By Steve Bass
All versions of Windows: Sometimes you need a quick look at a folder but you don’t want to deal with Windows Explorer. Folder View resides in your system tray, giving you superfast access to the folders you use most often. The tool is easily configurable, so you can remove unneeded folders and add new ones. Plus, if you are using Windows Explorer, you can right-click a file to copy or move it to a favorite folder. Free.
Drive Folders in a Snap
All versions: The folders I want are often deep in a sub-sub-subfolder. To get to those locations instantly in Windows XP and 2000, I use Walker Brothers’ free MountVD, which assigns a drive letter to the folder in a couple of seconds. To remap your network drives in all Windows versions, try Novatix’s $40 ExplorerPlus (free 30-day trial).
Snazzy Folder Icons
All versions: I must have hundreds of folders on my PC. To quickly see the important ones, I’ve changed their icons to something eye-catching. You can do it manually in Windows XP: Right-click the folder in Windows Explorer or any folder window, choose Properties, click the Customize tab, and select Change Icon. But it’s easier with ActivIcons from CursorArts. The tool changes not only folder icons, but also menu icons on the taskbar, icons for system folders, and the Start button. Free.
What’s in Your PC?
All versions: I always seem to attract a special type of pop quiz at parties: Somebody will ask me about the type of CPU in my PC or if my hard drive is formatted with NTFS or FAT32. So I rely on Lavalys’s Everest Home Edition to poke into every nook and cranny of my computer and supply a complete inventory of my system’s components. Everest will generate a detailed report and save it as a text file. Free.
Resize Windows’ Windows
All versions: Have you ever noticed how some programs don’t always open in a maximized window? Next time it happens, instead of furrowing your brow, use South Bay Software’s AutoSizer. The utility forces practically any app’s window to open the way you want: maximized, minimized, or even resized to specific dimensions. Free.
Windows XP and 2000: Tired of your ho-hum mouse pointer? Mine put me to sleep, so I grabbed Stardock’s CursorXP. Choose from over 14 designs, including CandyCane, Yin-Yang, and the entertaining animated one called Gear. CursorXP even adds pizzazz to the standard arrow by letting you customize shadows. Free.
Windows XP and 2000: I got tired of Windows’ Clipboard limitations, but I didn’t want to contend with a heavy-duty Clipboard utility, such as the Microsoft Office Clipboard. My choice is IQuesoft-Online’s Clipboard Buddy, a tool that holds and retrieves up to 100 items that you’ve placed in the Windows Clipboard. Free.
All versions: Could you use a free tool for handling small tasks that would ordinarily take multiple keystrokes? Check out WiredPlane Labs’ WireKeys Lite, which lives in the system tray. With a right-click, it opens Windows’ Registry Editor, controls the volume, kills running processes, restarts the PC, opens the CD tray, or launches the screen saver. Free.
All versions: If you don’t back up because you think it’s too much trouble, you’ll change your mind when you try SyncBackSE from 2BrightSparks. For $15, SyncBackSE makes backing up a breeze. The program even backs up the files currently open in Outlook and other apps, as well as files that are locked on XP systems with NTFS-formatted drives. $15 (Click here for details about the freebie version.)
PC Secrets Revealed
Windows XP and 2000: The more I know about what my PC is doing, the better I feel. If you visit my home office, you’ll see CoolMon on my desktop. CoolMon’s default configuration lists 11 geeky items, including the amount of RAM currently in use, the number of processes running, and my computer’s IP address. Everything occurs in real time. I can monitor up to 44 other conditions, too, such as the PC’s temperature and the fan speed. Free.
Print Folder File Names
All versions: I had to print a list of MP3 files in one specific folder. Finding a way to do it was a pain in the neck. That’s why I didn’t mind paying $30 for Glenn Alcott’s Directory Printer, which sends a folder’s file-name listing to a file or printer. If you’d prefer something a lot less fancy–but free–try the JR Directory Printer Utility. One limitation: The free program prints only the entire folder listing. Glenn Alcott’s Directory Printer, $30; JR Directory Printer, free.
Tweak Your Keyboard
Windows XP and 2000: Maybe your notebook’s keyboard lacks a <Windows> key. Or perhaps, like me, you want to swap the locations of <Caps Lock> and <Ctrl>. Customize your keyboard easily with Travis Krumsick’s KeyTweak. For instance, the unused <Alt> key on my IBM ThinkPad, the one on the right side of the keyboard, became my <Windows> key. (You can immediately reverse all of the program’s changes.) Free.
Windows XP and 2000: To spruce up your desktop, try Pixoria’s useful Konfabulator Widgets. These handy desktop Widgets include standard fare: clocks, stock tickers, weather, and others. Check out the Web site’s Gallery for traffic cams, a haiku generator, a FedEx package tracker, and sticky-note reminders. Use <F8> to toggle all the Widgets on your desktop to the background. $25 (free trial version).
Flick, Don’t Click
All versions: Want to flick your mouse left or right to go forward or back a page in Internet Explorer? You can do this (and more) with Jeff Doozan’s StrokeIt. This utility has dozens of preset mouse gestures for many popular programs; you can create additional ones in almost any application with a few simple, well, gestures. Free.
What’s Your Product Key?
Windows XP: If you’re using Windows XP, one day someone, probably at Microsoft, will ask you for your Windows Product Key. You might frantically search for your original Windows CD. Here’s an easier way: Imran Baig’s WinKeyLite. There’s no installation–just run the program, and it will locate the string of characters you need. Free.
EZ File Renaming
All versions: So you copied a zillion photos from a CD, or maybe your camera’s memory card, onto your hard drive. All the files have ugly file names, such as “11733IMG.jpg.” Plus, they’re marked “Read Only,” so renaming them easily is nearly impossible. Lucersoft’s Read Only Zero removes the Read Only attribute from all files in a folder so you can rename to your heart’s content. Free.
No Mousing Around
All versions: Imagine you’re traveling with your notebook and the built-in pointing device stops working. Or maybe you just like to use the keyboard rather than a mouse pointer. With RH Design’s handy-in-an-emergency Mouse Emulator, you can turn your keyboard’s numeric keypad into a mouse with one click. Free.
Fast Access to Windows Info
All versions: When you pull back the curtains, you discover lots about what Windows is up to–including which programs and processes are running in the background. The perfect tool to use is Process Explorer from Sysinternals. Unlike the Task Manager in Windows XP, Process Explorer provides tons of useful details you can use when tracking down, say, hard-to-remove spyware or a nasty worm. This thorough tool shows you a program’s path, user account, attributes, and memory stats; it also lets you kill a program or process. There’s no installation–just download the utility to your desktop and run it. Free.
All versions: I like to be on the bleeding edge of critical security alerts, bulletins about newly launched viruses and worms, and the release of vital hotfixes. If your job depends on getting such data as it’s announced, download RB Works Informer and get up-to-the-minute reports for your choice of any or all versions of Windows right in your system tray. Click an alert, and your browser will open to a page on the RB site with details about the threat as well as sources, like Microsoft, for resolving the problem. Bonus tip: In the system tray, double-click the RB Works Informer icon and deselect its annoying sounds. Free.
Free Microsoft Applets
Windows XP: I’ll bet you don’t know about all the useful little tools right in Windows. For instance, Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessiblity gets you to the cool Magnifier, for enlarging tiny Excel spreadsheets; the Narrator, which reads text aloud from the screen (finally you can tell your PC to shut up); and the Utility Manager, which lets you control all of XP’s Accessibility applets. There’s even a Fax Services applet. To install that applet, select Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs, choose Add/Remove Windows Components in the left pane, click Fax Services, Next, Finished, and close Add or Remove Programs. Now clicking Start, All Programs, Accessories, Communications, Fax gets you to the fax services. Geek tip: Bypass Add or Remove Programs and work directly from the command line using Sysocmgr.exe. Free.