More Downloads to Dress Up Your PC
Do you covet the Mac OS X Dock, the bar of icons that runs along the bottom or side of the desktop and offers access to frequently used programs? If not, you should, because it's one of Mac OS X's niftiest features. So nifty, in fact, that the Windows 7 taskbar will have its own Dock-like feature.
No need to wait, though: RocketDock offers similar features. You can place it at the top, bottom, or either side of your screen, and it contains icons that you can click on in order to launch programs. You'll find My Computer, Recycle Bin, Control Panel, and several others, for starters. You won't want to leave it at that, though--and you don't have to, because you can add new programs to the dock simply by dragging and dropping them. If you don't like the way the icons and the dock look, you can change that, too, by altering the opacity of the icons or applying different visual styles to the dock. It's free, so if you want a new-look desktop, it's a great download.
Download RocketDock | Price: Free
Tidy Start Menu
If you have more than just a few programs and utilities on your XP system, you most likely have a mess on your hands. When you install new programs or utilities, they appear on your Start menu willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason. Pretty soon, trying to locate programs that you want to run becomes an exercise in frustration.
This simple little free program solves the problem neatly. It lets you put the programs and utilities on your Start menu into separate groups--Office, Utilities, Games, Entertainment, Internet, Programming, Graphics, Security, and Other--so that it's always easy to find exactly what you need. The utility is exceedingly simple to use, so you'll want to give it a try. The creators also offer a for-pay version that lets you add and edit categories as well as remove obsolete shortcuts from the Start menu, among other capabilities. But for most people, the free version will do quite well.
Download Tidy Start Menu | Price: Free
Fond of the transparent windows of Windows Vista and the upcoming Windows 7, but unwilling to move to either operating system? No problem. TweakWindow will give you the best of both worlds: You get to keep Windows XP and enjoy transparent windows too. And not only can this program make window borders transparent, as Vista and Windows 7 do, but it can also make each entire window transparent. On top of that, you can control exactly how transparent the windows are, starting with no transparency and moving all the way up to absolute invisibility. Better still, you can customize the transparency of individual program windows, making some more transparent than others.
Another option is to turn some windows into "ghost" windows that are transparent and allow you to click through them to windows beneath. You can also minimize an entire window into a floating toolbar with the program's "rollup" feature. And you can even make the Windows taskbar transparent.
Download TweakWindow | Price: $21
Want to take control of Vista, including many aspects of its appearance? Simply download and install this program, and within a few minutes you'll be tweaking Vista in ways you never thought possible. You can turn Aero or the Windows Sidebar on or off, disable balloon tips, switch to the classic view of the Control Panel, make Vista's power button work like XP's button does, force Vista to show the menus of Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, and a lot more.
Additionally, with Vista4Experts you can adjust how the OS works, such as by turning User Account Control on or off and disabling Security Center notifications.
If you're experienced enough, you could do all of that yourself, by digging through Vista's countless menus and options. But in Vista4Experts you can handle everything from a single, simple menu. Use it, and you'll soon be a Vista expert without sacrificing time and effort learning to become one.
Download Vista4Experts | Price: Free
Yahoo Widget Engine
If you're a fan of widgets, neat little applets that live on your desktop or sidebar, you'll most likely be a fan of Yahoo Widget Engine. This freebie from Yahoo lets you choose from hundreds of great mini-applications that do just about anything you can imagine--and probably plenty of things you can't. When you download it, you get the engine itself plus a starter pack of widgets that includes a clock, a battery monitor, a stock tracker, an e-mail checker, a weather widget, and others. You can position the widgets on the side of your screen or anywhere on your desktop.
Yahoo's site has plenty of other free widgets, including RSS readers, games, an iTunes remote controller, and even a tuner for listening to Sirius satellite radio on your PC (but you'll need a subscription for that). You can even find a widget based on the TV show Lost, in which you can enter the numbers "4 8 15 16 23 42" every 108 minutes, just as the characters did down in the hatch.
Download Yahoo Widget Engine | Price: Free