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To really keep Windows working at full stretch you need a helping hand
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The Accessories menu in Windows is pretty uninspiring: apart from the disk clean-up tools, there’s not a lot here to make your life easier or help you customise Windows. The useful tools have migrated into Explorer and on to the desktop – which is handy because that’s where you’re going to be most of the time. If the tools built into Windows don’t do everything you need, there are plenty of useful utilities that install seamlessly into Windows. They show up in Explorer and the context menu or in the taskbar to give you the tools you need at your fingertips.
All above board
One of our favourite utilities is ClipMate (www.thornsoft.com), which extends the Windows clipboard. When you copy anything in Windows it overwrites what you already have in the clipboard, so if you know you copied a useful URL yesterday you’ve got no way of getting it back. ClipMate keeps a list of the last 500 things you copied with details of where they came from, so it’s easy to go back to a Web page or put back the paragraph you cut out of the document you were working on last week.
You can grab information from several different places and PowerPaste it into one document. This is handy for splitting addresses up into the right fields to fill in an entry in your address book. You can also keep useful snippets of information that you find you’re typing in all the time, such as your name and address or directions to your house, or a JPEG of your signature. Group clips you want to keep into collections, so you can have one for pithy quotes for your postings on forums, one with HTML tags you use a lot and another with handy formulas you use in different Excel spreadsheets. Press [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [C] for a list of what you’ve been cutting and copying and stop caring whether you remembered to paste everything you’ve copied.
ClipMate does take up some memory for storing your clips and sometimes you’re more worried about getting back the memory that a huge image is taking up after you copy it into the clipboard. You can just copy something else into the clipboard to replace it, or you can clear the clipboard or open the Clipboard Viewer to see what’s in it with ClipClear (www.moonsoftware.com).
Searching on home ground
You may also want to search files on your own PC. The most powerful tool for that is Windows Grep (www.wingrep.com) that searches for text inside files, including ZIP files, using powerful regular expressions.
If you prefer to stick with the familiar Windows tools, you can make dialogs more useful with EditHistory (www.edithistory.com), which turns edit fields into drop-down history boxes and adds a list of your most recently used folders or accessed documents to your Open and Save dialogs. Pick a program such as Notepad where you can’t see what you’ve already searched for and this gives you a drop-down list of old searches.
The most flexible way of adding features is to put them on the context menu you get when you right-click a file. Expand the Send To menu with Microsoft’s own Send To PowerToys (the Windows 95 Send To X PowerToy from www.microsoft.com/windows95/downloads/default.asp still works in later versions of Windows). You can add a sub-menu of your favourite folder names to the context menu with FileTargets (www.moonsoftware.com). You can also add extra commands and programs to the menu with CCM Wizard (www.dntsoft.com).
There are plenty of useful programs that show up on the context menu. Explorer shows you the path to your file in the Address bar, but you can’t copy the whole path, including the file name, to paste into a shortcut or a document. ChangeExt (http://www.justaskcomputer.com) adds the file details (size, type, date and so on) to the context menu and you can copy any of the details straight to the clipboard. You can also change the file extension here by picking from a list.
Copying information out of Internet Explorer’s favorites is just as tedious because you have to open the Properties dialog to access the details. CopyURL (www.moonsoftware.com) enables you to copy the URL, the page name and URL or a hyperlink with both in, from the context menu. Select multiple favorites and you get a list of URLs or links ready to paste into a Web page.
If you find the program you want isn’t listed on the Open With menu when you right-click a file, try Open+ (www.capio.cc). This enables you to choose a list of programs you want to open particular file types with. This stops new programs from hijacking file types.
If you install lots of these extras and add-ons in the background, keep an eye on how much processor power they’re taking up. Normally, it won’t be a problem, but if you want to burn a CD or capture video and you need all your PC power for that it’s handy to be able to turn them all on and off at once. TrayKiller (www.students.uiuc.edu/~reichler/TrayKiller/) makes it possible to pick a set of programs to turn off or on from the System tray, plus you can see which folder running processes come from. This way you can add as many extras as you want and still stay in control of your PC.
See more in Explorer
Explorer is the place where you work with files, but it doesn’t make things easy for you. Add features to Explorer or manage the ones that are already there. The list you see when you choose File, New in Explorer is stored in a Registry key. The simplest way to change it is with the Tweak UI PowerToy (look in the Templates tab).
It’s been several versions of Windows since you could see two folders in the same window but you often want to see two directories at once when you’re comparing and copying files. FolderBox (www.baxbex.com) gives you a second pane in Explorer with buttons for five favourite drives or folders (and once you get to a folder you can navigate on from there as normal). You can also right-click any folder and choose Display in FolderBox. Simplify the view with filters so you only see .DOC or .EXE files in the FolderBox pane. If you’d still like to be able to add notes and comments to files that you don’t have to have a specific program to read, get a copy of FileNote (www.moonsoftware.com). This is a shell extension that adds a command to the context menu of any file to create or edit an associated file – it has the same name as the original file, but it’s a .TXT file you can work with in Notepad. For a directory full of images, thumbnail view is pretty slow. See thumbnails in a popup window as you roll your mouse over images in Explorer with Instant ThumbView or on the context menu with Context ThumbView. Try them both at www.contextmagic.com, where you’ll also find InfoTag Magic which gives you a Tool Tip with the ID3 tags from music files (MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis) or the first few lines of a text file.
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