The Best Windows 7 Downloads

Five Essential Windows 7 Downloads

If you use Windows 7 regularly, you've probably heard about these standbys--and maybe you've already grabbed one or more. Here are five must-haves that can help any Windows 7 user make the most of the OS.

Wondering whether your older PC has the hardware power to run Windows 7? Don't gamble on upgrading--before making your decision, run the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. After you download the tool, make sure that you've connected all of your peripherals to your PC and turned them all on so that the app can give you an accurate report. It checks your processor, graphics subsystem, hard disk, and peripherals. It also examines the software you're running; if you have older programs, it tells you if upgrades are available to make those apps compatible with Windows 7.

Windows 7 has one big, fat hole: It ships without an e-mail program. But Microsoft's Windows Live Mail--a free, downloadable e-mail client optimized for Windows 7--is surprisingly powerful. It can access multiple e-mail accounts, and it works with Hotmail, too. Additional features include a photo e-mail capability, which lets you embed pictures inside a message and then add borders and captions--it's almost like sending a photo album. The program handles RSS feeds as well, and it offers spam filtering, the ability to create rules, and solid ways to organize your mail.

In the move to Windows 7, Microsoft also pulled the Windows Photo Gallery. To replace it, however, you can download the free Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is even better than the version built into Windows Vista. The program makes it easy to browse through and view all your photos, as well as to share them online and via e-mail. It sports a nice set of photo-editing tools for handling tasks such as eliminating red-eye, cropping, and correcting colors; or, if you prefer, you can use the Auto Adjust feature to make photo fixes with a single click. Also nifty is the app's ability to stitch together multiple photos to make a single panoramic view. Among other extras are functions that burn a CD full of photos or help you post a photo to your blog.

For a no-cost utility, EnhanceMySe7en Free is quite substantial. This combination system customizer, diagnostics tool, and maintenance utility gathers an enormous amount of detail about your PC, including data about your processor, RAM, display adapter, and hard disk. It also allows you to customize your Start menu, as well as to tweak the desktop, taskbar, Windows Media Player, and Windows Explorer. These aren't superficial tweaks, either--the program digs down into the guts of your system, permitting you to remove all toolbars from the taskbar, for instance, or to hide the Log Off button on the Start menu. Additionally, you'll find a good Registry cleaner, a disk cleaner, and a way to stop certain programs from running on startup.

Long ago and far away, Microsoft released Tweak UI, a free tool that customized Windows XP in countless ways. It quickly gained a large and loyal following. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't follow suit with a version for Windows 7. TweakUI lovers can instead use the free Ultimate Windows Tweaker, which is actually far more powerful than Tweak UI was. Here you'll discover well over 100 settings for Windows 7, covering Windows Explorer, the Start menu, the taskbar, User Account Control, system performance, security settings, and more. Want to hide your entire network from Network Neighborhood? How about disabling Aero Shake, using small icons on the Start menu, or disabling the Control Panel? You can do all that. Note, too, that Ultimate Windows Tweaker runs on Vista as well as on Windows 7; it detects the operating system on which you've installed it, and shows you only the relevant tweaks.

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