While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

When Microsoft launched Windows Vista, it promised us improved speed, stability and security. Well, so much for the first of those promises: many users who made the switch to Microsoft's prettiest operating system (OS) yet have found it slower to boot up, slower to open and close applications and slower to transfer files across a network.

Stable Vista may be, but stability without compatibility isn't much use either. So on top of the expense of shelling out for Vista in the first place – and, in many cases, splurging on pricey hardware upgrades to accommodate the new OS's increased performance demands – it wasn't even guaranteed to work with the programs we'd grown accustomed to using.

Granted, Microsoft shouldn't shoulder all the blame for this, since software developers and peripheral makers had due warning of Vista's arrival and the form it would take. Even so, it came as little surprise that Windows XP's successor was greeted with about as much enthusiasm as a migraine.

Windows XP, in comparison, has grown in popularity, with a number of users professing themselves grateful for the opportunity to ‘downgrade' the Vista machine they'd bought with early-adopter haste to the tried-and-trusted XP OS.

Making this downgrade an option late last year was, in itself, an acknowledgement on Microsoft's part that all was not as rosy as it might be with project Vista.

NEXT PAGE: Vista's failure to launch > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Failure to launch


You see, in the 16 months since the OS launched, it's fair to say we tried – and failed – to convince you of the wisdom of making the move to Vista. It's a decent enough OS, but hardly the revelation that XP was or anything similar to the revolutionary way of working that Mac fans enjoyed when Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) launched.

With few compelling applications available and hardly anything of note to entice the business user, it's little wonder that Vista is regarded as a damp squib. Microsoft still claims the OS's installed base is on track to overtake that of XP, but that will depend on whether it holds firm on its plans to reduce the availability of XP licences in June 2008.

But what of the refuseniks? At the last count, more than 100,000 people had signed up to our sister site InfoWorld's campaign to make Microsoft extend the lifecycle of the popular, reliable and generally well-liked Windows XP.

We shouldn't be all that surprised at the force of resistance. For anyone with a half-decent PC and a good working knowledge of the way it operates, Windows Vista held – and still holds – little appeal.

At PC Advisor, we're pretty gung-ho about grabbing the latest technology and running with it. But with the exception of the odd laptop and a couple of dual-booted PCs, we're still largely XP users. In this, we think we're probably in line with most of our tech-savvy readers. There's nothing wrong with XP and we'll continue to use it for as long as Microsoft allows.

That's not to say it can't be improved, however. We've no idea just how many ways there are to customise Windows XP, but in the six years since it launched we reckon we've covered a few thousand tweaks and tools that make an XP PC uniquely yours.

NEXT PAGE: XP: Trick or tweak? > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

XP: Trick or tweak?


In this feature, we outline 50 such tools that help you get more from what's officially the world's most popular OS. Some help to ensure XP runs smoothly; others are add-ons, filters and extensions that help you get more done or simply make using XP more enjoyable.

The result will be a leaner, meaner machine that dispenses with all the unnecessary frills, while continuing to offer an enjoyable user experience. These applications let you tinker with your onscreen setup so it works for you, help you get around irritating restrictions that are designed for PC newcomers and generally help you get more from your Windows setup.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has had a final shot at making Windows XP all it can be with the release of Service Pack 3 (SP3). If you've not already done so, we urge you to consider getting your hands on the update.

Windows XP SP3 offers a collection of fixes and patches that you may or may not already have – our handy guide will show you how to ascertain your current Windows Update status and outlines the most convenient ways for you to acquire and install XP SP3.

Of course, we've not forgotten Vista users in our rush of enthusiasm for Windows XP's last hurrah. Many of the tips we've outlined apply equally to the newer OS and, where appropriate, we've listed alternative Vista-compatible tools that will achieve the same end.

Windows Vista users have their own reason to be cheerful, in any case. In late February, Microsoft started rolling out that OS's first service pack, Vista SP1. Reviewed here, SP1 proves that Microsoft is at the very least pushing Vista in the right direction.

It's been a tough first year for Vista, but we hope to see things improve. After all, it's got a lot of catching up to do if it's ever to earn the respect of Windows XP users.

NEXT PAGE: XP-alidocious! > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

XP-alidocious!

For those of you who are happy to take a chance and continue using Windows XP long after Microsoft supports it, there's another way.

Windows XP systems are still available – and we don't just mean on the likes of the ultra-low-cost Asus Eee PC that wouldn't be able to meet the hardware requirements sufficient to run Vista. We expect the Asus Eee PC to be wildly popular in its Windows XP iteration, but there are options for the more demanding laptop user too.

As we went to press, Laptops Direct was asking £519 (including VAT) for an Acer TravelMate 5720 with a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor, 1GB DDR 2 RAM and Windows XP Professional.

If Acer isn't your top choice, however, the same website also offers Windows XP laptops from Sony, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Fujitsu-Siemens and Belinea.

Dell, meanwhile, is talking up its continued commitment to Windows XP.

A banner on its website proudly proclaims the company's commitment to choice and is followed by an explanation: "Dell is all about offering customers choice. We offer a unique build-to-order service. We recognise that some customers may not want to move to the latest Windows Vista OS on their laptop or desktop. To that end, we have a number of platforms on which Windows XP is still available."

Dell is selling several laptops primed with Windows XP, too. The business-oriented Vostro, Latitude and Precision ranges have badges on them on the Dell website proclaiming they are Windows XP Optional. (Dell has even gone to the trouble of devising a logo, such is the interest in XP availability on new PCs and laptops.)

At press time, Microsoft's Lifecycle Policy table said OEM and retail versions of XP would no longer be available after 30 June 2008. The company's original plan was to stop selling such versions at the end of January, and there's still time
to capitalise on the stay of execution.

For system builders, Windows XP will be available right up until the end of January 2009, so the easiest way will be to buy a new PC with XP installed from a 'white box' system builder. It will, of course, be an OEM version of the OS, which is tied to the PC it's installed on and can't be transferred.

You could buy a new PC with an OEM version of Vista Business or Ultimate installed and downgrade to XP Pro but, while you may have the right to downgrade, the maker of your PC isn't obliged to supply an XP install disc – be sure to check this.

You won't be able to activate your copy of XP with its previously used product key online either.

NEXT PAGE: Windows XP – your rights > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Windows XP – your rights

First laid out in 2001 and revised in 2002 and 2004, Microsoft's support guidelines defined a three-phase lifespan and created a division between business desktop software and consumer desktop software.

Mainstream phase: In the prime of a product's life, Microsoft provides both free and paid-for live support, support for warranty claims and online self-help support information. Software support and maintenance is extensive and free, with downloadable fixes and updates, service packs and freely available support for problem incidents, as well as requests for design changes and new features. Business customers can pay for additional support.

Extended phase: Free live support and warranty support end and free maintenance of consumer products is limited to security fixes. Self-help support remains available online. Pay-per-incident live support remains available. Software patches and updates continue for business desktop software.

End of life: Online support information is removed. Patches and updates cease.

These phases were set in a schedule with definite dates and durations. Business products would be supported for 10 years: mainstream support for five years, then extended support for another five. Consumer products would get five years of mainstream support, but no extended support.

But there are two other factors in a product's lifecycle – service packs and the availability of a new version of the product.

Service packs have a lifecycle of their own. Support for each ends two years after the next is released – support for XP Home Service Pack 1 (SP1) support, for example, ended in 2006, two years after the release of SP2 in 2004 – or at the end of the product's support lifecycle, whichever comes first.

When it looked like mainstream support for XP might run out before the next version of Windows made it to market, Microsoft amended the policy so that mainstream support would last for either five years or for two years after a successor version is released, whichever period is longer.

While the product lifecycle guidelines set definite limits on product lifespans, Microsoft has shown a willingness to move the goalposts when it's put under enough pressure. When XP shipped in December 2001, mainstream support was slated to last until December 2006. Microsoft's internal problems with launching Vista forced it to extend the period to April 2009 and to eliminate the distinction between business and consumer versions, so that Home will have extended support too.

NEXT PAGE: Windows XP – Support goes on > >


  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Support goes on

Although the sales lifecycle starts to wind down on 30 June, you can keep on using XP for as long as you want to. You might want to run XP until the next version of Windows, currently called 'Windows 7', is launched – it's expected in 2010. Or you might want to give another OS a little more time to mature. Perhaps you think that Ubuntu Linux is just a couple of versions away from real usability.

Either way, time is on your side. There won't be any changes in XP support until 14 April 2009, when XP SP2 moves from mainstream support to extended support. The security fixes provided under extended support should keep you going safely until 8 April 2014, or until Windows 7 actually ships, whichever comes first.

The problem is this: there's support and then there's support. The last time Microsoft ended mainstream support for a version of Windows was in June 2005, when Windows 2000 was the victim. By the end of 2006, major software vendors had also ended their support for the OS. New products didn't support Windows 2000 and upgrades of existing Windows 2000 products to new versions weren't available.

This lack of upgrades to run on defunct OSes is a natural result of market forces. Application software makers minimise their costs by supporting their products on as few OS versions as is economically possible. When an OS's percentage of the installed base – and its contribution to the bottom line – falls to a certain level, the vendor will cut support. Any complaints will be deflected by pointing the finger at Microsoft.

XP is far more widely used than Windows 2000, and it will probably be supported by application vendors for longer as a result. But if you really want to stay with XP, you should be prepared to stay with your current apps as well. There may not be any upgrades.

NEXT PAGE: Market pressure > >


  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Market pressure

There's one more factor that might stretch out the life of XP a bit: XP SP3. Last autumn Forrester Research analyst Benjamin Gray observed that big corporate customers are still looking forward to XP SP3. Gray predicted that Microsoft would extend mainstream support for this updated version of XP past April 2009, in response
to pressure from the enterprise market.

If you're clinging to Windows XP because of SP3's stability and compatibility improvements, or just because you're happy and see no reason to change, then
the product lifecycle guidelines are your friend. The combination of mainstream
and extended support will give you several years of protection.

And even if you find in a couple of years that you can't get an XP version of some upgraded application, extended support means your XP machine still has some life expectancy – you won't have to throw it away just because it's become a malware magnet.

But if you're holding on to XP because you're fed up with Microsoft – or your PC simply won't run Vista – then you're only buying time. Whether you love Vista or hate it, merely tolerate XP or won't give it up until it's pried from your cold, dead fingers, time is running out.

NEXT PAGE: The save XP campaign > >


  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

The save XP campaign

Is Windows XP the most popular Microsoft OS of all time? You'd think so, judging by the desire from consumers and businesses to extend its availability. One of PC Advisor's sister titles hopes to increase the pressure on Microsoft to abandon plans to kill XP in June, and it needs your help.

The main reason why XP has surged in popularity is that its successor has been so badly received. Opposition to Microsoft's 'most important desktop OS ever' has already forced the company to extend the life of XP from 31 December 2007 to 30 June 2008.

But, as we went to press, the software giant was insisting new XP licences would soon be killed off, and that's caused outrage among those who aren't ready to move on.

PC Advisor's sister title InfoWorld has launched a ‘Save XP' campaign and this has collected more than 100,000 signatures so far. It's targeted mainly at the business community, but we continue to receive emails from consumers who are desperate to know that Vista won't be the only version of Windows they'll be able to buy for the next two or three years.

InfoWorld is also encouraging Windows users to contribute their own videos on why XP should be saved.

"In the past, Microsoft has responded to customer dissatisfaction and changed its plans, so there's reason to believe it will listen today if the message is loud enough," said Eric Knorr, editor in chief of InfoWorld.

NEXT PAGE: How to downgrade to XP > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

How to downgrade to XP

While we haven't gone so far as to downgrade our Vista machines, a number of PC Advisor readers have reported that they've done so using the following method.

You need to have a copy of Vista Business or Ultimate in order to be able to execute the downgrade, and it has to be an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) preinstalled version of Windows Vista at that. You also need a Windows XP disc.

To start the procedure, install Windows XP in the normal way. Towards the end of the process you'll be prompted to activate your OS – choose to do so by phone rather than online. Have your Vista activation code to hand and, when asked by the Microsoft support representative, tell him or her you wish to perform a ‘downgrade' to XP. They should then talk you through the rest of the process.

Note that, in contrast to the way an upgrade works, programs and settings
on the existing installation aren't retained, so you'll need to back up and archive everything before you begin. You'll also need access to licences for the software
you install on your XP machine. Good luck!

NEXT PAGE: Office optimising tools for XP > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Office optimising tools for XP

Get more out of Microsoft's Office suite by adding a few extras. Then watch Word, Excel and Outlook perform tricks you never dreamed were possible.

Open Office 2007 files

Microsoft changed its default file format in Office 2007, so you won't be able to open files saved in the new format with older versions of the Office suite. However, if you've got Office 2000, XP or 2003, you can install the Office Compatibility Pack.

Open old files with Office 2003

The introduction of Service Pack 3 (SP3) for Office 2003 saw Microsoft disallow users from opening file formats that predate Office 97, citing security concerns.
To re-enable Office to open these files, you have to run a series of Registry hacks. Fortunately, Microsoft has created Registry scripts to make this task easy. Download them, right-click them and select Merge.

Post offline docs online

Online document-processing tools are wonderful, but getting files online – and keeping online and offline versions synched – can be a hassle. Luckily, the Zoho Plug-In for MS Office simplifies uploading your offline documents to the web service and downloading online documents from it.

Make PDF files inside Office

You don't need full-blown Adobe Acrobat to create and edit PDFs. CenoPDF lets you build PDFs without leaving Word, PowerPoint or Excel. After installing CenoPDF, simply choose the PDF printer option. Alternatively, you can build PDF-based forms using text-entry fields, buttons and boxes to be filled out electronically. CenoPDF is free to try, but PDFs will be watermarked. It costs $29 (about £14) to buy.

Add holidays to Outlook

Fed up with manually adding public holidays to your Outlook calendar each year? You can input 12 months' worth of holidays at once by clicking Tools, Options, Calendar Options (on the Preferences tab). On the next screen, click Add Holidays, select the appropriate country or countries, then click ok.

Prioritise Outlook data

ClearContext Information Management System offers tools that are useful for organising your Outlook data, starting with a dashboard that provides a consolidated look at your tasks and calendar items.

ClearContext allows you to assign topics (that you define) to messages. It then automatically files subsequent messages in the thread. The system flags your most important contacts based on how often you deal with them, and colour-codes messages based on the sender's importance.

ClearContext reduces inbox clutter by ‘snoozing' non-critical messages – that is, by removing them from the Inbox for a specified period of time. The program is free for 30 days, after which it costs $90 (about £45).

Become a meeting power user

MeetingSense takes Outlook's rudimentary calendar system and turns it into a powerhouse. An extensive meeting dashboard gives you a hub for making agendas, creating minutes and sending out summaries – all while providing a centralised meeting space where you and other MeetingSense users can share files, make notes and create action items. It's perfect for scattered groups that meet frequently. After a 14-day free trial, the software costs $199 (£100).

Import Outlook contacts to Lotus

Moving your contacts list from Lotus Notes to Outlook (or vice versa) is easy if you
use Personal Notes Address Book Import/Export Utility, a free download from
Lotus' website.

Open the utility in the same way you would any Notes database and you'll see
a simple form; select the file that you wish to convert. Choose the desired operation
and hit a button to start the conversion. It's very useful if you're migrating to a new platform, for example.

Bird's-eye view of your contacts

Xobni is inbox spelled backwards, but there's nothing backward about Xobni Insight's cool interface. This provides information about each person that you correspond with as you read messages from them.

Xobni (currently available only if you sign up for a private beta invitation) lives on the righthand side of your Outlook window. It provides a graphical view of email frequency, contact information and old conversations with each of your contacts.
Don't miss the Xobni Analytics feature, which tracks how much email you send and receive every day.

18 ways to tweak Outlook

MAPILab Toolbox is a pile of 18 Outlook add-ons bundled into one big package. Some of the tools are simple; one, for instance, hides fax numbers in contact searches. Others are pure genius, such as a plug-in that scans outgoing email for phrases such as ‘see attachment' and displays a reminder if you forget to attach anything. The toolbox is free for 30 days and then costs $24 (£12) thereafter.

Redact text in Word

You know how the police black out sections of documents it deems too sensitive (or embarrassing) for public consumption? You can too, if you download Microsoft's Word Redaction add-in for Office 2003. You can read your own redacted text; but when you export the documents in redacted form, the marked portions can't be read (or edited, if you choose this limitation).

Share Excel files

You can share an Excel file without using a web-based collaboration system. The eXpresso plug-in for Excel lets you store the file while working in Excel, locking it while one user meddles with it and then making it available for others to edit. Email alerts tell you when the file is unlocked. You can even lock specific portions of a spreadsheet to prevent others editing them.

Add demographic data to Excel

A spreadsheet is only as good as its data. But manually adding information (such as the population or the average income in a postcode area) is tiresome. CDXStreamer does the hard work for you.

Install this Excel plug-in and configure it to find information about a region you're interested in. CDXStreamer then grabs the latest content from the web. More than 100 pieces of demographic data are indexed to each postcode.

The free trial lasts 14 days; regular service costs $30 (£15) per month.

Get real-time stock quotes in Excel

Obsolete stock data in a spreadsheet does you no good. The MSN Money Stock Quotes add-on for Excel inserts MSN stock prices (which are delayed by 15 minutes) into any Excel spreadsheet, with updates every time you change the spreadsheet.

NEXT PAGE: Five essential XP add-ons > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Five essential XP add-ons

Office applications are among the chief culprits when it comes to adding unnecessary tools and features that most of us will rarely use. The trick is to bring to the fore those that you'll make use of – inevitably, these are hidden five layers down under some obscure tab – and dump the ones you don't need.

International Character Toolbar

Add this toolbar to Office to gain one-click access to a palette of the most common special characters used in a language of your choice.

ToolbarToggle

Not thrilled with Office 2007's radical 'ribbon' design? Get back to good old menus and toolbars with ToolbarToggle, which restores the 2003 suite's arrangement. A single-user licence costs $20 (£10) after a free five-day trial.

Word Frequency Count

This application (its full name is Word Frequency Count in Multiple Text & HTML Files) adds up the number of times each word occurs in multiple text, HTML and Word documents. This can be handy if you want to check you're not repeating yourself. The full utility costs $30 (£15).

Remove Hidden Data

You probably sometimes receive files filled with embarrassing 'track changes' information and personal data that the creator accidentally left in. Don't be that person. Thank Microsoft for this free add-in.

ClearType Tuner

Part of the XP PowerToys suite (and available in an online version as well), ClearType Tuner gives you control over how fonts look on your LCD screen. You'll be amazed at how much of a difference a slight alteration in font thickness and smoothing can make.

NEXT PAGE: XP browser boosters > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

XP browser boosters

Web browsers, especially Firefox, are built with plug-ins in mind. Thousands of these code snippets are available; here we present some useful add-ons, plus a few tips that don't require any extra code.

Web ad zapper

Although decried by many webmasters for cutting into a lucrative revenue stream, Adblock Plus is practically a mandatory addition to Firefox, due to the increasingly annoying quantities of web advertising.

Put simply, Adblock Plus blocks ads. It's not just pop-up adverts that are blocked; normal banners, towers, rich-media stuff and Google's ubiquitous advertisements disappear too. Adblock Plus doesn't stop everything, but it deals with enough for you to notice the difference immediately.

Multiple bookmarks

If you use numerous PCs, you probably deal with separate browsers on each computer, each with its own set of bookmarks that have to be managed separately – unless you've got a bookmark synchroniser.

Foxmarks is one of a number of tools that can sync Firefox bookmarks between multiple machines. Install Foxmarks as an add-on to the Firefox installation on each system and never worry about manual syncing again. As a bonus, you can access your bookmarks on the Foxmarks website.

Put an FTP app into Firefox

Even the most casual web developer needs an FTP application, but many are cumbersome, unintuitive and reliant on the installation of another program. FireFTP turns Firefox into an impromptu and speedy two-way FTP application. Once installed, FireFTP appears in the Tools menu. Click it and a new FTP tab opens up, enabling you to easily copy files between your desktop and a remote site.

Get a handle on downloaded files

If you're the sort of PC user who always has something in the queue to leech off the web, you need a download manager to help you handle everything.

FlashGet is a free and extremely popular download manager that can help you organise and queue up HTTP, FTP, BitTorrent and other types of downloads.

It works in the background and lets you pause and resume downloads. It can even tell your PC to shut down when the downloading is done. We also like the fact it works with any web browser.

Restore embedded passwords

Several years ago, Microsoft stopped Internet Explorer (IE) using an embedded password as part of a URL (in the format https://username:[email protected]) when
a user goes to a protected website; instead the person must type in the password manually at the pop-up log-in screen. This restriction was a response to the use of
fake password fields by phishers.

Restoring IE's original ability takes only a Registry tweak. Run Regedit and browse to the following Registry key:

Hkey_Local_Machine\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main\FeatureControl\Feature_Http_Username_Password_Disable

Create two new Dword values: iexplore.exe and explorer.exe. Leave the default value for each of these at ‘0' and restart the browser.

Grab a hard copy of any web page

Most of us have experienced the frustration of printing a web page, only to find the result is a garbled mess that has images missing and is generally almost unreadable.
This can happen because Web 2.0 standards don't play well with earlier-era printers. One workaround is to take a screengrab of the web page and then print that. This is hardly practical, however, when a single web page contains enough content to fill up three display screens.

Instead, install Screengrab for Firefox, which lets you save a full page, the visible portion of a page or just the bit you need.

IE Screenshot performs similar tricks for Microsoft's browser. Either save your images as digital files or print them out.

Copy any web video

Various internet services allow you to type in the URL of a web video and then churn out a digital copy of the clip that you can save to your hard drive. But they're often slow and buggy, and you never know if they'll work on the less popular video-sharing sites.

Orbit Rich Media Downloader adds a context-sensitive set of menu items to your right mouse button when you're using a web browser. Now when you see a video or song you like, just right-click to save it to your PC.

Save protected media files

Some websites disable the right-click button on images and other media, preventing you from easily downloading them. OOrbit Rich Media Downloader offers a workaround, but you may find that it's overkill if all you want to do is to save an image occasionally.

Instead, Firefox has a quick, built-in way to save protected media files without the hassle. Visit the web page you want, right-click anywhere on the page (but not on the image), then select 'View page info'.

Click the Media tab to see a list of all the images found on the page; scroll through the list (a preview will appear at the bottom of the window) and click Save As when you find the one that you want.

On to something new

Collected quotes of Albert Einstein? Winners of the 'I Look Like My Dog' contest? Pictures of real-life sea monsters? All these web pages can be yours at the touch of a button if you install StumbleUpon, a plug-in toolbar available for both Firefox and IE.

StumbleUpon, like social news sites such as Digg, accepts submissions from users
who think a site is worth a look, pointing others to the page in question.
Click the thumbs-up button if you like what you see, or hit thumbs-down if you don't. Over time, StumbleUpon refines its suggestions for you, making it (eventually) the perfect time-waster – and one that's always at your fingertips.

Relocate the Firefox sidebar

Some of us just can't help but tinker. If you're itching to move Firefox's sidebar, follow these steps to shunt it out of the way and off to the right of your screen.
Edit your userChrome.css file or create a new one in your profile/chrome folder. Find it in C:\Documents and Settings\xxxxx\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\yyyyyyyy.default\chrome, where xxxxx is your username and yyyyyyyy is a random set of eight characters.

If the Application Data file doesn't appear in your user folder, go to the Tools menu, click Folder Options, choose the View tab and select Show Hidden Files and Folders.
Rename the example file found there as userChrome.css and add the following line
of code to the bottom of the file:

/* Place the sidebar on the right edge of
the window */
hbox#browser { direction: rtl; }
hbox#browser > vbox { direction: ltr; }

Keep track of Adsense earnings

If you use Adsense, use Adsense Notifier, a Firefox plug-in, to keep track of your daily earnings within the browser in real time. Just check the bottom right corner for total advertising impressions and your total daily earnings as they accrue.

NEXT PAGE: Five essential XP web-browser add-ons > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Five essential XP web-browser add-ons

IE Tab

If you use Firefox as your primary browser, you probably get stymied occasionally by websites that don't look right in its windows. Don't fire up Internet Explorer (IE), which maintains a separate history and won't have your bookmarks; instead, use the IE Tab plug-in to instruct Firefox to temporarily use IE's rendering engine. IE Tab sits in the bottom-right corner of your browser. Click the Firefox icon to switch to IE mode and vice versa.

Duplicate Tab

Want a copy of the current window you're visiting, complete with the history of that browsing session?

IE users can accomplish this without having to install and use a plug-in: press Ctrl, N to open a new window that shows the entire history of the current window.

For Firefox users, Duplicate Tab lets you obtain such a history with a single shortcut keystroke, or you can use the tool to merge multiple open windows into a series of tabs.

ErrorZilla

The standard ‘Server not found' page is no help if you're looking for a website that's gone missing. ErrorZilla adds a series of buttons to the bottom of the standard Firefox message, providing instant access to the Wayback machine, Google Cache and more.

Inline Search

Internet Explorer users can obtain search-as-you-type functionality that works the same way it does in Firefox with this simple extension.

Extended Statusbar

The Extended Statusbar plug-in supplements the data that Firefox provides about a web page and your internet connection, providing such details as the total size (in KB) of the page, the transfer speed and the load time.

NEXT PAGE: Extra media muscle for XP > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Extra media muscle for XP

From music players to image editors, add-ons abound in the world of multimedia. To upgrade your audio or jazz up your photos and videos, check out our favourite plug-ins for iTunes, Windows Media Player, Photoshop and other popular programs.

Get music recommendations

iLike is a plug-in for iTunes that expands your music listening options. A standard (and popular) social-networking component turns you on to people with musical tastes similar to yours, but the 'related music' system seals the deal. Choose a song in your library and iLike suggests other music you might like, along with free, similar MP3s from independent artists.

Variable Bit Rate encoding in iTunes

Regardless of the overall bitrate you use to rip tracks, Variable Bit Rate (VBR) delivers the best music quality in iTunes while keeping file sizes small.

To get there, click Edit, Preferences, Advanced, click the Importing tab, then click the Setting drop-down menu. Choose Custom, then tick the Use Variable Bit Rate Encoding box. A transfer rate of 192 kilobits per second (Kbps) and Medium High quality for VBR yield exceptional results; aim higher if you think you can hear the difference.

Upgrade Windows Media Player

Windows Media Player may not be the most exciting application on its own, but the free Windows Media Bonus Pack add-on for XP gives it considerably more oomph. Extras include visualisations, skins and sound effects, plus a raft of new features. These include the ability to export playlists to Excel and a better tool for finding missing artwork and other metadata on your audio tracks.

Upload to Flickr in bulk

Sending 10, 20, 50 or more photos to the Flickr.com photo-sharing site can be dull and time-consuming. Download Flickr Uploadr for a quick and easy way to upload photos in bulk, all in a standalone application. Right-click any image and you'll get a ‘Send to Flickr' menu item, which opens the application and gets your shots ready to go.

Upload to Flickr by email

Even if you don't have web access you can send pictures to your Flickr account by email. First, you need a custom Yahoo Flickr upload email address. Use the subject line of your message for the photo's title and the body for a description. Flag any tags by prefacing them with ‘tags:' on their own line.

Shrink photos in a trice


It's wise to take photos at the highest resolution that your camera supports, but your friends and family members probably don't want to receive 4MB files over email. Firing up a full-blown image editor such as Photoshop for a simple resizing job seems like overkill. Instead, you can use Microsoft's Image Resizer PowerToy. Right-click any image to open a Resize Pictures menu for easy pic shrinking.

Make The Gimp look like Photoshop

Gimpshop, a tweaked version of the free, open-source The Gimp image editor, mimics the look and feel of Photoshop, so you needn't learn any new commands. Think of it as a Gimp mod that doesn't require you to install Gimp before getting started.

An avalanche of art effects

Filter Forge offers a monster collection of methods (including more than 4,000 filters) for tweaking and digitally adding textures and lighting tricks to your photographs. Photoshop fans can create their own filters and upload them to the Filter Forge community. Contributors get the plug-in for free; everyone else pays $99 to $299, depending on the resolution they require.

Apply film effects to stills

OptikVerve VirtualPhotographer, a handy Photoshop plug-in, lets you apply dozens of preset film styles (such as extra grain, soft focus, high contrast and so on) to your photos in just a couple of clicks.

Silence noisy photos

On some cameras, ISO modes as high as 3,200 tempt many people to shoot pictures in the dark. This can lead to disappointment and noisy photos. Noise Ninja cleans up grainy, pixellated shots. Plug the application into Photoshop and select noisy areas by hand, or use the Noise Brush to swipe your pointer over trouble spots. The program costs $45 (£22) for home use and $80 (£40) for pros.

Make photos look like TV

Looking for a way to crop a photograph on to a television screen and make the resulting image look realistic? Namesuppressed Design's Autointerlace plug-in for Photoshop adds horizontal lines to your image, making it look like you've just photographed an old CRT television.

Expand your 3D library

Adobe's Photoshop CS3 Extended Plug-In for Google 3D Warehouse lets you search and import 3D models from Google's online repository of photorealistic art.

Get the best colour from your PC

Printed photos don't look the same as photos on a monitor. Reconciling the two (and images from other sources) involves installing a colour profile for each device. Microsoft Color Control Panel Applet for Windows XP enables you to switch between the profiles on your machine.

NEXT PAGE: Five media boosters for XP > >

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles:

While Microsoft is keen for us to move to Windows Vista, we've got other ideas. With a brand-new service pack and a slew of useful add-ons XP works better than ever. Here are 50 tools that can extend XP's useful working life still further.

Five media boosters for XP

Picasa to Flickr

This plug-in for Picasa is free, handy and platform-independent. It uses a simple Java applet to let you zip files from the popular image editor directly to the equally popular Flickr photo-sharing service.

The Filter

Your party starts in 15 minutes and you've forgotten to create a music playlist. No problem. Seed this iTunes and Windows Media Player add-on with a handful of tunes you like. Not only will The Filter generate a killer party soundtrack, but it will dredge up hot tracks you'd forgotten were in your collection.

EvilLyrics

This free download gets rid of the junk code that accompanies most lyrics search results by looking for lyrics in the background whenever you play a song in iTunes, WinAmp, Windows Media Player or another media player. The results aren't perfect, but they're on target more often than not.

ffdshow

Dodge the hassle of juggling multiple video formats by turning to this versatile plug-in, which supports most video players and provides all the video codecs you're ever likely to need.

Plugin Galaxy


This collection of free effects and filters for Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro offers a range of warping and blurring effects, plus handy features such as a 'page curl' for image corners, all accessible within a single convenient interface. Plugin Galaxy is $70 (£35) to buy, but you can try it out for free.

  1. 50 tools to help extend Windows XP
  2. Vista's failure to launch
  3. XP: Trick or tweak?
  4. XP-alidocious!
  5. Windows XP – your rights
  6. Windows XP – Support goes on
  7. Market pressure
  8. The save XP campaign
  9. How to downgrade to XP

50 free Windows XP tools

  1. Office optimising tools for XP
  2. Five essential XP add-ons
  3. XP browser boosters
  4. Five essential XP web-browser add-ons
  5. Extra media muscle for XP
  6. Five media boosters for XP

Related articles: