Windows XP revamp, part 2: convenience (a.k.a. UI improvements)
previously: Windows XP revamp part 1: visuals
Now you have a nice, easy-on-the-eyes Windows XP desktop. If you don’t, then you either missed the first part of the guide or I just suck at writing guides. So anyways you have a pretty XP setup, but it’s still rather annoying and inconvenient sometimes. Here are some cool programs I found that give Windows XP a little usability boost. Note that there are oodles more programs like this out there; these are just the ones I liked the most.
1) a keystroke launcher
After using Gnome Do in Ubuntu, I can’t be happy in XP using an archaic menu-and-quicklaunch system. Gnome Do is a keystroke launcher; in English that means “typing, not clicking”. You press a keycombination to bring it up and then type in a search box to launch programs and open folders. This is much faster than using the mouse to navigate menus and folders (for me, anyhow).
For Windows I found Executor. This launcher has LOADS of features, and it’s extremely customizable. Normally it uses very little memory, but if you choose to index a big chunk of your hard drive it has a significant memory overhead — I have around 1600 files indexed for 21 mb memory. If you don’t find Executor to your liking, there are many other launchers like it out there.
2) general UI improvements
KatMouse – A great little program that allows you to mouse-wheel-scroll in whatever window is under the mouse, even if the window is not in focus. This is useful for when you’re doing something while reading a document or webpage and don’t want to keep switching between windows just to scroll down in the webpage/document, for example.
Taskbar Shuffle – Many Linux distros as well as Windows 7 give the user the ability to move taskbar items around the taskbar via drag-and-drop. With this program you can do it in XP too!
Winsplit Revolution – This one allows you to quickly lay out windows around the screen with hotkeys. This way you can view several windows at a time without having to move and resize them yourself. Winsplit Revolution can also set windows to stay on top, it can make windows semi-transparent, and it can get a screenshot of just the active window (although the screenshot function doesn’t work well for me).
allSnap – But most of the time I like resizing and moving windows myself, and this program makes it a snap! (Pun intended.) allSnap gives windows in Windows XP snapping capabilities. So when you’re moving or resizing a window, it’ll snap its position or size to other windows’ edges or the screen edges.
Everything – Ok, this one’s technically not a UI improvement, but I just have to include it here because it’s so awesome. It’s a replacement for the regular (slow) search in Explorer. Everything’s website sums it up in a few words: “Locate files and folders by name instantly.” And when they say instantly, they mean literally instantly. It automatically indexes all your files so that it has instant search-as-you-type.
All of these programs are small and use only a few megabytes of memory; Everything might be an exception because, of course, it will use more memory if you have more files. I have 163,000 files indexed in Everything and it uses up to 11 mb. Not bad if you ask me!
6) Explorer addons
QTTabBar – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’ll just put it here so that it’s with the others. QTTabBar is like a supermod to Windows Explorer. The main feature, as you might have guessed, is tabbed browsing. I’ve found that tab functionality in Explorer isn’t as useful as I thought it would be, but it is useful sometimes. QTTabBar adds lots of other nice features too, like a custom set of toolbar buttons for Explorer (including a “keep window on top” button and an integrated search box), image previews in Explorer and the ability to reopen recently closed windows and tabs. There are several plugins for QTTabBar, see the list here.
QTAddressBar – As you might have guessed, this one’s made by the same people as QTTabBar. It replaces XP’s address bar with a Vista-style breadcrumbs address bar. Below you can see Explorer with QTAddressBar and QTTabBar, including the new toolbar buttons.
Of course, you don’t have to use QTAddressBar with QTTabBar if you prefer the standard XP address bar. Here’s an alternate layout using only the standard address bar and QTTabBar, with the toolbar buttons hidden. To remove the menu bar simply press Alt-M with QTTabBar open. To remove the throbber (the little picture in the top right corner), see the instructions here.
TeraCopy – A replacement for Explorer’s file-moving function. I’ve been frustrated quite a bit by Explorer when it comes to moving files. Typical scenario: I’m moving lots of files totaling to over 100 gb from one hard drive to another, then there’s some kind of error, and then Explorer just cancels the entire transfer, forcing me to start over. Well, no more. With TeraCopy, if there’s an error it just skips over the problematic file and continues with the rest of the transfer. Plus, you can pause transfers, skip over files, and see detailed information about a transfer. And TeraCopy is faster than Explorer’s file-mover (I haven’t done any tests though, so you’ll have to take their word for it).
Folder Size – This tiny addon makes Explorer show sizes for folders as well as files in Detail view, under a new column. Before I found this I was always bugged by the fact that Explorer only showed the sizes of files and not folders.
I found some of these in Lifehacker’s list of Explorer addons. There are other cool addons in that list, but I left out some of them because they wouldn’t be so useful if you’re using a launcher like Executor.
And that’s the end of Windows XP revamp… for now. I hope you’ll enjoy these programs and themes as much as I do! If you have any questions, suggestions, criticisms, etc., be sure to leave me a comment.
Entry filed under: howto, software, Windows. Tags: allsnap, convenience, desktop overhaul, everything, executor, explorer addons, faster search, folder size, gnome do, hide menu bar, katmouse, keystroke launcher, qtaddressbar, qttabbar, revamp, taskbar drag and drop, taskbar shuffle, teracopy, vista address bar, window snapping, Windows, windows xp, winsplit revolution, xp, xp revamp.