Windows Vista Tools From Hassle-Free PC

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Hack Vista Settings With Ultimate Windows Tweaker

Remember Tweak UI for Windows XP? Microsoft never got around to doing a Vista version of the popular (but unsupported) utility, which lets users modify various aspects of XP's interface and operation. Fortunately, there's a third-party alternative: Ultimate Windows Tweaker, which the developers bill as "Tweak UI for Vista."

Designed for advanced users (but worth a peek for budding novices), UWT gives you control over more than 130 Vista settings, all of them conveniently grouped into seven categories (Personalization, Security, Internet Explorer, and so on). Thankfully, you can get a description of any given setting just by mousing over it.

You can also create a system-restore point just by clicking a button in the UWT window--handy just in case a tweak goes awry. Or click Restore Defaults to set everything back the way it was.

My favorite tweak (so far) is "Restore folder Windows at startup" in the Personalization section. If I shut down or reboot with folders still open, those folders will re-open when Windows restarts. But there are countless others, like the option to restore the Run command to the Start menu. UWT is definitely a must-have for system modders, or anyone who likes to dive deep into Windows' guts (without mucking around in the Registry). It's free.

Launch Apps in a Flash With Launchy

The more programs you have installed on your PC, the harder it becomes to find the one you want. That's why I can't live without Launchy, a simple but incredibly useful application launcher that saves me having to sift through the dozens of programs in my Start menu.

Launchy is keyboard-driven. You invoke it by pressing Alt-Space (or a hotkey combination of your choice), then type the first few letters of the program you want. For example, to launch Google Picasa, I merely type "pic" and then press Enter. For iTunes, I type "itu." Excel is "ex." You get the idea. Usually you can find what you're after with just two or three letters, though occasionally you may have to type a few more.

Launchy also serves up Web favorites. To head straight to, for instance, I type "pcw." It even indexes files, so you can load, say, Word documents or iTunes music with just a few keystrokes. (If all this sounds familiar, it's because Microsoft added similar functionality to Windows Vista's Start menu.)

Using Launchy may seem a bit unusual at first, but trust me when I say you'll grow to love it.

Turn Outlook Into Interactive Desktop Wallpaper

Ever wish you could access your Outlook calendar and other data without, you know, running Outlook? Then here's the utility for you: Outlook on the Desktop, which pins your calendar, contacts, and other PIM-formation to your Windows desktop.

The program was designed mostly with the calendar in mind, and as such it lets you view and create appointments, meeting requests, and so on-right on the desktop. You can also view your contact list, inbox, notes, and tasks, though to check mail, open contact records, add new tasks, and the like, you'll have to venture into Outlook proper.

Outlook on the Desktop gives you full control over the size, location, and opacity of the interface, and you can even assign it to a different monitor if you use more than one. Plus, it lets you pin multiple instances to the desktop: inbox here, calendar there, and so on. You can select any Outlook folder to view, including shared and public folders.

The program works with Windows XP and later and requires Outlook 2000 or later. It's definitely a handy little freebie for Outlook users. If you like it and decide to keep using it, throw a few bucks to the developer, who gladly accepts donations.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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