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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.

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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.

  1. MohJ
    July 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Just so you know, the codec pack that is recommended in this article messed up my computer. Something with it conflicting with .dat files in my pc causes explorer.exe to take up to 100% of my fricken CPU usage. No thank you, but I think I will look for another codec pack.

  2. newbouldm
    August 14, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I prefer the Combined Community Codec Pack

  3. needcaffeine
    August 13, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    for codecs, I find the K-Lite Codec pack soo much more useful,

    plus it allow you to use the media player classic, which is rewrite of the original windows 95 media player, less bloated, and just plays the file rather, then always trying to manipulate it.

  4. bastoss
    July 29, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I love Vista. It runs perfectly on my PC. It is safe, fast and user friendly. Realy, it is the best OS, and gets better with time, like a good wine. It learns by itself.

  5. home
    July 29, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Nice one It will help me..Keep it up..

  6. joomla boy
    July 26, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    How Much money did Microsoft spend on Vista? And how much time?

    I thought it was finally going to be a Windows system that would actually be great. Instead it's probably the worst Windows yet (relative to other OS's and technology in general).

    Rather then buy Vista, when I upgrade, I'm switchin back to MAC.

  7. Ellie Harrison
    July 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I like this post - good tips. I have to check out the codecs.

  8. Alvin Finn
    July 26, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I just bought a new PC with Vista installed. It's a Quad-Core Q6600 with 4 GB of DDR2 Ram. It actually ran SLOWER than the PC it replaced, a 6-year-old P4 with 1 GB of Ram.

    So I wiped the drive and installed Windows 2000 Professional. Now this baby FLIES! Heavy-duty jobs like video encoding finish in 1/8 to 1/10th the time they used to.

    Vista is a dog-slow resource hog.

  9. Tallguy
    July 25, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Great list of Tips . Go flame somewhere else it's not like you had to read the dang tips if you hate Vista .

  10. Dennis
    July 25, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    It's been 2 years since November 2007? And if I'm not mistaken, wasn't Vista released to business in November 2006, and then to the actual masses in January 2007? Not trying to be derogatory or anything, just letting you know a mistake was made.

  11. Brainiac
    July 25, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Thanks for the codec packs, loved it

    • Laurence
      July 25, 2008 at 12:00 pm

      Glad it was helpful!

  12. Ken
    July 25, 2008 at 8:57 am

    some of those software are great for making vista even slower

    • Laurence
      July 25, 2008 at 12:00 pm

      Lies... prove it to me...

  13. Aibek
    July 25, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Thanks for the tips... All of them are pretty good apart "5. Download add ons for Internet Explorer."...Thanks, I'll stay with Firefox. :-)

  14. home
    July 25, 2008 at 6:23 am

    I think it's not as good as other Product..It needs some food to fight....

  15. Ben
    July 25, 2008 at 2:59 am

    A very detailed and almost complete run-down of the Microsoft programs and updates that enable vista to do what it should have done out of the box. However, while many of these do enhance the Windows experience, there are many 3rd party add-ons that will achieve the same, if not better results.

    Of the products mentioned, you didn't actually write about Windows Live Writer! On a blog no less!

  16. ArtemZ
    July 25, 2008 at 2:07 am

    Hate Vista. Long life Ubuntu

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