Not quite happy with the way Windows 7 works, or looking to get more out of the operating system? You’ve come to the right place. We all are big fans of Microsoft’s latest OS, but we’re also big fans of making Windows better. So get ready to download–you’re about to take Windows 7 to a new level.
1. Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7
When Microsoft released Windows 7, the company inexplicably did away with a small, nifty utility called the Network Activity Indicator. Now you can have it back. The Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 does what the Vista utility does, and then some. Like the Vista version, this tool puts a small icon (depicting two monitors) in the system tray to indicate when you’re connected to a network or the Internet, and the icon blinks to show you when your machine is sending or receiving data; it also provides useful information, such as the network to which you’re connected.
Download Network Activity Indicator for Windows 7 | Price: Free
2. 7Smoker Pro
Want more customization power than you can get from free Windows 7 utilities? Try the for-pay 7Smoker Pro. It gives you enormous control over countless aspects of Windows 7’s appearance and functionality in four categories: Tweaks, Maintenance, Security, and Passwords. Each of those categories has subcategories, and each subcategory offers multiple tweaks–which means that you can customize hundreds of individual Windows 7 settings.
Download 7Smoker Pro | Price: $30 (free trial)
3. Windows 7 Manager
A great way to bend Windows 7 to your will is to use Windows 7 Manager. With this utility, you have the power to customize and improve just about every aspect of Windows 7. Want to optimize and clean your system? Need to control what programs run on Windows startup, or to adjust the Task Scheduler to turn off unnecessary system tasks? No problem.
Download Windows 7 Manager (32-bit)| Price: $40 (free trial)
4. Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer
One of Windows 7’s nicest improvements is the addition to the taskbar of multiple thumbnail previews, which appear whenever you hover your mouse over a taskbar icon. What makes them superior to the Vista version of the feature is that you can see all currently running windows as thumbnails, not just a single window.
Download Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer | Price: Free
Here’s another excellent Windows 7 tweaker–and it may well be the best of the bunch. Not only does it let you change just about any part of the operating system, but in many instances it also shows you exactly what each adjustment will do, which is rare in a system tweaker.
Download Win7Zilla | Price: $16 (free trial)
Five Essential Windows 7 Downloads
If you use Windows 7 regularly, you’ve probably heard about these standbys–and maybe you’ve already grabbed one or more. Here are five must-haves that can help any Windows 7 user make the most of the OS.
Wondering whether your older PC has the hardware power to run Windows 7? Don’t gamble on upgrading–before making your decision, run the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. After you download the tool, make sure that you’ve connected all of your peripherals to your PC and turned them all on so that the app can give you an accurate report. It checks your processor, graphics subsystem, hard disk, and peripherals. It also examines the software you’re running; if you have older programs, it tells you if upgrades are available to make those apps compatible with Windows 7.
Windows 7 has one big, fat hole: It ships without an e-mail program. But Microsoft’s Windows Live Mail–-a free, downloadable e-mail client optimized for Windows 7–is surprisingly powerful. It can access multiple e-mail accounts, and it works with Hotmail, too. Additional features include a photo e-mail capability, which lets you embed pictures inside a message and then add borders and captions–it’s almost like sending a photo album. The program handles RSS feeds as well, and it offers spam filtering, the ability to create rules, and solid ways to organize your mail.
In the move to Windows 7, Microsoft also pulled the Windows Photo Gallery. To replace it, however, you can download the free Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is even better than the version built into Windows Vista. The program makes it easy to browse through and view all your photos, as well as to share them online and via e-mail. It sports a nice set of photo-editing tools for handling tasks such as eliminating red-eye, cropping, and correcting colors; or, if you prefer, you can use the Auto Adjust feature to make photo fixes with a single click. Also nifty is the app’s ability to stitch together multiple photos to make a single panoramic view. Among other extras are functions that burn a CD full of photos or help you post a photo to your blog.
For a no-cost utility, EnhanceMySe7en Free is quite substantial. This combination system customizer, diagnostics tool, and maintenance utility gathers an enormous amount of detail about your PC, including data about your processor, RAM, display adapter, and hard disk. It also allows you to customize your Start menu, as well as to tweak the desktop, taskbar, Windows Media Player, and Windows Explorer. These aren’t superficial tweaks, either–the program digs down into the guts of your system, permitting you to remove all toolbars from the taskbar, for instance, or to hide the Log Off button on the Start menu. Additionally, you’ll find a good Registry cleaner, a disk cleaner, and a way to stop certain programs from running on startup.
Long ago and far away, Microsoft released Tweak UI, a free tool that customized Windows XP in countless ways. It quickly gained a large and loyal following. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t follow suit with a version for Windows 7. TweakUI lovers can instead use the free Ultimate Windows Tweaker, which is actually far more powerful than Tweak UI was. Here you’ll discover well over 100 settings for Windows 7, covering Windows Explorer, the Start menu, the taskbar, User Account Control, system performance, security settings, and more. Want to hide your entire network from Network Neighborhood? How about disabling Aero Shake, using small icons on the Start menu, or disabling the Control Panel? You can do all that. Note, too, that Ultimate Windows Tweaker runs on Vista as well as on Windows 7; it detects the operating system on which you’ve installed it, and shows you only the relevant tweaks.