Windows Vista only: Microsoft has released a free "Technical Preview" of new macro features for Vista's Speech Recognition features, offering the kind of text substitution and macro-keystroke-firing provided by Texter and similar apps to voice commands. The interface is extremely simple, as explained by Lifehacker reader Abdul—simply choose the type of macro you want to enable, give it the text or commands to fire, and turn on Vista's speech recognition. It worked pretty well with my cheap USB headset on a test run, and the software is pretty refined for a "preview." Windows Speech Recognition Macros is a free download for Windows Vista systems; downloading requires running a Windows Genuine validation tool.
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Windows Vista only: Vista's Preview Pane can be helpful in determining exactly which file you're looking to open, and PreviewConfig lets you extend its usefulness beyond the handful of files Vista automatically provides text or image previews for. The no-install utility provides a list of file types registered on your system, and you simply select the file and choose to add a text or multimedia preview. Multimedia previews generally work with any video or audio file that plays in Windows Media Player, or pictures that can load with a double-click. PreviewConfig is a free download for Windows Vista systems only. For a registry hack that accomplishes the same thing (with more effort), see the How-To Geek at the via link below. PreviewConfig
Windows Vista only: Windows XP users with a serious Mac crush have FlyakiteOSX to make their desktop resemble, if not work like, a Mac, but Vista users—even those upgraded to Service Pack 1—now have Vista OS X for a similar OS paint job. The installer (unfortunately) requires that you disable User Account Control to move forward, but you'll get screensavers, wallpapers, a "Dock," and more goodies, all accessible from the basic "Themes" menu. The gHacks blog states that the theme completely uninstalls itself when you're ready to move back to Windows; I haven't tried it myself, so let us know your experiences in the comments. Vista OS X is a free download for Windows Vista systems only. Vista OS X
Windows Vista only: Like its XP-oriented predecessor nLite, vLite is a pre-installation utility that lets you decide which programs and components of Windows Vista are included when you go for a fresh install, allowing you to remove some of Vista's more resource-heavy pieces and make custom DVDs or CDs to install that same slim Vista later. What's more, vLite seems to allow you to pre-answer the typical setup questions, so you can install Vista unattended (and, it seems, without a Product Key handy). It's not a tool for beginners, as many of the changes can't be undone once the OS is in place, but for those who find themselves re-installing Vista frequently, it's certainly a useful utility. vLite is a free download for Windows Vista only. Thanks Jeremy!
Windows Vista only: Vista4Experts is an appropriately-named free application that lets a user turn on and off some of the things that make Windows Vista feel more like a neurotic babysitter than an operating system. If you know you can live without security center pop-ups, the frequent User Account Control question dialogs, Automatic Update notifications, and other features, it's a great all-in-one power user tool. Each of the changes is reversible from the program (or so it claims), and some of the tweaks—such as changing the default behavior of the power button to "shut down" instead of "suspend"—are worthy indeed. Of course, some of the tweaks can make serious system changes, so hit "Perform Changes" only if you know you can live with the results. Vista4Experts is a free download for Vista systems only.
Windows Vista Only: All too often, quick downloads and working under deadline leave documents, pictures, and other file types out of the specific folders so helpfully set up at installation. Free Vista sidebar widget The Magic Folder serves as a kind of maid for your file messes, automatically moving files you drop on it to their correct folders based on file extensions. The widget can be modified to move files to your own folder setups (allowing for some Getting-Things-Done-style filing, perhaps), but the neatest aspect is the option to have it watch a folder you choose and do its file-organising magic whenever a new file appears. The Magic Folder is a free download for Windows Vista only.