8. Podcast Capture
Available on: Mac
Another great feature introduced with Apple's Leopard operating system is Podcast Capture, a utility designed to make podcasting a quick, simple affair--that is, if you also happen to have access to a Mac OS X server running the more robust Podcast Producer software. It's a cool idea, but even Apple's execution hardly serves the needs of the common podcaster, since almost nobody has access to a Mac OS X server. Still, all new Macs come with Garage Band preinstalled, which does an excellent job of creating podcasts using the Mac's built-in hardware.
Fortunately, you can add fast, easy podcast creation to your Windows PC (or your Mac, for that matter) with Audacity. This free application lets you record your own audio, edit and splice additional sound clips into your podcast, and tweak the quality settings so you can strike the perfect balance between audio fidelity and file size. When you're done recording your podcast in Audacity, use EasyPodcast to fill in the metadata that will make your podcast easy to find in the vast sea of podcasts on the Net.
9. Software Repositories
Available on: Linux, PC-BSD
In a perfect world, you'd never have to leave your chair to find great software for your PC. You'd just pop open a magic software-finding utility and click a few options, and then any application you needed would install itself instantly. That perfect world already exists in Linux, which has long offered software repositories as an easy way for users to find and install new programs.
In Ubuntu, for instance, a utility called Synaptic Package Manager lets you browse through large online software libraries (called repositories) to locate and install applications and utilities as required. Select one and mark it for installation, and it will automatically install when you click Apply. It will even automatically grab any other files that its installation depends on, without requiring you to do any extra work.
Linux distributors can do this because nearly all of the software in their repositories is free and open-source; they seldom have to worry about license restrictions hindering their efforts. In the Windows world, however, things are more complicated. A melange of licensing types, ranging from freeware to shareware to trialware and even a little open-source, makes it difficult for anyone to build a reliable software library with the click-it-and-get-it functionality that Linux users take for granted. Until someone builds a massive library of self-installing Windows applications, we'll have to depend on sites such as Download.com, Tucows, and, of course, PC World's Downloads library.
10. Desktop Cube
Available on: Linux, PC-BSD
Some of our favorite OS features aren't so much practical as eye-poppingly cool. Take Linux's Compiz Desktop Effects, for example. We wouldn't say that turning your desktop workspaces into a rotating cube, painting fire across your screen, and making raindrops fall onto your desktop have a lot of mission-critical business value. But that doesn't mean we don't love these features.
With the release of Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon in October 2007, Desktop Effects became a standard feature in Ubuntu. Now any Ubuntu users with a supported graphics card can spin their cubes, wobble their windows, and unleash lots of other eye candy.
Jealous Windows users demanded similar features, and Otaku Software responded. But the Windows version is more modest. Otaku Software's DeskSpace lets you turn your desktop into a four-workspace cube like the one offered in Linux. You can adjust the transparency levels, rotation speed, and mirroring effects, and you can even drag application windows from one side of the cube to another. But that's about the extent of DeskSpace's power. And unlike Compiz, which is free, DeskSpace will set you back $20 after the initial 14-day trial.
11. Application Dock
Available on: Mac
The centerpiece of every Mac desktop is a little utility called the Dock. It's like a launchpad for your most commonly used applications, and you can customize it to hold as many--or as few--programs as you like. Unlike Windows' Start Menu and Taskbar, the Dock is a sleek, uncluttered space where you can quickly access your applications with a single click.
Now you can add a simple application dock to your Windows PC with Stardock's ObjectDock. ObjectDock sits atop your Windows Taskbar and behaves just as the Mac's Dock does, complete with a magnify effect that enlarges icons as you hover over them. It can also hide your Windows Taskbar from view, giving your system the same sleek look that Mac users love. The standard version is free, but a $20 Plus version adds more animations, tabbed docks, the ability to have more than one dock on the screen, and other options.