Windows 8 is on the way, but apart from a few tweaks here and there, it isn't exactly packing lots of new features into the Windows desktop. If you'd rather pay $100 or so for a real feature boost, consider buying these five programs to get a truly new version of Windows.
Windows 8 looks like it will be a worthwhile iteration to the Windows operating system. Apart from some nice speed improvements, it also adds some improvements in areas that really needed it, like Windows Explorer and the Task Manager, and we're pretty excited about it. But if you're willing to pay for the upgrade to Windows 8 -- or even Windows 7, for that matter -- you should be more than willing to pay for five feature-packed programs. Here are our picks for the best shareware programs that power up Windows.
Xplorer2 Pro -- $US30
Windows Explorer is simple and easy to use, which is great for beginners, but once you cross the line into power user territory, it really doesn't cut it. There are lots of great alternative file browsers out there, but our favourite is Xplorer2. It has an advanced but not-difficult-to-use interface that lets you browse with tabs, multiple panes for easy file copying, keyboard shortcuts and advanced searching (which is the main reason to buy Pro over the free lite version).
While there are a lot of other advanced file managers, Xplorer2's ability to actually replace Windows Explorer as your default file manager is the killer feature for us, making it our favourite. It also uses Windows' built-in file operations, but a quick installation of Teracopy's free version should fix that problem pretty quickly.
If you don't like Xplorer2, you can check out some of its competition, like the similarly priced but ugly Total Commander, or the much more expensive but amazing Directory Opus. Check out our App Directory entry on Xplorer2 for more info on its competition.
Fences Pro -- $US19
We've talked about Fences numerous times before, and there's a reason for that: there's just no better way to get your desktop clean and organised. Fences lets you divide up your messy desktop into a number of groups -- or "fences" -- which lets you put newly downloaded files in one fence, current projects in another fence and short notes in another. You can double-click on the desktop to hide all your icons when you don't want to see them, and you can even give them names.
These basic features are all free, but where Fences really gets useful is in the $US19 pro version. With a pro licence, you can have Fences organise your desktop automatically, by putting new files into a certain fence, or grouping them by things like name and file type. You can even fade your fences until they're moused over, so they're only fully visible when you actually work with them. If your desktop looks like a tornado hit it, Fences Pro is the perfect app to help you get organised.
Bins -- $US5
At a measly $US5, Bins is an app you have no excuse for not using. Created by the same developer as Fences, Bins lets you group together icons in your Windows Taskbar, somewhat like the Stacks feature in Mac OS X. It keeps your Taskbar from filling up with icons, and all you need to do is mouse over a group's icon to get access to the shortcuts within. It also lets you pin files and folders to your taskbar, which is something we've all been wishing we could do forever. Essentially, it does for your taskbar what Fences does for your desktop: it keeps it clean, organised and much easier to sift through.
Divvy -- $US14
One of the best new features of Windows 7 was Aero Snap, the feature that let you "snap" a window to a screen edge to make it take up half the screen, or to the top of your screen to maximise it. It can get a little annoying, though -- sometimes you're just moving a window and it thinks you want to snap it; other times you wish you had more options over how to divide up your windows. What if you wanted to split your screen 60-40 between two windows instead of 50-50? Or put one window on top and one on the bottom? Divvy lets you do that.
With just a hotkey, you can bring up the Divvy grid and tell it exactly where you want the current window to reside. You can even create keyboard shortcuts for different custom layouts, so you can split your screen up into even chunks with just a few keystrokes. If you like Aero Snap but think it could be better, turn it off and use Divvy instead.
DisplayFusion Pro -- $US25
Lastly, if you use multiple monitors, DisplayFusion Pro is a must-have piece of software. Windows' multi-monitor support leaves a lot to be desired, and DisplayFusion really lets you take advantage of both montiors. It gives you a taskbar on each monitor, helps you manage your multi-monitor wallpaper, gives you hotkeys to move windows between monitors or change their opacity, adds extra titlebar buttons, more window snapping features (though you won't need them, since you'll use Divvy!) and multi-monitor screensaver support. You can get a few of these features with the free version of DisplayFusion, but all the good stuff comes with a $US25 pro licence. So if you use multiple monitors in your setup, DisplayFusion Pro is absolutely worth the price. It'll make you feel like your computer was actually meant to have multiple monitors.
Obviously, Windows has a lot of great programs worth paying for -- like Trillian Pro, Breevy or MediaMonkey Gold, but our goal today was to find $100 worth of apps that are so well integrated that they should be part of Windows in the first place. It's also worth mentioning there are a lot of free apps that fit this category too, like Console2, Launchy or Dexpot, so check out our App Directory for more Windows essentials. If you have a favourite Windows add-on we didn't mention, be sure to share it in the comments below.