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It’s been nearly two years since Windows Vista was released to the masses back in November of 2007. Throughout this somewhat painful couple of years Microsoft managed to turn around just about all of the major issues facing the new operating system (compatibility, performance and bugginess) and they’ve even, believe it or not, had considerable commercial success.

If you have only very recently upgraded or bought a new computer then hopefully this list of essential downloads will be useful for you.

These are not suggested replacement applications, these are downloads to enhance and complement what already comes with Windows Vista.

1. Windows Live

Windows Vista comes with Windows Mail and Photo Gallery which are not bad, but I would suggest replacing these with the newer and updated Windows Live suite.

It’s not necessary to install and use all of these services and programs. Windows Live comes with 5 programs: Windows Live Mail, Photo Gallery, Writer, Messenger and Family Safety. You will get the option to choose which of these you want after downloading the Live installer.

Windows Live Mail will update Windows Mail and is a lot more stable and has more features such as support for Hotmail and Live email accounts.


Windows Live Photo Gallery upgrades Photo Gallery and has some great features like creating panoramic photos and uploading to Flickr. For a easy way to organise and share your photos I recommend updating to this.

Windows Live Messenger is a way you can keep in touch with your contacts through instant messaging. You can talk to both Windows Live and Yahoo contacts.

Family Safety: Only download this if you plan on controlling your children’s access to the computer and possibly restricting where they browse and monitor what they do. Vista also has some comprehensive parental controls which are useful for this purpose.


2. Vista Codec Pack

This download is guaranteed to save you no end of frustration.

Did you just try and play a DVD on your new Vista computer, and got nothing but the soundtrack? Or perhaps you tried to open a torrent file movie and couldn’t play it at all.

It’s annoying but very simple to fix. Just download the Vista Codec Pack and you should be able to play just about any video or audio file that you come across.

This isn’t a media player – it simply enables the media player you do have (Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center) to play just about any file or DVD.

3. Windows Search 4.0

When you got Vista it came with Windows Search 3.0 and this is the technology behind the start menu and the search panels in all the Explorer windows.

In case you didn’t know how Windows Search works then here is a Make Use Of article Utilizing Windows Search 4.0 (Part 1) Utilizing Windows Search 4.0 (Part 1) Read More from a few weeks back on the subject. Essentially this update will make your computer search faster and give you more accurate results.

Take a look at the Windows Search Overview, or download it directly from the Microsoft download centre.


4. Windows SteadyState

Only very recently Microsoft released Windows Steady State for Vista and here on Make Use Of SteadyState - Mess up, Reboot & Everything Is Fixed! SteadyState - Mess up, Reboot & Everything Is Fixed! Read More Karl covered it in detail a short while ago.

In brief, Steady State is an application that you can use to restore your computer back to the state it was in before you screwed it up. Particularly useful for anyone with kids who like to muck around on the computer and occasionally delete unimportant system files.

Install this and you’ll thank me later.


5. Download add ons for Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer actually does have a few add-ons which at least brings the browser up to a semi-comparable level with Firefox and other modern browsers.

Microsoft has actually made a page of 5 recommended add-ons of which I would say 3 of them really are worth downloading:

IE7Pro: If you are going to use Internet Explorer then this add-on is really a must have. It provides a lot of enhancements and features which really should have been included with IE7 by default.

LeechGet: A download manager which greatly enhances the built in manager and enables you to start, stop, pause and resume downloads.

RikReader: IE7 actually introduced a lot of people to RSS feeds, but as far as a feed manager goes it’s pretty inadequate. RikReader enhances the reader significantly.

6. Windows Gallery

Here is where you can find all kinds of extras to download and customize things like the Windows Sidebar and Live Messenger.

Gadgets are the main thing you can use to customize your desktop and sidebar and provide you with access to all kinds of web services and tools within quick and easy access. Microsoft has created some easy to follow guides for using and customizing the Windows Sidebar.

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