Here’s the final instalment of our comprehensive feature on new capabilities you can add to your Windows PC to make your experience on it both exciting and profitable.
Available on: BeOS, Linux, Mac, Unix
Outside of the Windows desktop, much of the world’s software is written to conform to a Unix-based standard called POSIX.
Any POSIX-compliant OS can run most software written for Unix.
Linux is inherently POSIX-compliant. The Mac is, too, because it’s built on Unix. Even the now defunct BeOS supported POSIX standards. But Windows does not.
Though users of Vista Enterprise and Ultimate editions could, in theory, add the “Subsystem for Unix-based Applications” to their PCs, our experiences with this feature yielded more frustration than fruit.
A better way to add POSIX to any XP or Vista installation is to run Cygwin.
This free Linux emulator installs in seconds, and it supports a variety of popular Linux-based programs that have been rebuilt specifically to run with Cygwin.
It also functions as a Linux command prompt, allowing you to run Linux command-line utilities, such as the popular ToDo shell script, in Windows. Though Cygwin won’t give you full support for all Linux software on your Windows PC, it will open the door to some basic Linux features.
Available on: Mac
Is a file-shredding feature in Windows too much to ask for?
It shouldn’t be. Mac OS X has shipped with its own Secure Empty Trash Feature for years and Disk Utility can shred the free space on a drive as a means of obscuring sensitive data that may have been deleted previously in an insecure way.
But so far Microsoft hasn’t followed suit.
File Shredder lets you add such features to Windows XP or Vista. This handy tool permits you to shred a single file, an entire folder or all of the free space on you hard drive, using your choice of several shredding techniques.
Available on: Linux, Unix
Power users know that when it comes to accomplishing computing tasks quickly, the keyboard always beats the mouse. Linux and Unix systems come with Deskbar, a utility that lets you launch any file on your PC without taking your hands off the keyboard.
It also launches web URLS, searches Google or Yahoo, and supports plug-ins that work with third-party applications, so you can send a text message or post a tweet to Twitter without even touching the mouse.
Though the search bar in Vista’s Window Explorer can launch apps and URLS, it doesn’t support plug-ins. To get such features, try a free download called Launchy.
Standardized Menu Ribbon
Available on: Mac
Windows lacks a unified menu ribbon for all its applications. Sure, most Windows programs have stuck to a conventional ‘File’, ‘Edit’, ‘View’ format for their menus, but even Microsoft is beginning to buck that trend, starting with its confoluted new ribbon interface for Office 2007.
In contrast, Mac OS X, application menus are completely standardized with the same ribbon of menus running across the top of the screen, so users always know where to look for certain important controls.
With Stardock’s ObjectBar you can use the MacPC skin to transform your Windows Taskbar into a Mac-style menu ribbon.
The utility even duplicates the menus that most Windows applications use, so you can control them from the top of the screen as you would in Mac OS X.
(The menus will still be available within your programs, too, however.) ObjectBar currently works only for XP, but a Vista version of the software is expected soon.
Available on: Mac
The very existence of the Add/Remove Programs control panel is a sure sign that Windows applications have become too large and unwieldy for many users.
On the Mac, however, few programs consist of more than one file. (Okay, technically they’re just specially packaged folders, but to the user they appear as a single file.) Removing a Mac application usually consists of dragging its icon to the trash.
Of course, doing so would force you to sacrifice some of the robust features you might prefer in your favorite Windows programs, so we don’t recommend it.
Unless Microsoft takes a radical turn in designing the next version of Windows, you can expect Windows software to become more complicated, not less.