21 free utilities to customise and upgrade Windows

Get Windows 7 features in Vista or XP, give your desktop 3D capability, or tweak your OS with these free tools and services.

Organize and Update the Windows Desktop

These eight downloads and services can build 3D desktops, creatively launch or minimize programs, and more.

Do you like to pin notes and photos to the walls and organize documents into stacks? That's the idea behind BumpTop, a 3D desktop designed to bring a real-world approach to your computing life.

Don't have room on your desk--or enough money in your wallet--for a second monitor? No problem: DeskHedron supplies you with "virtual" 3D desktops (up to nine of them) that you can flip through by using either hotkeys or the mouse wheel.

Fences organizes your desktop icons into translucent, window-like areas. And with a double-click of the desktop, you can make everything disappear (another double-click restores everything). It's a must-have app for neat freaks, or anyone whose icon collection has gotten out of control.

Windows 7 can automatically cycle through wallpapers at designated intervals, so be sure to stock it with plenty of pretty pictures. Sign up to use the beta InterfaceLift wallpaper library, which has more than 2000 selections that you can sort by resolution or by the number of monitors. You'll even find mobile-ready images for iPhones and other devices.

Everybody has a favorite method for launching programs. If you haven't found yours yet, though, download Krento (also available in a 64-bit version). It creates a slick, rotating 3D circle of up to 12 of your favorite apps (and it supports multiple circles if you want to categorize them). You can also skin Krento, invoke it using a variety of mouse/keyboard methods, and add favorites by dragging and dropping.

Give your desktop a complete overhaul with Rainmeter (also available in a 64-bit version), a beautiful display complete with resource monitors, news feeds, a to-do list, and more--all seamlessly embedded on your desktop and completely customizable. It works with Windows XP, Vista, and 7.

The concept of "stacks" is familiar to any Mac user, and now Windows users can have them, too. StandaloneStack 2 creates eye-pleasing animated shortcuts--stacks--for the contents of any folder on your system. Such a function usually requires a desktop dock program, but this download gets you straight to the good stuff.

Forget minimizing programs to the Windows taskbar where you can't see what they're up to. T3Desk minimizes them to the desktop, shrinking each one to the size, transparency, and 3D viewing angle of your choice. All it takes to bring any window back to the forefront is a single click.

About the authors: Adam Pash is the editor of Lifehacker. Rick Broida writes PCWorld's Hassle-Free PC blog.

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Adam Pash and Rick Broida

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