I love Windows. It’s somewhat hard for me to say this, having grown up with a Mac and having hated every single Windows version up till Win2k, but Microsoft are really getting better at this, and I would not give up my Windows 7 for anything.
This doesn’t mean that Windows is perfect. Sometimes there are things you want to do that simply don’t come built into Windows. Should you give up? Of course not. What you should do, is customize Windows! Here are some great ways to do it.
Coolbarz [XP, Vista & 7]
Coolbarz is a small and portable app which lets you add customizable shortcuts to frequently used programs. What’s special about shortcuts, you ask? Well, Coolbarz lets you do it a bit differently than you’re used to.
Using Coolbarz, you can create quick access toolbars wherever you want on your desktop (top, bottom, right, left), and populate them with all the apps, folders and even files you regularly use. You can customize almost anything about these toolbars, from appearance and fade times to position of buttons, scrollability and more.
After designing your toolbars, simply drag all your favorite programs into the toolbar, and a shortcut will instantly be created. When you’re done, hover on the appropriate side of the screen to reveal the toolbar. This is a great way to unclutter your desktop while still accessing everything with a single click.
Quick Access Bar [Vista & 7]
Not to be confused with the Quick Access Toolbar found in many Office products, Quick Access Bar is another shortcuts toolbar, but this one is aimed at accessing folders.
Once installed, a new bar will appear at the top of your screen. Clicking the “Q” on this bar will open the settings. From here, you can change it to auto-hide, change the bar’s appearance, and, of course, decide which folders will appear on the toolbar.
Add folders to the list by clicking the plus button. You can then order the folders as you wish using the arrow buttons. Only the folders you check will appear in the toolbar. This is a simple tool, but can save loads of time if you frequently need to access multiple folders on your computer. It’s also quite fetching to look at!
Desktop Panorama [XP, Vista & 7]
If you like working on multiple desktops, but happen to own only one monitor, you may like working with virtual desktops. Virtual desktops are multiple different desktops you can work on using only one monitor. This can help organizing multiple open programs, files, etc., and allow you to create separate desktops for work, fun, school, and more.
Desktop Panorama is a relatively new app which offers a new take on virtual desktops. It installs a bar at the bottom of your screen, which you can play with to create multiple different desktops.
You can then scroll through the desktops by moving the focus square, look at the small previews for each of your windows, and decide which desktop you’d like to use now. On top of creating multiple desktops, the app allows you to see what exactly is open on all other desktops. The UI is a bit tricky: click the magnifying glass icon to browse desktop using the focus square, and the window button to move windows inside the panorama.
One problem arises when you want to close Desktop Panorama. All the apps and windows you had on other desktops simply disappear (but are kept in Panorama for the next time).
Desktop Panorama is not perfect yet, and also contains a nag screen for the paid version which happens to be quite annoying. Having said that, I think it offers an innovative approach, and would love to see it improve in the future. Definitely one to try.
Stardock Tiles [Vista & 7]
Have you had the chance to see Windows 8’s metro UI? If you can’t wait to try it, or you’re just looking for a new way to manage opened applications and shortcuts, give Stardock Tiles a spin.
Stardock Tiles adds a tiled shortcuts bar to your desktop. The bar is multifunctional, it has a “My Tiles” section, and an “Apps” section, which you can view by holding the right mouse button and scrolling to the left (did anyone say touch screen?).
To My Tiles, you can add any shortcuts you access frequently by dragging them into the bar. You can then rearrange them by holding down shift when dragging them around. The Apps section contains previews of all your running applications. You can access, close, and even force close (Ctrl+click) processes using the bar.
The app comes with an extensive options menu, where you can customize every little bit of it. If you really love it, you can purchase the full version for $9.95 and get options such as multiple monitor support and third-party skins. But the free version is more than enough to enjoy some Windows-8-inspired productivity.
Metro7 [Windows 7]
If you really want to take Windows 8 for a spin, and you can’t be bothered to actually install the preliminary version that’s available, make sure to try Metro7.
Metro7 is a glimpse into the metro UI world of Windows 8, and gives you a taste of what you can expect from the new operating system. You launch it just like any other program, and then watch as your desktop transforms into a colorful tiled interface. The app is still in beta, and therefore far from perfect, but I had loads of fun playing with the tiles, pinning apps and websites, getting weather updates and simply getting the feel of this new UI. It’s the ultimate customization for current Windows versions!
If you haven’t tried it yet, it might be time to formulate your own opinion on this UI. Are you ready for Windows 8? And do you know of more great ways to customize Windows? Share in the comments!
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