XP HOME: Enhance with Plus!

Sporting the label "The Ultimate Companion for Windows XP Home Edition and Professional", Plus! for Windows XP is a multimedia compendium that will enhance your system. This month, we'll explore what Plus! has to offer as well as make some suggestions for where you can download similar offerings from the Internet.

Plus! installation

If you want to buy a copy of Plus!, you'll find it in most computer stores for $40 or you can find purchasing information online at www.microsoft.com/windows/plus.

Installing Plus! is as basic as it gets. Simply insert the CD into your drive and follow the installation wizard's instructions. Select all or some of the components and click the Install button. You can repeat this process later to remove, re-install or repair components.

After installing Plus! you access all components by selecting the Microsoft Plus! icon from the Start Menu's All Programs list. Individual Plus! features will also be integrated with Windows XP. For example, you can choose the Plus! screensavers from Display Properties in the Control Panel.

Plus! highlights

Most of the components in Plus! are pretty straightforward, so we're not going to go into great detail on how to use each one. Instead, we'll look at some of the highlights.

The games in Plus! brilliantly show off DirectX 8's capabilities, but they're very boring to play. The kids may find the selection of HyperBowl, Labyrinth and Russian Square fascinating, but most adults will quickly tire of the selection. In contrast, many people will find the digital media components very useful.

The MP3 Audio Converter, for example, allows you to easily convert your MP3 audio files to the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format in order to save space. Another highlight is the Personal DJ, which allows you to create playlists more easily than with Windows Media Player. All you do is select the albums, artists or genres that you want, then choose your preferences, such as duration and the bit rate quality of songs, and the Personal DJ will whip up a playlist in seconds. This is one feature that should have originally been included with Windows XP.

Most of the themes and screensavers are nice, but there are a couple of real stand-outs - the aquarium theme and screensaver being the pick of the bunch. Your computer screen will be transformed into a tank full of bubbles, coral and fish, which certainly makes it difficult to concentrate on doing work!

The My Pictures screensaver requires a little more configuration than a normal one, but it is well worth the effort. When selecting it from Display Properties, be sure to click the Settings button. Here, you can choose which pictures to display, the speed and style of the transitions between pictures, and the music that plays in the background.

Finally, the 3D Visualisations and CD Label Maker are fun and useful, but you can easily find alternatives on the Internet.

Plus! alternatives

Plus! For Windows XP is certainly not for all users. Power users will have little need for the menial games and fancy features, and anyone moderately familiar with the Internet will be able to find similar components and more online.

Here's some suggestions for where you can find components similar to those offered in Plus!. You can easily find more with a quick search using your favourite search engine.

Games: your best bet for fun little games like those found in Plus! is to go to www.download.com or www.tucows.com and check the Games category. You will find demos of the latest games as well as hundreds of freeware and share­ware offerings of simple but intriguing games.

Digital media: although Plus! provides a number of impressive digital media components, there are many alternatives on the Internet. If you are after an audio converter, playlist creator or Media Player skins then, once again, the best place to look is www.download.com or www.tucows.com.

Themes and screensavers: hundreds of Web sites are devoted to themes, wallpapers, and screensavers. Some are free, others charge a small fee. Here are a few to get you started: www.screenthemes.com, www.themesunlimited.com,www.freethemes.com, www.screensaver.com, www.desktopscreensaver.com, and www.screensaveroftheday.com.

If you want to create a totally different Windows XP interface, www.windowsblinds.net is your answer. This cool program allows you to apply skins (as opposed to basic themes) to the Windows XP interface to create a total revamp.

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