I like Windows and find it pretty easy to use already, but there is always room for improvement. As such, I’ve gathered a few nice, easy to use and free or very low cost utilities to make Windows even better. Unless otherwise noted, these are all Vista only.
Let’s face it, Explorer needs help. Vista made it better, but there’s still A LOT that can be done to help it out. First up are a few utilities from Andreas Verhoeven of ‘AVE’S VISTA STUFF’. Find that background in Explorer a bit dull? No problem. Andreas has a great utility to fix that. Called Vista Folder Background, this utility consists of a batch file, a custom DLL and registry entries. Download it here and extract it to a directory of your choosing. Run the install.bat file as administrator to install. After installation, close all instances of Explorer and then re-open an Explorer window. Enter a directory and then right click in the directory. Select properties and then select Folder Background. Select an image to use and click apply. You should see the change right away. Another of ‘AVE’s stuff’ restores the HTML icon preview to Vista’s Explorer. Grab it here and unzip it to a directory. Navigate to the directory where you unzipped the utility and open the correct directory for your version of Windows (32 or 64 bit) and then run the register.bat batch file as administrator. It’s changes take effect right away. To test, go to a directory where you have at least one .html (or .htm) file and switch the Explorer view to one of the icon views and you should see a representation of the html contents. Pretty cool. There are other cool tools from Andreas. He is also working on a style builder for Vista. This application looks pretty cool. It is not out yet and will be a paid for application. From the looks of the screenshots, it is going to be worth whatever he decides to charge.
Many people may not know that Vista’s Explorer has a built in file preview tool. Out of the box, however, it is limited in the filetypes that it previews. This page has instructions and a utility that allows you to specify other file types to preview. (To turn on the preview pane, open Explorer, click on ORGANIZE, then select PREVIEW PANE.) In previewing html pages, though, Vista turns of scripting, style sheets and any controls that might be present.
The next utility I’ve already written about in another post, but it is worth mentioning again: Take Ownership. This is another Explorer add in that allows you to take ownership of a file or directory. Download, unzip and double click on the InstallTakeOwnership.reg file. No reboot is required, takes effect immediately.
Standalone Stack is a Mac OS X inspired applet. What this does is create, in Vista, the Stacks feature in Leopard. It takes a bit of work to setup, but it works well and is very useful. Go here to read about it and download. This applet also works in XP and Windows 2000. While there, grab the TaskStack applet as well. Unzip to a directory, drag the TaskStack.exe to your taskbar and drop it there. When prompted, select ‘create shortcut’. From then on, when you click the shortcut, you will see the running tasks in a stack. There is also a trayicon stacker. Look around the site. There are many useful applets here. It is also where you can get the Task preview if you are running XP or Windows Vista Home Basic.
All of these applications (or registry files) are free.