If you're planning to upgrade your current PC to Windows 7 when Microsoft releases their new OS, there's good and bad news for XP and Vista users. Here's a closer look at your upgrade options.
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Windows only: Service Pack 3 for Windows XP removed the ability of that operating system's users to keep a quick-launching address box on their taskbar session after session. MuvEnum Address Bar aims to address that shortfall, but also adds a few neat conveniences to the package. There's a customizable global hot key (Ctrl + Shift + A by default), bookmarks and history pulled from Internet Explorer, Firefox, and/or Google Chrome, auto-complete convenience, and a key to clear out MuvEnum's history without wiping out your browser's. While Vista has its own address bar option on its taskbar, MuvEnum installs on Vista and adds the same conveniences. MuvEnum is a free download for Windows systems only. Check out its single, helpful options screen below.
Windows only: If you're on a locked-down XP system without the "Run" command available, the Run Dialog Replacement is there to comfort you. The tiny, stand-alone app can be pinned to the Start menu (with a right-click command) or assigned a shortcut, giving you access to power-user tweaks like rolling your own app launcher, shutting down faster, and quickly navigating to any folder. Run Dialog Replacement runs from basic VB scripts, so installing it shouldn't be too tough in even walled-off systems. Run Dialog Replacement is a free download for Windows systems only.Run Dialog Replacement
Microsoft will begun pushing out version 4.0 of Windows Search, the OS-wide indexing system for Vista and XP users, via Windows Update in late July. If you're keen to get the new version before it hits Windows Update, which claims improved performance (especially on indexing of open email inboxes), you can grab a copy here. However, there's two potential challenges: it'll need to rebuild your whole index, which might cause system problems (though Microsoft claims any foreground activity will pause the indexing); and it won't happen until you reboot. If you've been there, done that and found Windows Search 4.0 a boon or a bore, let us know in the comments.Reminder - Windows Search 4 coming to WU soon...
When you've got your Windows XP or Vista setup running perfectly, you don't want to lose all your painstaking customisations to a reckless tot, an experiment-minded friend or spouse, or a rogue system-lousing program. Windows SteadyState, as we mentioned earlier this week, helps you to create a kind of virtual rubber room those types can play around in and not really harm anything. SteadyState can also restrict web site access for innocent eyes, set timer limits on user access, and get better control of those other folks who use your computer—in other words, SteadyState makes you the Grand Master Sysadmin of your single-unit empire. Let's take a look at setting up SteadyState and get familiar with a few of its key features.
As we've previously mentioned, as of June 30 Microsoft is no longer be selling boxed copies of Windows XP or allowing manufacturers to install it directly (although some white-box vendors are immune). If you want to stick with XP, you'll need to purchase a machine running Vista Business and then get a downgrade licence to revert to XP.Fran Foo at AustralianIT rang around local vendors to find out how much such a downgrade would cost. Pricing ranged from nothing (for HP models) to $83 to get an XP CD from Lenovo. If you decide to stick with Vista instead, check out our Vista hub for tips on how to make the most of Vista.Local vendors gear for Vista downgrade
The Workers' Edge blog digs into Windows tweaks that one normally has to dig pretty far into nested menus to find, and comes out with a real find for hands-on-the-keys fans. To have Windows always show the keyboard shortcuts next to menu items for easier learning, head to to the "Ease of Access Center" in Vista's Control Panel, check "Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys," and hit apply. In XP, right-click on the desktop, hit "Properties," head to the Appearance tab, click the "Effects" button, then un-check the "Hide underlined letters ..." option. Now your toolbar menus will always have their keyboard access letters underlined, saving your wrist a trip to the mouse or trackpad.Four hard-to-find fixes for common Windows annoyances
The CyberNet blog points out that any Firefox 3 users unhappy with the way their XP/Vista-specific skins look can adopt their browser using two nifty themes—one for re-creating a Vista look on XP, another for XP on Vista. Both themes are experimental and require a Mozilla account, but, as CyberNet points out, that can be bypassed with a quick BugMeNot search.Firefox 3 Themes: Vista on XP, or XP on Vista
With June now officially upon us and the financial year almost over, if you've been thinking of purchasing a PC, now is a sensible time. If it's a business machine, you'll be able to deduct at least some of the cost in this financial year -- and with sub-$1,000 machines now common, you might be able to do it in a lump rather than over four years (check with your accountant).
An even more pressing reason to buy now is that manufacturers are officially supposed to stop selling any machines (apart from certain ultra-portables) with XP on them after June 30. If you want a PC that actually has a useful Windows operating system, not the pig-with-lipstick experience of Vista, then you'd best order soon. While there'll be downgrade rights options after that date -- meaning you can purchase a Vista Business machine and ask for XP to be installed instead -- who needs the extra hassle? (We note in passing that July 1 will also see tax rates increase on cars costing more than $57,123; go crazy, motoring freaks!)
Windows XP/2000 only: We've advocated the value of non-native file browsers like Xplorer2 and FreeCommander, but not everybody wants to switch out the native Windows file browser they've come to know so well. Enter DMEXBar, a free plug-in app that add custom power-browsing options to Windows Explorer. Run the installer and you get to choose whether you want to enable dual-pane browsing (with folder synchronization), adding "favorites" and other shortcut buttons to the taskbar, opening command prompts from any directory, or many, many more options. I noticed a little bit of slowdown when opening directories off the desktop in XP, but plug-ins worked without a hitch during a quick test. DMEXBar is a free download for Windows 2000/XP only.DMEXBar