20 features that will turbo-charge your Windows PC – Part 3

We’ve been helping you mod your Windows system to include all the best features from other operating systems. Dont’ miss Part 1 and Part 2 of these turbo-charged tips.

Automated Screen Shots

Available on: Mac

Taking screen shots in Windows has never been as easy as it should be. Sure, it starts out simple enough: You press the Print Screen key, and the current view instantly copies to the Clipboard. Where it goes from there, however, is another matter entirely.

It’s up to you to open up Paint or another image editor, paste the captured screen into the app window, and then save it. What a pain. Vista’s Snipping Tool has the opposite problem: Even if you set up a Quick Launch icon for it, you don’t have the option of creating a simple hot-key combination to start a capture unless you map one for yourself.

On the Mac, however, things are easier. When you press Command-Shift-3, an image of the entire screen view instantly saves to your desktop. Press Command-Shift-4, and the mouse pointer turns into a set of crosshairs that you can drag over the area you want to capture. You can grab as much, or as little, of the screen as you like.

You can improve Windows’ screen-grabbing prowess with a free utility called FastStone Capture. FastStone Capture allows you to assign any hot-key to capture whole screens, partial screens, and even scrolling screen. It then give you extensive editing options within its own editing tool.

Quick File Previews

Available on: Mac

All of us absorb information in different ways, and some of us do better at handling graphical information than text. That’s the main appeal of Apple’s Cover Flow, which enables Mac OS X users to browse through their folders, files, music, and other data visually. With Cover Flow you can flip through your files one at a time, viewing each object as a large, helpful thumbnail — and even catching a glimpse of the contents of every file — rather than seeing everything as a mess of small, obscure icons.

Vista has made strides in improving the Windows Explorer interface, but Windows has yet to integrate anything as dynamic as Cover Flow. With a free utility called Harmony, though, you can add Cover Flow-like browsing to Windows. Harmony works only with iTunes-generated cover art, and it doesn’t integrate into Windows Explorer. Nevertheless, it’s a simple, free way to add a little Cover Flow-style action to your Windows Media Player experience.
ISO Burning

Available on: Linux, Mac, Unix

Mac OS can do it. Linux can do it. PC-BSD and just about every other modern OS can do it. But for some reason, Windows can’t burn an ISO disc image to CD without a little third-party help.

If you want to burn a CD image on occasion, but you don’t want to buy premium disc-burning software, try Alex Feinman’s free ISO Recorder. Available for XP and Vista, ISO Recorder adds disc-image burning to your context menu whenever you right-click on an ISO file. It’s a lean, simple utility that does just what it’s designed for and nothing more. ISO Recorder is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Vista, and the Vista versions support DVD burning in addition to CD burning.

Tiled Window View
Available on: Linux, Mac, Unix

It’s an elegantly simple idea, and it has been available on the Mac since 2003. When you want a clear view of all the application windows that are open at any one time, you just press a function key, and a little feature called Expose arranges them all as thumbnails spread neatly across your screen. Click one, and it pops to the front while the rest snap back into position behind it. On a Linux machine, you can get the same functionality through the Scales plug-in for Compiz Desktop Effects.

With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft deployed a feature called Flip3D that attempts to simplify window management in a slightly different way. Flip3D lets users flip through three-dimensional renderings of whatever windows are open on the desktop, but it doesn’t offer nearly the same instantaneous visibility that Expose does.
Windows Vista users can add Expose-like slickness to their systems with the aid of a free utility called Switcher. Once it’s installed, Switcher allows you to choose how your application windows should array themselves; it also lets you customize your window colours and configure your own keyboard shortcuts. In XP, the shareware tool TopDesk adds a similar feature for US $20 (after a 14-day free trial).

PDF Creation
Available on: Linux, Mac, Unix

Microsoft and Adobe have clashed more than they have cooperated over the years. Perhaps that’s why Microsoft still hasn’t built Portable Document Format creation into Windows, even though the feature has been built into the Linux operating systems and the Mac OS for years.

Those operating systems let you view and create PDF files without resorting to third-party applications. Sure, Microsoft has designed its own competing format, XPS, for Vista in hopes that everyone will abandon the globally accepted PDF standard and switch to the new thing. But send an XPS document to a friend running XP, and you’re likely to induce a migraine.

Until Microsoft gets on the clue train and makes PDF printing a standard part of Windows, check out PrimoPDF. The free app works side by side with Adobe Reader to turn any document that you can open into a PDF that you can share with the world.

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