You may not be able to upgrade to the official version of Microsoft’s next OS for months, but you don’t have to wait a day to add many of its security, performance and interface improvements to your current XP setup.
This article appears in the July 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.
Vista introduces techniques to help speed Windows’ startup and shutdown times – and to accelerate application launches. SystemBoosterXP (www.systembooster.com) claims to use a technology similar to Vista’s prefetching, which anticipates the files you’re likely to request next and revs up your file loading and application starts.
You can try SystemBoosterXP for 30 days before paying the $20 (about £11) registration fee. If you’re an inveterate system tweaker, DriverHeaven TuneXP (www.driverheaven.net/dforce/default.php) is excellent. It lets you adjust a variety of system settings to speed up Windows starts and shutdowns and optimise other system processes.
If you’re running out of system memory, check out MemoryBoost Pro (www.rosecitysoftware.com/memboost), which hunts down RAM hogs, recovers memory leaks and generally frees up memory. Faced with an application that needs all the RAM it can get, you can create a special ‘boost shortcut’ that gathers available memory before launching applications. MemoryBoost Pro is $20 (about £11), with a 30-day trial period. Alternatively, you could get hold of FreeRAM XP Pro (www.yourwaresolutions.com or on the July 06 issue cover disc), which aims to do much the same thing.
You don’t have to wait for Vista’s release to lock out unauthorised users before your PC boots. This same ability is available for free in CE Infosys’s CompuSec utility (www.ce-infosys.com.sg/CeiNews_FREECompuSec.asp and on the July 06 issue cover disc).
Using AES encryption, CompuSec provides preboot authentication to protect your hard drive’s data, even if someone removes the drive and tries to use it on another system. If you prefer, you can encrypt individual files rather than your entire PC. The product lets you encrypt CDs, DVDs and other removable media.
Folder Lock (www.newsoftwares.net) prevents access to files, folders and drives with a simple right-click. For top security, move the files you want to protect into the Locker folder, which secures items by scrambling them or by applying 256bit Blowfish encryption. The trial allows 35 encryptions, then there’s a $35 (£20) registration fee.
Parents will like Vista’s ability to block objectionable content. But for $40 (£22), SentryPC (www.sentrypc.com/trial.htm) gives similar control over your PC.
Vista’s Aeroglass interface isn’t just window dressing; it helps you find data faster and move quickly between open windows. But you can add many of Vista’s elements to XP. Vista willwww.na.rim.or.jp/~norio/index-e.shtml or on the cover disc) lets you beef up the pop-up tips you see when you hover over a file icon, customising the information that appears. A few features don’t work in XP. For a Mac-style way to switch applications, try the $10 (just under £6) WinPlosion (www.winplosion.com).
If you’re looking for some of the transparency that Vista’s interface uses, you can buy tools that apply various see-through effects to Windows – such as the $20 (about £11) Actual Transparent Windows (www.actualtools.com/transparentwindow). But why bother paying?
If you would like your taskbar to have a degree of transparency, check out Transbar (www.softpedia.com or on the cover disc). If you want transparency only for your application windows, PowerMenu (www.veridicus.com/tummy/programming/powermenu/#downloadsites or on the cover disc) makes windows stay on top of all others, minimises them to the taskbar with a single click and changes their processing priority to suit your preferences. Should you desire to apply transparency to windows as well as to the taskbar, TransApps (users.spark.net.gr/~stamatb/freesoft/_app_index.htm or on the cover disc) can do both, if little else.
To apply Vista’s cool glasslike sheen to your windows, look no farther than the granddaddy of skinning utilities, WindowBlinds (www.windowblinds.net or on the cover disc) or StyleXP (www.tgtsoft.com/prod_sxp.php).
These programs cost $20 (about £11) each, but each offer a free trial. Finally, you can obtain Desktop Sidebar (desktopsidebar.com/download.html or on the cover disc), a version of Vista’s sidebar that displays the weather, stock quotes, RSS feeds – and other timely information.