Windows has loads of great utilities and while we can't live without some of them, there's a special place in our heart for programs that merely improve Windows, rather than adding new software. Here are our top 10 apps that take Windows' built-in tools and make them better.
Unless you make regular trips through Add/Remove Programs uninstalling programs by the bunch, chances are you run into unwanted programs when you're browsing the Start Menu, or sifting through your Program Files. Instead of going all the way to Add/Remove programs to uninstall something, MenuUninstaller puts an Uninstall option right in your context menu. Just right-click on a shortcut or app, hit Uninstall, and it'll uninstall it for you. It usually works pretty well. However, if you want something a little more powerful, you can always go with another app uninstaller altogether — like Revo Uninstaller, which can uninstall every trace of a program just by clicking on its window.
If you like to keep a clean desktop — and who doesn't — that Recycle Bin icon might drive you mad, sitting in the corner. Even if it doesn't, you might not like how it handles deletions and MiniBin can fix that. MiniBin moves your Recycle Bin to your system tray and tweaks its functionality. You can double-click on the icon to empty the bin and even get rid of the prompt or system progress display that comes with that operation, not to mention turn off the sounds. It even has a CPU optimisation option for older computers.
8. Xnview Shell Extension
If Windows Explorer's preview pane isn't your cup of tea, you can still get quick previews of images with something like the XnView Shell Extension. Not only will it show you a thumbnail of an image when you right-click on it in Windows Explorer, it'll add context menu options for converting the image, setting it as your wallpaper and more. If that clutters up your context menu a bit too much, you could also try FastPreview, which only adds the thumbnail feature.
7. Openwith Enhanced
When Windows doesn't know how to open a certain file type, it does its best to offer you possible programs that will — but it can't recommend you anything beyond the programs you already have. OpenWith Enhanced adds a few extra features to Windows' Open With menu, like the ability to recommend other programs from the internet. It'll also tell you which programs are more likely to open that file than others, so you can make a more informed decision, and even head to their download page right from the Open With menu. You can also clean up the "Open With" portion of the context menu for any file type, which is handy.
6. Jumplist Extender
Jumplists are still one of Windows 7's best underhyped features, and if you work them into your routine, they can be quite the productivity booster. However, you're pretty much stuck with whatever options the jumplists give you. Jumplist Extender lets you create new jumplist items for any program. You can tell the new item to make a keystroke, run a command or even run an AutoHotkey command (so, basically, you can tell it to do anything). It makes jumplists even more useful and lets you tweak them to fit how you use them in your workflow.
5. Process Manager
While Process Manager aims to be an easy way to kill programs from the right-click menu, it can do so much more than that. Process Manager adds extra options to the system menu of any given application, letting you kill, hide or minimize it to the system tray, make it transparent and more. You can even kill or hide all your running apps. It's just a few more ways to manage the mass of windows that build up during the day. Of course, if you need something a little beefier for managing tasks, you can always turn to a third-party task manager, too.
4. Qttabbar (And Other Explorer Add-Ons)
Windows Explorer leaves a lot to be desired, and while you could always install a completely new file browser, there are also a few great Explorer add-ons out there that beef up your existing tools. QTTabBar is one of the best, adding tabs to the top of the window, in addition to other useful options like copying the path of a folder and custom keyboard shortcuts. If that isn't your thing, you can try Better Explorer, which adds a ribbon-like interface to Explorer in an effort to emulate Windows 8. And, if all you want is a few small tweaks, CustomExplorerToolbar adds and removes buttons from Windows Explorer's toolbar for you.
Mac OS X's "Stacks" feature is still one of our favourite features of the OS X dock, and Bins brings this functionality to Windows 7, letting you pin nearly anything to the taskbar. Pinning a bin means that clicking that icon opens up a "stack" of other icons, which is great for keeping your taskbar organised. It also lets you pin files and folders to your taskbar, which is a feature annoyingly missing from Windows. If you don't like Bins, 7stacks and StandaloneStack are both great alternatives for getting a stacks feature in Windows and Taskbar Items Pinner will give you the pin-documents-to-the-taskbar feature.
If you use the desktop to hold files but need a bit more organisation than it offers, Fences is for you. Fences lets you sort different types of icons into different boxes on your desktop, toggle visibility of all your icons, or even auto-detect which kinds of icons should go where. It's one of the best ways to design and create an organised desktop and is one of the first installations I make on any Windows PC.
You may not realise it, but Windows' default method for copying files is pretty slow, not to mention kind of unreliable. It doesn't tell you what was successfully copied and what wasn't, let you pause and resume transfers or optimise the process to make it go as fast as possible — all of which Teracopy does beautifully. It's the best way to transfer files on a Windows machine, and best of all, it plugs itself right into Windows Explorer. All you need to do is install it, and all future file copies will go through Teracopy's speedier, more advanced copying process.
Bonus Item: Shellexview
After installing your favourite tweaks from this list, it's likely that your context menu has grown to a monstrous size. That's fine if you use a lot of the options within, but if you don't use a lot of the context menu's features, you can trim it down with something like ShellExView. We thought it irresponsible to not at least give it a mention considering we talk about so many context menu additions in this post, so here it is as a bonus tool. We also recommend checking out this guide to cleaning up your Windows context menu from our friends over at the How-To Geek, which details lots of ways — from ShellExView to tweaking the registry itself — to trim down the context menu to your liking.
As we said, great utilities abound on Windows, but there's something about a program that enhances Windows' existing features that's particularly enticing. Obviously, there are other great ones out there — from the somewhat niche like MediaTab to completely separate programs like 7-Zip. If you have a favourite Windows enhancer we didn't mention, be sure to share it with us in the comments.