101 Fantastic Freebies
This customization clearinghouse serves up a dizzying array of guides, links, and posts for the serious tweaker who wants to change the look and feel of Windows XP or Vista. If you're new to the XP customization game, start with the site's excellent beginner's guide.
For "skinning" the various Windows interfaces, Stardock's WindowBlinds theme manager is the tool to use. After you pick up the program, head to Wincustomize.com for a kid-in-the-candy-shop feeling as you browse through 522 pages of free and for-pay skins that beautify the taskbar, window borders, Start menu, and other elements. The free trial won't skin Internet Explorer and has a few other limitations; the full version runs $20.
Here you'll find a wealth of free wallpaper and screen savers, as well as themes and packages, for Stardock's excellent Windows customization programs. You can nab 50MB of downloads right away, or register (at no cost) and bump that up to 500MB.
If you're a Windows power user who constantly heads to the Run command in the Start menu, SlickRun can save you some time with its floating on-screen command window. You can also create "MagicWords," one-word aliases that quickly launch programs when you type them into the command window.
Vista Start Menu
Despite the name, this beefed-up Start menu runs on Windows XP as well as on Microsoft's newer OS. The much-larger menu can make getting to programs easier if you have a bunch installed, and it also provides quick access to autorun programs that are set to start with Windows.
RealWorld Cursor Editor
Replace any of the 15 Windows pointers with this do-it-all app. You can download ready-made pointers or use the built-in editing tool to create new ones, from scratch or based on existing images.
This launchpad for files and programs brings some Mac OS flavor to Windows, introducing a bit of the Apple operating system's signature great looks and ease of use.
Windows' taskbar clock is boring and limited. Replace it with this highly customizable display, which shows (or even speaks) the date and the day of the week along with the time.
The dual-pane folder viewer and display filters provided in this Windows Explorer competitor can help speed up major file management tasks, and you can still use Explorer whenever you want.