Control Everything With Your Voice
"HAL, open iTunes, please." "I'm sorry, Richard, I'm afraid I can't do that. If you play Pink Floyd once more, I am going to have to reformat my hard drive." Stanley Kubrick's vision of a psychotic computer is (thankfully) a bit behind schedule, but it's easy to control your computer by voice. Realize Voice is a $99 program that lets you control the PC by speaking commands, such as "Open the Start menu" or "Switch to Firefox." While the program works with any PC headset, it couldn't control some of my apps, particularly ones like Winamp that open several windows at once. The dictation mode transforms your words into text.
The program's macros are great fun: Now when I say "Dark Side of the Moon," Windows Media Player starts, the Pink Floyd album plays, and the visualization goes psychedelic. My computer hasn't tried to kill me yet, no matter how many times I play it....
Double Your Desktop
As the old saying goes, you can never be too rich or too thin, or have too much desktop real estate. We can't help you with the first two, but the last one is easily remedied: Add a second monitor.
Most modern graphics cards have dual monitor ports and can drive two displays at once. If your PC's graphics are integrated in the motherboard, you'll need to add a dedicated graphics card (assuming your motherboard has an available AGP or PCI Express x16 slot); for more, consult our graphics cards roundup. DVI ports let you connect to the digital output on an LCD flat-panel or (with an adapter) to an LCD or CRT monitor's analog port. Today's higher-end cards tend to come with two DVI ports; lower-end cards commonly pair one DVI port with an older-style analog-only VGA type. The ideal multimonitor configuration is identical LCDs side by side, but the displays needn't be the same size or type. In a pinch you can use an old CRT monitor along with your new LCD screen.
To configure your second monitor, shut down your PC, connect the display, and then turn the PC back on. After Windows loads, right-click a blank area of the desktop and select Properties. Under the Settings tab you'll see icons representing both of your monitors. Click the monitor marked 2, and select Extend my Windows Desktop onto this monitor. The second monitor will start up, and you'll be able to move your mouse pointer (and on-screen elements) between the screens. By dragging the icons around, you can tweak the arrangement of the monitors to match their physical location on your desk.