Downloads for Getting the Most out of Vista
Microsoft unleashed Windows Vista on a complaisant world several months ago, and already 20 million people have installed it (according to the company). If you're one of those 20 million, you're undoubtedly wondering, "Where are all the Vista downloads?"
Well, they've finally started to arrive. Since the operating system is still relatively new, the flow of downloadable tools and programs designed specifically for it has hardly reached flood proportions. But the first items have appeared, and some of them are very good indeed.
This month I'll describe four of my favorite Windows Vista downloads, which let you do things such as easily create your own Sidebar gadgets, power up the Start menu's search box, and tweak and hack Windows Vista in myriad ways.
Among Windows Vista's best new features are the Sidebar and the gadgets that live on it. The gadgets are useful or playful mini-applications that perform all kinds of neat tasks for you--display your RSS feeds, get the latest stock quotes and weather reports, tell you how much of your processor is in use at a given moment, and so on.
Gadgets aren't exclusive to Windows Vista, of course. The Web contains thousands of them on such sites as Google and Yahoo. But these gadgets were designed to live on Web pages, and couldn't run on your Sidebar in Windows Vista.
Until now, that is. The free program Amnesty Generator lets you take a gadget that you find on the Web, and (as if by magic) transform it into a gadget that can live on the Windows Vista sidebar. You don't have to know a lick of code to perform this trick either; all you have to do is click a few buttons, and cut and paste.
Install Amnesty Generator. Then, when you come across a Web gadget you'd like to turn into a Vista gadget, click a few buttons to display the gadget's underlying HTML code. Copy and paste that code into Amnesty Generator, change a few settings (such as the gadget's name or size) if you wish, and tell Amnesty Generator to turn it into a Windows Vista gadget. The gadget will appear in the Windows Vista Gadget Gallery; from there you can move it to the Sidebar, and it will work just like any other Windows Vista gadget.
One caveat: This tool can't convert and run every gadget you find on the Web, and there's no way to know ahead of time which will work and which won't, so you'll have to find out by trial and error.
If you want to tweak Windows Vista six ways to Sunday, you should give Vista Manager a try. This remarkable program packs numerous utilities--each one of which lets you change multiple Vista settings--into a single interface.
Listing all the tweaks and customizations you can do with this program would practically fill a book, so I won't try to detail them all. But if you'd like to turn Aero on or off, disable specific Aero features, or even force Aero to work on an older PC, you can from here. Vista Manager also lets you customize just about every part of the Desktop, Start menu, and Taskbar, as well as your icons.
Then there's a whole set of optimization tweaks for speeding up your system, plus system repair tools, ways to tweak Internet Explorer, security enhancements, network customization tools...Suffice it to say, the list is long indeed. There's even a Registry defragmenter and cleaner.
Vista Manager is free to try for 15 days. If you want to use it beyond that time, you must pay a $40 registration fee.
Vista Shortcut Overlay Remover
Who says that every download should fundamentally changes the way you compute?
I sure don't. Sometimes, the best downloads are simple, one-trick ponies that handle a single task exceptionally well. Case in point: The free Vista Shortcut Overlay Remover enables you to shrink or remove the annoying arrows that appear on shortcut icons on your Windows Vista desktop. Those arrows are particularly annoying in Windows Vista because the desktop icons--and the arrows--are so large.
The program is a model of simplicity. Activate it, specify whether you want a small, light arrow or no arrow at all on shortcuts, and click Apply. Then log off and log back on again. Voila: You've just removed or miniaturized and lightened all of your shortcut arrows. To get the default shortcut arrows back, run the program again and select the normal-size arrow.
Windows Vista's useful new search box on the Start menu makes it easy to search your PC for files, programs, e-mail messages, and contacts, or to search the Web.
The free Start++ download turbocharges that search box, enabling you to create shortcut commands and aliases for dealing with all kinds of tasks, both on your PC and on the Internet. For example, if you want to search Google for the word Nibelung, simply type g Nibelung in the search box, and press Enter; Start++ will immediately launch a Google search for you, and display the results in your browser.
The program includes a 'search startlets' feature that can automate complex tasks when you type in a word or two. For example, type play Mozart at the search box and press Enter; the app will search for all music on your PC that contains the keyword 'Mozart', create a playlist using the results, launch Windows Media Player, and play each piece on the playlist.
Start++ comes with an array of preset search and command startlets. The application's creator expects to make search gadgets--gadgets that can work right on Windows Vista's Start menu--available soon.
You can easily generate your own command startlets and search startlets by filling in a simple form. With startlets at your disposal, you'll find countless ways to make life at the keyboard easier. And given that the program is free, it's a hard deal to pass up.
Preston Gralla, author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell, is filling in for Laura Blackwell, who is on maternity leave.