Like what you’ve seen of Windows 7, but can’t afford the upgrade anytime soon? It’s been said that most of the features of Vista and Windows 7 can be replicated on XP using only freely available software. While that statement is certainly debatable, one thing is for sure: you can easily replicate some of the obvious interface changes.
Lee-soft offers a variety of free programs aiming to make Vista or XP look like windows 7, perhaps the most useful of which provides XP and Vista users with 7’s famous new taskbar. Let’s check them all out.
ViGlance: Windows-7 Style Toolbar
If you’re not familiar with with the Windows 7 toolbar, it’s actually pretty cool. Like the old Windows toolbar, it sits comfortably between the Start menu and the system tray, showing you which windows are currently open. Like the Dock in OSX, it allows you to “pin” programs, meaning the programs you use most will remain on the toolbar whether the program is open or not. Finally, hovering over any open program’s icon will show you a thumbnail of what’s happening in the program right now, as well as a list of all open windows or tabs. Some media players even allow you to control playback from this thumbnail.
Microsoft claims this new toolbar comes with a huge productivity bonus, and it’s not hard to see why: it combines the strengths of Mac’s dock with the familiarity of Window’s old taskbar. It’s also a greatly improved way to launch and switch between programs than the taskbar introduced 15 years ago with Windows 95.
Sadly, it only comes by default with Windows 7. Download ViGlance, however, and you can have it right now from within Windows Vista and XP. Well, basically, anyway.
As you can see, ViGlance gives you the most important part of the Windows 7 toolbar: one pinnable icon for each program. ViGlance willl also give thumbnails of any open window when you hover over its icon. What ViGlance will not do, so far as I can tell, is allow you to control media players.
Go ahead and download ViGlance here. You don’t need to install the program to use it – just run the program and you’ll be able to try out your new toolbar – it’s a great way to make Vista or XP look like Windows 7. If you like it you can set it to start when Windows boots automatically; otherwise you can just close it and forget it.
ViStart: Vista-style Start Menu
Of course, the Windows 7 Toolbar isn’t the only feature Windows XP users might want. The Windows Vista Start Menu is an improvement over XP’s in several ways, and is basically unaltered in Windows 7.
ViStart is Lee-soft’s answer to this.
While it doesn’t replicate the look of the Vista/7 start menu perfectly, it does replicate what for me is the most logical feature: instant search of your programs.
Let me explain a little. I’m a Windows user by necessity, but a Linux user whenever possible. One of the things I’ve always loved about using Linux is the ability to press “Alt” and “F2” to bring up a “launch” window, where I can type the command of the program I want to run.
The Windows Vista start menu essentially gives me this in Windows. I press the Windows button, then I start typing the name of the program I want to run. As soon as I see it at the top of the list I can hit “enter” to launch it. This is a lot faster than fumbling with the mouse once you get used to it.
ViStart does this perfectly in Windows XP, and for this reason I’ve taken to using it in the last couple of days.
Check it out: download ViStart here. Like ViGlance, you don’t need to install anything to try it out, so there’s no reason not to.
ViSplore: Vista-style File Manager
This one’s the most gimmicky of all, in my opinion. You can replace the Windows Explorer file manager with one that resembles the Vista/7 file manager, complete with Aero effects. Since the rest of your system theme doesn’t match the Aero look, however, this mostly just looks out of place.
Still, it’s worth checking out if you like the look and the simplified interface. Download ViSplore here.
ViOrb: Vista-style Start Button
Finally, if the only feature from Windows Vista/7 you want in Windows XP is the slick, word-less Start-button-replacement known as the Vista Start Orb, give ViOrb a chance. While ViGlance and ViStart already replace the Start button with the Orb by default, ViOrb is perfect if you’re not interested in the Windows 7 toolbar or the Vista/7 start menu but do want to save some space on your taskbar.
Warning About Stacking
Though you wouldn’t expect it from such similar software all coming from one developer, these programs do not stack very well. On my computer trying to run ViStart, ViOrb and ViGlance all at once resulted in having 3 competing start buttons stacked on top of each other. My advice is to simply pick the features you find most compelling rather than run all three at once.
Lee-soft offers a few good programs that replicate some of the nicer features of Vista/7. While few would argue these tweaks are a wholesale replacement for an upgrade to Windows 7, they do bring some of 7’s nicer features to XP users today. If you can’t afford the expensive retail upgrade, and don’t plan on buying a new computer anytime soon, they are certainly worth checking out – if imperfect in some ways.
Looking for more ways to make XP look like Windows 7? Check out Tina’s article on that subject. Or, if you have some tips neither of these articles covered, tell us what’s what in the comments below.