You want to live in harmony with your PC, but Windows is very rigid. So step out on the road to Utopia with any of these three approaches: a clever launching dock, a folder organizer, and a far-reaching macro program.
Pull Your Programs Into This Dock
If you're looking for a visual way to launch programs and open folders, try Circle Dock. This handsome freebie's intuitive shapes and its ability to appear in response to a single keystroke make these tasks blissfully convenient.
Circle Dock's default shape is a set of concentric circles, but you can arrange for it to take the form of a spiral if you prefer. It comes prestocked with icons for common tasks and locations (launching the default browser, opening Control Panel, and so on), and you can drag and drop icons for your own folders and programs. You can further personalize the look with included skins or with icons that you create.
The first release of Circle Dock, which Eric Wong created in less than a month, is a little rough around the edges visually. In addition, I occasionally found the launching key combo unresponsive on my XP machine. But Wong plans to keep working on fixes and new features. If you like Circle Dock, consider donating a few bucks to encourage its continued development.
Circle Dock, free/donationware.
Folders at Your Fingertips
Are folders tying you in knots? This freebie keeps tabs on your oft-visited folders by placing virtual tabs along the edge of your screen so you can quickly nab the file you need.
Creating tabs is a snap with Stick's Tab Manager, reachable with a right-click of Stick's glue-bottle System Tray icon. I created what Stick calls Navigator Tabs for my heavily used folders. Then I tweaked the settings (autohide, autoshow, and the like) to minimize mousing. In short order, tabs for my most important folders were neatly lined up and ready to spring open with a mere mouseover.
Stick's installation gives you the option of adding Stick plug-ins of bare-bones utilities from creator iWonder Designs; choices include a calculator, a calendar, an RSS reader, and more. Unlike many desktop utilities, Stick doesn't launch programs or run command-line utilities. It just lays out your folders for you. If that's all you need, Stick is certainly worth a look.
An ActiveWord Is Worth a Thousand Mouse Clicks
If you do the same things at your PC every day, you probably waste time and energy retyping and needlessly clicking. ActiveWords Plus ($US50) answers these problems with a feature-rich, easy-to-use keystroke macro utility.
ActiveWords has been around for a while, and for good reason: It's easy to use, it's powerful, and it works with every program. An ActiveWord (which is what this program calls any of its commands) can do anything from typing your address to opening a specific Web page to filtering your Outlook e-mail for a certain word in the header. You decide what to call the tasks — "ff" to launch Firefox, for example. The utility's Add Wizard helps you create actions in a few efficient steps, without jargon. To use an ActiveWord, type it in wherever you are, hit the execution hotkey (F8 is the default), and let ActiveWords perform the task.
Like any good macro program, ActiveWords Plus abounds with options. For instance, the Spacebar-Spacebar Trigger initiates actions with two taps of the spacebar (much faster than hunting in function-key Siberia). Vendor ActiveWord Systems offers free macros for applications (for example, to create a table in Microsoft Word quickly) and typos (such as apostrophe correction) at its Web site.
ActiveWords Plus's generous license lets you install the program on every PC you use. Take advantage of the free trial, which starts at 5 days but extends to 60 days with registration.
ActiveWords Plus, free trial, $US50 to keep.